INTERVIEW: General Hospital alum Gregory Zarian on Port Charles memories and his nail-biting new film, 86 Melrose Avenue

Posted Wednesday, April 14, 2021 12:50:15 PM
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Gregory Zarian (ex-Julius, General Hospital; ex-Brent, Days of our Lives) opens up about his intense hostage film, 86 Melrose Avenue; working with Maurice Benard (Sonny Corinthos, GH); and why it's important to never give up on your dreams.

When Emmy-nominated actor Gregory Zarian wrapped his time as General Hospital fashion designer Julius in 2008, fans of the ABC soap opera started a huge campaign that they hoped would convince the powers that be to bring him and his flamboyant alter ego back to Port Charles. The initiative involved sending loaves upon loaves of French bread to the soap's Prospect Park studios, which harked back to an entertaining moment when Julius -- who was a fiercely protective friend of Kate's (Megan Ward) -- said to Sonny, "You think you're more than a French baguette." The heartfelt campaign unfortunately didn't bake up any more screen time for Zarian's Julius, but as the classic saying goes, it isn't over until it's over! Or, as the not-so-classic saying goes, it isn't ever over with Sonny!

In a new interview with Soap Central, Zarian opens up about how fun it was to go head to head with the powerful Port Charles gangster -- which he did on several occasions during his 2007 to 2008 run on the ABC soap opera.

"Julius was fun and over the top, and 'Oh, my God, you're fabulous!'" the actor recalls, "But there were some amazing moments where I got to put Sonny in his place, and the flamboyancy of Julius became very grounded as he basically said, 'Don't mess with my friend.' So, he was fun and over the top, and he was also real and very, very protective of his best friend, Kate... And what I loved about working with Megan and Maurice was it was this great game of tennis, when the other people you're working with give you this playground to play in."

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Not everyone would be up for the challenge of standing up to Sonny (after all, the character probably has one of the longest rap sheets in Soap Central's character profiles), but Zarian had no problem taking on the mobster.

"My moment on General Hospital started with Maurice opening the door as Sonny, and I remember seeing that his collar was off, and Julius was a fashion designer, so I took Sonny's collar, and I put it under his jacket, and I shoved past him, and I thought, 'That's who that is!'" he shares about Julius with a laugh. "Sonny Corinthos, he is a gangster. He is a thug... and a man who is so flamboyant never touches Sonny -- that just wouldn't happen -- but Maurice allowed all of it. I was rubbing [Sonny's] shoulders, I was acknowledging how sexy he is, just everything! And to me, that's a true professional. Maurice didn't get in the way of another actor doing their job and telling this great story... and every time I see him, I say thank you, because I'm forever indebted to him for that. I believe that when you are a guest on somebody's show and they give you the freedom to shine, it's a huge blessing."

A lot has changed in the past decade, and Zarian is doing a fine job of shining on his own. The California native now has a slew of impressive credits to his name (including HBO's Westworld and BET's The Family Business), and in 2020, he was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award in the Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Digital Drama Series category for his work in Venice the Series, which was co-created by soap alum Crystal Chappell (ex-Carly Manning, Days of our Lives; ex-Olivia Spencer, Guiding Light).

He can next be seen in the super intense film 86 Melrose Avenue, in which a diverse group of people at a gallery opening are taken hostage by an ex-Marine suffering from PTSD and are forced to confront their cultural differences, their pasts, and their looming mortality as time ticks away. The film is set for release on Tuesday, April 20, and Zarian promises that it will be a thrill ride.

"To date, this is the most intense project I've ever worked on," he shares. "I assume that when a person is in a hostage situation, the first thing they think is, 'I don't want to die,' and the second thing is, 'Oh, my God, what didn't I say? What didn't I do?' It's this split second where somebody could take your life. So, for me, I really created and lived in the intensity of, 'One: what do I have to do to get out here? And two: what did I or didn't I do in my life that I could have done differently?' You're meeting your maker, and you're questioning choices that you have made."

