It seems like just yesterday that General Hospital fans the world over were in a lather over Luke ‘n’ Laura, the soap wedding of the century, but life has changed considerably for Genie Francis. After spending most of her young life in front of the GH cameras, Francis eventually stepped away from the Hollywood spotlight, taking comfort in a new life with her children and her husband, actor Jonathan Frakes, on the opposite coast. After making a short return to GH last year, she appears on the small screen once again this month in Hallmark Channel‘s The Note, premiering Dec. 8.
The film centers on struggling advice columnist Peyton MacGruder, whose life changes when she finds a note in a plastic bag washed up on a beach amid other debris from a recent plane wreck. “She feels compelled, the moment she reads the note, to get the note to the person it was meant for,” Francis explains. It’s a great journalistic opportunity, which MacGruder realizes. But soon, the finding of the note becomes the focus of a media frenzy, spearheaded by a tabloid-TV reporter who wants to break the news of its contents.
“He wants to sort of work with her or scoop her, basically, because he wants to take it for his own. And she’s very obsessed with this,” Francis adds of her character. “She doesn’t want it taken away from her. And so she really battles that through the movie, to try to keep control of this — even though it becomes very big and very popular — to keep it for herself, because it came to her. She was the one who found it.”
Francis is well acquainted with the intrusiveness of tabloid media from her soap days and beyond. “They’ve certainly had their way with me several times,” she laughs. “But that’s just part of being me. I’m used to it.”
Now living in Maine with her family, the only thing she says she wishes she had done differently would have been to leave Hollywood sooner. “As soon as I had my son, I backed off to two shows a week, which did hurt my standing [on GH]. But I managed to keep my foot in it. And now, looking back on it, I wish I had completely let go. But I couldn’t do that at that point. I really felt compelled to try to keep myself going.”
Ultimately, Francis says there came a point at which she had to make a decision. “I think I wanted to be a good mother more than I wanted to be a great actress,” she says, matter-of-factly. “It was important to me to do that right. Of course I’ve made my mistakes. I regret them, but I did the best that I could.”
As for regrets in her professional life, Francis admits to only one. “I would love to do comedy,” she says. “That’s the hardest one for me to get, because people know that I can make people cry and all this sort of thing. But unless they’ve watched a lot of the soap opera, they don’t know about the funny parts. And most of the people who stand back and judge haven’t watched it. So you know, I would love to do more comedy. That would be my dream.”
But Francis isn’t exactly waiting around for the opportunity. In the meantime, she’s keeping decidedly busy — not reading scripts, but pursuing the interior decorating business she started a number of years ago, The Cherished Home.
“I have such a good time,” she says, enthusiastically. “I needed to have some way to express myself. And this is something that I’ve always loved. It’s a passion of mine. I compulsively decorate and redecorate, and I love taking things that are old and messy, and making them beautiful. That’s a big, big part of me. So this was a terrific way to keep myself busy instead of just sitting by the phone and waiting for Hollywood to call. I’m continuing on, living life. And I think that’s the better way to go.”
As if motherhood, running her own business and the odd acting gig weren’t enough, Francis and her husband have their hands full with a new restoration project that goes hand-in-hand with her love of redecorating.
What Would GENIE Write?
If you only had one minute to express yourself to those closest to you, what would you write? As of Oct. 22, Hallmark Channel has been asking this as part of its What Would You Write? campaign. For Genie Francis, it was easy. “If I had only a sentence to write, a last message, it would be that my husband and my children were the best things that ever happened to me,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll say, in my rocking chair, ‘Gee, I wish I had done a few more episodes of this,’ or another movie. I think you really think about whether or not you were really there for your kids.” To participate, visit www.WhatWouldYouWrite.com.
“We just got this wonderful old camp that was built in 1850, on a lake in Maine,” she says. “It’s got square nails up in the attic — if you go up and look at how the construction is done. It’s just a wonderful old relic that I want to bring back and breathe some new life into. It needs some maintenance and things like that. It just hasn’t been loved in a long time, but yeah, I have a passion for taking old houses and bringing them back to their moment of beauty.”
Somehow, in the flurry of all of this activity, Francis has found the balance and peace that seemed more elusive at the height of her fame. “I think I’m much freer and much happier for having left [show] business behind for five years,” she reflects. “Interestingly, the moment you do that, Hollywood comes running after you to say, ‘Wait a minute! Wait a minute!’ It’s very strange. The moment I truly let go and created something new for myself, I didn’t have any more bad dreams about General Hospital and being passed over [for roles] — any of that sort of thing. And I don’t think I’m defined by my career, anymore. I really don’t. … I think I’m living more authentically, getting up in the morning and doing what I want to do because I want to do it. And worrying a lot less about what they all think of me, or whether or not they love me.”
As the holidays approach, Francis looks forward to spending more time with the people who really matter in her life, lending a bit of the magic of the New England holiday season to some of her extended relations.
“I’m having my cousin and his family come for Thanksgiving,” she says. “I think, maybe, my mother-in-law will be able to come for that, too. Christmas we’ll probably have at home, at our own little house, and then we’re going to go off to an inn — this pretty little inn that we’ve heard about in New Hampshire that’s supposed to have good family activities, so we’re going to go there.”
It’s hard to imagine a more placid holiday. But after decades of drama onscreen and off, Genie Francis wouldn’t have it any other way.