INTERVIEW: Mark Lawson on joining General Hospital and what lies ahead for Dustin and Lulu

Posted Friday, July 26, 2019 2:38:30 PM
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One Life to Live alum Mark Lawson dishes on his new General Hospital alter ego, Dustin Phillips, and what might be ahead for the Port Charles teacher and his budding connection to Luke and Laura's daughter, Lulu (Emme Rylan).

School's out for summer, but that hasn't stopped General Hospital's Lulu Spencer (Emme Rylan) from being hot for teacher. The chemistry between her and new character Dustin Phillips -- played by One Life to Live alum Mark Lawson (ex-Brody Lovett) -- is so off the charts, one wonders whether he's really an English teacher, or if he's actually a chemistry teacher in disguise. Either way, fans want more. And luckily, Lawson is happy to give it.

Dustin made his first appearance in mid-July, when Lulu accidentally found herself on a date with the teacher in the middle of a sting to catch an online dating criminal. It wasn't clear whether or not the character would be back for additional episodes, but as GH viewers have seen, Lawson has made a subsequent appearance and tells Soap Central that there's plenty more to come next month. But the promise of more episodes isn't the only exciting thing that the Virginia native shared. Read on to get his thoughts on Dustin, rebound relationships, working with Rylan, meeting the GH cast, how fatherhood has affected his acting skills, and so much more.

Soap Central: Mark! Welcome back to daytime. We are so happy to have you back in the soap world again!

Mark Lawson: I know, me too! I'm very happy. Thank you for saying so. It's been a lot of fun so far.

Soap Central: Were you able to jump back into it like you didn't miss a beat, or was there an adjustment period for you?

Lawson: I think I had like two weeks instead of the usual one week to look at the script for the first episode, and it was a lot of mental preparation of like, "Okay, remember what this felt like?" But then also kind of going, "Well, I've screen tested a couple of times, and now I've seen how fast they work, and I have a sense of the pace on the set." So, I was able to just kind of take those couple of weeks to remember some of the good habits and also to reinforce, "Hey, let's avoid doing these kinds of things when we're on set from this point on." [Laughs] When I was younger, and I think this is actually something that I'm excited about, I was working on One Life in my late 20s and early 30s, and now I'm forty, and I have a lot more focus as an adult and as a father that kind of takes away some of the need for some of the extraneous stuff that, as an actor, I did as a younger man. So, it's been nice to just be able to go in fresh and go in ready and just do the job and enjoy that, and then to leave at the end of the day and not feel [heavy]. Brody was mired up with a lot of weight. Everything he had, there was a lot of weight to it. And I don't really feel that yet with this guy, so it's a nice change.

Soap Central: When I was watching your first episode, I almost spit my coffee out in surprise and went, "Holy crap, that's Mark Lawson!" I think a lot of fans had that reaction, because you managed to keep it under wraps so well. How did you keep it so secretive in a time when it's nearly impossible to keep a secret?

Lawson: I had to make my social media all about workouts and talking about the other things that I'm working on, like my scripts and all of that, and really had to bite my tongue. I really did have to bite my tongue, that's the bottom line. And everybody I told, like in my family, I had to [be firm] and say, "You CANNOT tell anybody, because they want to let this drop and see what happens." I feel like Emme and I had great chemistry, but if we hadn't, and we had built up this big buildup to that episode, what if it didn't go as well? So, I think that was kind of the thing, like, let's just keep it close to the vest and let the scenes speak for themselves, and hopefully it's a big surprise. And I feel like that's what we got.

Soap Central: Let's go back to the fact that you auditioned a couple of times for GH. They really made you audition, even though executive producer Frank Valentini is familiar with your work from OLTL, having also helmed that show?

Lawson: Well, Frank has to do his diligence, and I've been doing a bit of directing and a lot of writing since I was on One Life, and I know that if I write a character, then I need to see that that character's language fits into that person's mouth and fits with that person's look or essence or whatever it is. I guess, another way to put it, for a few of those roles -- and I wouldn't say this about Dustin, because it was flattering to be offered Dustin -- but for a few of those, I'm glad that they put me through that, because I wouldn't want to be on set and feel, "Am I really the right guy for this?" [Laughs] So for me, it's actually more of an actor's security blanket, knowing, "Nope, you were tested, you were proven, you're the right guy." And one of the things that I like about this role is that we're taking our time, and we're just kind of seeing what happens, and I'm getting to play completely different sides than what I worked on with Frank before. When I was doing all of the broody Brody PTSD stuff, and I'm not trying to minimize that story, but it was a very different vibe. So, we're moving forward, we're taking it one day at a time, and seeing where it goes.

