“Never look back and say ‘What if?…’ ” is actress Leslie Charleson’s go-to advice. While it’s okay to visit the past, don’t spend too much time there. Charleson has appeared in films and television as well as commercials. Since 1977, she has also famously portrayed Dr. Monica Quartermaine, noted cardiologist on the ABC daytime drama, General Hospital.
In the years that you have portrayed the character of Monica Quartermaine, is there a storyline that stands out for you as being the most memorable or significant to you personally?
Monica’s battle with breast cancer was just so incredibly fulfilling. At the time, General Hospital had a strong female administration with a female executive producer and head writer, and together, each one of us had been touched by breast cancer in our own lives. Dealing with a real-life issue that afflicts so many women and their families and being able to show the struggle and issues they face, was something I am so proud of. It was exhausting and incredibly difficult work, but the response to the storyline was truly humbling. I would attend Susan G. Komen for the Cure fundraiser events and, each time, women would approach me and share their own experiences. I also felt the show did a great service showing how her husband, Alan, and the rest of Monica’s family and friends dealt with her battle. It was an important story and knowing that any part of my performance helped viewers was just so gratifying.
Over the years, General Hospital had so many fun guest star appearances, who was your favorite?
It was wonderful when Elizabeth Taylor made her guest appearances as Helena Cassadine. I also tremendously enjoyed when Richard Simmons was on the show with us. He was just such an entertaining force of nature. He once visited my home and just started knocking on my neighbors’ doors in a quest to find a piano to play!
I can imagine that playing the role of Monica for so long, your fans must feel as though they know you personally. What would you like the viewers to know about what it is like to be a soap opera actress?
General Hospital’s fans are fiercely loyal, and I think, because these characters appear in their homes each weekday, year after year, they truly feel a connection to us personally. I once had a fan come up to me to introduce me to her friend, before she realized that I hadn’t actually met her before either! I would stress the overall importance of being kind to the actors and actresses, especially when they fill in or take over the role of a character. I remember when I first appeared as Monica, the role had previously been played by Patsy Rahn. Eventually, of course, I went on to make the role my own, but I never forgot that initial feeling that people didn’t like you! It is understandable to be change resistant when it comes to your favorite actors and actresses but, at the end of the day, we are real people, and this is our career. When I broke my hip in 2018, Patty McCormack filled in for me and I sent her a bouquet of orchids to show my appreciation. I empathize that it would not be an easy task where I’ve played the role for so long. I thought she did an amazing job, and I was very thankful as, after all, the show must go on!
The tribute episode to Gail Baldwin had Monica and her former nemesis, Leslie Webber, sharing a nostalgic moment. What was that like for you and Denise Alexander personally?
While Lesley and Monica may have been rivals and despised each other on screen, Denise and I really hit it off and have been great friends for many years. There was a genuine feeling of nostalgia during that scene as it was a tribute to Susan Brown, who had passed away, but Denise and I really have seen it all over the years.
If you could tell your younger self something, what would it be?
Honestly, I would tell myself to, “face the stove” and learn how to cook and not be so dismissive about its importance. Whether you are cooking for yourself, family, friends, or even for a date, it is a skill worth cultivating. I would also tell myself to treasure the time with my parents. There are so many times that I wish I could ask my parents a question or find myself wanting to share some news with them.
What do you think about some of the iconic traditions or sayings that are associated with your character? (e.g. having pizza for Thanksgiving or always reminding the rest of your family that the Quartermaine mansion is your house.)
I think in life that it is vitally important to never lose the ability to laugh at yourself. I have always found it a bit humorous how the writers, year after year, must get creative in how the Quartermaine family ends up having pizza for Thanksgiving. I think the fans enjoy this annual light-hearted fun, but there is always the message of the importance of family and being together when the Quartermaines sing, “We Gather Together.” As for the, “It’s my house, Alan bought it for me!” line, in my head, there are times I roll my eyes, but make no mistake about it… it’s Monica’s house!
Do you think Monica will resume her role as Chief of Staff of General Hospital?
I sure hope so! I was as surprised as anyone that she was fired when we resumed filming after the quarantine break. We will have to wait and see how it plays out but, hopefully, Monica finds herself back in charge.
Speaking of the quarantine, how did you spend your time?
I am so grateful that the equestrian center where I keep my two horses remained open throughout the quarantine. I truly believe that being able to continue to care for them and continue riding helped tremendously in maintaining some semblance of normalcy. It has been terrific to be back on set again, even with wearing masks and all the other necessary precautions.
Would you have ever guessed that you’d still be “checked in” to General Hospital all these years later?
Before coming to General Hospital, I had been on the CBS soap opera, Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and, when I left that role, I never intended to work on another soap opera. Tom Donovan, who I adored and who I had worked with on that soap, had asked to meet with him and he ultimately charmed me into taking the role of Monica. I had never seen a single episode of General Hospital at that time, but Tom assured me that it was a great fit. I remember my first day on the show was the same day that Elvis Presley died, and I was a big Elvis fan! I could never have envisioned the impact that this job would have on my life. Things have changed over the years, from the pace and timing when shooting a scene, to the amount of interaction with other cast-mates, to the inescapable impact of social media. I feel a bit sorry for the younger cast members that they do not get to experience it quite the same way I have. As I look back, 43 years later, I am so grateful for all the amazing experiences and friendships. While it’s nice to reflect back on all that Monica and I have been through together, I truly look forward to what’s next for us both…the drama, the laughs and even the annual Thanksgiving pizza!
Where can people follow you?
On Twitter at @lesliecharlson