When Rebecca Budig’s Greenlee Smyth first set foot in Pine Valley in 1999, All My Children’s fierce fan base wasn’t quite sure what to make of her. She had the beauty and familiar quality of an All-American girl-next-door, which seemed to fit since Budig had recently come off a three-year stint playing Guiding Light’s Michelle Bauer, a character who was the quintessential All-American girl-next-door. But Greenlee also had a mischievous sparkle in her eye and a devilish little smile that indicated her agenda did not include becoming a card-carrying member of any goody-two-shoes club.
Now, 12 years later, Greenlee, who was supposed to be a temporary, recurring role, is one of All My Children’s core characters, a feisty, anti-soap heroine who still has that mischievous sparkle, but is less self-obsessed and more selfless. She’ll fight to the death for those she cares about, but look out if you cross her – or get in the way of what she wants. Recently, that included Madison North (played by Stephanie Gatschet), who, after getting pregnant with ex-flame Ryan’s child, was the only obstacle standing between a happily-ever-after for Greenlee and her beloved Ryan.
Greenlee resorted to her old ways, scheming and lying to make sure Ryan never knew the truth (which, in true soap fashion, backfired miserably). It didn’t come from a place of spite or hatred, but from a place of insecurity. And since day one, that has been the key to Greenlee. On the outside, she appeared to be a tough chick with a sharp tongue and a thick skin, but on the inside, she was still a little girl who never felt loved or worthy of love. So when she did find it, she often sabotaged it.
Credit the All My Children writers for creating such a complex character, but much more credit has to be given to actress Rebecca Budig, who added layers to Greenlee that pushed her far beyond soaps’ clichéd spoiled rich-girl archetype. “I will definitely miss her sassiness,” Rebecca told me during our phone conversation about the end of All My Children on ABC September 23. “But I feel like a lot of my character has been lost. There’s so much more to Greenlee than solving crimes.”
Of course, she’s referring to the crime-fighting duo that has become Greenlee and Ryan. “I would have liked to see more character-driven story for them as opposed to ‘Let’s take down David Hayward,’ which we’ve done so many times,” she explains. “I like when Greenlee and Ryan do fun and goofy and silly things. When they get together and they’re like Pine Valley’s crime solvers, that’s something I don’t like as much. It’s like they’ve got the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine parked outside and they just run around solving crimes. Who needs the Pine Valley PD or Jeese and Brot when you’ve got Greenlee and Ryan? They’re like Scooby and Scrappy. I’ve even said a line to Cameron in a scene like, ‘What’s up, Scooby?’” she laughs.
In spite of their recent escapades, Greenlee and Ryan are one of the show’s most popular couples. They’ve been through a lot over the years, and have dabbled with other romantic partners, but fans have always rooted for them to find their way back to each other – even with the potential threat of Greenlee and Ryan’s respective first loves Leo and Gillian coming back from the dead. “Leo and Ryan are very different,” says Rebecca of Greenlee’s two men. “I feel like Leo’s her soulmate, and that Gillian is Ryan’s. I feel like Cameron and I would choose those two for the characters, Leo for Greenlee and Gillian for Ryan. I was so invested in Greenlee and Leo and the couple had such great fans.”
In fact, when Josh Duhamel made a brief return as Leo in August, Greenlee-Leo fans voiced their unhappiness over his stay being too brief. Still, Rebecca and Josh delivered poignant scenes that made it feel like no time had passed. “We were both nervous because we hadn’t worked together in so long,” says Rebecca. “And it was amazing. Josh and I had something very special, it’s still very special. I don’t think you can explain when you have chemistry with anybody like that really. It’s just very easy to look in his eyes and connect with him. And just like that, it was there again. It’s really, really nice to feel that way.”
She also feels a special connection with Cameron Mathison (Ryan). “Cameron is one of my best friends in real life and we have a connection that I think comes across on camera as well,” she says. “It’s different [from Josh] and I like that too.”
That said… “I would like Greenlee and Ryan to have more substance,” she adds. “With Leo it was rooted in something different. Sometimes they were doing something goofy, but there was more character involvement instead of just plot involvement. I would like it more if the writers would invest in the characters, if there was more exploration of their feelings for Leo and Gillian and what that means to their relationship.”
Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen, especially with the still uncertain future of the All My Children cast. Despite rumors, at this point in time, only Susan Lucci has been officially approached about continuing on with the show in its new online incarnation with Prospect Park. “It’s difficult,” says Rebecca. “I’m auditioning and looking for the next job. I don’t ever assume anything. I never assumed Greenlee would stay around forever. We all just wrapped our heads around that the show was gone, and this new possibility came up. But I never say never. You never know what situation you’re going to be in. For right now, in my heart, I’ve moved on but we’ll see. If they think Greenlee is integral to the show, then you never know.”