Soap Central: What can you say about Dustin at this point? We know he's a teacher, and he seems pretty charming. Is there anything else you can reveal about him?

Lawson: I don't really know what I can say, and I also think that maybe what I was told before I took the role might have already shifted a little bit, too. So, what I can say is, the more I think about him, the more I'm going, "I think he's got an interesting life." He's a teacher, and he's a rideshare driver. And I think that's a pretty common experience, especially that teachers have, having to hustle a lot to make ends meet and make their lives work. He's an English teacher, and that tells me that he's probably a writer; he's probably got a novel in his desk [laughs]. And there's something interesting to me about if he's an Uber driver, then he sees nighttime in Port Charles. He sees what's going on in the evening, which I think is interesting, too. I would love to see that kind of play into something, seeing what happens when the lights go off.

Soap Central: I love how much you're thinking about this, especially because it proves this guy has some legs, and there is a possibility to expand upon him.

Lawson: Yeah, and also the fact that Lulu is an investigative journalist is interesting to him. I think that he's kind of intrigued by that, and it plays into his writerly curiosity. And I'm totally projecting that, but it's just one of those things I get from gut instincts. I'm like, "He's got three unfinished novels in his drawer, and one day, he's going to finish them."

Soap Central: Had you met Emme Rylan before? I think you might have been in New York at the same time, because she was on Guiding Light as Lizzie Spaulding.

Lawson: No, I hadn't met her! And we were both kind of surprised by that... I hadn't met her at any of the events or the award shows. But it was immediately easy with her. She is one of the sweetest, nicest people to work with, and super professional and ready to go. And she's also really fun. So, I hadn't met her, but it felt like a very quick rapport. We immediately started to feel comfortable working together, and that is a testament to her just being a pro and holding down a set. You immediately feel it from her.

Soap Central: You hadn't met Emme yet, but there were a few people on set you were already familiar with, like Roger Howarth [Franco, GH; ex-Todd Manning, OLTL] and Michael Easton [Hamilton Finn, GH; ex-John McBain, OLTL]. Have you seen them around yet?

Lawson: Roger and I have spoken -- I think I've seen him almost every time I've been there. The first time especially, he was really great, because he took me around and introduced me to some people who I hadn't met yet. In fact, one of the times I was testing, Roger was there, and I had a long chat with him and Mark Teschner at the same time, and it was one of those moments where I was like, "Oh! This is happening! This is going to be the gig!" And then it was like, "Well, maybe not this time." [Laughs] But he has been really cool every time I come in. And Michael, well I haven't seen Michael yet, but I keep wanting to leave a message on his dressing room door, but then I feel a little bit too much "stalker friend" to do that. [Laughs] But I'm hoping to run into him at some point. I love Michael, and I loved working with Michael on One Life. He was somebody, because of his other projects, his writing and his directing and all of those other facets of him, I've always really respected him and looked up to him. So, I hope I get to work with him a bit again.

Soap Central: Was there anyone else that you already knew on the GH cast?

Lawson: I had met Kirsten [Storms, Maxie Jones] a few times, but honestly, no -- most of the people I didn't know. I would kind of get the head nod, you know? Like, "I recognize you, but I can't place it." And I was doing that to people too, because I'm kind of quiet when I first get to a set. I kind of keep to myself, because everybody has their flow, and everybody has their way that they approach a day. I like to just kind of hang back until I say, "Okay, that person likes to be social, that person like to keep their head down." I think that's another one of those things that I've learned with age, is just to make everybody else's day on the set easy. So that's kind of my mission when I get to set. I'm like, "Hi, hi, how are you? Now I'm going to go to my room, and I'm going to study." It's a quick place, too. You've got to be ready to go, and I don't want to miss the moment because I'm hashing it up with somebody. I want to stay focused.

Soap Central: What was your first day on set like?