Most of the super-intense scenes were shot chronologically, which helped Zarian be present in the moment and bring his character's dramatic emotions to life in a realistic way.

"It's mind-blowing. You actually go through the entire process and you actually feel all of us change, because there's an ex-Marine suffering from PTSD losing it emotionally, and his demons are landing on us. It's palpable," he shares, adding, "There was a moment where I got a phone call from someone who said, 'Hey, I really need you.' And I was so wrapped up in the intensity of the film, I said, 'I will sit with you, but I can't talk to you.' Because it was so deep, and as an actor, when you are that deep, to step out of it is inauthentic. So, when you actually watch the film, it's palpable. And everything was in real time."

Another element that amps up the intensity of 86 Melrose Avenue is that many of the hostages have diverse and even conflicting backgrounds, which shines a new light on culture clashes and what it means to be a human being.

"Two of the countries that we talk about, Lebanon and Israel, those countries hate each other. I play an Israeli, and [another of the hostages] is a Lebanese woman. We are then hostages together on the floor. Does any of that matter in the moment that there is a madman going off the rails?" Zarian previews. "My analogy is when the Twin Towers came down in New York City. We were all knocked to our knees, and I remember a moment in time when it didn't matter if you were a man or a woman, Black, Asian, Latino, Jewish, Hebrew, Islamic, anything -- you grabbed the person's hand right next to you. Those moments when it first happened, I was in beautiful situations where we just held hands and didn't say a word and [who you were and your background] didn't matter."

Zarian is proud to be part of such a powerful film, and he's also thrilled that the project allowed him to work with All My Children alum Terri Ivens (ex-Simone Torres), who plays a detective in the edge-of-your-seat thriller.

"She's phenomenal in this, and we've become friends!" the actor enthuses. "She is just super solid, and I have big respect for her and her craft."

Being that they both have connections to the soap world, Zarian and Ivens have chatted about the genre and how life changing it is to be a part of it.

"Terri and I really, really respect the genre of soap operas," he shares. "A lot of people used to think soap operas were the ugly stepchild of actors, but it is probably the hardest working genre, because it is day in and day out, ten to thirty to forty pages, telling intense storylines... bringing your A-game every day to a job where you have that much work. So, hats off to them!"

Of course, Zarian knows firsthand how hard soap opera actors work. He was unexpectedly cast on Days of our Lives after being discovered while working at a department store back in 1986, and as he previously shared with Soap Central, his role as Brent only lasted a few months because he hadn't developed the acting chops needed to survive in the genre. Fortunately, Zarian didn't take the rejection to heart or give up on his dream. Instead, he worked even harder to prove that he had what it took to make it in Hollywood.

"I was given a great gift. Like, 'Hi, you're working at a department store. Do you want to be in a soap opera?' That was a gift. For me to abuse a beautiful gift, that would have been on me," he says. "However, for me to take the gift and nurture it and embrace it and learn from it, and then so many years later be acknowledged for that gift... to get an Emmy nomination, it was an honor and a privilege. And yeah, it was me putting in the time and putting in the work."

He continues, "To have that moment at the Emmys, to be sitting in front of the screen when they announced my name, my first thought was 'Wow,' and the second was, 'Mom and Dad, I hope you're proud of me!" [Laughs] I mean, I am proud! I was head to toe in a tux, and I just thought, 'Wow, I worked hard, and it paid off. And I am so grateful to be seen by my peers, especially the ones that were part of my beginning.' There's now these conversations, like, 'Hey, let's maybe do something together' or 'What do you think about this?' So, I am now back as a peer in a very different way, and I worked my ass off, and I wouldn't change it for the world."

86 Melrose Avenue will be available on VoD platforms on Tuesday, April 20. Check out a teaser trailer below and let us know your thoughts on the film and our interview with Gregory Zarian in the Comments section at the end of the article.

What do you think about our interview with Gregory Zarian? What are your thoughts on the trailer and premise of 86 Melrose Avenue? Would you welcome the return of Zarian in the role of GH's Julius? Why or why not? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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