It's been a harrowing week for General Hospital fans, what with the accidental hit-and-run death of 4-year-old Jake Spencer. And things just got a whole lot worse. After the Friday's cliffhanger, we now know that the little boy was killed by his own grandfather, Luke Spencer! Next week, word will spread throughout Port Charles that the free-living Luke — no surprise here — was drinking prior to the accident. TV Guide Magazine had an exclusive chat with the man, the myth, the legend himself, Anthony Geary, to discuss this shocker plot twist. Where does the great Luke Spencer go from here?
TV Guide Magazine: We all know that you, as an actor, have balls of titanium, but isn't this taking your character to a very scary place? How does he ever get over this?
Geary: He doesn't. I think this ghost will haunt him forever. For the first time, I cannot even guess where my character will be in six months. This is a real life changer for Luke, and I'm thrilled. People have asked me, "Why would you want to be the guy who killed a child?" Hello, we're acting. This is drama. I'm not trying to save anybody's reputation here. I'm looking for the strongest material I can get my hands on. And this is pretty darn strong stuff. I'm not here to be popular or to create a character that's loved by millions. If that happens, fine, but the opportunity to embrace this material is something I would never, ever walk away from.
TV Guide Magazine: What was your first thought when you found out Luke was the perp?
Geary: [GH head writer] Bob Guza pitched the idea to me because he wanted to make sure I was OK with it, and of course I was all for it. In all my years on GH, I don't think Luke has ever had anything so important happen in his life. He has survived so many things normal men wouldn't — including three heart attacks that would have felled an elephant — and it's always seemed like he's cheating death. Somehow he's got the idea he's immortal but now death has come upon him with a joker up its sleeve, not taking Luke's life but taking the life of a 4-year-old because of Luke's irresponsibility.
TV Guide Magazine: This would be bad enough if Luke had been driving sober, but the fact that he'd been drinking makes this a much harsher story.
Geary: Not in Luke's mind. He does not believe that having a couple of shots of scotch impairs him in any way. He's quite willing to accept responsibility for having killed his grandson but he will not accept blaming it on alcohol. And I get that because I don't look at him as an alcoholic.
TV Guide Magazine: You don't? Really?
Geary: I do not see him as a man with a drinking problem. I wouldn't be able to play him otherwise. I'm a very strong defender of his point of view.
TV Guide Magazine: Are you seriously telling me that booze in no way affects this guy? His drinking has nothing to do with his chronic irresponsibility, his lack of truthfulness, his bouts with depression? You wouldn't even consider him a functioning alcoholic?
Geary: I've never really seen it that way. If that's the way the audience sees, that's cool. I can accept that. But I have never felt that Luke — who has been drinking since he was 12 — has ever been impaired. Yeah, he handles his depression and his self-loathing by drinking too much but I've never seen it as something he can't stop, or that he wakes up in the morning with delirium tremens and needs to have a drink. I don't think he drinks to have a better time in life. He drinks to forget the bad times, and he's had a lot of those in recent years. Anyway, that's the road I'm taking — and Luke's taking — and most of his family is going to come at him for that. They are going to try to get him into rehab and he will fight it like hell. He doesn't believe he has a problem. It's the Charlie Sheen thing for a moment and a half, but I don't think Luke's as crazy as Charlie. Luke has always lived by his own rules. He's always been an anarchist.
TV Guide Magazine: How do the other characters react to the news? Let's start with Luke's son — and Jake's legal dad — Lucky [Jonathan Jackson].
Geary: Lucky blames the alcohol but Luke sees this as Lucky's deep need to hate the alcohol so that he doesn't hate Luke. Again, Luke doesn't want to blame the booze. He wants to take full responsibility for what he's done, which is a really warped kind of nobility. He's a perverse man. He's real damaged goods, and you'll see a lot of that damage in the way he handles this crisis. I think this will be the closest Luke has ever come to suicide. [Laughs] I become instantly unpopular whenever people ask me, "How would you like to see Luke to leave the show?" And I say, "I'd like him to kill himself." It seems the only appropriate way for a superman to go.
TV Guide Magazine: What about Jake's mother, Elizabeth [Rebecca Herbst]?
Geary: The writers have done a really interesting thing with that. Luke thinks Elizabeth has gone a little crazy, and maybe she has, because she comes to him after the child is buried and apologizes for not having watched her kid closer. She says she's sorry Luke is going to have to carry this burden when it's really all her fault. In a weird way he becomes her protector.
TV Guide Magazine: And the birth father, Jason [Steve Burton]?
Geary: Jason comes to Luke, who hands him a pistol and says, "Here. I've already loaded it for you. Just do it. Just get it over with." Although Jason comes close to blowing Luke's brains out he doesn't do it because he claims it would set the wrong example for Michael [Chad Duell], which I thought was a little odd given that Jason hasn't had any regrets about pulling the trigger on so many others over the years. But whatever. Jason has lost all respect for Luke, but he refuses to let him off the hook by killing him.
TV Guide Magazine: How does Luke's wife, Tracy [Jane Elliot], react to this?
Geary: Tracy is all tough love. She is determined to get Luke help. She's one of the many people who think the only way for him to crawl out of this hole is to go to rehab.
TV Guide Magazine: Even if he seeks treatment, will it matter? Nothing will erase this.
Geary: I agree. He's ended an innocent life, and switching over to lemonade isn't going to change that.
TV Guide Magazine: If Luke wasn't impaired, the whole premise that he could hit Jake with his car and not know it seems a little funky. What's your take on that?
Geary: [Laughs] Yes, that was a little funky. Bob Guza told me the show had done some research and found that it's possible, when driving an SUV at a certain speed, to hit a 4-year-old and not know it. All I could think was, "How exactly did you do this research? Did you get 10 little kids and have 'em run across the road as you tried to hit them?" [Laughs] I can't quite grasp where the research came from, but I am willing to accept it.
TV Guide Magazine: What if you'd told Guza you were opposed to Luke being the killer?
Geary: He would have made somebody else the driver, I guess. I thought it was odd that he asked for my OK. Even [executive producer] Jill Phelps said, "You don't have to do this," which I couldn't understand at all.
TV Guide Magazine: What was that about? It's not like you're known on the set for being some delicate flower.
Geary: [Laughs] Hell no. But I do remember that they had some trouble with Sarah Brown [Claudia] before she left the show. Her character was going to be responsible for a child's death and she went completely nuts about it saying, "You're ruining the image and I won't do it," and blah, blah, blah. That never made any sense to me. So maybe they were a little sensitive after that.
TV Guide Magazine: One can't help but wish more soaps would go out on a limb like this, and stop playing it so safe.
Geary: I hope this is an indication of a new direction for us. You can only blow up so many cars or explode so many buildings. And, the truth is, movies do that so much better than we do in daytime. Besides, we no longer have the budget for it. What we do best is unzip our hearts and bleed for the people.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you see this as your greatest acting challenge?
Geary: Absolutely. I've had a lot of wonderful stories through the years but more often in the adventure and romance arena. This is exactly what I need at this point in time — to attack something new and something on a grand, operatic scale. This is Greek tragedy. This is right up my alley. I am of the school that the older you get the better your work is because you've got so much more to draw from, and I'm getting up there in age, my friend! So this is a big, spectacular gift. I'm going into work these days with nothing but gratitude in my heart.