Lawson: It was honestly a time warp. It was a complete time warp. I felt like everything just kind of flooded back, and I remembered, "Oh, there's this many cameras, and you need to hit this mark and stay open for that camera, and hold at the end of the scene so you get one of those close shots." It was like the bike analogy, which sounds silly, but it did feel like that. It kind of felt like, "Oh, yeah! I've got these legs. I know how to do this." But I think the thing that had changed for me, and I was grateful before, too, but just having more perspective now. I mean, I've got three kids, I've lived -- I feel like I've lived an entire life since One Life ended -- and being able to bring that to bear, knowing, "Hey, I've lived through three newborns coming home and all the little mini crises that kids put you through." I can be on a set here and stay calm and feel way more relaxed than I used to when I was younger.

Soap Central: I imagine that having kids at home can help give you even more insight into Dustin, since he's a teacher, and you know what it's like to wrangle children.

Lawson: Oh, yeah, for sure! Although, I don't have any kids that are as old as the ones that he deals with, so that'll be interesting, too. It'll prepare me for a few years from now! [Laughs]

Soap Central: The fans really noticed the chemistry between Dustin and Lulu. After you guys filmed it, did you also notice the chemistry and say, "Hey, that felt good."

Lawson: We did feel that. I'm not sure if it was Emme or it was Kirsten, but after one of those first scenes where it ended on a look between us, one of them joked, "Dante who?" [Laughs] And I think that's kind of what the fans are doing, too. It sparked a good energy for the next time we got to work together.

Soap Central: The fans love Lulu and want her to be happy, so if Dustin might be the one who makes her happy now that Dante is gone, then they're probably going to support that.

Lawson: That would be great. But we also want some good drama, too!

Soap Central: Have you thought about the fact that Lulu is Luke [Tony Geary] and Laura's [Genie Francis] daughter? That's pretty huge.

Lawson: Yeah, actually, that totally occurred to me. I was like, "Okay, who am I working with?" And that was one of the first things I did, was figure out [the relationships]. I did watch GH a bit back in my One Life days, and I had spoken a lot with Tony Geary, because we were at the Broadway Cares events a lot, and I always respected him. So, when I did a little homework, I was like, "Ohhhh, she's connected to him! Okay, cool!" I think it's great.

Soap Central: It is, but there is the little snag that it would be a rebound relationship for Lulu. What do you think about rebound relationships? Do you think they can actually turn into something substantial?

Lawson: Yes, I do think so. I also think that rebound relationships can be totally healthy! [Laughs] Sometimes you can be in them and realize it's time to move on, and sometimes, especially rebound relationships, they don't have to end badly. They can just kind of mutually evolve. But at the same time, I'd love it if we could get into a little bit of drama about it, you know? Which I think is coming!

Soap Central: My boss made a pretty funny joke when I told him I'd be interviewing you. He said, "Well, dating a girl who is rebounding has got to be easier than dating a girl with multiple personalities [like OLTL's Jessica, who was also Tess and Bess]."

Lawson: [Laughs] That's so true!

Soap Central: Despite a lot of serious issues, OLTL's Brody and Jessica were such a great couple. I really miss them. What did you think about the way that relationship ended?

Lawson: Well, thank you for saying that. I took a lot of pride in all of that work that we did. Before this job came up, I was still every now and again sending Bree text messages. There was one day when I was home the whole day with the kids, and I took a selfie of myself and realized I was wearing gray sweatpants and a gray T-shirt, which is basically the St. Anne's uniform, when you're in the asylum at St. Anne's on One Life. So, I sent her a text, and I don't remember what exactly I said, but it was in the context of, "At least I'm not in St. Anne's!" [Laughs] But as far as the ending of our storyline, I thought it was handled beautifully. I would have been really suspicious if Brody and Jessica had ended up together. Like, "Really? She's going to end up with a guy who just did this, this, and this? And he's going to go back to her when she just did this, this, and this?" But ending with the mutual respect of each other, I think that was the hope that they both needed to move on with. Like, "We can go through this together, and go through multiple personalities on her end, child-napping and obsession on his end, if we can move on from that, then we can live a fulfilled life."

Soap Central: Bree has a history on GH [as Claudette Beaulieu], so would you welcome the opportunity to work with her again, this time as Dustin?

