Alicia Leigh Willis was just 23 years old when she signed on to play Courtney Matthews on General Hospital — Maurice Benard’s character Sonny Corinthos’s half-sister. The actress bonded with the actor immediately but had no idea he was suffering from bipolar disorder. It was something that wasn’t discussed back in 2001. In the most recent episode of his video podcast show, State Of Mind, the two old friends and on-screen half-siblings finally addressed the elephant in the room.
Maurice Benard & Alicia Leigh Willis: A Spotlight on the Darkness
It is no secret that Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos) started his video podcast during the pandemic to shine a spotlight on mental health struggles and awareness, but few have discussed what it is like to feel powerless on the other side of the struggle. General Hospital alum and three-time Daytime Emmy nominee, Willis, addressed her experience watching Benard wrestling with his symptoms on the set and how it made her feel.
“I didn’t know what you were going through,” she recalled. “All I knew was that you and I were always close. I always had a way of taking things really personally. So if someone was in a bad mood around me, I felt like it was my fault. Like I had done something. So for a long time, when I came to work, I didn’t know what Maurice I was going to get.”
Willis remembered how his mood swings affected her. “I would come to work, and one day you would be the most charming, lovely person, and then another day I was a little scared of you.” She revealed her own inner turmoil. “I was like, does he hate me? Did I do something? I sent you an email where we talked about it a little bit. I didn’t understand it. I was just a kid — just a stupid, naive kid who was still finding her way.”
Benard, for his part, realized how his behavior affected the cast at the time. “I was going through some dark stuff. And I took it out on Tamara [Braun, ex-Carly]. I don’t feel good about it, but I apologized. I was a different guy then.”
The actress explained how it factored into her decision to leave the show. “I remember the last year at the show, it was really dark, and I would go to my dressing room and just cry. And it wasn’t just that. That was a big part of it.” She explained, “I felt like we had such a good connection that I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to. It almost felt like high school, in a way. There was a time when you didn’t really know who your friends were and who had your back and who didn’t.”
People questioned her career choice at the time. “This is the first time I ever said that out loud because people were saying, ‘Why are you leaving the show? They are offering you another four years. You are a working actor. What are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I can’t stay. I am so unhappy.'” She reflected on how just opening up and talking about it could have changed everything. “It’s so funny that looking back now if we had had this kind of dialogue back then, think about how much easier it would have been for all of us to just talk to each other.”
Alicia Leigh Willis: Reunited And It Feels So Good
Fans of the ABC soap will enjoy the look back on Courtney Matthews’s adventures in Port Charles, her love interests, being Spencer Cassadine’s mother, and her character’s demise. Willis shared everything from her first audition for Mark Teschner to her goodbye.
The successful actress also discussed growing up in an entertainment family, moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles, her career after General Hospital, marriage and divorce, the Lifetime movies that supported her as a single parent, and finding love again. Fans can watch the entire episode here.