When showrunners at ‘General Hospital’ (GH) revealed they had landed legendary actress Shari Belafonte as a recast for Mayor Janice Lomax, it was quite the coup. And now Soap Opera Spy had a one-on-one chat with Shari to find out how she’ll breathe life into the evil Port Charles mayor. Here’s a look at her inspiration for the part.
SOS: What can you tell us about Lomax’s evil antics and how you’ll play this?
Shari: People ask me how I prepared for this part and I say ‘I watch the debates.’ When I was first out of college, I worked at channel WETA/PBS in Washington DC and our offices in DC were close to Capitol Hill. I was a gofer and a PA and I had to go inside and plug in the cable and I would see politicians and it was like straight out of ‘Mr Smith Goes to Washington.’
You heard politicians selling constituents down the river because they wanted a kickback. Politics is really kind of evil. And one of my guilty pleasures is ‘House of Cards’ and watching that brings back memories of being on Capitol Hill. It’s kind of really like that – there’s plenty of stuff to draw on [for GH] on my having grown up around politics.
My dad [Harry Belafonte] was very involved in politics – he negotiated deals between the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. and my stepfather was a well-known DC doctor who was connected and had politicians for patients. All these people were in my space when I was a kid. DC Mayor Marion Barry, if you remember him, was one of the people who was around when I was growing up.
(***As a note for readers – if you don’t recall, Marion Barry was a mayor of DC for more than 15 years who was rocked by scandal but very popular with constituents. He was reelected after he was jailed for drug charges.)
SOS: We know that Tuesday, January 19 is your first air date, but what was your first day on the GH set?
Shari: My first on-set day was two weeks before they broke for Christmas, December 11, I think. We shot two shows that day and I was in such a fog trying to memorize lines for two shows. I had the best time. I’m looking forward to seeing it. It was such a quick blur with 40 pages I had to get through in two hours – they always want to push you right from the beginning to make sure you can stand the pressure. I looked at Sam [her hubby Sam Behrens, played Jake Meyer on GH] and I was like ‘Oh, my God.’ On Hotel, I had a line here and there – it was seven pages in seven days and now 40 in a half a day.
SOS: What actors have you worked with so far?
Shari: Lisa LoCicero had the bulk of it and so did Nancy Grahn and I was with Dominic [Zamprogna] the last couple of days. Everyone was nice, the crew was so nice. I know Tristan [Rogers] because he’s in Palm Springs at the same events I go to. Finola [Hughes] I’ve known for years because I saw her at ABC parties. I saw Tristan and Finola doing a scene – and I came over and said ‘Finola’ and she did a double take. She said, ‘You’re the new mayor – it’s going to be so much fun.’ It almost felt like old home week because I know the people, but it was a whole new experience.
SOS: Which actors do you hope to work with?
Shari: I want to work with them all – they all look like so much fun. I love the idea of working with Nancy. Those two actors, Nancy and Lisa, I was in awe of. Lisa was juggling the baby and having a conversation and I was just amazed – I was mesmerized – you don’t realize how difficult it is. The fun thing is Nancy and Sam [her husband] used to date before I came on the scene. We butt heads on the show, but we’ve been friends over the years – there’s no rivalry there but it would probably make a good headline.
SOS: So what’s the shooting schedule like?
Shari: They just give you your stuff – you get your pages, not the whole script. They shoot 90-100 pages a day and shoot two shows a day. They hand you the pieces of paper with your character on it – then you don’t know what’s going on until you watch the show or hang around and watch the scenes after you. I get my pages and after a couple of quick talks with Frank [Valentini], I think ‘I get that and it’s easy enough.’ When Sam came back to GH as Jake when we were dating, I was amazed at how much he had to learn when I rehearsed lines with him. It’s phenomenal what daytime actors do.
SOS: Are there any love scenes coming? We know Mayor Lomax has a thing for Paul Hornsby…
Shari: I can’t give away anything, but it’s safe to say there was no swapping of bodily fluids yet.
SOS: Are you a soap watcher?
Shari: I haven’t watched them in quite a few years. I used to watch All My Children when my sister Gina [Belafonte] was on there and I watched Days of Our Lives when I was eight or nine since my grandmother watched it – but couldn’t watch once I got into college and got into production. I did watch Sunset Beach when Sam was on there. There are so many things to watch – my TIVO is filled up. There are reality shows I’ve gotten hooked on I don’t even want to admit to.
SOS: So what are your guilty pleasure reality shows?
Project Runway and Project Runway Jr – and this is a bizarre thing to be hooked on – Married at First Sight – and Amazing Race. I’m always amazed by Amazing Race – how they lose their passports and eat weird things and jump out of helicopters. Married at First Sight – you watch it and little things come out and you root for them – it’s a lot like watching a soap opera. I watch anything Ramsey and the kids on MasterChef JR are adorable. I stopped watching Hell’s Kitchen because of how many times can you hear the F-word and donkey? But I’ve been TIVOing General Hospital for the last couple of weeks.
SOS: With your degree and past working behind the scenes, which do you prefer – being in front of the camera or behind?
Shari: It’s really 50/50. When you haven’t been on camera in such a long time, I forget how much I enjoyed it. But I had such a great time behind the camera because I anticipated doing that when I was at Carnegie Mellon. I wanted to be director, writer, visionary – then I ended up on camera in Hollywood. It was a fluke – a friend was doing The Hollywood Knights – Tony Danza’s first movie and told me to bring my camera down – and said ‘Maybe you can get some pictures of me on the set.’
I showed up and it was a big party scene and the makeup artist thought I was there to be in the background and she told me I should be on camera making money. That’s how I ended up on camera – I had a friend send a quick headshot to a couple of agents and Nina Blanchard, the leading modeling agency in LA, swept me up and I said ‘Let’s do this’ and then you do it for years and then you’re not the ingénue anymore.
Then a friend asked me to shoot stills on The Big Empty – a Jon Favreau movie – and I tried it and that got me back behind the camera 10 years ago. It segued me back to shooting music videos and EPKs [electronic press kits] and stills on PBS sets.
So I love being behind the camera – it’s just so energetic and gets me going and making that one moment happen and you capture the moment – like how they say a picture is worth a thousand words… But now that I’ve been thrust back in front of it, I realized how much I missed it.
SOS: The GH fan reaction to your casting announcement has been very positive. What do you hope to bring to the part of Mayor Lomax?
Shari: That’s great news to hear that fans are excited – and I hope I fulfill their dreams. I can say that I hope to be one of those people you hate to love or love to hate!
Tune in to GH to see Shari Belafonte step into the role of dastardly Mayor Janice Lomax, partner in crime of seedy DA Paul Hornsby [Richard Burgi], starting Tuesday, January 19. And be sure to check back with Soap Opera Spy often for more ‘General Hospital’ spoilers and news.
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