Georgia native Alicia Leigh Willis entertained General Hospital fans as stripper-turned-philanthropist Courtney Matthews for five years in the early 2000s, and even though the character died in 2006, she left a mark on Port Charles that can still be felt. Courtney has returned on several occasions in ghost form, and with her past love Jax (Ingo Rademacher) headed back to Port Charles, one never knows what the future might hold and if Courtney might make a return from the grave.
Soap Central spoke with Willis, who is starring in Lifetime Movie Network's Mommy's Little Princess this Sunday, March 17. During the interview, she opened up about whether or not she can see herself reprising the role of GH's Courtney and reminisced about sharing the screen with Rademacher and Tyler Christopher (ex-Nikolas Cassadine).
Willis also shared some details from Mommy's Little Princess, which tells the story of Julianna (Willis) and her adopted ten-year-old daughter, Lizzy (Sarah Abbott). When Julianna discovers that Lizzy is related to a royal German family, Lizzy begins to change from a sweet, innocent girl to an entitled, angry child. She develops an unhealthy fascination with being a princess and begins to lose her sanity, blurring fantasy and reality. Can Julianna find a way to put an end to Lizzy's dangerous obsession before it turns deadly? Keep reading for all the juicy details from Willis herself.
Soap Central: Congratulations on your role in Mommy's Little Princess. The title of the film has quite a sinister feel to it. Are we safe to assume that the movie is indeed a little bit dark?
Alicia Leigh Willis: There is a dark side to the movie, for sure. But there's also a lot of good, uplifting things about it, as well. It will keep you on your toes. It's a good one!
Soap Central: A lot of people are a little obsessed with royalty, especially since Meghan Markle joined the English royal family. Do you follow the royal family at all?
Willis: You know, I don't go out of my way to follow them, but I feel like everywhere you go, you see the headlines, in the grocery store and just everywhere -- it's just right there in your face. So, it's kind of hard to avoid!
Soap Central: That's true. And I have no idea whether or not that affects real little girls and makes them think they can become princesses, as well.
Willis: When I was a little girl, that's what we grew up thinking. Everyone wanted to be a princess, right? But I feel like it has changed a little bit. My daughter [Simone Leigh] has never told me that she wants to be a princess. She says she wants to be an actress or a veterinarian, but princess has never come up. I guess things have changed a little bit.
Soap Central: How old is your daughter?
Willis: My daughter is seven. And she plays dress-up and all of that, but she also likes to play with slime and make slime and play sports. So, she's a little bit more of a tomboy. But she still throws on tutus and the glittery outfits. I just think there's so much more out there now for little girls to read and movies to watch that aren't just about being a princess, and it's a little different from when we were little.
Soap Central: One of the things your character in the film has to deal with is a daughter who has an unhealthy obsession. How do you think you would handle it if your own daughter had an unhealthy obsession with something?
Willis: Oh, wow! Well, there would definitely be a therapist involved! I think if things got that dark, that would have to be the case. And, oh man, the girl who plays Lizzy, Sarah Abbott, I can't imagine any other girl her age playing that character so well. I mean, man -- she knocked it out of the park. She scared me! There were moments in the scenes where I was like, "I am scared of you right now!" I can't even imagine if my daughter went down that road. I mean, obviously, you do whatever you can for your kids. You would probably have to get a medical professional involved to help figure out what was going on there. The thing with Lizzy is she had a really dark past, and I think that's what led to all of her problems, and she just wanted to change her reality, because her reality was, in the beginning, very dark. So that was her way of escaping.
Soap Central: What was it about the film that made you want to jump on board? What made it special?
Willis: Well, number one is I love Lifetime. I've done a handful of movies that have been on Lifetime, and I love that they write strong characters for females. My character in this movie, in Mommy's Little Princess, she runs her own business. And the other movies that I've done for Lifetime before that, I was a lawyer or I was a business owner. And I just love that they write strong characters for women. It's so important.
Soap Central: I have to sneak General Hospital's Courtney in here, which I'm sure you knew was coming! She was also a strong woman, going from being a stripper to starting a foundation that helps underprivileged kids. She had a journey that showed strength.
Willis: I think a lot of women end up in a position of having to be strong. We all have these transitions in our life where we have weak moments, and to see that growth is so interesting to watch. And that was what was so great about Courtney is that yes, she came from a place where she wasn't as strong as when I finished the show, and to see that growth was fun to play. To be honest, without General Hospital, I wouldn't have the career that I have now, to still be able to be a mom and go and do these Lifetime movies. They hire soap actors a lot because they can keep up the pace. So, playing Courtney was a really great stepping stone.
Soap Central: One of the big GH stories at the moment is that Ingo Rademacher is coming back to the show. Even though she's no longer alive, Courtney had a history with Jax, so I'm wondering if you think they had any unfinished business together or loose ends that were never tied up?
Willis: [Laughs] It's been soooo long, and I can't even remember how it ended! It's so funny, I never go back and watch stuff that I've done in the past, but I was watching a movie with my daughter, and they were doing the waltz, and I was explaining to her, "You know, mommy did that once in a scene with Jax," and she wanted to see it, so we pulled it up on YouTube. It was just so funny, because you forget all of the stuff you did on the show, because you were working so much every day. And watching that brought back all these memories, these great memories, and it was really cool that I could share that with her.
Soap Central: What's so great about soap operas is that even if the nail was in the coffin and you thought it was over, they can always rewrite history and make something work. People die and come back from the dead, so you never know!
