General Hospital star Kelly Sullivan recently sat down with TVSource Magazine to discuss what’s been been like stepping into the haute couture dresses, Louis Vuitton shoes and multiple personalities of fashion editor Kate Howard. Inside: What she did to prepare for working on GH and for her character’s dissociative identity disorder storyline; How she views Sonny and Kate’s relationship and more!
TVSource Magazine recently had the pleasure of talking to the lovely and talented Kelly Sullivan, who is currently starring as Kate Howard/Connie Falconeri on ABC’s General Hospital. While Sullivan has an extensive Broadway résumé and has had roles in films and TV spots, this is her first experience in the daytime genre. Some actors may have found it daunting to be thrust into a front burner storyline with the show’s leading man right off the bat, but when Sullivan took over the role in September 2011, she brought her A-game and has hit the ground running ever since.
Soaps’ five episodes a week schedule translates into long hours, limited rehearsal and prep time between scenes for the stars. For Sullivan, the most challenging part of coming into this genre was adjusting to the pace and the amount of material given to the actors to memorize in one day. Sullivan took that in stride and focused on preparing as much as she could for each scene and then, “letting it rip.”
Part of Sullivan’s preparation included a lot of research on her character before she started the show. She learned everything she could about Kate Howard, including her past when she was Connie Falconeri, a teenager who grew up in Bensonhurst and fell in love with mobster-to-be Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Bernard) before she left Sonny to go to college and transform herself into Kate. Sullivan studied the relationships that Kate and Connie had with each character because she wanted to be as specific as she could with each person. “I learned everything that was available about her past that brought her to present day,” Sullivan explained. “Then I let my imagination do the rest.”
After Kate returned to town last fall and was reunited with Sonny, it became obvious to viewers that Kate was hiding something and wasn’t quite as together as she seemed. But once Kate started talking to herself in the mirror and calling her reflection “Connie,” the secret was out: Kate was suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) and Connie was taking over more and more to wreak havoc on Kate’s perfect life and image. Connie was everything Kate wasn’t: brash, fearless and angry at the world. She also hated Sonny and wanted to destroy him to keep Kate safe.
Though the actress new something was up with her character, she was kept in the dark purposely as to have the emotions be more genuine. Eventually she was called into the office to discuss the developments with Kate. ” It was first presented to me by Garin Wolf (our previous head writer) in my first few weeks of being on GH. He sat me down in his office and told me about the split personality story, and where he wanted to go with it.” Sullivan learned the twist had been in the works long before she was hired, and was excited at the chance to tackle the storyline. Before the storyline went into full effect, General Hospital underwent a regime change – Wolf and executive producer Jill Farren Phelps were out, and One Life to Live’s head writer Ron Carlivati, and executive producer Frank Valentini were brought in to take over.
Carlivati had a lot of experience with writing D.I.D. from his tenure at One Life to Life and presented Sullivan with two options – they could continue with the storyline (with some adjustments) or they could drop it. “If you write it, I will come,” Sullivan told him. “[Ron] and I spoke about it, and he told me his ideas and my projected storyline. I was very excited from the start.” Continuing with the story also meant she needed to do more research.
In addition to studying everything she could on the illness by watching films, TV programs and reading articles about people who were diagnosed with the disease, Sullivan spoke in great lengths to Carlivati and Valentini. “Their input was extremely helpful in creating Connie and finding the best ways to execute the changing in and out [of the two personalities],” Sullivan explained.
Sullivan spoke passionately about the process and some of the stories she came across, including a patient who had more than 47 different personalities. It was also clear that Sullivan is emotionally invested in both sides of her character and sees a bit of herself in both of them.
“With every character I play, I find qualities that are most like me and what are least like me,” Sullivan said. “I have learned a lot about Kate and Connie by how they interact with other characters in a given scene, how the dialogue is presented and the choices they make given the circumstances.”
