Since assuming the role of Sonny’s father on GENERAL HOSPITAL, Max Gail has touched viewers’ hearts — but at July’s fan club event for the ABC soap, it was his heart that was moved. “There’s just been a warm response all the way around,” Mike Corbin’s portrayer told Soaps In Depth with a smile. “There’s a lot of sincere feelings about the storyline and a real appreciation. It feels good!”
And while Mike’s battle with Alzheimer’s is heartbreaking, Gail adores the challenge. “It’s been a great experience — and in this medium, you get to unfold day by day,” raved the TV vet, perhaps best known for his role of Wojo on BARNEY MILLER. “When I look back at some of the primetime gigs I’ve had? Wow. This is nothing like doing two scenes as a guest star in an episodic about someone who has Alzheimer’s. The day-to-day storytelling opens you up to a kind of freedom and some better work. That’s the beauty of it.”
With his character’s mind jumping through time, Gail’s scenes tend to shift fast. “The turns are intense,” he conceded. “There are a bunch of beats that go back and forth, and I have to figure out where those happen. And then trying to find a line through it takes a lot of time and energy. But no matter how much time I’ve spent with it, when I get on set, I always try to let go. Even though I know my lines, I try to let go and see what comes back and not be like, ‘This is what I’m doing, no matter what you just did!’” When working with Maurice Benard (Sonny), in particular, he’s ready to go where the scene — and his on-screen son! — take him. “Mo has been so open and helpful,” Gail says. “We found right from the get-go we could be present with each other. It’s special.”
While Gail has found inspiration in friends who’ve faced Mike’s illness, he can also relate, to a degree. “My dad used to tell me the same joke every time we talked: ‘I’m spending a lot of time in the hereafter. I find myself standing in a room wondering what am I here after?’” he related. “Well, I find that happening now!”
The actor was also moved by a Gloria Steinem interview with Dr. Gayatri Devi, who wrote The Spectrum of Hope. “This brilliant doctor realized people can’t tell her what they had for lunch, but they could tell her about philosophy,” he explained. “She said we should see [Alzheimer’s] more like a spectrum disorder. There’s a value people have and carry with them. That’s Mike. He’s trying to reach his son while he can.”
At the heart of this Alzheimer’s tale is the family story Gail and Benard are playing. “This dad finally started to get his life together,” Gail says. “He’s finally grown up and found a way to be present... and then he’s gone! So we’ve had times of really connecting — cathartic father-and-son moments. Life is like that. It’s a bit like stone skipping. Certain moments or conversations are really touching.”
Gail’s GH run has already lasted twice as long as intended, and he’s ready for more. Of course, “Mo’s having a harder time, because Sonny has to deal with Mike, and he goes there,” Gail explained. “But Mike just gets to be Mike.”
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