Michelle Stafford opened up about her return to Y&R as Phyllis, her feelings about leaving the role of GH’s Nina and more on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: You would really have to be living under a rock to not know you are now back at Y&R playing Phyllis again. So, let’s go back to when you left the show in 2013. At the time, did you think you’d be back?
Michelle Stafford: No. No…. I didn’t. I really didn’t. I believe I was on the cover of your magazine and I believe the title was “I’m done.”
Digest: If memory serves, that’s very
Stafford: No, I didn’t think I’d be back. As you know, I really felt like I played it out, like, I played the character out. I was talking to Eric [Braeden, Victor] the other day. We were just kind of discussing the last few years and coming back and stuff. And I said, “You know, I was never done with Y&R. I loved it here.” I made that very clear. I loved it here and I loved all the people. I just felt the character kind of ran its course with me creatively is what I felt at the time.
Digest: So fast-forwarding six years later, with the passage of time and stretching your wings obviously, playing Nina on GENERAL HOSPITAL, when this came back up, what appealed to you about the idea of returning to the show as Phyllis?
Stafford: Well, you know, honestly, when I was called and I was spoken to by a few people here. There seemed to be a new rejuvenation for the show by all involved: by Sony, by CBS, by the guys here at the show. They really felt that the show had gone off course with what made it so special. Regardless of anything, everyone I think in daytime can agree that it’s a very special show, meaning it looks beautiful, the sets are beautiful, there’s a certain … special something. I got the feeling that they had felt that had been not part of the show and they were trying in every way, in every department, they really wanted to get back to the [Co-Creator] Bill Bell-style storytelling and the Bill Bell-style of a show but make it current because you always have to kind of change with the times. But Bill, as you guys both know, he was so brilliant…. There was such a passion and an excitement here at the show and it’s still here from everybody involved, everybody who is part of the show. Like I said, CBS and the guys here at the show and also Sony, that really was the main reason because Bill Bell is Bill Bell and to be on any kind of show that’s gonna be like he wanted his stories to unfold is pretty great.
Digest: What was your preparation for the character like? Had you kept tabs on what Phyllis was up to?
Stafford: Yeah, you know, I didn’t watch it except when I would judge the Emmy submissions; that was when I would see it. Or I’d see on social media, like, a preview. I would click on it and be like, “What’s going on?” I didn’t really see a whole show. But when we had made the agreement for me to come back … I got the CBS Watch app and I watched everything I could. I watched every show back to August of last year, ’cause I just wanted to get also a tone of the show. You can study a character, but you also have to get a tone of, like, what’s the harmonic of the character when that particular character interacts with another. And so I watched it. And then I read every single synopsis from the time that Phyllis came back in 2014 to present. It took a while. It was weeks before. After I put the kids to bed I read what I could. I would probably read the synopses, maybe 35 or 50 a night.
Digest: With all of that kind of under your belt and you’re getting ready for your first day back, did you nurse any anxiety about finding the character again? Finding Phyllis’s voice?
Stafford: Oh, God, totally. Absolutely. 100 percent. I mean, I still am not there. I’m still finding it. Yeah. Oh, God, for sure. It’s a new job. It is truly a new job. I even said to Josh [Morrow, Nick] when I was doing a scene with him, I said, “I’m sorry, it’s all new.” And he just started laughing. I said, “But dude, it is. It’s a new job.” The relationships with others are new, too. I mean, I haven’t worked with them in six years. And, of course, you’re always thinking, “Oh, God, is this gonna be the worst mistake of my life? Am I just gonna crash and burn?” which brings me to just doing what I’m supposed to do, which is memorize my lines, know where my mark is and do the best job I know how to do and not really listen to anything else. I’ve kept that as an integrity point to me coming here. Phyllis isn’t the nicest chick on the block, right? And so you’re gonna get a lot of, “I hate you!” You can’t be affected by that. Now they’re writing it a certain way where yeah, she’s kind of a badass. She’s not necessarily good. I mean, she’s human so she feels things and if she does something that she feels is wrong she feels bad, but Phyllis is a bad girl. She’s just a bad girl.
Digest: What was it like to walk back into the studio again after such a long gap?
Stafford: So bizarre. I think I was shaking when I drove into the parking lot. I think I was, like, literally shaking. I came in first for a fitting; that was probably four days before I was to start here. I came in for a fitting and it was very bizarre. One of the other things that was so bizarre is that nothing really had changed, which of course made it more bizarre because six years had gone by. I was thinking, “How could nothing change?” And people looked great, like, everybody looked really good.
