Before the onset of Covid, Emma Samms — who became a Port Charles sensation when she joined GH as Holly Sutton in 1982 — had several exciting irons in the fire. “I was talking to Frank [Valentini, executive producer] about coming back to GENERAL HOSPITAL to do a story,” begins the actress, who is based in the Cotswolds region of England. “And I was working on a fitness program with my trainer that we were going to try to find a way to share with the public. I had finally gotten to the point where I actually enjoyed working out and I was the fittest that I’d probably ever been. And I was excited about the fact that I was engaged to a very lovely man,” her now-husband, Simon McCoy, a former BBC News presenter.
But in March 2020, everything changed when Samms contracted the coronavirus. “I’m not used to being an early adopter on things; I’m never one of the, uh, the fashionable crowd,” she says good-naturedly. “But I was definitely an early adopter in terms of getting Covid. It was the fact that it was before vaccinations, and the fact that it was the first strain of it, that it really knocked me for sick. I was horribly unwell.”
The virus passed through Samms’s body, but the consequences lingered, kicking off her ongoing battle with what is now known as Long Covid. “It has been a slow learning process of consequences,” she explains. “If I do something of any physical exertion, there will be a price to pay for it. Sometimes the price is just that I get a sore throat. Sometimes it’s just that I feel really tired. Sometimes I get that plus a whole bunch of other symptoms, including not being able to breathe properly and having a really constricted chest. A lot of the time, it feels like there’s an elephant sitting on my chest. It’s just the most uncomfortable feeling, and every now and then I find myself sort of gasping, trying to fill my lungs with enough air.”
Doctors were unable to properly diagnose what she was experiencing. Samms sighs, “Nobody had any answers. There were doctors I went to see in the early days who said, ‘Just push yourself a little harder every day.’ They were giving me not just bad advice, but dangerous advice. So we felt very alone in our struggle.” Fortunately, she was able to connect with other Long Covid sufferers, as well as many of the best Covid researchers on the planet, when she began speaking out about her health battle on Twitter. “Because of my little blue verified check [mark on Twitter], people paid attention — and humored me, probably,” she chuckles.
Samms is happy to use her platform to help educate the public and to raise money for research into Long Covid, but admits, “I never thought I would find myself as the face of a disabling disease. I’ve always been the strong one in my family — the active one, the person who’s always got at least three or four things on the go.” But despite her chronic illness, “I’ve always considered myself very lucky, through all of this. First of all, it didn’t kill me, and so many people have died from Covid, people my age, who were very fit before. And a lot of people who are going through what I’m going through don’t have a very understanding and dear and supportive and kind partner, which I do, and that’s made all the difference in the world.”
With Samms’s focus on her health, her GH comeback was tabled. “I was not in any position in my condition to commit to anything work-wise,” she recalls. “Frank said, ‘Your health is most important, don’t worry about it.’ After about six months, they came up with the idea for me to do the one scene from my house [of a captive Holly, which she shot on her iPhone and was edited into the show]. That was so much fun to do, and it meant that everyone [in the audience] knew that Holly was alive.”
Samms felt incredible support from her fans. “That’s the joy,” she beams. “This amazingly loyal audience has consistently said, ‘We can’t wait for you to come back, but we really want you to be well first, so don’t come back before you’re ready!’ They waited and Frank waited and then one day I said, ‘Look, here’s what my symptoms are now. You need to know exactly what I’m dealing with because it’s not fair to you otherwise.’ So I had a Zoom call with Frank and his lovely head writers, just the most bizarre conversation I’ve ever had professionally, where I went through my whole list, everything that happens to me physically. He came back with a plan, which has many aspects to it, but mostly, I’m not working every day of the week, and he tries to schedule me later in the day so I haven’t got the really early start. He has given me the parking spot with the shortest walk possible from the car and a dressing room that is close to the ladies’ room and to the elevator so that I don’t have to take the stairs up to the stage. A lot of the scenes are written with me sitting down. It’s a very multi-pronged attack!”
While she does feel exhausted after 50-page days (“which I probably would feel even without the Long Covid”), Samms has been able to manage the workload both physically and mentally, which she describes as a “massive” relief. “I didn’t know if I could do it. They didn’t know if I could do it. But we were all willing to take the risk.”
