Soap Stars Turned Movie Stars!

When James Franco announced earlier this month that he'd be joining the General Hospital cast for a two-month story arc starting November 20, devotees of the Golden Globe-nominated hottie voiced a collective, "Wait...whaaaa???"

Though he nailed the stoner-dude routine in Pineapple Express, I don't think Franco is totally out of his gourd on this one. Dozens of Hollywood's most marketable, enduring stars started in soaps, and I can see the attraction. It's super steady work, and you sometimes get to die and come back to life, and die again, or maybe marry your half brother. Whoa.

I've never been much into the Port Charles crowd, but I may just have to add GH to my DVR lineup to see if Franco has the chops to parlay his daytime gig into a big-time career like soap vets Alec Baldwin or Courteney Cox. Personally, I think the kid has promise, but we'll see.

Alec Baldwin, The Doctors, 1980-1982

Remember this soap from the early 80's? Yeah, me neither. But apparently a pre-Knot's Landing Baldwin (and still a thin and hot one, no less) starred as a comely physician in this daytime drama which was filmed inside -- where else? -- NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center. Don't get me wrong: I love me a doughy, hilarious Jack Donaghy, but seriously: Baldwin was waaaay hot back in the day.

Meg Ryan, As the World Turns, 1982-1984

Fans of ATWT probably passed out with glee when their sweet Betsy Stewart shouted, "Take me to bed or lose me forever!" in that 1986 movie about pilots and Tom Cruise's teeth. Ryan and her on-screen ATWT love, actor Frank Runyeon, were (almost) the Luke and Laura of CBS: Their May 30, 1984 wedding episode attracted 20 million viewers, the second highest-rated hour in American soap history.

Marg Helgenberger, Ryan's Hope, 1982-1986

The CSI vet and Nebraska native was spotted by a talent scout for the ABC soap while playing Kate in a Northwestern University production of "The Taming of the Shrew" in 1981. This landed the future China Beach star landed her first professional acting role as uptight amateur cop Siobhan Ryan Novak; apparently excellent training for her near decade-long run on TV's most popular cop show...ever.

Kyra Sedgwick, Another World, 1982

Sedgwick was just 16 when she played Julia Shearer, a forgettable part that won The Closer star dozens of TV roles, including one in the acclaimed 1987 made-for-TV movie "Lemon Sky." It was there she met her future husband, Kevin Bacon, and the two married the following year. I imagine Sedgwick has since said a big "Thank yew so much!" to soap-dom for such a sweet break.

Courteney Cox, As the World Turns, 1984

Before the "Friend"-turned-"Cougar" landed herself front and center in Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" video (turns out the vid's director Brian de Palma had hand-picked her. Who knew?), Cox appeared in just one episode -- yes, one -- of this soap and played a "young debutante." Thankfully, Cox had a bigger plans: In 1987, she murdered my 7th-grade dream and became Alex P. Keaton's girlfriend on Family Ties. So uncool.

Sarah Michelle Gellar, All My Children, 1993-1995

You know you've aced the soap thing when someone who's never seen your show -- me -- knows your character's name and fictional affiliation to Susan Lucci. Yes, "Buffy's" first major break came in the form of playing Kendall Hart, the long-lost daughter of Lucci's Erica Kane, to some serious critical acclaim: At 18, Gellar won a Daytime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Younger Leading Actress in a Drama Series." And just two years later she'd win the hearts of nerds everywhere.

Demi Moore, General Hospital, 1982-1983

I loved early-80's-era Demi: Mousy, pudgy, flat-chested, and raspy-voiced like the trailer-park girl she desperately tried to forget she was. Apparently so did GH's producers, who cast Moore as Laura's sister and nosy journalist, Jackie Templeton. I vaguely recall her dating Tristan Rogers' Robert Scorpio and I think she even shared a few scenes with John Stamos' Blackie, and his raging Greek mullet.

Ryan Phillippe, One Life to Live, 1992-1993

Much like Gellar's turn on ATWT, Phillippe's soap stint was big news, but for more culturally important reasons. His character, Billy Douglas was the first gay teenager ever portrayed on a daytime soap opera. Sure, these days, it'd be barely a blip our pop-culture radar, which has a lot to do with Phillippe paving the way for other talented newbies who don't mind the "Is he or isn't he?" off-screen speculation.

Anne Heche, Another World, 1988-1991

Before she landed the role of Mrs. Ellen DeGeneres (and channeled alter-ego, Celestia, soon after), the loony Hung star played good-and-evil twins Vicky and Marley on this popular NBC soap. Not surprisingly, Heche mastered the split-personality ouevre, earning both Daytime Emmy and Soap Opera Digest Awards during her three-year stint.

Robin Wright, Santa Barbara, 1984-1988

Rare is the soap actress who scores the lead in a hit movie and returns to her soap after being minted Hollywood's "next big thing." Yep, the lovely former Mrs. Penn cut her dramatic chops playing Kelly Capwell before affecting a very convincing British accent in Rob Reiner's hit 1987 film, The Princess Bride. As soap vets go, Wright has my vote as the "Most Likely to Have Kicked Serious Movie Bootie."