Lawson: Oh, of course! YES! It's funny because we've stayed in touch, and I've always looked up to her a lot, too. I was just joking the other day with someone about the fact that she was playing three characters on that show, and she had to have a life for each of them, and had to have movement for each of them, and just speech patterns for each of them, and that was humongous. That was a huge job. And she was so much fun to work with. I would love to work with her again.

Soap Central: You mentioned your daughters a couple of times, and I have to say, it is so much fun to imagine you -- this big, buff, athlete guy that you are -- being surrounded by three little girls all day!

Lawson: [Laughs] I actually get that a lot. I get a lot of the alpha male [jokes], except I don't really feel like I'm the alpha male. But I do get a lot of, "Well, are you going to try for a boy?" And I'm like, "No, because I'm raising three women to be badasses! They don't need to be a boy. I've got a daughter that can do pull-ups already." It is funny, but there are definitely times of the day where it just gets really loud, and I feel my ears start to ring, and I just go, "Man, if only I had a male dog that I could take for a walk right now, just to give myself a window, I think that would be healthy." [Laughs]

Soap Central: Your post of the girls watching John Brotherton [ex-Jared Banks, OLTL] on Fuller House was pretty cute, especially the fact that they realize he's an actor now, and you're like, "Do I need to get a role on that show so my kids get that I'm an actor, too?"

Lawson: Yeah, right?! I will say, it was really cool to show them the first episode of GH. They've seen me do a couple of other things, but when they related [me to John], because they've actually met John a bunch of times, because our kids were in the same basketball league, they started to put together, "Oh, he's on that show, and you worked with him on an old show..." And I was like, "Yeah, see? Your daddy actually doesn't just stay home with you guys all day!" [Laughs]

View this post on Instagram

@johnbrotherton bro, I'm pretty sure the only way my kids will ever understand that I'm an actor is if I guest on @fullerhouse . They...don't...stop. I see you more now than when we were on One Life. #actordad #parenting #nkotb

A post shared by Mark Lawson (@themarkmlawson) on

Soap Central: I can only imagine how special that must feel, that they're finally able to put two and two together and understand what you do.

Lawson: Actually, just last night, my oldest one said, "Daddy, I'm going to write a movie, and you're going to be in it." And I was like, "Let's do it!" So, I think they're starting to get it.

Soap Central: Speaking of scripts and films, is there anything outside of GH that you're working on that you can share some details about?

Lawson: I shot a really fun, raunchy ladies comedy called One Night in San Diego. I shot that earlier this year, and it's about two L.A. ladies who go down to San Diego to see a guy in a show, one of them is infatuated with the guy, so they go down to see him in a show that is supposed to be at Comic-Con, but it turns out it's like the off-off-off-Broadway version of Comic-Con, and I'm the guy in the show. It was a lot of fun, and I actually got to sing a little bit. There's also another film that we've been working on for a long time called Heretic in which I would play a Templar knight returning from the Crusades. That one is more like a historical thriller. I can't give anything away about that one right now, but it's something that I'm very excited about. I've been attached to it for a long time, but we haven't started production yet, so I'm staying [quiet about the details]. And then there's the script that I'm working on right now that I'm aiming to make as my first feature as a director, and it's a bodybuilding horror film.

Soap Central: Two things you absolutely love, as anyone can tell when they view your Instagram page.

Lawson: Exactly!

Soap Central: Speaking of horror films, many of the films listed on your IMDb page have the word "killer" listed in the title. Does this say something about you, Mark?

Lawson: Yeah, there's a whole series there. It's kind of funny -- I don't know, it just kept happening!

Soap Central: Well like I said in our original article about you joining GH, we hope that "killer" doesn't enter the Dustin equation. As much fun as it would be to see Dustin turn into a killer, we love Lulu too much to lose her!

Lawson: But isn't that normal on General Hospital? Hasn't everybody killed somebody at some point? [Laughs]

Soap Central: I wouldn't want to live in Port Charles, I'll tell you that!

Lawson: [Laughs] I hear you. But at the same time, Dustin is out there driving, and maybe he's making sure everybody is okay. You never know!

What do you think about our interview with Mark Lawson? How do you feel about him joining GH? What are your first impressions of Dustin, and do you think he could be a good match for Lulu? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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