Michael Gross' River Runs Deep

Best remembered to nighttime television viewers as Steven Keaton, the mild-mannered, fun-loving dad on the 1980s sitcom FAMILY TIES, Michael Gross has been cast as a father again on YOUNG AND RESTLESS, albeit of a different variety. This time, as River Baldwin, he’s a rebellious hippie who left Gloria and their young son Michael for a life on the run, after being accused of a bombing and murder. Gross shares his thoughts on his character and his first foray into daytime.

Soap Opera Weekly: How did you end up on Y&R?
Michael Gross: The show approached me, as they did several other actors, about coming and doing this role. There was frankly nothing on paper. It was an idea. They came to me and said, “Here’s this man. We think we know something about him. We’d like to tell you what we think. We’d like to find out from you if you’d be interested in playing him.” There was nothing to read. There was no audition, per se. This is a man and character that’s being created even as we speak. We create him as we go along, which is actually quite exciting. It’s like building the first automobile. I feel like Henry Ford, saying, “Will this work?” Each episode is another point in the assembly line.

Weekly: River might be classified as a “rebel.” Is that something you can relate to?
Gross: When I met with [the producers], I told them a little bit about my crazy life in the 1960s and during the Vietnam War. I, of course, never went on the lam, but I told my share of lies to the Selective Service district in those times. And I was very much a part of the draft resistance movement, particularly after the Cambodian invasion. So I share something with this man politically in that I frankly don’t believe my government always tells me the truth. It’s very simple, really; a lot of Americans in our current fiscal crisis might be thinking the very same thing right now.

Weekly: You’ve mostly done nighttime and film work. Were you at all hesitant to tackle daytime?
Gross: I was hesitant for one reason, and it’s still the thing that challenges me the most: the speed at which this medium works. On FAMILY TIES, we worked on one episode for a week. On ER we would take eight days to do the one hour. On Y&R we’re doing 60 to 65 pages a day. It’s extraordinary. We are a story factory. I said to the writers, “It’s like feeding a hungry monster, isn’t it?” The show says, “Feed me.” Every day! Frankly, I’m amazed at the quality.

Weekly: Have your co-stars — specifically, Judith Chapman (Gloria) and Christian LeBlanc (Michael) — helped you acclimate to the medium?
Gross: These are wonderful people who are up against the same wall I am, which is time. Let’s churn this thing out. Christian and Judith have both been extremely helpful to me. Judith has been so [kind] with her compliments. She’ll say things to me like, “I think you’re doing so well. Not everybody can jump into this thing at this pace. We’ve seen people from prime time come and go, who are not only terrified, but overwhelmed.”

Weekly: Do you feel terrified or overwhelmed?
Gross: I don’t. I feel very much challenged. I feel like I’m using a new skill, that I’m learning to use a new tool from my tool kit. Daytime is a little like improv theater. Judith and I have talked about that. My sister is Mary Gross, who used to be on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and came out of Second City in Chicago, and is an actress in her own right. What I learned from Mary is that you must commit 100 percent to what the writers give you. And that’s what I do every day.

Weekly: So are you enjoying the gig so far?
Gross: I am. I hope there’s a long-range plan for River. The fact that he’s coming back into his old mate’s life is a fascinating thing, as is his trying to establish a relationship with his grown son. River, in their world, is very much like a man from another planet, which makes for interesting possibilities. There are bound to be potential clashes of philosophy with everybody on the show.