When General Hospital executive producer Frank Valentini recently tweeted, "What's going on with Alexis?" he probably didn't imagine the barrage of unhappy responses that would come his way. What was supposed to be a teaser about the character's important osteoporosis diagnosis prompted quips like, "Well, let's see. No job, dead lover, brittle bones, possible fall off the wagon next? Fun times. Do better, please."
It's a sentiment that many fans share because it seems that Alexis has been dealt too many bad hands all at once. As another fan summed up about the character's current storylines, "A documentary on climate change is more fun." But we spoke with Alexis' portrayer, Nancy Lee Grahn, who says it's not all doom and gloom for her alter ego. In fact, she says that the osteoporosis storyline is just the opposite, because it shows that when women pay attention to their health, they can continue to be beautiful, stunning, highly sexual beings in the second half of their lives. God knows Grahn speaks her mind about everything, and she isn't holding back about the importance of her osteoporosis storyline and using her "tell it like it is" voice to change the message about female aging, health, and beyond.
Soap Central: You're about to embark on a very important storyline, with Alexis receiving an osteoporosis diagnosis. What does it feel like to have the responsibility of carrying a major medical storyline like that?
Nancy Lee Grahn: That's a great question, and yes, it's a privilege, and I take the responsibility very seriously because it's a very important issue.
Soap Central: Some fans are lamenting that Alexis is getting another "old lady" storyline, but actually, it's a misconception that osteoporosis only affects the elderly, right? So, is that part of the importance of telling this story, clearing up misconceptions like that?
Grahn: That's another great question, because that is, even more importantly, why we need to use this venue of soap operas to talk about this, as it's such a great venue to bring up social issues. Osteoporosis is not an old lady disease. First of all, it's a bone disease that causes bones to become weak and more likely to break, and the other thing is that one in two women over the age of 50 in the U.S. will break a bone due to osteoporosis in her remaining lifetime. A break is no small thing -- it's a life-altering event that causes a lot of pain, it could cause a lot of mobility issues, and it could cause a complete change in lifestyle, right? So, you heard what I said there, right? Women over 50. Think about how many beautiful, vibrant, brilliant women are over 50. We can just name them all, those that are dancing and doing concerts all over the place and are highly sexual beings and beautiful and stunning. They're not hunched over their walkers, right? They're vibrant, and this is the age. Over 50 is when you need to start paying attention, because it's a reality. And I am so glad that you brought that up, that some viewers are associating it with being "an old lady disease." When was the last time women sat around and talked about osteoporosis? I don't think my friends really have, and the reason is because it brings up age, and our society is unkind to women aging. That is all the more reason why we need to take care of each other and keep the conversation going and not make it seem like there is something wrong with you or it. It is a process of aging with women, and it doesn't make anybody "less than." There is nothing to be ashamed of, and to deny it is silly. I mean, we should honor our age! If we keep it secret, then we are jeopardizing our health. So, society is doing this to us, and we are doing it to each other, but we can rectify that. We can change that. We can change the messaging. And I think this is a good way to do that, and why I really love doing this storyline. I'm happy to be the advocate for changing the messaging and getting the message out about osteoporosis.
Soap Central: Do you feel equal parts honored to be given this story but also equal parts terrified? I mean, it's a lot of responsibility to make sure that you portray this the correct way!
Grahn: Yes. [The biotechnology company] Amgen is doing so much for us. They're the experts and they're the ones that we've partnered [with] on this. They were there to make sure that we did not misspeak one word, that we said everything exactly as the experts wanted us to say it. I'm not used to working that way -- we're used to kind of taking some of the lines and making them flow a little more naturally out of our mouths -- but this was not something to play around with. I think I know a lot about what I do when I'm acting on a regular basis, but this was a different circumstance and one that we had to take really seriously and do our due diligence with to make sure that all of the i's were dotted and all of the t's were crossed.
Soap Central: How and when did you learn that Alexis would be getting this storyline?
