There has not been a phone call in recent memory that has been more enjoyable than the one that I had with Kathleen Gati! For my fellow General Hospital fans out there, you know her as the evil Dr. Liesl Obrecht, who has been called one of the most fascinating characters to take up residence in Port Charles. This is no surprise given the brilliant writing on the show, coupled with the equally brilliant portrayal by Gati.
Like many viewers, I have enjoyed watching Gati bring Dr. O.’s personality to life, slowly revealing the many layers of this ever-evolving character, which runs the gamut from being scary and terrorizing, to selectively nice and sweet, to completely absurd and funny.
In visiting with Gati, I quickly learned that she is every bit as complex and multi-talented as the character she plays. In addition to her role on General Hospital, Gati is a very accomplished and award-winning actress who has performed in dozens of plays both on and off-Broadway, as well as in numerous feature films and television shows. (For a full list, please view Gati’s bio).
We had exchanged messages on twitter for a few weeks leading up to our phone call, and although I was admittedly a little star struck when she answered the phone, she quickly made me feel comfortable and at ease. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that Gati didn’t have the thick German Swiss accent that we are used to hearing on General Hospital. The second was that she was instantly engaging, personable, and that she had done her homework on me!
Following are excerpts from our conversation.
MS: I’ve been watching GH since I was 14-years-old. In fact, my husband and I watch it together every night. So, when you watch it every day, you start to feel like the characters are part of your every day life. I really love your character and the depth that you bring in your portrayal.
KG: Thank you! I enjoy the way they write for the character. It’s always interesting and it’s always different. I like that I can show different colors, instead of one character, one color, and one behavior.
MS: I have been reading up on your background, and would love to hear more about your personal life and how you got your start.
KG: I come from an artistic family. My mother was an opera singer and my father was a symphony conductor, so we always had music in the house. I was born in Canada. My parents are Hungarian and they left Europe during the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Growing up, my sister and I were sent to the theatre, and we saw a lot of plays, and saw a lot of ballets, and heard a lot of music. The ballet was actually what touched me. I saw the ballet Giselle and there was this beautiful Russian ballerina, Galina Ulanova. I saw her dance in Giselle and how she was expressing the music through her body in dance, and I was mesmerized. Basically for the next 16 years that’s all I wanted to eat, sleep and drink. I just wanted to dance and express myself, because I never felt I could properly express myself with words, but through the music and through dance, I felt that I could express all my emotions.
As I got older, I had an injury and was forced to stop dancing. I thought my life was over. But it was a grateful injury. At the time you’re in the middle of a crisis, but it isn’t until later that you look back and go, “Oh that’s why that happened.” You look back and everything has a reason why it happens, but in the middle of it you don’t know, and I was devastated. I went to New York and I put myself through acting school, and then performing in the theatre was additional training on top of the acting school. So it was sort of a natural transition into the acting and then I started doing television. I slowly worked my way into doing some small parts in Moscow on the Hudson and in Ghostbusters.
MS: Tell me a little bit about your GH fans?
KG: I’ve never met such a wonderful fan base. The fans for General Hospital are the best. They’re gracious and kind and like family. It’s so cute because they’ve grown up with the show. I’ve only been on the show 3 years, but like you said you’ve been watching it for over 30 years. People have been there since the beginning for 52 years and it’s touching.
MS: When I asked if I could interview you, you pretty much said “yes” immediately. Why?
KG: It’s nice to meet fans. You know us and now we get to know you a little bit. So we can climb out of the TV and connect to people and, through you, because you help me connect to the audience in a very personal way. Here you can be real and you can really connect with the audience and the fans.
MS: I notice that there seems to be a lot of camaraderie both on and off the GH set. To what do you attribute that?
KG: I’m still like the new kid on the block. It’s been 3 years for me, but some of these people have been together 20 or 30 years, so they are a family. They see each other every day and work together every day. It was a slow progression, but now I’ve been in over 160 episodes and over time I’ve gotten to know more people. Some people I’m really attached to and I am really connected to. The fan club event that I just did was with nine other actors. We traveled together and we talked together and we hung out. It was great!
MS: So, what does a typical day look like for you?
KG: You go to the studio in the morning at whatever time your call time is. Sometimes you’re there all day. You go in early, get your hair and makeup done. The hair and make-up room is the main hangout spot where everybody goes. There we run lines with somebody if they are free, and then you go to the set so you can block your material for the day, so that you know where you stand, where you pick up your glass of wine, where you turn, etc. Then you go back to your room, change, and then you go and shoot your scenes. You say “hi” to a few people, but usually, everyone is studying their lines preparing. There’s not that much social time, at least from my perspective.
MS: Why don’t you socialize much with the other actors while on the set?
KG: The socializing for me at least is not on the agenda. It doesn’t fit into my program. A lot of the people are really cool and they’re chill. I’m not chill. I’m a workaholic, which I’m not sure is necessary, but that’s always been my work MO and that’s what I do. I have to learn this accent. I review the blocking. I’m looking for the nuances and the timing of where it’s funny or serious. I’m just very intense about the work.
