Thursday, April 10, 2014

Interview: Marshall Hilliard Gets to the Hart of the Matter

Marshall Hilliard
If you’ve tuned in to “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives” or “The Young and the Restless” recently, then you’ve seen a familiar face carting people off to jail as Officer Marshall, Dylan and George, respectively. Marshall Hilliard — who’s probably best known as Hart Jessup No. 4 on “Guiding Light” — has been getting plenty of work on all of your favorite soaps these past few years as everyone’s favorite (or not favorite, if you’re the bad guy) police officer. And lately, he’s been making the prime-time rounds and hanging out with Beckett, Castle, Esposito and Ryan down at the station on “Castle.” I caught up with Marshall recently, and we spoke about his time on “Guiding Light,” his present-day gigs and the friendship he’s formed with his Hart predecessor, Leonard Stabb.

Celebrity Extra: How did you get your start in acting? Was it something that you had always wanted to do?

Marshall Hilliard: I realize now that I’ve always wanted to be an actor, because I used to play — you know, when kids play, they normally play what they want to do, and we would always do acting. We’d do plays and stuff in the tree house, and we’d create dramatic events. I knew I wanted to be an actor at that point. At 19 I moved to New York and lived there for almost a year. I did some off-Broadway theater, got signed with Elite and modeled. And then they sent me to Chicago from ’87 to ’88. And then in January ’88, I moved to L.A., and that’s where everything started happening. So, I went from Elite New York to Elite Chicago, and then I came out here and I just started acting.

I was a co-host on Fox Television’s “Malibu Beach Party.” I did a couple of movies for USA Network, but soaps are where I’ve always wanted to be. And I know that sounds weird, but I used to watch “Guiding Light.” I used to watch “The Young and the Restless,” and I used to envision myself being a soap-opera actor. I know that sounds strange, because most people see themselves as a big, huge movie star. But I think I knew where I wanted to be.

Marshall as Hart
CE: What led up to your getting the role of Hart Jessup?

MH: It’s ironic how I got the part in the first place: I campaigned for it myself. I don’t know if you knew that. They were screen-testing guys, so I kept trying to squeeze in for an audition. Betty Rea, the casting director at the time, evidently didn’t see what I thought I had. So I called up production, and I said, “I heard you guys have screen-tested four or five groups already, and you haven’t found anybody you want.” And he said, “It’s true.” And I said: “Will you please fax me the script? I’ll memorize it tonight, and I’ll get my friend to film me, and I’ll overnight it to you for tomorrow morning. Will that be OK?” And they said, “Sure.” So (casting director) Melanie Haseltine is watching my video, and the head writer walks by and says, “Let’s bring this to (producer) Michael Laibson.” So they brought the VHS to Michael, and he said, “Let’s screen-test the guy.” So, that’s how I got it. I negotiated the contract myself.

CE: For me, the heyday of “Guiding Light” was during the late ’80s and into the ’90s — what was it like being on the show during that time?

MH: Yeah, and I would say the heyday for all soaps was when Luke and Laura got married on “General Hospital.” About 30 million people watched that. It’s pretty crazy. But I think in the soaps in the ’90s, they were trying to make them a little more like prime time, which was nice. I really loved “Guiding Light.” I thought it was great. Being on the show in ’95 and ’96 was like a dream. It was really more than a dream; it was more than I could ask for.

Hart and Dina
CE: For me, one of the best things about working on “Guiding Light” when you did would have to be getting the chance to work with the late, great Michael Zaslow. Tell me what it was like playing his son.

MH: Working with Michael was probably like how it would be to work with Drew Brees or Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, because you knew he was going to be prepared. You knew that you had to be prepared. So, therefore, you’re going to have a great father/son scene. What I liked about him was his professionalism and his ability to really, really find this relationship at the priority of what he’d been waiting for for well over two years. He dug into it from day one. He was the captain, and he made sure the ship was going to run smoothly.

CE: When you look back on your time there, what are some of your favorite story lines?