The actress pointed out that both are strong women who know what they want and get what they want by very different tactics. That might be an understatement given some of the extremes Connie has gone to, including sleeping with Sonny’s enemy and attempting to frame him for an accident that led to the death of a teenager and his daughter. But Sullivan doesn’t see Connie as all bad. “Kate is a little more put together than me, but I’m not as much of a loose cannon as Connie, not as confrontational,” Sullivan said passionately as she subtly slipped into Kate’s alter ego. “But I love her fire.”
Now that Kate is seeking treatment for her illness, the next step in the process includes integrating the two personalities, which could result in what is essentially a new character that is a combination of Kate and Connie. Sullivan is ready for that as well. ”With each new script, I understand the integration process better and how to find this new character,” Sullivan said. Once again, she credits Carlivati with giving her all the information she needs. “Ron is incredible at writing characters.”
Sullivan is also a big fan of Sonny and Kate’s complex relationship. She sees them as star-crossed lovers and soulmates. “He will always be her one true love.” Sullivan thinks that Sonny and Kate have a good chance of surviving all of the chaos and ending up stronger than ever. “I think their undying loyalty to each other is like a bond that cannot be broken,” Sullivan explained. When asked where she’d like to see the couple end up, Sullivan joked, “they should open a wine and cheese shop.”
When it came to discuss her co-stars, she had nothing but praise for them, especially her leading man. ”[Working with Bernard is] heaven on a stick. He challenges me every day.” Sullivan went on to say the two have a great working relationship and they approach acting similarly. “He has taught me a great deal.”
Another co-star who Sullivan is close to is Lisa LoCicero, who plays her cousin Olivia Falconeri. “Lisa was my first friend at work,” Sullivan said, going on to talk about how LoCicero reached out to her a few weeks before she even started on the show. The two went to lunch and formed an instant bond. “She is a force to be reckoned with and I admire her greatly.”
Kelly also counts Jen Lilley (Maxie) as one of her dearest friends. The two shared a similar experience of stepping in as recasts for roles played by actresses who were (and still are) very popular with the fans in an industry where fans are not always welcoming to the new actors. Sullivan shared advice with Lilley that a director gave her once. “What other people think of you is none of your business,” Sullivan said. “Just do your best every day; that’s all you can do.”
In the first scene the two shared, Kate was tearing into Maxie about something going wrong at the magazine. Sullivan said it was Lilley’s second day at GH and she went to her beforehand, introduced herself and apologized in advance for how mean she was going to be to her in the scene. The two have been close ever since and Sullivan speaks with pride when talking about her friend. “She’s done an amazing and impressive job,” said Kelly. “I have great respect for her.”
As for the soap fans, Sullivan knows that she can’t win them all over, but she’s okay with that. She praised soap fans, calling them “the best” and said that her experience has been positive because so many fans have supported and accepted her. “It’s all for them. Every day I get to work on General Hospital, it’s all for them,” Kelly said proudly. “That fills my heart and gives me inspiration to tell the story.”
Sullivan is looking forward to what comes next in Kate’s journey, but she has a few dream roles on her acting wish list. Sullivan has always wanted to play Portia in The Merchant of Venice. She would also be happy to be in any play by Paula Vogel, Neil Labute or Nicky Silver. As for dream costars, Sullivan admits her list is long, but Darren Aronofsky and Clint Eastwood are at the top of it.
If she wasn’t an actress, Sullivan said that she would probably be teaching. She lists juggling (and yodeling) as a hidden talent and insists she is, “really good at wrapping presents.” Her music playlist currently includes English singer-songwriters Ellie Goulding and Florence and the Machine. Sullivan said she would “definitely” consider singing on GH if the show ever decides to bring back its karaoke nights.
Sullivan is excited about meeting her fans at the annual General Hospital Fan Club Weekend, which is coming up quickly. Sullivan is hosting a joint event with Julie Marie Berman (Lulu), who she describes as, “one of the coolest ladies” and said she thinks the event will be a blast. “We have some great ideas and can’t wait to see all the fans there!”
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