Grahn: The same way I learn about anything. Frank spoke to me about it, and I was automatically interested and wanted to do it. And ABC was partnering with Amgen to help send this message out, which I thought was wonderful. One of the things that I want women who are watching to know is that osteoporosis is a chronic, progressive disease that can lead to an increased risk of fractures. There is good news to that, though: there are lifestyle changes and treatment options that can help, and the way that you can help yourself is by staying in treatment if you have osteoporosis, and if you're over 50, be diligent about speaking about it with your personal physician, taking all of the precautions necessary, getting your bone density test regularly, and staying on top of it so that you can keep your bones as healthy for as long as possible. I'd really love for that information to get out there, because it is really, really, really important. And if they want to go to TakeChargeOfOsteo.com, that's where they can go to get the expert advice. I'm just the amplifier of the message to be aware of this disease.
Soap Central: Do you think we'll see Alexis go through all of that, staying in treatment and such? I know you don't know too much future story, but will they work that into her life from here on out?
Grahn: They did! They did. But this is not defining Alexis. Osteoporosis does not define any woman. It's something that you live with and that you manage and that you are mindful about, and it doesn't make you less sexual, less vibrant, and it doesn't stop you from doing anything really that you were doing before. If you don't pay attention to it, that's how this could become problematic. Like I said, there are treatment options. So, this is a moment in her life that she has this thing. It's not going to define her or stop her from doing anything, but she's going to live with it like other women live with it.
Soap Central: Why do you think they choose Alexis to tell this story?
Grahn: I think they picked the right character to do this with because she avoided it, didn't pay attention, thought she was smarter than it, denied it, and once she got the diagnosis, she had a fit. She did a "woe is me" and "this sucks" and "this is unfair," and then you'll see her get over that and carry on. But then, of course, she has other things going on, and she doesn't exactly pick the healthy route! [Laughs] But, come on, she had a row with her boyfriend and woke up to a dead man! [Laughs] But the osteoporosis part, we were clearly sending a message through my character. Sometimes you just have to kind of lift the curtain a little bit to do that, because that's what I like to do. The soaps should be used to help women as well as entertain them.
Soap Central: I love that you just mentioned all the other things going on in her life, because they've really piled it on Alexis recently, with Neil and her job and struggles with alcohol addiction and now this diagnosis. Some fans are complaining that it's too much bad all at once, but do you think maybe there's a nice element to it in that Alexis can serve as inspiration for viewers who feel like they've also been dealt a lot of crappy hands recently?
Grahn: Yes, I was gonna say that! I mean, obviously, it's a soap opera. The osteoporosis part is the real part. The other stuff is sometimes a little bigger than life, right? But right now, this world is crazy, and there are a lot of things happening to everybody, so yes, I think there are a lot of people who can relate. And I think also they want to turn on the show to find some solace and not see somebody getting pounded with all of this! We would have done this story at any time; it just happened to be now because that's when it happened. But I was the perfect person because my character is the most relatable to the audience, I think, in terms of me being most like them, and the age range of our audience is above 50, for the most part, and what I'm hoping is that by bringing up the importance of this disease, of osteoporosis, that there will be people out there watching, and they may get annoyed, and they may go, "Why this again now?" But they also might go get their bone density checked, and they might call their doctor and have a conversation. And if we accomplish that, then this is a win beyond wins.
Soap Central: As you said, osteoporosis doesn't take away your womanhood. You can still be sexy, you can still go out and do all of these amazing things that women do, which leads me to... I'm sure you know!
