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Soap actor discovers some shoes hard to fill

Billy Warlock is no newcomer to either television or soap operas. He's a veteran of prime-time series like "Baywatch" and the short-lived "Hat Squad," and he spent several years on "Days of Our Lives."

Still, he didn't quite know what he was getting himself into when he became the latest in a long line of actors to play Alan Quar-ter-maine Jr. - A.J. - on the ABC soap "General Hospital.""The beginning, actually, was great. It was about a month into it that I realized I had kind of an uphill battle taking over for a 6-foot blond guy," Warlock said.

Eight months ago, Warlock - who's dark-haired and considerably less than 6 feet tall - replaced Sean Kanan. (Kanan left the show rather abruptly due to some unspecified personal prob-lems.)

"We are totally two different types in every aspect. Not only in our looks but in our approach to what we do, and the character is completely different," Warlock said. "It took time for some people to accept me."

Apparently. When a publicist asked visiting fan Cheryl Pierce whether she liked Warlock as the new A.J., she said, "I didn't at first. At first it was hard because I really liked the other A.J. . . . But now I like him a lot. I think he's a better actor."

Warlock said he was welcomed to the set with open arms.

"From the day I got here everybody was really terrific and welcomed me graciously," he said. "It's kind of like coming back home. I, obviously, had never done `General Hospital' before, but there's a great deal of the cast who I had worked with on `Days.' And some of the directors and producers. And we used to work next door to each other at (the) Sunset-Gower (studios). . . . So I have been around these people for so long. So it really felt like I was coming back home.

"That made it a lot easier. I never really felt like the new kid, even though I was. And they never made me feel like the new kid."

Some of the fans were not quite so gracious, however. None of them confronted him personally, but things did get back to him.

"That was overwhelming. Especially to replace a guy who had been here for five or six years," he said. "I didn't really think it was going to be that difficult at first."

But, while things seemed to him to be going along just fine, not all the fans agreed.

"From my standpoint, they've always been great to me. My mail has always been very positive," he said. "It was just the Internet and things like that."

Not that he surfed the "General Hospital" sites himself, but he did have some of that fan negativity relayed to him.

"My dad would go on and tell me, `They're hammering you,' " Warlock said. "A few weeks after that he said, `You're winning 'em! You're winning 'em!'

"Ironically, the day I shaved my goatee off and (let) the hair grow, that's the day everybody started to go, `Oh, OK. He can do it.' "

And he's not looking over his shoulder at Kanan or any of the other A.J.s who came before him.

"To be honest with you, now I am finally in my groove to where it's mine now," Warlock said. "So I'm very comfortable playing the character. It's more second nature. When you do something enough, it becomes second nature.

"When I first started, it was a character I'd never played before. I'd never played a blue blood. I'm more like, `Eh, yo, what's up?' So it was kind of an adjustment."

And he didn't exactly get a lot of time to prepare for the role.

"It happened really quick," he said. "I came in on a Friday and started on Tuesday."

He spent that Monday being briefed on the background of his character. A.J. had been played by six actors over 15 years before Warlock came aboard.

"Then they would spoon-feed me as I went along," he said. "But now it's in overdrive. We just come in, there's your mark, let's hit and go home. It's nice to be in that place now to where they trust you, you trust them and it's family."