ICYMI Jason Thompson Interview

Digest: December 7, 2022, you marked the 17th anniversary of your debut as Patrick Drake on GENERAL HOSPITAL and on January 13 of 2023, you marked seven years in the role of Billy Abbott on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. But back to 2005, tell us the story about getting cast on GH.

Thompson: I was living with my friend, crashing with her for a couple of weeks … and then my parents were in town, they just happened to be here, and I went and got an audition to meet with [Casting Director] Mark Teschner at GENERAL HOSPITAL. Soaps weren’t really on my radar. It wasn’t something that I was looking to really do, but I walked in and I read and Jill Farren Phelps, who was the executive producer at the time, she was in the room with Teschner and I was the first person to ever read for Patrick Drake…. So I walked in and I read and Jill said, “Jason, that was a kick-ass audition.” And then she kind of got embarrassed and said to Mark, “Oh, I’m sorry, can I say that?” I was like, “No, no, please, that’s very nice of you. You usually don’t get that very often,” so, you know, those golden nuggets keep with you every once in a while…. And then I got a callback, and then it went from that to, like, “Oh, man, I really want to kind of get this now.” … When I tested, there were a handful of guys that I tested opposite with and that was on a Friday…. I felt pretty good about it, you know … and I got a call on Monday that I got it. Tyler Christopher [ex-Nikolas] broke his arm that following weekend and one of the guys that I tested opposite ended up filling in for him. So, the very first day I showed up as Patrick Drake, the other guy I’m testing with was in the hallway, as well, and I was like, “Oh, my God, the test isn’t over. Like, they’re gonna like this guy and I’m going to be out. They’re just going to be like, ‘We made a mistake.’ ” And so he was there for a couple of weeks and I was like, “Oh, this is horrific.” And then I got onto the stage and Jill basically said to me, “Welcome, you’ve got 13 weeks.” ’Cause that was really, like, your cycle. Then I hit the ground running and I started working with the incredible Kimberly McCullough [ex-Robin], who’s still a dear friend. We had a good run with, like, [Rick] Springfield [ex-Noah/Eli] in the beginning. You had your Alan Quartermaines and those people were around. It was pretty incredible, not to mention Steve [Burton, ex-Jason] and Mo [Maurice Benard, Sonny] and Laura [Wright, Carly] was there, Tony [Geary, ex-Luke] was there, so it was a really great group of people for me to come in on. So, yeah, lucky me.

Digest: Do you think you had any idea at all when you signed that first contract just what a monumental step it would be in your career?

Thompson: No, I really didn’t know what was headed for me. I was pretty young when I think about it. I was [auditioning] for a good seven years before I really had anything and so, you know, when it’s getting kind of close to the throw-in-the towel kind of thing, you start to think about that this is an amazing opportunity and, I was like, “Cool, I’m just gonna take everything that I possibly can out of this.” And then there were times where I was doing a couple of other projects in between and a contract comes here and there, so then I was looking at maybe changing it up for a while there and I stayed and it was great. After 10 years of being at GH, I had to make a different choice but I really didn’t know what I was heading into but I knew that I wanted to work, I wanted to work as an actor, I wanted to really try to get better and I looked at it as an opportunity. Even just having people like Kimberly in your life like that … She was a veteran at 22, 23 years old, so for me to work with somebody like that was a really amazing thing.

Digest: In late 2015 you made the decision to say good-bye to GH after a 10-year run, and soon enough you were setting up shop in Genoa City…. Did you have any butterflies in your stomach?

