Why I’m Leaving
© ABC Soaps in Depth – Rosemary A. Rossi

GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Alicia Leigh Willis (Courtney) reveals her reasons for moving on.

Four years and Emmy nomination after joining GENERAL HOSPITAL, Alicia Leigh Willis will be walking onto the ABC lot as Courtney Matthews for the last time on December 23. It’s easy to see in her expressive eyes the myriad emotions that conjures up and that she’s still juggling – excitement, anticipation and a little apprehension about leaving those she has come to love. But she, like her pregnant character, is on the threshold of seeing her dreams come true. Making the decision to pursue her heart’s desire was an easy one to make… but saying the good-byes needed to move forward without looking back is already proving to be difficult. Here, Willis sits down with Soaps In Depth over lunch to get the heart and soul of her big exit.

It’s Now Or Never!
Soaps In Depth: Why are you choosing to leave GH?
Alicia Leigh Willis: I’m ready to make a huge change in my life careerwise. There’s something inside of me that says, “Now or never.” It’s time to take that plunge into the unknown. It’s probably the most exciting and terrifying experience I’ve ever had.

In Depth: Is there anything that could have made you stay?
Willis: The thing that would keep me there is the people. They’re my “family.” For four years now, I’ve spent almost every day with these amazing people. To not see their faces all the time is really sad. I’ve had so many people in the crew come up to me, and they get this look on their face where they’re kind of smiling but they say, “Are you really doing it?” It breaks my heart. I say, “Yeah, I’m leaving , but God, I’m going to miss you.”

A Big Surprise!
In Depth: Was it weird when you said it out loud to the powers that be that you decided to leave?
Willis: When I had to tell [executive producer] Jill Farren Phelps that I was leaving for sure, it was so hard. Four years ago, Jill and [casting director] Mark Teschner took such a chance on me. They believed in me. When I turn around and tell them “You guys have given me everything, and now it’s time for me to move on” it’s heart-wrenching. They gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. Now I’m taking what I’ve gained from being there out into the big, scary world. I know it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t make it any easier to say good-bye.

In Depth: Have you heard from fans yet?
Willis: The most amazing thing happened last week. I walked into my dressing room, and it was filled with flowers from fans. The same thing happened to Tamara [Braun, ex-Carly] and I never thought I would get the same response. I don’t even know how to put it in words. I was completely blown away. The fans have always been so incredible, so supportive and so loving. To see that and to see little notes saying “Please stay” or “We want you to stay” is wonderful and very hard at the same time. It’s great, because you know that you’re loved – nothing can replace that feeling. It was very unexpected. When I think about all the letters and gifts I’ve received since I’ve been on the show, I really think that the GH fans are the greatest. Hands down they’re the greatest. I’m going to start crying. Don’t make me cry!

Her One Regret
In Depth: Is there any direction you would have liked to see the writers take Courtney that they didn’t?
Willis: I wish the storyline when she got into drugs had lasted longer and that they had gotten more into it. It only lasted a week. I think it could have been really interesting to see Courtney and Jason dealing with that and their relationship and taking it a little further. It would have been really great to play.

In Depth: The whole thing about her wanting to have a baby became such a huge character trait that it spun her out of control.
Willis: Courtney needed some serious therapy on that issue (Laughs) It got to the point where it was obsessive. It was a joke around the set because I was always talking about this baby. [People would say,] “Here she goes again!” But I love that she’s pregnant now. That’s the hardest thing, leaving in the middle of this storyline, because it’s such a great story.

Making A Scene
In Depth: Over the years, is there a scene that stands out in your mind?
Willis: I remember doing a really emotional scene with Tamara just before she left the show, where she was supposed to be crying and upset because Michael was missing. We were both having a hard time getting there. At that moment, I realized something. I walked up to her right before the scene and whispered in her ear, “I think this is our last scene together.” All of a sudden, “Five, four, three, two…” tears! Both of us looked at each other, held hands and were shaking. We lost it. After the scene, we hugged each other for, like, five minutes and didn’t stop crying.

In Depth: Is there a scene that you’re proud of yourself for being able to “go there”?
Willis: I had a scene once with Steve Burton where I asked Jason if he wanted a divorce. I remember it was the first in a scene where I started crying and couldn’t stop through the whole scene. I was completely out of my head, and I was looking at him, and all of a sudden, it just came up from somewhere so deep that I didn’t even know what to do with it. I remember the director coming up to me afterwards and telling me what a great scene it was. It was the first time where I didn’t go, “God, that sucked!” I’m usually very hard on myself. It was the first time I went, “You know what? That was pretty damn good!”

Final Thoughts…
In Depth: How have you changed since you’ve been at GH?
Willis: When I came on the show, I was still just a girl. I’m leaving the show a woman. I grew so much as a person. I owe that to every single person that works on that show.