You Can Go Home Again

 In the eight years since Tyler Christopher made his splashing daytime debut as the Cassadine prince on General Hospital the young actor with the old soul has gone through some serious changes. First up, a name change (Baker to Christopher). Then, a broken engagement with a co-star (Vanessa Marcil, ex-Brenda), flirtations with prime-time stardom (a nifty guest gig as the perp of the week on CSI and the title role in a pilot that was thisclose to pick-up), and the marriage to an actress from a different soap (Eva Longoria, The Young and the Restless' ex-Isabella who had a crash-and-burn experience in prime time of her own on the short-lived but much-ballyhooed Dick Wolf Dragnet revival last year.

That's a lot of living in a few years -- and those are just some of the headlines. Maybe that's why Christopher sounds a little weary in this interview -- beyond the contemplative "still waters run deep vibe" he typically gives off.  Don't confuse weary with unhappy; he is genuinely psyched about returning to the place where it all started for him. "My experience this time is so much more enjoyable," shares Christopher. "With the feeling around the set and the friends I've made, and the work -- they're giving me tons of cool stuff to do.

Although the first couple of weeks back were definitely an adjustment, from the standpoint of changing speeds again. Going from one camera with film back to four cameras with tape -- and 75 pages a day. But after a few weeks I settled right in."Christopher came prepared to bone up on what had been going on with Nikolas during his four-year absence from the show, when the character was played by Coltin Scott. "I had a meeting with the writers, but their response to me was, 'Forget about everything that's happened over the last four years. We don't want you to care about or even know about it.  Just pick up where you left off.'"  That mandate deflated the pressure surrounding his return, as did Stephen Nichols' (ex-Stefan) own brief return shortly after Christopher's. "We always had a great relationship, on and off the set. It was nice to get back to where we were for a bit. The dynamics were different -- they wrote the characters more at odds than the father-son thing -- but the experience was still good."

As was reconnecting with on-screen relatives Nancy Lee Grahn (Alexis) and Constance Towers (Helena). "just one big happy family, as always," he says with a laugh.  Even the new faces in town were familiar ones to Christopher. "Rick (Hearst, Ric) and I did a play together.  Greg Vaughan (Lucky) and I worked on Charmed together and become good friends.  I knew Chad (Brannon, ex-Zander).  There were really only a few people I needed to get to know."

Reflecting on his years away from GH, the actor says the time was well-spent. "I certainly grew as a person, as an individual. It's tough out there. The first three or four months off the show were a big test of my will. It took a few months for me to re-establish myself [and not just be] the guy that was on General Hospital: It was a struggle to make a new image and new name for myself. It took a whole year just plugging away -- while at the same time not being able to rely on that check that used to come in every Friday, and not knowing when the next one was gonna come."

Despite the progress made in recent years by many of his peers, Christopher admits to experiencing residual stigma against soap actors. "Unfortunately, it is [still] a reality. It wasn't like I was ashamed of where I came from. I loved my soap job and everybody knew it. But there are still people out there who make decisions who don't know any better. I can't tell you how many times I heard through my agents, 'they only know you as a [soap star], and that's not what they're looking for'.  It was tough, but eventually I proved through hard work and patient that I can handle those things."Christopher's perseverance paid off, as he landed a handful of guest roles. "It was an interesting part of my life, those six months where I played all these characters that were like the big bruiser guy beating up everybody -- which couldn't be any further from who I really am," he smiles.  Unfortunately, the non-GH work he's proudest of will never see the light of day. "I did a pilot for CBS called Sam's Circus. It was about a group of soldiers in World War II. It was so brilliantly done, and such a humbling experience. We spent five weeks in England filming it, during the worst rainfall they'd seen in years, yet nobody complained because we knew that we were making something magical. Unfortunately, it never made it to air. It was an eleventh-hour decision, because they felt our demongraphic was weak. We had no minorities and no women on the show. It was a group of six white guys.  But let's be honest, that was the face of World War II. I took the news incredibly hard. The powers that be had been telling us that it was going to be the flagship of the network. All B.S. at the end of the day. I don't care what anybody says -- there's no formula [to predict success]. If there was, there wouldn't be so much crap on TV than I've ever seen.

But somehow, I wanted somebody to see what we did and go, 'Wow, I'd like to watch that show.'"While his show was dumped for being too white-bread. Christopher was ironically lauded with a nomination for an NAACP Image Award this year. "That was very nice and surprising," enthuses Christopher, who is part Native-American on both sides of his family. "There's not a lot of us out there, so much competition. We are definitely a minority amongst minorities. But we're out there -- not everyone's Italian or Latin-American that has dark hair and dark eyes." His Native-American heritage wasn't something that impacted him growing up. "I never pursue it culturally or spiritually until maybe five years ago. It's been quite an interesting journey, and one still in progress. Some people had approached me and said. 'I know you're Native-American, and we want to invite you to this place in Kansas.' I went there and ended up connecting with a woman who's heavily active in the Native community, and she took me under her wing and taught me a lot about who I was. What I find interesting is how simple they live life, yet how satisfied they are. For me there's a sense of calmness and connection to life through the eyes of some of the native people I've met, that I'm attracted to. I like to try and live my own life somewhat simply. I have my toys and things that I like to splurge on, but I enjoy my time alone. I enjoy where I'm at spiritually and that's a big part of their lives. How the're comnnected to God, how they're connected to the earth and the universe. That was a heavy influence on me and it made me grow up a lot these past few years. What it represents for me is, through all the turmoil that is Hollywood and through all the chaos that shrounds this town, a real life. It's a place to get away from all this madness."Marriage has taught him a few life lesson too.

Christopher, who recently celebrated his second anniversay with Longoria, insists, "if you don't grow from marriage, you're in trouble. Your priorities change and your focus changes. Everything that you do througout your day, you have to think about somebody else.For Christopher, it was an easy adjustment. "I adapt well to things. I don't know why I can pretty much fit in anywhere; mold into the crowd.  Marriage for me was like that: 'Oh. This is my new life now? Okay.' She didn't adapt nearly as well.  It took her a while to sort of...accept this is what we did. She was a little slow to come around." He and Longoria had only been dating about five months before tying the knot ("I guess when you know, you know"). Christopher had been in relationships longer than that which didn't end in marriage. Why this one? "It's just an instinct. For me it's not something you sit down and hash out with the buddies over a beer -- 'Do you think I should do this?' I just do what I feel, regardless of what anybody may tell me." Neither one popped the question, rather it was a decision mutually arrive at. "It wasn't textbook romance, so I don't have anything to boast about proposing or anything like that. There's no 'storybook' to it. But that's all right."

Christopher may now be playing an amnesiac who's been duped into believing he's a married Iraqi war vet, but his last official "act" as pre-amnesiac Nikolas -- making love to Emily -- was so steamy no one could forget about it even if they became an amnesiac. "That was quite the love scene, I hear," deadpans Christopher. "I did see it myself, and I was like, 'Okay, this is the real deal!'" Though satisfied with the outcome, Christopher insists, "It wasn't nearly as intimate as it looked. It took us two hours to tape that one scene. It took time to create the lighting effect they wanted and to insert a lot of style shots from different anglels - high angles, low angles. That was a 'big on,' and they went all out. I think the show needed something like that. It's been very G-rated -- it needed a little spicing up!"
Soap Opera Weekly
May 18, 2004
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