General Hospital's Sarah Brown by Ron Tom/ABC
A funny thing happened in the six-plus years since Sarah Brown left General Hospital - the role of Carly, the hell-raising, rollerblading tomcat she created back in 1996, was recast. A lot. With Laura Wright now embedded in the role, when Brown resurfaces in Port Charles on Jan. 31, she will have a brand-new vixen to bring to life - Claudia Zacchara, the prodigal daughter of mob boss Anthony. Here in Part 1 of TVGuide.com's exclusive sit-down with Brown, the three-time Daytime Emmy winner shares how her GH return came about and reveals why she is excited to be back. - Matt Webb Mitovich

TVGuide.com: When did the talks to return to GH first start up?
Sarah Brown:
Oh, I want to say about five months ago. It was a really interesting happenstance.

TVGuide.com: Was it a call from [ABC Daytime president Brian] Frons or...?
Brown:
No, it was nothing like that. First, I haven't seen Maurice [Benard, Sonny] or anybody from the show - except for Tava [Smiley, ex-Chloe] and Stephen Kay (Reginald) here and there - in six or seven years. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, I'm at the car wash and Maurice, who lives in my neighborhood, is there. "What's up, Mo?" [ Laughs] Meanwhile, I'm running into Kin Shriner (Scotty) every other day at my gym. So Maurice and I chatted for a bit, and then three days later I run into [ GH executive producer] Jill Farren Phelps, of all people, at the local café. I'm like, "This is weird. General Hospital is everywhere." So I felt like that was a really good time, for a lot of different reasons, to approach Jill and give her a big hug. It built from there.

TVGuide.com: Did you have any reservations about returning to the show? Concerns about "Who's going to have my character's back?"
Brown:
A lot of "Who's going to have my back?" went through my mind. It took us five months to really work out all the details. It's been so many years, but right away they let me know that it wasn't ever going to be about me playing Carly, and that's always been interesting to me. They talked to me about that years ago, about a month before I did As the Worlds Turns , like, "[You can be] Carly's evil twin sister!" Because I had really dark hair at that point. We kicked it around, always in good fun, but it was never really something that we got into in terms of negotiations. I'm funny about the way that I work with soaps - I like to figure out creatively what we're going to do, and if it makes sense, I have no issues with the boundaries between daytime and prime time. I see other actors do it. Tamara Tunie does As the World Turns and Law & Order: SVU really successfully, and why not? You should be able to navigate both worlds. So I don't have any reservations about daytime per se. They pitched the hell out of the character and I responded to it right away. "That sounds like fun, sign me up!" [ Laughs]

TVGuide.com: Did they offer you any reassurances that even with the writers' strike in play, they're trying to put out a quality product?
Brown:
Absolutely. They let me know that everybody was still really happy because [head writer] Bob [Guza Jr.] had written so much of the show before [the strike], and before he knew I would take the job he wrote this outline based on how he thought I would play the character. That was wonderful to know. Obviously we hope the writers' strike doesn't go on much longer, because it's exciting to me to work with Bob. I want to get his deep insight into the character.

TVGuide.com: Now I have a Barbara Walters question: "How is the Sarah Brown returning to GH different than the one who left?"
Brown:
Oh, I'm so different. I'm older! That's really what it's about. When I was first at General Hospital, I felt like I grew up there, like it was a college for me, whereas VR Troopers was "community college." I spent those years learning to navigate the business, and then I got to go out into the world and have all these wonderful experiences with other actors and directors.... At the time I left GH I was really wide-eyed and full of wonder at the possibilities of the gift I was given to play with. I've had six or seven years to play with it now, so I am coming back with a lot of joy. I left with a lot of joy, but I also left with a lot of fear as to what the future will hold. It was scary, but in an exciting way. Now I feel I can share a lot of my experiences, and that brings up the game level for everyone. Anyone who goes out and searches other techniques and styles and ideas and explores their creativity at the risk of failure comes back richer.

TVGuide.com: Since leaving GH, you have done comedy, procedurals, sci-fi, TV-movies.... What has been the most fun project?
Brown:
Oh, that is such a hard question! Wow.... In terms of a great role that I really dug into, I loved The Closer, but K-Ville was really special to me, too.

TVGuide.com: I remember when you got cast on The Closer, I text-messaged you, "You're the killer!" And you replied, "Why do you say that?! Stereotyping!" But sure enough....
Brown:
It's because you know me and the kind of roles I like to take.

TVGuide.com: I've always said that about The Closer: that sometimes they tip their hand with the caliber of actor they bring on for a guest spot.
Brown:
Yeah, but Steve Culp played the attorney, and he's brilliant and well-used and one of my favorite actors in the world, and he didn't do the crime. The guy that played my husband, also - a fine, fine actor. You know, that's the best set I have ever worked on in terms of the kindnesses. That and the Monk set. I was just doing taxes and I found a letter signed by all of the [ Closer] executive producers, thanking me for my work and letting me know when the episode was airing. That is the best place to work in the history of the world. Every single person who comes on their set, there's so much respect.

TVGuide.com: Back to GH: what do you think it means that Carly, a character you created almost 12 years ago, is still around, that the character has endured?
Brown:
I think it's because she's well-loved, regardless of who's playing her. It's the character that the audience responds to because she was born into an underdog humanity that a lot of people can relate to. I didn't invent the wheel here. She's just someone that people identify with. The audience in America responds to that type of personality in a woman, sometimes.

But wait, there's so much more. In the Jan. 28 issue of TV Guide magazine, Sarah details Claudia Zacchara's first encounter with Sonny Corinthos* - and the wild aftermath. On Wednesday, in my Mitovich Mega Minute vodcast, I'll share a look at Sarah's first face-off with Laura Wright's Carly. Then later next week, come here for the rest of my in-depth conversation with Sarah, in which we get to the really good stuff as she sheds light on her deliciously dark new role.

* PS. That's where the "wild" in the headline comes into play....