Reality Is The Method For GH's Bernard

ABC's "General Hospital" star Maurice Bernard plays Sonny Corinthos. ABC

By The ShowBuzz's Melissa Castellanos

Emmy-winning actor and ABC's "General Hospital" soap star Maurice Bernard knows daytime TV drama.

What many might not realize however is that this handsome and talented actor faces his own form of inner "drama" everyday.

Diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 21, Bernard was concerned that his condition may ultimately affect his dream of pursuing an acting career, making producers reluctant to hire him if they learned of the truth.

Luckily he was wrong.

To his surprise, the producers accepted the news with grace and understanding. Instead of just looking past his illness, they embraced it.

"I didn't want to talk about it because I was afraid that producers would think that I'd loose it on the set. … It was important for me to come out about it." Bernard told The Showbuzz. "But, for me it's been absolutely incredible. This is why I continue to do what I do."

With Bernard's permission, his condition was written into "General Hospital's" script. In his role as Sonny Corinthos, Bernard portrays a character with bipolar disorder.

Photos: Celebrity Circuit
In recognition of National Mental Health Month (May) and in celebration of "General Hospital's" 45th anniversary, Bernard spoke out about his condition in hope of raising awareness and helping others seek treatment.

The 45-year-old actor, who is also a spokesperson for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), brings his real-life intensity, raw emotion and authenticity to his character.

"I just try and put everything about me into the character, from my own life - that's the way that I was taught," Bernard said. "I infuse everything that happens to me in my life into the character. It's method acting, but for me that's the only way to do it."

It was 15 years ago that Bernard brought Sonny to life - a character that has stirred up G.H.'s Port Charles, N.Y. and captivated audiences, both young and old.

Despite Sonny being a corrupt mobster (until recently), he has won the hearts of millions with his rough around the edges exterior, yet sensitive demeanor and seductive Latin charm. (He is of Salvadorian and Nicaraguan decent.)

One of the best daytime love stories of all time was with Bernard and "Las Vegas" star Vanessa Marcil, who played Brenda Barrett. Although she has left the show, many longtime fans await their reunion.

"The door is always open for Vanessa," Bernard said with affection. "It would be interesting for her to come now that Sonny is with somebody else who he's in love with - it would be a love triangle. Hey, the more the merrier!"

There is never a dull moment for Sonny - whether dealing with his entangled love life, enemy confrontations, defending his territory on the piers of Port Charles or battling bipolar disorder.

Bernard has grown very close to his co-star Steve Burton, who plays Jason Morgan, Sonny's right-hand man.

"We are kind of like brothers, we respect each other. He's fantastic," Bernard said. "I like working with everybody. I am working with Megan Ward, who plays Kate, who I am having a great time with. We have so many good actors on the show that it's a pleasure to go to work."

Bernard may be surrounded by a stellar cast, but at times it's tough for him to get into character because the acting becomes so real. By finding the right treatment and sticking with it, he has been fortunate not to have any setbacks in 15 years.

"It's difficult," Bernard admitted. "We did a story two years ago that Sonny went through a major breakdown. They asked 'Do you want to do it or is it too close to home?' Any way to give people education and knowledge on the subject is important as long as you do it well."

"Bipolar is a mood disorder," Bernard added. "The highs are very high and the lows are very low. My lows were very low. I had racing thoughts. I couldn't sleep at night."

Bernard has been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show to talk about living with bipolar disorder. Since his appearance on the show he has received an outpouring of support from fans and fellow actors.

"The show was fantastic," Bernard raved.

"With me I have the best of all worlds. I am smart enough to stay on treatment and the medication. I have a family that's absolutely phenomenal. I exercise. I eat well. That's how I have managed to live with this disease."

Bernard has received many accolades due to his proactive leadership role. He was honored with the Lionel Aldridge Award by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and received the Didi Hirsch "erasing the Stigma" Leadership award.

In addition, to his Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor on a daytime drama in 2003, Bernard has received the Outstanding Lead Actor trophy at the Soap Opera Digest Awards and was honored by Entertainment Industries Council with the first-ever Performance in a Daytime Drama PRISM Award for his work in the "Sonny is Bipolar" storyline on "General Hospital."

Bernard's acting career began with numerous theatrical productions in the San Francisco Bay area. He then landed the role of Nico Kelly on ABC's "All My Children" in 1987.

Two years later, Bernard was cast as the lead in the highly anticipated television movie, "Lucy and Desi: Before the Laughter." He also starred in the feature film, "Ruby." Then in 1993, his character Sonny came to "General Hospital."

Sonny's future may be up in the air however, considering Bernard has only 6 months left on this contract with "General Hospital."

Regardless if Sonny's time is up on the show, Bernard will continue to fight his battle against bipolar disorder offscreen.

"I love it (General Hospital), but we'll see what happens," Bernard said.

For more information on bipolar disorder please visit www.bridgetoabrightertomorrow.com.

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