When Jane Elliot first hit the set of “General Hospital” in the late 1970s, she made a very big impression.
Hired to play Tracy Quartermaine, “this really hardcore, upper crust, educated in Europe, aging debutante,” as Jane puts it, the actress stepped foot in her first rehearsal for the show with an independent flare. She had donned red, army surplus overalls, a T-shirt, and her hair was streaked blond, and permed.
“I was a little crunchy granola for the group and definitely the Quartermaine family,” she said, recalling that first day in a new interview with AccessHollywood.com to promote the upcoming 50th anniversary of the ABC soap. “I was definitely not what the Quartermaine family was expecting at all and that for me was fun.
“From the get-go, the most fun I have playing this part is the transformation from who I am when I walk in the door to who I am when I walk on the stage,” she said.
Who she is on the stage – and on ABC weekdays — is daytime’s resident blue-blooded firecracker, with a penchant for scheming and power grabs. But, although she’s gotten the “villain” tag, as loyal fans know, Jane’s Tracy has a heart she doesn’t like to brag about, the one that still pines for Luke Spencer, broke when her father, Edward Quartermaine passed away last year, and years ago made her a surrogate mom to Lulu Spencer.
It’s been a fun ride for the actress, and in our new interview, she opened up to Access on what the soap’s big day means to her, and what it’s been like having so many famous faces return to the “GH” fold.
AccessHollywood.com: I’ve got to ask you first of all about the latest news – Julie Marie Berman (Lulu Spencer) – shot her last scenes the other day. You two have always had a great on-screen chemistry together.
Jane Elliot: Yes, and we’re actually friends off-screen… Julie started ‘General Hospital’ when she was finishing up at USC. She was literally studying for her finals when she started… So it’s all she’s known. So it’s really time for her to spread her wings and see what life has to offer for her. So, I’m excited for her as much as I wish she wasn’t going.
Access: You play one of the coolest characters on the show. She’s so sassy, but the last 12 months of Tracy’s life have featured a lot of loss. She lost Luke, she lost Joe Scully Jr., she lost her dad, she lost ELQ — how do you think that’ll change Tracy? She’s so resilient though.
Jane: You know, I don’t ever think about it. And when you said, it’s so much loss, I thought, ‘Well, what?’ Her father died… She’s a very heady person. She doesn’t live in her emotions like a normal person, she doesn’t stack up loss. The ELQ thing is just a challenge, that’s all that is. Luke is, she kicked Luke to the – well, he actually kicked her to the curb, but I don’t think she, I think — it’s hmm, gosh, hmm… what an interesting question.
Access: What, I’m stumping Jane?
Jane: Yeah. I think the biggest loss for her is her father… She can change Luke, she can change ELQ, she can change her relationship with Monica. The only thing that’s not changeable, she is — in essence — an orphan now, she has no parents and that’s a very transformative thing in anybody’s life when you no longer have parents, and as connected as she was, I think there was part of her that thought it would be liberating to be free of her father and to be able to run the company the way she wanted to, to be – finally – the master of the ship that she always wanted to be, that her father would never let her be. And then in the end, it was not to be… she was going to have to fight a pipsqueak like A.J. for it.
Access: What does the 50th mean to you? You’ve been in and out of the soap since the late 1970s.
Jane: It’s such a privilege to be part of something for such a long time. It is the only place in the industry that you can do something like this unless you’re Rod Stewart and you do your 97th album. But to go back in and play the same part and work with a lot of the same actors and work with a lot of the same crew, and have that kind of continuity? I’ve come in and out, and in and out, and in and out like four times, and I’ve lived other lives and I’ve gotten married and divorced and raised children and been on other shows… I have gotten to live this full, rich life, with this being the constant in my life… That I was lucky enough to be hired to play a part that would have this kind of longevity is miraculous, because we all know, thousands of characters and thousands of actors have come and gone on ‘General Hospital’… So to have this character and this family to stay relevant over all of these years, and to give me a place to come home to is, unparalleled in show business, truly — that I get to be 66 years old and I’m a working actress and I raised two children on acting money alone. And most of it was ‘General Hospital’ money.
Access: Your children – Annie Rose and Adrian – do they ever watch mom on TV these days with all the buzz on the show?
Jane: It’s funny that you mention that. I never let my kids watch when they were growing up… and neither of them now, in their lives, have television sets. They only have their computers. But Adrian — somebody sent him a clip of something, I don’t know what it was… and [they] said ‘Oh my God! Look at this.’ He looked at it and he was instantly hooked and a couple of times a week he will go online and he’ll go to YouTube and see if there’s any scenes or anything to watch and he will keep track of it on the Internet, on what the Internet chooses to select out. And every once in a while he’ll go to ABC.com and watch an episode on ABC.com and that’s the first time ever. And he’ll ask me about story and he’ll say, ‘Did Heather change the will?’ And I’ll say, ‘Did you just ask me that?’
Access: A bunch of your friends have come back on the show, has that made it more fun to go to work?
Jane: You have no idea.
Access: It’s like the cool girls’ group is back.
Jane: It’s a party. It’s a party. Every day I get a script I run to see who’s in that day. I run to see who I’m having lunch with. Lynn Herring [Lucy Coe] and I — I’ve been up to her house, we go out to lunch, we go shopping. Finola [Hughes, who plays Anna Devane] and I go to the movies, I’ve been up to her house… We are now completely enmeshed in each other’s lives again, like it was 30 years ago.
Access: How exciting is the birthday stuff, the storylines and the Nurses’ Ball? What can you tease about that?
Jane: I can’t because it’s so hush-hush. I mean, I know that there [are] probably a dozen surprises of people coming back and I don’t know what they are because Frank [Valentini, ‘GH’s’ executive producer] has coded everybody’s name… If you call the call line, it’s the code name that’s getting called, so you literally don’t know who that person is until you’re standing on stage acting with them. One of the things that I like most about [Frank] is he believes in surprising the audience, he believes in not tipping your hand beforehand because it doesn’t give you a reason to tune back in… Frank does not want people to know what’s going to happen. He wants people to be surprised and there are some fabulous surprises coming.
Access: It sounds so fun!
Jane: It is so much fun and particularly, and I don’t know why he is so smart, but the specific people he has asked to come back are the yummiest. I adore Finola, I adore Lynn Herring, I adore Kin Shriner, I adore Ian Buchanan… And I’m scratching my head going, ‘Whatever happened to them? Why did they leave in the first place? How come they haven’t been there the whole time?’ and I’m just thrilled to have them, thrilled to have them back!
“General Hospital” airs weekdays on ABC.
-- Jolie Lash