ICYMI: Jason Thompson Interview

Jason Thompson (Billy) weighs in on a very special episode of Y&R.

Soap Opera Digest: Jason, how did you find out about this special episode?

Jason Thompson: I didn’t really know that this episode was going to be somewhat of a stand-alone episode with Billy and his moment of crisis, in a way, until I saw the script, to be honest. And then I looked through it and was like, “Wait a second, I’m doing that show over one or two or three days,” or whatever mixed in with other stuff. I then pieced together kind of what Josh Griffith, our head writer, told me was going to happen. To be honest, it’s not like I knew what this episode was going to be about until I saw the script and the breakdown.

Digest: What was your
reaction?

Thompson: I wouldn’t say mixed, but like, “Okay, this is going to be really fun and cool and it’s a great opportunity.” That’s the moment that I remember. I get excitement out of wanting to do some interesting, newer work. And I’m thankful that they would even think about doing something like this just because it’s something new and a challenge for us in the genre. I haven’t really done anything like this where it’s just one episode of heavy scenes. It was exciting to bite into it.

Digest: It must be flattering to know they trusted you with this kind of material.

Thompson: Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely a certain sense of responsibility and gratefulness that they would attempt something like this and follow through with it. When they do give you an opportunity like this, you want to reward that with good focus and hard work.

Digest: Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki), Eric Braeden (Victor), Doug Davidson (Paul) and Christian LeBlanc (Michael) had their own such episodes. Did you talk to any of them about that?

Thompson: No, I didn’t. I didn’t really look into it, to be honest. You just want to be part of a storyline where it makes it somewhat fun to go to work. I mean, this was a little bit different because I wasn’t really working with a ton of people within my own head, let’s say. It was a little bit more singular than I was used to when you get into somewhat of a heavy storyline. You’re usually with another partner or something is going on, but this one felt a little bit different because half of the storyline was kind of in my head. I could imagine that their episodes were amazing, too, because we’re talking about people who have been around for a long time, actors who [commit to] every episode. I still see it all the time when I’m having scenes with Melody and Eric; they’re asking a ton of questions and making sure that they’re going about it the right way. It’s inspiring. And it’s great to have Doug back. He’s a good dude. But I should go back and watch those episodes.

Digest: In this episode, Billy is basically losing it. What was that like for you?

Thompson: It was challenging. It still is, as I haven’t gotten past the meat of it and how it continues forward. What does this mean for him in his psychological health? Are we going to explore that? So, it’s still going on in a different way, but I really enjoyed the process of trying to piece the story together. We don’t have a lot of time. I would have loved to have had months ahead to really start to find it, but you read the script and it starts to have these little twists and you don’t really know. So, there’s an excitement to getting down and really trying to go for it.

Digest: How did you mentally prepare?

Thompson: One thing that I said to myself before we started is, “I don’t want to leave anything unpacked. I want to just go for it.” I wanted to add some gasoline to the fire a little bit, is what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to look back and say that I just kind of relaxed through it. That’s why I thought it was really fun being able to piece it together. You’ve got Billy in his normal life, trying to make that work, but you’ve got this dream world that turns into this like split personality, also. So mapping it out was a challenge because there was a lot going on. And then just finding it in some of those moments a lot of times and just being open to where I was and what was going on in this guy’s world and giving it the amount of weight that I think that he felt. And then on top of that, having other characters come in and out. It was fun just to go back and forth and just stay in his own world in a way, but being pulled out and put in different situations. I think the overall of trying to figure it out was probably the most fun and challenging.

Digest: How long did the episode take to tape?

Thompson: That episode alone was kind of broken up into three days, but within those three days, it was a lot. It was a heavy load each day.

Digest: Did you stay in character between takes so you didn’t lose your momentum?

Thompson: Yeah. It’s more intense and for a longer duration of time than what I’ve done before on one episode. Even coming home, I was almost 20 percent on what was happening, what I needed to get back into the next day to try to make it, I guess, come together. It’s different for us a lot of times because if we have emotional stuff, we usually know where the edit points are and we can kind of just continue. We can do four, five, six scenes in a row, and that’s somewhat the episode and move on, but this was not that. It was more spread out. It was more shooting it in a different way. It took a lot to do this so yes, to a certain extent I did kind of stay in my place.

Digest: Did you feel you had support?

Thompson: We’ve got such a great cast and crew, I felt like we were all in it together, to a certain extent. There were long chunks of time being in [the boathouse set] and it was more meticulous, but it felt fun just being in that place. The directors and producers were great about doing it again or picking up in a different place. The other actors would come in and out of that space. Like when Mark [Grossman, Adam] came in for his stuff, there was a moment where we were both just circling the room while they were getting things set up, and we were saying these lines, and we were starting to get into this kind of little tornado moment. It was fun. A couple of minutes later, I said, “That was actually kind of cool, wasn’t it?” And he’s like, “That was so great to be in that and let it kind of start to brew.” And I had these moments with Jess Walton [Jill], Michelle Stafford [Phyllis] and Peter Bergman [Jack]. So, for me, it helped to kind of stay in that set. I would start in my dressing room and come out and stick to myself a little bit, and then get in that set where the episode went down and just tried to sit in it for a while.

Digest: Amelia Heinle (Victoria) was in a good portion of scenes with you. How was that?

Thompson: She’s always great to work with. She brings a certain levity to the situation, which I really love about her. I also love that about her character and what that means to Billy. It’s nice when Amelia comes in and the crew is happy to see her. There’s a certain sense of ease that she has when she’s on set. I really enjoy what that does for our relationship.

Digest: After doing such emotional work, are you able to shake those feelings once you walk out of the studio?

Thompson: For me, I feel like I can. I had an amazing teacher here in L.A. and she taught me sort of the Method way of acting. I’ve always leaned into that kind of thing. It feels very personal, but at the same time you learn the tools to get there so you don’t have to carry them in a heavy bag all day long. You just know where you put these tools and you get them and you use them and then put them back. It takes a lot of focus and a lot of concentration. For me, in order to feel connected to it, that’s kind of the way I have to work. I’ll remember a moment that I’ll have with the kids or something like that and I can be like, “Oh, okay, cool. I’m going to put that in the toolbox.” So it’s always there, but it doesn’t follow me around like a heavy weight.

Digest: Are you looking forward to when Billy can smile again?

Thompson: Yeah. I mean, I’m looking forward to what it means for him and I’m hoping we get to explore that. I think there’s a certain sense of responsibility when it comes to storylines like these. I look forward to him trying to find out what it means to be a healthy Billy Abbott. I feel like moving forward with the character. I’m absolutely ready for him to feel good about life again, whether that’s smiling and laughing with the kids or just being able to take a deep breath. That’s why I love this character, because I feel like he’s capable of it, but he’s also capable of slipping, and that is human to me. That’s why I always look forward to what’s going on with him.

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