Constance Towers (Helena Cassadine) Interview

Constance Towers. Vince Bucci/Getty Images Entertainment

On General Hospital, whenever the Queen of Mean, Helena Cassadine, arrives in Port Charles, not only do sparks fly, but elegance, sophistication, and class are in large supply. Even if she is spouting venom.

That's because with the actress portraying her, Constance Towers, comes a rich theatrical and film experience plus the glamor that personified classic Hollywood. The role of Helena was originated by Elizabeth Taylor.

When producers wanted to bring Helena back to Port Charles, they must have wondered who could follow Taylor.

Fortunately, they were able to get actress/singer Towers, who has worked with such great directors as John Ford and Sam Fuller, and costarred with the likes of John Wayne and William Holden in film, and on stage with Yul Brynner in The King and I.

The big question on everyone's mind when they see Helena is, "How long is she going to be on? We'd like it be forever!" "I never know," the actress admits. "This story seems to have a little more of an arc to it. The last time i was on, we were leading up to a story. Then we had to stop because of Sarah Brown (Claudia) leaving so abruptly." [Also, producers wanted to make room for the James Franco storyline.]

"I had led up to the coming of Valentin, the most evil of all the Cassadines," Towers continue.  "And don't forget that birth certificate Helena had," I remind her.

"Yes," Towers says, "the birth certificate also -- all those clues that were left dangling. It was in the back of that painting." And Towers lets me know that her taste and Helena's are not the same. "I looked at it and said, 'She really bought that painting? It must have been just a place to hide the birth certificate!'"

The actress says, "The storyline is complicated with the paternity question now, and then when that is resolved, what part is Helena going to play in that?" True. If Elizabeth has another baby that isn't Lucky's, you can bet Helena is going to be mighty interested. Not to mention, the Valentin plot is still in the wings.

One can't have Helena hit town without running into Luke (Tony Geary), and viewers will be glad to know that Helena will have scenes with Luke. "Tony is a consummate actor," Towers says, "and so much fun to work with - he's always there for you. No matter what you bring to the scene, he takes it and works with it. We really do enjoy each other at the studio. He's especially wonderful to work with, and we have this psychosexual tension that we found for ourselves. He's a genuinely nice person. I've had one scene with him, but there are more coming."

The Tony-Helena hate/weird fest is well known, but a few years back, Helena had an all-too-brief encounter with the studly Ingo Rademacher. Helena had made a shady deal with Jax where he was required to sleep with her. The two sat on a bed and kissed - and it was some kiss - the chemistry was strictly va-va-va-boom.

Jax then left her handcuffed to the bed.

Towers says that she ran into Rademacher at the studio recently, and the two laughed about the scene again. " The writers are so good on our show, so the scene with Ingo was palatable," Towers says. "I love that they let Helena have scenes with these younger, beautiful men. And the way they finished that scene - the next day I arrived at Jax's office. You would have thought she would be angry, but she handed him back the handcuffs, as if to say, 'let's do this again.'"

Beyond Helena

Helena Cassadine is only one part of Towers' busy life. She recently returned from Canada, where she starred in a play, "Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks," which she also performed in Los Angeles. Written by Richard Allen, the story concerns a woman who hires a dance instructor to give her private lessons in her Florida condo.

An antagonistic relationship turns to friendship while dancing. Towers co-starred with Jason Graae, a talented west coast actor. Besides theater, in between GH gigs, she has done numerous television shows, including Cold Case, The 4400, and Criminal Minds, and film, including The Awakening of Spring.

The Whitefish, Montana native moves easily through all mediums. Towers started life as a singer, trained in opera. Her beautiful voice led her to musical theater; her stunning looks brought her to film. Asked about working in the different mediums, she answers, "The stage is such a special experience, It's now, it's immediate, you get your answer from the audience the same evening as the performance. The play I was in is so beautifully crafted. The audience laughs, cries, jumps up at the end. Film is more delayed. Half of your performance may be on the cutting room floor. You don't know until later. In television, it's a little that way, though it's more immediate."

Constance Towers on Stage...

While she's best known to soap audiences as Helena, Towers has appeared on other soaps: Love is a Many-Splendored Thing, Capitol, The Young and the Restless, and Sunset Beach. And though she has numerous stage appearances under her belt, including leads in Carousel, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate, 42nd Street, Oklahoma!, Camelot, Sound of Music, and Mame, theater audiences perhaps best remember her for her long run in the 1977 Broadway revival of The King and I, where she played Anna opposite the iconic performance of Yul Brynner.

It's an experience she treasures. "Yul Brynner was a wonderful actor who demanded 150% and demanded at least 100% back," she recalls. "We had the most marvelous relationship on stage. We would get to the theater early, have tea, talk about the night before and discuss that night. Every night was a new challenge."

...and Screen

The well-respected Brynner had a reputation as a demanding person, but Towers is used to working with talented and formidable people, including two of the toughest directors in film history, John Ford and Sam Fuller. Fuller directed Towers in the cult classic The Naked Kiss (1964) and was known for tackling unpopular subjects. The Naked Kiss dealt with child abuse, among other things. "Sam Fuller was a raw, crude kind of genius, a diamond in the rough," Towers says. The two also made Shock Corridor (1963), a film watched by both Martin Scorcese and Leonardo di Caprio in preparation for their upcoming film, Shutter Island.

Towers enjoyed a close and warm relationship with the legendary John Ford, with whom she made Sergeant Rutledge (co-starring matinee idol Jeffrey Hunter) and The Horse Soldiers with John Wayne and William Holden. "Ford was a genius with his camera," Towers says. "He was interesting and complex. My father was born in Ireland, which didn't hurt working with Pappy [Ford's nickname]. He loved Irish people.

When you had a problem, he was there. He became a godfather to both of my babies, and when he came through New York, he would see them."

As a director, Ford knew exactly what he wanted. "When I did The Horse Soldiers, I had to wear a very low cut red dress, a great deal of bosom showing. I leaned over to Wayne and asked, 'Do you want more of the leg or more of the breast?' He said, 'I've had enough to both.' I went to Pappy and I said, 'I can't do that.' He said, 'Yes, you can, you're making my first dirty movie.'"

A Special Wish

For Towers, General Hospital is like "a wonderful family," and she's always happy to return to it. The fans will clamor for her continued appearances. This writer will, too, also harboring a wish that in between Helena appearances, Towers will do a club act in New York City and/or perform Norma Desmond in the musical Sunset Boulevard - in which she would be smashing.

As great as she is as Helena, there is so much more to Constance Towers - a golden voice, a stage presence, a warmth - that must be seen to experience the full breadth of her talent.

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Ciaccia, Maria. "Constance Towers (Helena Cassadine) Interview." ThoughtCo, Mar. 3, 2017, Ciaccia, Maria. (2017, March 3). Constance Towers (Helena Cassadine) Interview. Retrieved from Ciaccia, Maria. "Constance Towers (Helena Cassadine) Interview." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).