Who needs LA when your heart is in the Cotswolds?

Greetings from Los Angeles! As I write this, I am on a day off between filming days of the US daytime television drama General Hospital.

I first started working on this show 40 (gulp) years ago, and I’ve been popping back for various amounts of time and extremely varied storylines ever since. Obviously I’m thrilled that anyone would even remember something I did 40 years ago, let-alone invite me back to do more.

I was concerned that my ongoing Long COVID would prevent me from keeping up with General Hospital’s legendary fast pace of production, but after a zoom call with Frank, the executive producer, during which I insisted he get full disclosure of my symptoms in all their gory details (not the usual Hollywood line of chat, I must say!), he assured me that they would do everything they could to accommodate me.

As soon as contracts had been signed, ‘Operation Camera-Ready’ began in earnest. Trust me, there’s no better diet guru than an upcoming audience of millions, and it was easy to imagine the harshly opinionated voices of social media if I was even slightly tempted to eat a leftover roast potato.

Luckily, my husband Simon has been able to travel with me and, once we settled into our rather fabulous temporary apartment, figured out the Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and coffee machine, we were all set for our Hollywood adventure.

I love the feeling of space here, even in the middle of such a large city. The roads are wide, the car parks are huge; in fact everything is huge. Shopping malls and food portions and drinking glasses alike. We bought ribeye steaks for dinner last night and I swear they weighed half a pound each.

But for me this adventure mostly consists of learning lines. Lots and lots of lines. It’s like sitting an exam every day for three weeks. At no point can you relax, kick back and enjoy the sunshine when the horror of not knowing your dialogue looms on the horizon. General Hospital is on for an hour, five days a week. I will have filmed at least 16 episodes by the time I finish. Each scene is rehearsed once, then immediately filmed. Multiple cameras catch the action simultaneously so, ideally, we do the scene just once before moving on to the next. We actors clutch our scripts till the very last minute and then frantically try to find somewhere on set to hide them before the cameras roll.

Adding to the last-minute script disposal issue are two new challenges – I also now have to hide my reading glasses, and then there’s the on-set COVID protocols. I’m full of admiration for ABC and its parent company Disney for doing everything they possibly can to minimise the risk to their cast and crew. We are tested almost daily, and wear masks at all times other than when the cameras are rolling. The stage manager’s shouts of ‘Masks on!’ and ‘Masks off!’ have become a familiar cry, and our masks have become one more thing to juggle the moment before we shoot a scene. I’ve asked for a bigger handbag.

But no handbag will help me learn the lines. The scripts arrive by email at a furious pace and, once printed up, I no longer bother to count the number of pages I have to learn; instead I feel the weight of them in my hand and deem it a “heavy” or “light” day accordingly.

In fact, I’ll stop here because I have lines to learn. Tomorrow’s script is truly a ‘ribeye’.

Follow Emma on Twitter: @EmmaSamms1

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