Digest: Describe your first day. When you actually did go back and now you’re reporting to work and you’ve been there before in life, what did it feel like?
Stafford: This is my third time around. Jeez! It just felt weird. But again, I didn’t want to pay attention to that because then you’re like, “It feels weird,” and then that starts affecting your performance. It’s a job. I think it probably helped I had only had a week in between jobs. I ended off on a Friday at GENERAL HOSPITAL and started I believe the following Friday here.
Digest: You shake a little bit on the way there. Now you’re there. Tell us about reuniting with some of your castmates on set your first day officially in Phyllis’s skin again. You know, seeing Peter Bergman (Jack) and Josh Morrow (Nick), Lauralee Bell (Christine),
Stafford: Well, I had kept in contact with all of those people, with Peter, with Josh and with Lauralee, so it wasn’t like, “Oh, my God!” You know? … But yeah, I mean, it was really cool. You know, six years go by and a lot of life happens to all of us. And from life, you change, and a lot of life has happened in the last six years for me. The interesting thing about it is a couple of people have spoken to me — and this is not a criticism at all, I just think it’s interesting — have sort of spoken to me like I’m the girl who started here in my 20s. It’s funny, ’cause I’m like, “Oh, I’m still that person to them.” You kind of have to reintroduce yourself as to who you are now. That’s a bit of a journey to do that. I get to know people again. But everybody is so cool here and lovely, which I’ve said like a gazillion times. It is family. I had a conversation with Peter about this. We were talking after the death of Kristoff [St. John, ex-Neil] and we were just saying how this group and on these shows, it’s more family than you realize. I will stop ’cause I’ll just, of course, start to cry, but it really is.
Digest: GENERAL HOSPITAL, of course, recast the role of Nina with Cynthia Watros. We were so fascinated about the fact that you guys went to lunch. I’m so curious about how
that came about. Did you reach out to her
Stafford: Yeah, I did. I reached out to her because I knew that she was coming into the role pretty quick. She was picking it up in the middle of a storyline. And not only that, like, right before the apex of a story, right before the climax, right? And so I got her email … and I just said, “Hey, if you got this it’s cool, but I just wanted to reach out and give you any information that you would possibly need.” She emailed me back right away and she was like, “Oh, my God, thank you. This is so lovely.” So then we set up a lunch. I had a bunch of notes for her. I really went through every character and what that character meant to Nina, like, her brother and the devastation when her brother died and who her mother was and her aunt. I went through every single person, gave her the backstory and then also really the essence, like, the soul of the character because it’s just helpful to an actor. She was awesome and amazing. I had never met her, but I’ve been a fan of her. She’s an incredible actress and a lovely person and really, really a beautiful person. We text every now and then.
Digest: When you look back on your GH run, what storylines stand out to you as ones
you really particularly liked that Nina got to be a part of?
Stafford: Well, I mean, the things that really do stand out to me … I really loved working with everyone there, but I loved the Nina/Franco story. I thought it was so quirky and so different to have these two characters that were basically nuts to everybody kind of fall in love in the mental institution. I thought that was interesting that they made the choice that she was afraid to have sex. Whether it was popular or not, I mean, I don’t know. It’s kind of not my job to know if it’s popular, but I loved playing it. I loved that this woman was quirky like that. I loved the whole relationship with her brother who she called Jay [Nathan]. I just thought that was such a special thing that me and Ryan [Paevey, ex-Nathan] created. I loved it so much. I loved that she had kind of endowed Jay with the baby that she didn’t have: “I didn’t have a child, but you’re basically my child.” But he, in turn, took care of her all the time. I loved the relationship between Nina and Maxie. I loved it so much. It was fun and funny. I love Kirsten [Storms, Maxie] so much. Those are the things that really pop out. And, of course, Valentin and Nina. It’s mainly not so much storyline, but the relationships that Nina had that I liked. Valentin is a scoundrel, he’s a bad guy, and Nina kind of makes him a good guy.
Digest: In terms of the friends that you made there, who do you see yourself staying in touch with?
Stafford: I do still stay in touch with Emme [Rylan, Lulu] and Kirsten and James [Patrick Stuart, Valentin] and Cynthia. And Vinessa Antoine [ex-Jordan], for sure. And Finola [Hughes, Anna], of course. I mean, of course. Finola and I will always know each other. I’m going out with a few of the girls from GH to go see a concert next week. Friends are friends. They’ll stay friends forever. Just because of proximity that doesn’t stop you from being friends and loving someone. Oh, my gosh, that’s so beautiful.