It’s 7:30 AM on Thursday in Los Angeles, and Access Hollywood is getting ready to check into “General Hospital.”
It’s the first day an outside camera crew has been let on set to interview Jack Wagner, who recently began filming what (beginning on Monday, February 4 on “GH”) will no doubt be his triumphant return to the role he originated in the 1980s, and left 18 years ago – sexy secret agent Frisco Jones.
More than an agent for the fictional WSB, as Frisco, Jack became a beloved part of the patchwork of daytime as one-half of one of the most beloved soap couples of all time – Frisco and Felicia (played by Kristina Wagner). Their romance, which lasted more than a decade, was filled with adventure, produced two children – Maxie and the late Georgie — and took some rocky turns.
Many thought this day would never come, but under Executive Producer Frank Valentini, Jack is back and the enthusiasm for his return is palpable.
As we step foot on set, it’s immediately a soap sensory overload. The Metro Court on our right! The Floating Rib down the hall. Is that? Yep! It’s Tony Geary in the distance.
Our Access producer, Sharon Spaeth, a petite redheaded spitfire with a deep rooted passion for daytime (her first internship many years ago was actually at “One Life to Live”), looks at me and grins. She’s just seen Jason Thompson (Dr. Patrick Drake), walk down the hall from the nurses’ station, flanked by Teresa Castillo (Sabrina) and Marc Anthony Samuel (Felix Dubois). It’s going to be a good day.
As Access’ resident super soap fan, Sharon tells us she’s going to make her introduction to Jack on camera, to fully capture the excitement of the moment. One of our “Dancing with the Stars” producers, Sharon’s met and interviewed Jack before – he competed the season before last, but seeing the handsome hunk in a dark blue suit with metallic hints, white dress shirt – no tie — and with his perfect blond crop – part business, part bad boy, she does what only comes naturally – blush.
“Frisco Jones makes me a little sweaty,” Sharon laughs, fanning herself.
“I’m a professional! I swear,” she adds. “This is like a 25-year dream for me!”
“I think she needs a hug,” Jack replies, embracing our producer.
Introduction over, Sharon quickly gets to work with the business of that interview (Jack has some intense scene to film momentarily), asking first about the very handsome new ‘do.
“When I talked to Frank [Valentini], the [executive] producer, and we decided that Frisco would come back it’s like, ‘Is he coming back [with the] ‘out of the Turkish prison look,’ with a little gruffy beard and Harrison Ford in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ or, is going to be more Michael Douglas ‘Wall Street’? So he said, ‘Let’s make it Turkish prison.’ So, I’ve cleaned up since I’ve been back,” Jack explains.
Jack’s character Frisco has been off the show for 18 years, missing monumental moments in the life of his family – Felicia, Maxie and his late daughter, Georgie. It’s not always easy to bring a character back to a soap. There have been plenty of column inches filled with writers lamenting implausible returns, but Frisco won’t join the category. He had a reason for being away.
“He has been a CIA agent and he chose his work over his family,” Jack says, when Sharon asks one of two Frisco-related questions on the mind of every “General Hospital” fan (the other question – about F&F comes later). “Now we’re starting to peel the onion back and I worked the other day with Kirsten Storms, who’s my daughter, [Maxie, on the show]. It really peels the onion back and brought up a lot of emotion.
“I’m really happy that this character can evolve and now say, ‘I was gone, I wasn’t a present father, I’m here now. I want to make up for the time that I was away and I think those are powerful scenes,” he continues. “I think it’s what the audience needs to hear and it’s what this character needs to say to have any kind of nobility.”
As fans know, Jack was married in real life to actress Kristina Wagner, who plays Felicia, and he did consult with the mother of his two children before taking the “GH” gig, which would put them back on the screen together.
“Yeah, I did. I said, ‘Listen, they called and wanted me to come back for the 50th anniversary. How are you with that?’” he recounts. “She’s like, ‘Good.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ Keep it simple in life, right?”
Being on set together, the pair mixes up personal chatter – like Kristina’s concern over Jack getting the flu – with prepping for scenes.
“We’ll go from running lines to, ‘Oh my God! You have a cold! Are you having some soup?’ ‘Hey, what did Harrison [their youngest son, born in 1994] do last night?’” he laughs. “You go from work to discussing children. It’s pretty funny how we jump around.”
Yes, the two have scenes together, including one emotional one Access saw the pair shoot on Thursday. To describe the scene in any great detail would deprive “GH” fans of the full enjoyment of the Kleenex moment. But of note — behind the scenes – Executive Producer Frank rolled his feet softly as he strode over to watch the monitors, taking great care not to make a sound (a hint at how deep the moment is), while Finola Hughes (Anna Devane) and Ian Buchanan (Duke Lavery) seemed to barely breath, watching Frisco and Felicia like they were a safety-harness free tight rope act. As Jack and Kristina wrapped, Frank and Finola broke into applause.
As Frisco and Felicia, Jack and Kristina’s on-screen chemistry is still there, but Jack reveals to Sharon he didn’t notice it immediately when they began shooting their first scenes together in January.
“I gotta tell you, it was a little awkward at first… But it’s starting to get a bit more comfortable,” he said. “I think the story is kind of unfolding now and it’s one of those things where I think the audience will probably enjoy seeing these characters together again. I hope so, anyway.”
Those who won’t be enjoying the potential for re-pairing are the Mac Scorpio (John J. York) loyalists, who think Robert’s younger brother always got the short end of the stick when it came to Felicia.
“She is with Mac now… Poor Mac,” Jack says, when Sharon asks if there will be a reconciliation for Felicia and Frisco, despite Felicia’s current romantic path.
“They certainly are leaning towards that and they certainly are using a lot of flashbacks and so when we go back to those old scenes, it kind of brings up so many memories for both of us,” Jack explains. “But I hope it unfolds and the audience really latches on and enjoys the two of us working together again.”
Just like “GH” has done recently with Anna and Duke, Felicia and Frisco too will get those dreamy flashback moments to their youthful romance.
“I can’t believe how we flowed with it,” Jack laughs, when talking about seeing the old scenes again. “We were funny, we had a lot of energy, there was a lot of romance and passion and it really made sense why these characters were kind of a supercouple on daytime television. And she looks beautiful still today and [is] just an amazingly beautiful woman and a wonderful actress, so listen, I’m happy coming to work. It’s been a lot of fun.”
There’s another scene filmed while Access is on set — it’s a moment between Anna and Frisco, the two characters catching up for the very first time after years not seeing each other. As the two trade stories, Frisco asks Anna what keeps a woman like her (powerful, intelligent and thrill-seeking) in Port Charles.
“There’s never a dull moment here,” she replies. “Seriously, it’s never dull.”
And with Jack’s Frisco back in town, it sounds like things are only set to get more exciting.
Catch Jack Wagner’s debut as Frisco Jones, on Monday, February 4 on “General Hospital.”
The 50th anniversary of the show occurs in April.
For more with Jack Wagner, watch Access Hollywood on Friday (February 1) and Monday (February 4).
-- Jolie Lash