Quite frankly, ESPN First Take co-host Stephen A. Smith is a big fan of ABC’s daytime soap opera General Hospital, and now he’s going to play a role in it. Smith made a brief cameo in 2007, but now he’s receiving a larger part. Maurice Benard, who plays mobster Sonny Corinthos on the show, was a guest on First Take in 2015 and got to talking with Smith about General Hospital, and that led to Smith (who says he’s been a fan of the show for over 40 years) being tabbed to play “‘Brick’, a surveillance expert for Sonny and the mob” in an episode that will air Thursday. Smith told ESPN Front Row this was drastically different from his daily on-camera appearances on First Take:
“I operate extemporaneously,” Smith said. “I research, do homework, lights come on and we go. . .I have to be ready and speak off the cuff.
“With ‘GH,’ you memorize lines in a script, bringing other people’s words to life. The pressure is immense. I practiced and practiced to make my lines conversational. Since I have watched the show for so long, I know Sonny and his mannerisms. So the scene was like talking to a long-lost friend and I was working with Maurice, one of biggest soap stars ever, who talked about how he visualizes the scene and environment. ‘How would you bug a phone? How would you say this to your boss, the mobster?’ I knew him and how he goes about things. I imagined all that and it helped relax me.”
Fortuitously, Sonny and his wife Carly are Smith’s two favorite characters.
“I marvel at their professionalism, how focused and ready they are to perform at a moment’s notice,” Smith said. “I’m practicing over and over. They take one or two looks at the script and are ready to go.”
Smith said shooting General Hospital was much harder on his nerves, too:
“I’m never nervous on First Take. It’s my and Skip’s domain. I’m extremely confident on ESPN. I felt like a fish out of water on the ‘GH’ set. I don’t get nervous too often, but I was incredibly nervous. Maurice made it easy for me, coaching me the entire day. He made me so comfortable that at one point I almost forgot I was on the set. And we shot the scene in two takes!”
Here’s a preview clip from the episode:
The General Hospital episode featuring Smith will air Thursday, March 31 at 3 p.m. local time on most ABC affiliates. See this ESPN Front Row piece for more details, including Mark Schlereth (who played a detective on CBS’ “The Guiding Light” from 2006-2009) opining on what other ESPN personalities would make good soap stars.