Coby Ryan McLaughlin Is Thrilled To Be At The Center Of Controversy As GH’s Sinister Cult Leader.
“It was kind of meant to be,” says Coby Ryan McLaughlin of being cast last year on GH as Shiloh, the self-help guru/sex cult leader who brought Dawn of Day to Port Charles. That’s because in his early days as an actor, he spent a lot of time at the show’s studio, studying with its acting coach, John Homa, who was instrumental in getting him started in the industry. “I’ve been hanging around that place my entire professional life, and now I’m a part of it!”
McLaughlin, who grew up in California, Illinois and Missouri, was raised by his mother and stepfather, but he was first exposed to the entertainment biz via his bio dad, a production sound mixer. “By the time he retired, he was in the business for 47 years. I would go on set with him when he was working. I’d hold the boom when he would mix on some gigs. At a very young age, I knew that I was going to be involved in this line of work, I just didn’t quite know how at that point. My uncle, who was a dolly grip, got me a job scrubbing camera cases on a show called BURKE’S LAW when I was 17 years old. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go into camera.’ And I did. I became a camera assistant for a while.”
The future thesp met Homa while working as a restaurant host. “He told me that he would let me come to his [acting] class if I could answer one simple question, and that was, ‘Why did I want to be an actor?’ He told me not to rush it because if I gave him the wrong answer, this was a one-time shot.” McLaughlin freely admits that his initial interest in being on camera “was 22-year-old hubris and ego. I wanted to be on the cover of Entertainment Weekly and have a house in the [Hollywood] Hills and buy a bunch of Porsches. I was going to give him some bulls–t spiel but right at the last second, I just stopped and said, ‘It’s all I ever wanted to do. It’s what I want to be. It’s what I want to devote my energy and my time and my life to.’ ”
That was precisely the answer Homa was seeking. Welcomed into his class, “He proceeded to kick my ass for the next five or six years,” McLaughlin chuckles. “I was horrible!” He remembers Homa’s class as “this actor utopia. It was like a who’s who in Hollywood circa 1997,” with Freddie Prinze, Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar (ex-Kendall, ALL MY CHILDREN) and Kirsten Dunst among his classmates.
He began to work professionally, and points to being cast in 1999’s UNDRESSED on MTV as a turning point. “After getting that gig, I made a promise to myself that I was an actor, that I was no longer a bartender or a waiter,” McLaughlin recalls. “I quit my bartending job and that was it. I made a commitment to it.” Not that it was smooth sailing from there. “It’s interesting, because every 10 to 12 years, that commitment is tested. There were plenty of times when I sat on the phone with unemployment for a couple of hours. There was a summer where I dug ditches and I framed houses and I learned how to roof, which in retrospect was the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to me. It was really a great thing for me to be tested like that. It was always, ‘How bad do you want it? Do you really want to do this?’ And there were other opportunities presented and it was like, ‘No, man. I’m gonna do this.’ Now I’m in my 40s and I always keep coming back to this.”
He dipped his toes into daytime for the first time last year, playing the short-term role of Andrew, Ashley’s co-conspirator, on Y&R. The experience whet his appetite for a steadier soap gig — which came in the form of Shiloh, his first contract role, a few months later. The Dawn of Day storyline — and McLaughlin’s sinister alter ego — has certainly got fans talking, and the actor appreciates the feedback, both positive and negative. “It’s interesting how people see this guy,” he muses. “I got my first death threat last month! This chick was like, ‘I hate you. I want you dead.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s a common response.’ And she was like, ‘No, I really want you dead.’ I was like, ‘Me? I like SEX AND THE CITY and puppies. I’m an okay dude, I swear!’ ”
McLaughlin’s approach to the work has helped him take it all in stride. “Here’s the thing,” he says. “As outrageous as this [Shiloh’s actions] may be, what I’ve come to realize is that this stuff happened somewhere at some point. Like, right now, there’s some sex cult leader a–hole doing this stuff. These people really exist! I look at it like, ‘Just because I would never do this doesn’t mean that there’s not someone else out there that would.’ What I try to do is just put myself in a situation where this is my reality and [think], ‘What can I do in order to make it real for me and bring it to life?’ The farther I go down this rabbit hole and the farther I get along on this journey with this character, he’s becoming very primitive; his instincts, which are almost reptilian, are kind of taking over. A lot of fans ask if I’m going to be redeemed, and it’s an interesting question. There are a lot of good guys on daytime television and having someone who’s completely morally reprehensible provides this really interesting yin to the yang. I don’t know if I would totally want this guy to be redeemed!”