Willis: Oh, I don't know -- they brought Courtney back as a ghost, so I think that is pretty final. Courtney is definitely dead! But you never know. You're right; people come back from the dead all the time on those shows. It's pretty funny.
Soap Central: If the opportunity came about and they wanted to bring Courtney back, would you be open to reprising the role? Days of our Lives just brought back a character who was long dead and had come back as a ghost on several occasions, so it is definitely possible!
Willis: Oh, for sure! I loved working there, and I would always love to go back. I loved playing Courtney and if the opportunity arises, then I would definitely be open to reprising the role. And the schedule is amazing if you have a family. I actually just screen tested for one of the soaps -- I won't say which show, though. It came down to me and one of my friends, which is so funny, and she ended up getting it. I adore her, and I am super stoked for her. But, yes, once you're in that world, the door is usually open to go back or go back on another show. So, you never know. And it is the perfect job if you have a family because the hours aren't crazy long. Right now, some of the time I'm working long hours, and it's hard. You get that mom guilt. When I'm not working, I miss work, and when I'm working, I'm missing my daughter. So, soaps are easy, because usually you're home before [your child] gets home from school!
Soap Central: Although, you might be spending the whole evening memorizing scripts! That's one of the difficult things with soap work -- there is so much to memorize.
Willis: Yeah, but you know what is so funny? Once you get used to a character, it gets so much easier. I used to memorize my lines in the makeup chair, the day of the scenes. I could memorize 30 pages of dialogue in like half an hour or an hour. It was crazy! But you almost just got so used to the character that you kind of knew what they were going to say. It's a crazy trick, but I think a lot of soap actors have that ability, to be able to memorize lines really quickly. You kind of have to.
Soap Central: What about when the scene calls for you to go to really deep places and bring a lot of emotion? Would you work on those scenes the day of, as well?
Willis: Well, I like to get the dialogue in my head, but the main thing that I focus on is where I'm coming from emotionally, and the prep is not necessarily about memorizing the lines, but how to get to that emotional state. So, of course, you want to be completely off book always, but you're also listening to music or you maybe watch videos that inspire you and make you feel a certain way. That kind of prep work is super important, and it can be very draining.
Soap Central: As you mentioned earlier, Lifetime casts a lot of soap actors in their films. Is there anyone from the daytime industry that you would love to star in a Lifetime film with?
Willis: Oh, that's a good question! There are so many great actors, but I have to say -- and I've already worked with him -- but my favorite costar was Tyler Christopher [ex-Nikolas Cassadine, GH; Stefan DiMera, Days of our Lives]. When I was on General Hospital, we were such good friends. He is just hilarious, and we would be laughing so hard, sometimes it was hard to get through the scenes! But I would love to do a Lifetime movie with him. I think that would be so cool. He's such a good person.
Soap Central: We wrote an article about you awhile back because you had completed a culinary course. Was that for a role? Or were you perhaps considering a career change?
Willis: [Laughs] It's so funny because I remember it was you guys who posted a picture of me, a photo from my Instagram, and I was dying laughing, because it was in full chef hat! But I did that because, at the time, I was thinking about doing a cooking show, and I still am, but things get so busy. I did start doing a fun little YouTube channel with my daughter. We've only done one episode, but it's called My Kind of Kitchen, and each episode, we're going to cook something and show an act of kindness through food. In the first one, we made cookies for her teachers to say thank you. It was her idea to do it, and now I actually have the skills to get in there and make good food. We're having fun, and I think we're actually going to shoot our second episode this weekend. It's difficult, because we have to work around her school schedule, but it's just for fun. I edit them myself, and it's something that we get to do together. And it sends a really positive message.
Soap Central: I love that you're sort of giving back to the community and sending a positive message. Despite that, were you at all hesitant to put your daughter out there on a public space like YouTube?
Willis: Yes, absolutely. I actually have always said that I don't want her to get into the acting world at a young age. There have been opportunities, but I just think it wasn't [right at the moment]. Who knows if that will change, but for now, I just want her to be a kid. She watches a couple of YouTube channels with kids on them, and she really wanted to do it. But we're careful about putting locations and stuff down because yes, it's always a concern. You want to protect your kids. But it was really her idea to do it, and I kind of caved. But I edit them myself, and it's something that we get to do together. And it sends a really positive message.
Soap Central: Is there anything else about Mommy's Little Princess that you'd like to add?
Willis: I have to say it was the nicest cast and crew that I have ever worked with. And I know Canadians are known for being really nice, but I had no idea how nice. Every day, going to work, it was such a good feeling. There was so much warmth, and everyone was just so kind, from the actors, to the crew, the director, everybody. It was such a great experience, and to see Sarah and also Kelly Whyte, who played her stepsister, those two girls have such bright futures ahead of them. They are really, really talented.
Soap Central: I think that must be one of the great things about working with children -- you just never know where they'll end up. They could turn into huge movie stars!
Willis: Oh, I know. And it has happened! I worked with Jessica Biel when I was a teenager. We were friends on 7th Heaven, we worked together for like five years, and look at her now; she's huge! So, you're right; you just never know. And I think the two girls from Mommy's Little Princess have bright futures ahead of them, as well.
Watch for Mommy's Little Princess this Sunday, March 17, at 8PM ET/7PM C on Lifetime Movie Network.
What did you think about our interview with Alicia Leigh Willis? Do you have an obsession with royalty? How would you feel if GH brought Courtney Matthews back from the grave? Will you be tuning in to Mommy's Little Princess? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.