Thompson: Oh, absolutely, very big ones…. I just needed to know if I could do it still. I didn’t know if I could even do something different. I know it’s a little bit of a lateral move to go from GENERAL HOSPITAL to Y&R, but Billy’s a pretty different character. It’s a different set, it’s a different setup and it’s getting a little uncomfortable again, but I needed to change up personally and emotionally for myself. I just got married, we were on our honeymoon and I didn’t know where I was going yet exactly. Very late in this process I maybe thought about coming over to Y&R but I didn’t know anything about it yet, so it was a little bit daunting. We got home, we found out that we were pregnant from that trip, a life-changing trip in many, many ways, and then the reality hit of, like, “Oh, my God. Am I still leaving? What are we doing? I’m leaving a job and I don’t know if I’m going to work again. I don’t know if it’s going to work.” But we did and it was great. I had the opportunity to come over to Y&R. I met with Jill, you know, not to go too much out of school, she just basically said, “There are only a couple of people that know that we’re talking … and we want to bring you on board.” So, I was like, “Wow, okay. What does this mean?” I didn’t know it was Billy at that time. I thought it was for a different character…. I thought I was coming in as a new character. So then, this is pretty funny, but then I get a call from Steve Burton [then-Y&R’s Dylan] and he’s like, “Yo, what are you thinking?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, man. I’m just kind of taking it all in.” He’s like, “Well, let me tell you, it’s a great group of people, it’s a legacy character,” and I’m like, “What do you mean it’s a legacy character?” He’s like, “Well, I mean, he’s been around a long time. He’s an Abbott,” and I was like, “What are you talking about?” He’s like, “Well, they want you for Billy Abbott,” and I was like, “What?! I didn’t know that,” and he’s like, “I don’t know if I was supposed to tell you or not. I thought you knew that,” and I was like, “No, I didn’t know that, Steve. Thank you very much, I appreciate you telling me, though. Now I can actually know what I’m getting into.” So again it was another, like, “Wow! What does this mean?” … So, yeah, I remember that with fondness…. I came in and met everybody and I feel just genuinely lucky and fortunate to be in that position because it’s a great group of people and they have been from day one. So, it was a pretty interesting transition but the day that I arrived, it felt right and I was really excited about earning the opportunity to play this character and to do it justice. There were some good actors that have played this guy and brought him to life and one of them was Billy Miller [ex-Drew, GH], of course, so when I was working with him at GH, we talked about it a little bit kind of near the end of me leaving there and I knew the pressure.

Digest: What’s it been like to work more with Melissa Claire Egan [Chelsea]?

Thompson: Wonderful. Such an accomplished actress and someone that’s been in the business for a long time…. What she did with this storyline the last couple of months here was absolutely beautiful. She was there, she was available, and she really crafted something. Of course, it doesn’t take one person — the writing has to be there and the directors worked very, very hard on some of the most integral moments of the last couple of months storyline-wise and everyone was in on it. But Missy was the one that everything was filtering through and it was beautiful; she did such a great job. She made my job so easy. Talk about just being there for someone and looking into the eyes, suspending belief and just putting yourself there…. She’s been incredible…. There’s so much to love about her, so it’s been really, really fun working with her.

Digest: The emotional apex thus far between Billy and Chelsea happened during those pivotal scenes on the roof. What stands out to you about the experience of shooting those with Missy?

Thompson: I think just the vulnerability of the storyline, how precious it was, is, how important it was and still continues to be, how topical it is, how kind of serious it is…. The writers, and specifically Josh [Griffith, executive producer/head writer] and Missy, they talked a lot about making sure they did it with respect and honesty. And they really did. I think there are some really beautiful moments there…. I think everybody was on board for it.

Digest: The notion of a romantic pairing between Billy and Chelsea is challenging for some viewers because of how they first came into each other’s lives, because of what she did to him in Myanmar and after. What is your take on that, and whether there could ever be a truly healthy relationship between Billy and Chelsea?

Thompson: It’s tough…. It’s even difficult for me to speak on because it’s so delicate. You’re talking about some pretty sensitive storyline points that people take very serious because they have personal stories that are being kind of reflected upon and brought to the surface again. It can be very, very triggering for people, so you’ve got to be delicate, you’ve got to be careful. I think you also have to try and mix in a little bit of that suspend belief and just kind of tell a story and maybe if you’re lucky, give something for someone to believe in. But it’s not going to work for everyone…. You’ve got to give it some time to be explored. You’ve got to be careful not to rush things. You’ve got to tell the story, but can you believe in love? Yeah, absolutely, and it can come from some pretty dark places sometimes…. I think that Billy and Chelsea can continue to evolve and then who knows where you can get to, but you’ve gotta be careful with it.

Digest: What are your thoughts for the coming year?

Thompson: Honestly, just continue to evolve in the character and get lucky a little bit with some great story and stay interested in the job, stay interested in Billy, and stay interested and excited about coming to work…. I think he can go anywhere; I believe this guy can zigzag across the board and I look forward to those opportunities. He’s got a lot of work to do on himself and I think that there’s nowhere he can’t go … but it also doesn’t mean he might spiral as he tries to find it. It’s in his character to twist around a little bit…. The fans, they levitate this genre and so if they’re sticking around and they’re getting entertained there’s no reason for them to go anywhere else because we do something that nobody else does. We’re there every single day for them and we’re reliable…. We have a formula that works.