Vctoria Gotti couldn’t have cast a better actor than Maurice Benard as her infamous father, John Gotti, in the new Lifetime movie Victoria Gotti: My Father’s Daughter — and not just because the Emmy winner has spent the last quarter of a century keeping viewers glued to their screens with his searing portrayal of another made man, GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Sonny Corinthos. The daytime legend was the perfect choice for the part because he dedicated himself to getting it right. And ahead of the premiere (Saturday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. EST), he revealed to Soaps In Depth what it was like to bring Gotti to life for the late mobster’s daughter.
In Depth: In a nutshell, how would you describe the movie?
Benard: It’s about John Gotti’s relationship with his daughter and his family, and his love for his wife. There’s not a lot of violence in it, and I like that. And I love the fact that Victoria Gotti is an important part of the film, doing the voiceover! It’s going to be fun to watch and hear directly from her what happened.
In Depth: Is the late Mob boss the villain of this story?
Benard: That’s up to the audience to decide. I played him like a real-life guy who’s loyal to his people and loves his family — and that’s kind of what the story is about. It’s through Victoria’s eyes and told with complete compassion.
In Depth: How does Gotti compare to Sonny?
Benard: When I was shooting the role, I didn’t really know how different it was from Sonny. But my last day, I wrapped at about 1 in the morning in Canada, flew back and went straight to work as Sonny. I remember shooting the scene and thinking, “Wow, Sonny’s in about second gear, Gotti’s in about fourth or fifth gear!” It’s two different energies.
In Depth: Was it hard to shift those gears back when you returned to GH?
Benard: It was. I remember I said to Steve Burton (Jason), “You gotta get the ca’ [instead of car].” He laughed and said, “You’re still John. Get back to Sonny!”
In Depth: What was the casting process like for the movie?
Benard: They called and said they were interested in me, so I auditioned, and then there was the waiting... and then they said, “You got the role. You’re going to be aging from 20 to 60 years old. You’ve got to do a Bronx accent. And by the way, you have 48 hours.” It was difficult — and exhilarating!
In Depth: How did you prepare?
Benard: I didn’t have time to prepare like I would have wanted. I did a crash course [on Gotti]. There’s a lot of documentaries on this topic, but you never actually see Gotti talking. And there’s nothing of Gotti on YouTube. I only found one video, which I used to try to get his essence. I tried to do the accent subtly — just enough to make it real.
In Depth: Did you get to work with executive producer Victoria Gotti?
Benard: Yeah, she was great to me — and to my wife, Paula. They got along really well. It was just nice to talk with her. And she gave me beautiful advice, which was, “Play it more like Michael Corleone in The Godfather than THE SOPRANOS’ Tony.” That was pretty much the end of my research. After that, I just started grinding. It was never really “fun,” because I just wanted to be great for her, for Lifetime and for our director, Catherine Cyran. It was just three weeks of boom, boom, boom!
In Depth: Aren’t you used to that from GH?
Benard: In that regard, it was great. I could handle it!
In Depth: Are you looking forward to finally seeing the movie?
Benard: Oh yeah, I’m excited! Well... actually, I’m always real nervous watching anything that doesn’t have to do with GH. I’ve been doing daytime for so long, and I like the stories on GH. But when I do these movies or TV, it’s out of my comfort zone. And when you’re playing someone famous, you put yourself under a lot of pressure! It’s not only that you want to be great, but you want to live up to the expectations of the people who knew and loved the person.
In Depth: So have you gotten any feedback from Victoria Gotti?
Benard: We’ve gone back and forth on Twitter, and she said some very nice things. So that makes me feel good. What’s funny is that usually, anything I do outside of the soap, it’s not a big deal. Unless it’s called GENERAL HOSPITAL: The Movie, fans don’t really seem to care. But the fans seem all into Gotti! Everything I put up on social media, people respond. I think it’s because, even being dead, John Gotti is incredibly interesting, and so is Victoria.
In Depth: Any last thoughts on the movie?
Benard: Just that I want all the GH audience to check it out, obviously! I think they’ll be into it.
For more on your favorite GH stars, keep reading the ABC edition of Soaps In Depth magazine!
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