As Shiloh’s storyline expands, so does his list of enemies, which McLaughlin relishes. “I love that my tentacles are spreading far and wide and I get to play with a bunch of different people,” he grins. “There are people popping up in my script and I’m like, ‘Who the hell are these people? I’ve got to IMDb them!’ But the actors on this show are incredible. [Kelly] Monaco [Sam], she’s a consummate professional; [Steve] Burton [Jason] has been wonderful. I feel really lucky that I’ve gotten to work with them and that I’m becoming intertwined with all of these other people. I’m having a blast!”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: May 17
Hometown: Woodland Hills, CA (“I’m a Valley boy”).
Girl Power: McLaughlin is the proud pop of 8-year-old daughter Nico. “I wanted a girl,” he beams. “Boys are cool, but we’re kind of stupid. She’s wonderful.” His fave daddy/daughter activities? “We do a lot of hiking, we do a lot of mani/pedis, we do a lot of movie nights.”
Boys’ Club: The actor was introduced to his best friend, Shaun Benson (GH’s former Steven Lars Webber), by an ex-girlfriend, actress Danielle Harris. “The first night we met, that was it. My girlfriend always jokes, ‘How’s your boyfriend?’ because Shaun and I talk every day.” He is also close with Erik Valdez (GH’s ex-Trey Mitchell). “We’re both car fanatics. Between the two of us, we’ve probably had over 100 cars.”
Cowboy Boot: Because of his commitment to GH, he’s taking a break from his band, The Cowboy Killers. “I had to make a choice and the choice was this.”
Dream Team: “I’m dying to work with Jon Lindstrom [Kevin/Ryan] and Maurice Benard [Sonny]. I see them and I’m like, ‘Oh, man! I wanna chew the scenery with these two.’ They’re great.”
DID YOU KNOW?
• McLaughlin made his television debut on a 1999
episode of THE X-FILES. “That was my first job. I was so nervous, so scared. I walked in and [David] Duchovny was working out in his trailer. I knocked on his door and he welcomed me in and we [chatted] for a few minutes. I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I’m gonna be all right.’ I was feeling a little bit cocky. And then I walked on set and I sat in a chair — and it was Gillian Anderson’s chair. I stuck my hand out and said, ‘Hey, I’m Coby!’ And all she said to me was, ‘You’re in my chair.’ Yeah, that was not gonna turn into a recurring [role] for me.”
• In 2011, he played Melissa McCarthy’s yoga instructor on MIKE & MOLLY. “She’s one of the most naturally funny women I’ve ever met. She hated the fact that I was staring at her ass for two days — in character, of course!”
McLaughlin met his real-life girlfriend of a year and a half, Mel, “at a kid’s birthday party, of course!” he exclaims. “That’s my social circle now. Remember those friends you used to have when you were young and you’d party? Yeah, now my social scene is like Target and Gymboree. I took Nico to a birthday party for one of her classmates in Malibu and I was talking to her little friend’s father and Mel, my girlfriend, walked in. I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’ I was asking this guy all these questions about her, like, ‘Does she have a boyfriend?’ and he goes, ‘Man, I don’t know, she’s right there! Go talk to her!’ So I did and that was it. She’s not an actor, she’s in wealth management, and she finds [his outlandish GH antics] highly amusing.”
Most important, Mel and Nico get along “like peas and carrots,” the actor beams. “Every time I grab the kid, literally the first thing out of my daughter’s mouth isn’t, ‘Hi!’ or ‘Love you, Dad,’ or, ‘Glad to see you,’ it’s, ‘Is Mel home? Is [Mel’s dog] Lady in the car?’ ”
McLaughlin gets along equally well with Nico’s mother. “Her mom and I were friends and acquaintances for a decade. One thing led to another and we had her. She and I are co-parents; we have 50/50 custody. It’s worked out quite well. We’re a modern family!”