Grahn: Yes! [Laughs] Alexis' osteoporosis didn't just start. It must have been formulating years ago, and who has been having better sex than Alexis?! So, case in point. [Laughs] And in my life, I'm in my 60s, and I am very transparent about that. I'm transparent about the fact that my life has never been better. It took me this long to meet the man of my dreams, I'm in love -- truly in love -- for the first time in my life, and I'm having better loving than I've ever had in my life. I'm a beacon of hope and also the messenger that through my example, you see that things aren't over when we lose our estrogen. Things aren't over when our bones become more dense. They are not over. This is just a thing that we have to deal with. We should talk about it, we should encourage our sisters and our mothers and our friends to talk about it. It's nothing to be ashamed of, it's a part of who we are, and we are awesome. And thank God, osteoporosis is a disease that is manageable and that there are treatments available. If you ignore these things, that's just defeating yourself. So, we need to talk about these things, and Amgen is an excellent company, and they really care about women wanting to know this and hear about this. I'm thrilled to be asked to do this, and really, I appreciate being able to talk about it.
Soap Central: I really love that your life is going so well right now, and that makes me think of some of your more recent ventures, like the interviews you started doing during the lockdown. Did you find a lot of enjoyment in doing that?
Grahn: What I realized was, during the shelter in place, life quieted down, and we were home, and we weren't distracted, and that actually made my creativity flourish. And yes, I was having fun. I'm an entertainer, obviously, and I wanted to stay in communication with the audience and sort of keep them entertained because I knew people were going through difficult times. I got to do that interview with Tony [Geary, ex-Luke Spencer], and I loved that, because I'm a truth teller. He had no more f's to give, so he was able to speak exactly from his gut without editing himself, and it went viral. It was good. And I'm doing this Soaps in Quarantine thing with Jane Elliott (Tracy Quartermaine, GH; ex-Anjelica Deveraux, Days of our Lives; ex-Cynthia Preston, All My Children; ex-Carrie Todd, Guiding Light) and Kim Zimmer (ex-Reva Shayne, GL; ex-Echo DiSavoy, One Life to Live) that is just so much fun, writing these sketches and doing them. And I'm working on another one, but it's gotten so busy for me because I've gone back to work, so I have to get back on that. So, yeah, it made me feel creative, because I wasn't staggering about.
Soap Central: Something that set your interviews apart -- and which actually sets you apart in general in this business -- is your willingness to tackle tough issues head-on, with no fear. You don't tiptoe around, and you really speak your mind. That's not easy to do, so I think people really respect that. Why do you feel it's important to speak up and speak out?
Grahn: I was raised to use my position in life to try to help other people. I have a literal soapbox and I use it to amplify the voices of people that don't have a soapbox, and I use it to spread important information. I also know that sometimes it's not a good thing. I mean, sometimes it is, and I've had to learn that in life, when to keep quiet.... I have always been a justice seeker, though, and I can't keep quiet and look for justice and get it for myself or for other people. I was raised by parents, especially my dad, who taught me [to speak up for myself]. My mom, she did speak up for herself, and my dad had three daughters, and he raised us to speak up for ourselves. And my sisters are just as guilty! [Laughs]
Soap Central: I really love it, though. You're an inspiration. I'm always too worried about getting into trouble!
Grahn: I do get in trouble! And I have gotten in trouble! Not terribly so, but I've been asked to be mindful of my Twitter over the years, especially after the Roseanne Barr thing. In my old age now -- my healthy, happy age that I honor -- I'm smarter, and I can hear criticism and hear things from people that might not like what I'm doing, and I can kind of cherry-pick things that I might need to hear and think, "Maybe they're saying something that I need to hear right now." So, they help sort of temper my mouth. But the thing that people appreciate about me is that I speak up. It also means that I need to have a guidance system and be mindful of how that affects other people all the time, that words matter. But honestly, to be able to use my voice for this, for osteoporosis, this is where it is most impactful. And this is where my speaking up and out and for something that really is so important for women's health, to advocate for that, that's where it's most important. And that's really what my parents taught me to do -- they didn't tell me to go on Twitter and pick on Republicans. [Laughs] They would much prefer that I be using my voice for this, so this is good.
What do you think about our interview with Nancy Lee Grahn? How do you feel about GH using the character of Alexis to shine the spotlight on osteoporosis? What would you like to see in the character's future? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.