MS: There has always been humor mixed in with some of the characters, but I don’t remember the show ever being as funny as it is now. Is that due to the writing, or the actors or both?
KG: I believe first and foremost that it is Ron Carlivati and his writing team. There’s a lot of seriousness obviously with soaps. It’s dramatic and it’s serious, but they also want to do a lot of this tongue-in-cheek comedy. There are a lot of comedic things that they put in there. I am one of the comedic characters. I’m on the absurd comedic side, and I love doing some comedy. It lightens the show. You’ve got to give the audience a relief, and I think the writers are brilliant.
MS: How much creative freedom do the actors have in terms of delivering their lines? Does a little ad-libbing come into play?
KG: I was told when I started that I don’t get to ad-lib, and frankly I never would. I’m not a writer. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want people telling me how to act, just like I don’t want to tell people how to write it. And, in this situation, from where I’m sitting, the writing is perfect. For my character, I couldn’t think of a better way to say it, so I would never change a word. As far as the comedy stuff, it has to be verbatim. The rhythm of it is so well written for me, so I would never change it. I respect the writing and I’m also happy with the writing, so I don’t feel like there’s a change that’s needed.
MS: How did you come to land the role of Dr. O. on GH?
KG: From what I understand, it’s thanks to Tony Geary that I’m on the show. I met with Mark Teschner, who has won eight Daytime Emmy Awards for Best Casting Director! Not a bad track record! I auditioned for him 17 years ago, which was 14 years before I got my first job with him. I came to L.A. and I didn’t know anybody because I had been out of the business for six years having worked in Europe after studying in New York. So, I came to L.A. and I went to workshops and I met casting directors, and I met Mark Teschner. He called me 14 years later for this two-day role and I went in and I auditioned. I got the part. It was two days. I went and did the job and I worked with Tony Geary. We hung out and we talked a little bit. Anyway, they called me back a few months later, so I started working more and more on the show, and my role grew bigger and bigger and Frank Valentini, the Executive Producer, told me “Tony Geary saw you, he loved working with you and he told me to pay attention to you and said you are good.” So, really, thanks to Tony, Dr. Obrecht has a longer life! He’s very special to me and I’m very grateful to him. I was at his farewell luncheon and I thanked him from the bottom of my heart.
MS: I felt honored the first time that I tweeted you about a scene on the show with you and Finola Hughes who plays Anna Devane. You referred to her as “Scarecrow,” which I thought was hilarious! Anyway, would you like to comment on you and your fans having more access to each other through social media?
KG: I really appreciate when people take time to connect and to talk to me and say beautiful things. I’m so grateful, so why not take a moment to say thank you as long as people don’t take advantage of that. As I’ve said, the fans are fantastic. They’re so gracious and kind. Whenever I get a chance I want to say thank you and favorite something on Twitter or like something on Facebook, and say I appreciate it because you took the time and you said that kind and/or fun message. I think social media is fantastic! It’s a really nice way to connect with the fans and it’s also good publicity. Sometimes we do live tweets for the show and that’s really good because then fans can ask questions and then you spend that hour tweeting back and forth…conversing with your fans. I also love my fan events because I can really spend time getting to know the fans and answering their questions. In case anyone wants to come to an event or join my fan club, they can go to the website: www.KathleenGatiFanClub.com.
MS: Do you feel like you’ve given up some personal privacy being such a recognized actor on daytime TV?
KG: I think when you’re in show business there is always a certain amount of privacy that you give up. I really try to keep it very private as much as possible. I have gone to Trader Joe’s and had people recognize me. It’s embarrassing when my mouth is full of samples, but it’s also funny, because I’m real.
MS: In closing, would you say that you like your career and would recommend it?
KG: It’s not for the slight of heart. My background and the way I was brought up with the music inspired me, and studying 10 to 14 hours a day (sometimes more) is normal. I really want to put everything into each moment. Each episode is a film to me, and there’s a beginning, middle, and end. There’s a story and there’s a structure to it. And you never know whether you’re coming back again, so you put your heart and soul into every day of work! It’s a lot of intensely deep profound work. It’s the same thought in any of the arts, whether you’re a writer or a musician. That’s my background and my training. Hard work! It’s not celebrity; it’s a craft. Young people have no idea how hard it is, and most people only see acting as “glamorous and celebrity.” It’s a lot of hard work and there are no guarantees that you are going to be successful even if you’re working. You become an actor because you love the craft and the art form, and not the possibility of celebrity.
I’m a working actor today, but every time I finish a job I go, “Okay God, what’s next?” I don’t know what my next job is. I always say the worst part of this career is that you never know what’s coming next, and the best part of this career is that you never know what’s coming next, and that’s exciting!
MS: It’s been very much the same for me. It’s all been very organic. There’s no planning; it just happens as it’s going to happen, and whatever is next is what’s next.
Thanks again to Kathleen Gati for sharing her time, story, and experiences with me! It’s always a pleasure to be able to meet such great people and connect with them on a level that goes far beyond the flat image on the television screen.