On this date, November 29, 1995, Stone Cates, Robin Scorpio’s first love, beautifully brought to life by actor Michael Sutton and earning him a Daytime Emmy nomination, died of AIDS on General Hospital. A story powerfully told over a period of a year and a half and, eventually, a story that would pull in strong performances from the entire cast, but especially Sutton, Kimberly McCullough as Robin, and Maurice Benard as Sonny Corinthos. The actor joined Benard on State of Mind this week to discuss the trailblazing storyline beginning from the first day.
“Basically, the first scene on GH I did was with Michael,” revealed Benard, setting the scene of their first meeting. “He was just a sweetheart. It was just amazing to watch him grow as an actor. It was like watching a caterpillar turn into a beautiful butterfly.”
“First of all, Thank you for having me on here. You are my brother. I respect you for everything we have been through.” Sutton continued describing that first day. “To take you back in time, you gotta remember I am a rookie. I see this veteran come in. We become instant friends. Pretty much right off the jump. We are hanging out in the dressing room together. You meet my family. I meet your family. You are getting me through at a time that I didn’t really have my bearings. Here comes Maurice Benard and knocks out something like 40 pages of dialogue and you crushed it.”
The second day was a whole different story as Benard struggled with his mental health issues. The younger actor explained what he saw on the set. “I am like, ‘this is going to be great. I get to do the same thing as yesterday and go to school [with] Maurice’ and you come in and it is a different you. In scenes one or two, you started to need a break and you were trying to shake something off. You got through it, scene 2, scene 3. By maybe scene 4, and you got another 8 scenes that day, you couldn’t get through it anymore. It was a ghost of you. You weren’t there. My brother wasn’t there.”
Sutton, a strong athlete and team player growing up, instinctively went into support mode, “See if you remember this. Me, who knew nothing, and you know I knew nothing about acting. I said to you in about that 4th scene, ‘Dude, all we got to do…’ Me, knowing nothing, ‘just follow my lead. I will get you through it. Let’s play off one another. You’ll get through this day. And, dude, you’ll get through this and you will be ripping it up just like yesterday.’ We stumbled through the day, but you did it. You did it. And on the sidelines, I am saying ‘You’ve got this. You killed this.’”
When Benard returned to the set a week and a half later, in a tear-filled meeting with producer Shelley Curtis, he was told that they would take it word by word, line by line, whatever it took to make it work. After that meeting, the veteran actor stopped to talk to the newbie. Sutton recalled what transpired next, changing his life forever.
“You came to me when you came back, knocked on my door, and came into my dressing room. You said to me this, basically, ‘You’re not very good right now [as an actor], but what you did for me, and why you thought you could do that with me to get me through the scenes. And said for me to trust you, you got me through that. I am going to take you under my wing. I am going to teach you everything I know and if you are receptive to it, you are going to be an amazing actor.’”
The Stone and Robin storyline of a heterosexual couple struggling with AIDS and all of the stereotypes, misinformation, discrimination, and prejudice that goes with it touched hearts and changed minds in a time when many were dying of an incurable disease. “I was 23 when I started on the soap,” the fan-favorite reminded the audience, “I worked on that storyline at 23, 24, and 25. You are not supposed to think about death, existence, or AIDS at that age. Even though I was a character, as an actor and a person in real life I had to entertain that subject matter. It changed me forever. As an actor, you break down barriers that you wouldn’t normally do in your own life.”
The former castmates and friends reminisced about the cast working on the storyline back then such as Antonio Sabato, Jr. (Jagger Cates), Vanessa Marcil (Brenda Barrett), Steve Burton (Jason Morgan), and more. “If you watched our scenes back then,” shared Sutton, going deeper, “if you were human, we were touching your soul. Whatever God particle we have inside of us, we were tapping into it. If you were watching it, it was raw, it was genuine, it was real. I think that is what we all aspire to do.”
While wrapping up the famed storyline, ABC taped a documentary, “Positive: A Journey Into AIDS” directed by Eamon Harrington and John Watkin following Sutton and McCullough as they researched their roles and HIV and AIDS for General Hospital. “When we finished that storyline, we were working on the documentary at the same time,” Sutton remembered. “We had a crew following us around and I was exhausted. I remember Kimberly and I were at Pepperdine University and they asked me how the storyline had changed me. And I said, ‘I don’t know any way that it hasn’t changed me.’”
“I haven’t had that in any of the TV shows, films, or anything else I have done since then. Eventually, I stopped acting because I felt like I had done the role of a lifetime.” Sutton wrapped up the feelings in those moments. “It was a special time. Fortunately, they gave us a storyline that was bigger than us, it scared us, and we had to meet the level because the world was dying from this disease at that time with no cure. And we had to tell that story.”
Perhaps Sutton could add life coaching to his resume sometime soon? There is so much more to see and learn in the inspiring interview, including Sutton discussing growing up in Beverly Hills, hanging out with friends like Jakub Dylan, Evan Ross, and more; his legendary father, publicist Joe Sutton, and his famed career promoting stars like Elton John, Neil Diamond, Burt Reynolds, Loni Anderson, and Oprah Winfrey while struggling with depression. Also, you can find out what he is doing after his life in Port Charles.
Don’t miss a minute of this special episode of State of Mind! For the full episode, click here. Next week, State of Mind welcomes former Executive Producer Wendy Riche and producer Shelley Curtis for more on this storyline and more. A can’t miss episode for General Hospital fans.
General Hospital (GH) airs weekdays on ABC. Check your local listings for airtimes. For more about what’s coming up in Port Charles, check out all the latest that’s been posted on General Hospital spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.
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