MH: Let’s see. I really only had a couple of story lines, which were finding out that Peter was my son with Bridget, having a relationship with my dad’s wife, and the third story line — which they pulled me out in the middle of — was gas-lighting Roger. I wasn’t crazy about that, because, in my opinion, knowing who Roger Thorpe was, it would be really hard to outsmart that guy. I wasn’t crazy about that. I’m not a writer, so I don’t give opinions on that. But my favorite story line was finding out that I had a son and my relationship with Peter. That was my favorite hands-down. That’s what I would rather do than seduce my father’s wife. I’d rather do that than gas-light my dad. I would rather just stick with really true, wonderful, loving nonvindictive stories.

CE: That was the time when Hart started becoming pretty bad, almost evil.

MH: That was another problem I had. It was like, Hart’s a good guy. How evil is he going to become? How bad is he going to become? That’s what I always wanted to know. And I didn’t like that. I didn’t want it, to be honest with you. I wanted Hart to be a good father. I wanted him to do the right thing. But they wanted him darker, and I wanted him nicer. Of course, what the fans want is more important than what I want or what the writers and producers want.

The arresting Officer Hilliard
CE: You’ve been hopping around different shows lately, playing a cop on “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives,”  “The Young and the Restless” and now “Castle.” What’s that been like?

MH: Oh, I love it. It’s funny because I’ve arrested somebody in Salem, I’ve arrested somebody in Genoa City, and I’ve arrested somebody in Port Charles. You can’t outrun my long arm of the law.

CE: I started watching “Guiding Light” in the early ’80s, and I just had the biggest crush on Leonard Stabb and had always wondered how he’s been doing since his hang-gliding accident back in the early ’90s. (For more on Leonard's tragic accident, read this.)

MH: I know. I’m straight, and I’ll say it: He’s a good-looking dude. I look back and I’m like, “Holy crap. Just look at this dude.” I’ve been watching some of his episodes, and he had that cool and brooding thing down really good.

Leonard Stabb (circa 1990)
CE: Back when he got hurt, we didn’t have the Internet giving us constant updates on his condition, so we just did not know what was going on when he had his accident. We had to wait weeks or months for Soap Opera Digest to give us a little blip of any kind of news.

MH: Yeah, and now we would know within a matter of seconds.

CE: Tell me about how you met Leonard and why you decided to help raise money for his ongoing medical care.

MH: When I got “Guiding Light,” I could never think about Hart without thinking of Leonard. Every time since when I would think about “Guiding Light,” I’d wonder how Leonard was doing. Every day I think about him. In April 2012, I met my now-publicist Mike Iannarelli, and the first thing he wanted to know was how Leonard was doing.

I told him I didn’t know, and he said that he knew Leonard was out in California. We decided to do some investigating. I called telephone operators for different area codes across California. On the last area code I was going to try, I asked if they had any Leonard Stabbs, and they told me they had 100. So I asked about a Leonard Stabb Jr., and they had one. Boom! That was it. So, I called his grandfather, his grandfather gave me the number, and I talked to Judy (his caretaker). I explained who I was and what I wanted to do, that I wanted to help raise money for Leonard. 

Marshall (left) and Leonard (center) celebrate
the California Tide's victory, 2012.
So she asked if she could come to a football game — I play for a triple-A football team, the California Tide — and that Leonard wanted to see me play. So they came out, and we won 56-12. It’s just laughable how good we were that day. We brought him out onto the field and made him an honorary California Tide member.
When you’re in a hang-gliding accident, and your head hits a tree — wow. To be quite honest with you, we’re really lucky just to have him here with us and alive and healthy. And most important, he’s happy. You should see the smile on his face when he’s with my football team.

CE: So if people want to know more about Leonard and how they can help, where should they go?

Len Stabb with college friends, circa 1982 (picture courtesy Lynette Britt)
MH: The first thing to do is to like my Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/pages/Marshall-Hilliard/371768209542181. That’s where I’ll have info on auctions, how you can bid, how you can donate — everything you need to help. We’re in the beginning stages now, but I hope to have more stuff ready soon, like auctions for soap memorabilia, signed head shots, and the like. And everything we make will go straight to the medical expenses and daily care of Len. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Marshall. I am very touched that you have taken these actions to help out my cousin, Len. Thank you. I am glad that he hasn't been forgotten. He is a great guy with an infectious smile. He is not with caregiver Judy any longer, as she has retired. Be well and thanks again!

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