Samms was particularly concerned at the prospect of holding up production, either due to fatigue or a failure to remember her lines. “That would have been a disaster,” she shudders. “So, after my first day, when I realized I could learn my lines and retain them long enough to say them, and I could remember the stage directions, I definitely felt much better knowing I got through it and hadn’t caused chaos!”
That both the powers-that-be at GH and its fans still care about Holly 40 years after her introduction is deeply touching to the actress. “It’s mad!” she proclaims. “It’s completely glorious that something that I did 40 years ago still has any relevance to anyone, let alone that anybody’s interested or even excited [about my return]. I am so fortunate that I’ve been able to go and forge my life back in the UK and do all of the things that I needed to do, but I still have this wonderful place to come to and enjoy and just relish. And that’s thanks to the fans. I don’t take it lightly at all, their enthusiasm for my return.”
Emma Samms is thrilled to be reteaming on GH with her longtime leading man (and real-life ex), Tristan Rogers (Robert). “It’s been fantastic,” she raves. “We’ve just sort of slipped right back into it. They’ve written some really funny banter for us, enough that I think you’ll see that spark between Robert and Holly. He’s been complimentary to me after some challenging scenes — ‘Well done, that was great’ — and I think we’ve both really enjoyed it.”
The actress marvels that fans are still rooting for Robert and Holly to get a happily ever after. “I mean, we’re old now!” she teases. “I think it’s a bit like what Joan Collins did on DYNASTY [as Alexis], which was showing that a woman of a certain age could still have a love life and be interesting. Hopefully, Tristan and I are forging that course for the oldies on GENERAL HOSPITAL!”
Samms is aware that some of the comebacks she’s made have been more creatively successful than others, dimming the Robert/Holly luster for some fans. “I’m sure the audience has some trepidation because over the years, written by different people with different producers, you know, things have gone awry a little bit on occasion,” she acknowledges. “But this time, it feels like the writers have somehow captured what the show was like back in the day, with the adventure and the excitement and the pace and the humor. This time feels the closest to what I was doing on the show when I started than anything I’ve done since, and it is such a joy, I can’t tell you. It feels like Holly, like the true character. Obviously, there are a lot of ups and downs in just the short arc that I’m there for, and I just hope the audience hangs in there! I don’t think anybody who remembers the good old days is going to be disappointed.”
Did You Know:
• After working with Charles Shaughnessy (Victor) during his brief 1984 stint as Holly’s cousin, Samms recommended him to her friend Shelley Curtis, then a DAYS producer. “I told her, ‘There’s a really good guy I’ve been working with and he’s just in and out, it’s a short role.’ I don’t know if that had anything to do with [DAYS casting him as Shane] but, obviously I’m claiming that, yes, I’m responsible for his whole career [laughs].”
• Samms worked with Michael Easton (Finn) in the 1992 TV movie SHADOW OF A STRANGER. “He played a very creepy character who beat my character up. In the moments that we weren’t filming, I was very touched by how gentle he was — concerned about me and careful and thoughtful. He’s a really good guy.”
Just The Facts:
Birthday: August 28
Hails From: London, England
Role Call: Holly Sutton, GH (1982-85, 1992-93, 2006, 2009, 2012-13, 2015, 2020); Fallon Carrington, THE COLBYS, (1985-87), DYNASTY (1987-89); Grayson Louder, MODELS, INC. (1994-95)
Mum’s The Word: Samms’s son, Cameron, “is now officially a doctor, so as you can imagine, I’m bursting! He’s a very sweet, smart, caring son.” Daughter Beatrice “got her degree in math and started her own business. She’s a spectacular human being. Between the two of them, I am so blessed.”
Spousal Support: The actress married Simon McCoy in October 2021. “I don’t have the same capabilities as I did when we first got together,” she says. “He got a bit of a bum deal! But somehow, he’s managed to walk the fine line between being very caring, but not mollycoddling me, and then on the other side, making jokes, making me laugh, but without ever making fun of my situation. He’s got the emotional intelligence to do that and I’m so grateful.”
Moisture Barrier: Holly made her 1982 entrance skinny-dipping in a lake, and when Samms reprised the role last week, Holly was sopping wet again (albeit more clothed). “I don’t know for sure [that it was intentional], but I saw that parallel myself! I actually loved it that when Holly first comes on, she’s not all glammed up.”
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