When asked about Maurice Benard's performance last year on the long-running soap opera General Hospital, head writer Bob Guza doesn't hesitate: "It was the most courageous thing I'd ever seen," he says.
"Most actors," Guza continues, "take risks; good ones take a character as far as they can. But they also have a cushion—it's a role. Maurice wasn't just playing it, he was living it. And he went to some scary, scary places."
The route to those scary places was the 2006 GH story arc that chronicled a bipolar breakdown as experienced by a character who has bipolar—who, in turn, is being portrayed by an actor with bipolar. This is Benard, who in August celebrated 14 years of playing GH's complicated mobster (and Tony Soprano prototype) Sonny Corinthos, and who is also a spokesperson for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. His bipolarity has not just informed his life and work, it has also become a part of the daytime drama—something that's probably unique in the history of entertainment. As a dramatic technique, it might be dubbed "Extreme Method Acting."
"It was method acting without them knowing," says the 44-year-old Emmy-winning performer. "In my mind, I always said, 'I'll make this guy bipolar.' He started out being a bad guy, a really bad guy. And I thought to myself 'How can I make this guy come off in a way where it's justified, in his head, what he's doing?' I had always thought about the history of the character, what happened to him as a child. When I let it be known I was bipolar, we wrote it into the character."
"I had told Maurice, 'When you're ready, let me know,'" says Guza.