In 1994, Shemar Moore originated the role of Malcolm Winters, younger brother to Neil, who was played by the late Kristoff St. John, and the two made a sibling connection both on-screen and off. Moore has gone on to prime-time (first with CRIMINAL MINDS and currently headlining S.W.A.T.), but returned to Y&R to shoot both Neil’s funeral and the tribute to St. John, which will air on April 29. Here, Moore talks exclusively to Digest about his special relationship with his dearly departed friend.
Soap Opera Digest: Shemar, how did Kristoff seem the last time you communicated with him?
Shemar Moore: I had talked to Kristoff on January 17 via text and he was optimistic. He had a documentary series that he’d been working on for a while, which he was really excited about and proud of. And then he was a little bit in a negative place about YOUNG AND RESTLESS, just, you know, he wanted to be able to do more. I just told him to be patient and to just “keep showing the world who you are and what you’re about and just showcasing your talent and it’ll come.” I didn’t realize he was in such a dark place. I knew he was going through things, the passing of his son, and I knew he was frustrated. But if I had known, I could’ve done more. I should’ve done more. I should’ve reached out.
Digest: You had just returned from Atlanta when you found out about Kristoff’s death.
Moore: I had been at the Super Bowl and got an early a.m. flight because I had to get back in time to work at S.W.A.T. I landed at like 6:30 in the morning and when I got in the town car at LAX, my phone started blowing up and I thought it was odd that it was so early in the morning. They sent me the announcements that Kristoff had passed. It takes about 35 minutes to get home and I was just trying to register it was happening. And then it finally hit me and I got very emotional.
Digest: What were your reasons for participating in the Y&R episodes?
Moore: I was very grateful to get the opportunity, not just because it’s in front of cameras because I didn’t want to shine, but I said my own good-byes in my own personal space. Also, I wanted the fans to know, I want the world to know, how much this man meant to me because I wouldn’t have this life if it wasn’t for Kristoff. And that’s not just being poetic. It’s true.
Digest: When did you first meet each other?
Moore: It was April 6, 1994 — but my first audition [with Y&R] was on April 4, 1994 and then I came back two days later to audition with Kristoff. There were six of us on April 6 auditioning for the part of Malcolm Winters. We were supposed to do two scenes with Kristoff and one scene with Victoria Rowell [ex-Drucilla]. At the time of the audition, she was downstairs on set doing a scene and I guess the scenes were taking longer or what have you, so she never made it upstairs. I ended up doing two scenes with Kristoff. I was last to go in for both of those scenes. When I was done, we sat in a waiting room and the casting director came out and said, “[Co-Creator] Mr. Bell has made a decision. You can go home now and call your agents.”
Digest: How quickly did you make your call?
Moore: I can show you exactly where the pay phone used to be on Fairfax Avenue, just up from CBS. I called my future first agent, because he wasn’t gonna sign me unless I got the job, and that was when I learned that I got the job. The point is, it changed my life overnight. My first day of shooting was April 12, 1994, six days later.
Digest: Did Kristoff have any input about who to cast?
Moore: I found out within that month when someone told me that Bill Bell turned to Kristoff and said, “Who do you like? What do you think?” And he said, “I want the scared kid in the baseball hat and the sunglasses to play my brother because he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, but he’s got good instincts and I know he can do it.” And so I have always lived my career thanking Kristoff, thanking YOUNG AND RESTLESS. I will never forget where I came from. I will never forget where I started. But if Kristoff did not take the scared kid in a baseball hat turned backward, I wouldn’t have this life.
Digest: What would’ve been your next move if Y&R hadn’t hired you?
Moore: It’s not like I would’ve jumped to the next audition. I would’ve ran back home to San Francisco and then just tried to model in San Francisco and in New York and figure out what I was gonna do with my life. Because Kristoff picked me and Bill Bell agreed, I got a chance in this business.
Digest: In your Instagram tribute, you mentioned that Kristoff became your mentor.
Moore: Kristoff embraced me when I was scared. He just held me close and said, “Let me just show you what I know.” And then finally my confidence grew and I got better; my timing got better, my delivery got better, and as I started to grow, he and I just started to dance. Every day we showed up, Kristoff would look at me and say, “You ready?” And I would say, “Come on, big bro, let’s dance.” And that’s what we did every scene: “Let’s dance.”
Digest: What kind of relationship did you have with Kristoff?
Moore: He and I were brothers off the screen, maybe not blood-related, but we truly had a relationship like brothers. It was magical. It was beautiful.
Digest: How do you want Kristoff to be remembered?
Moore: This man deserves not to be forgotten. I know he had a lot of issues that he was struggling with, but he had the purest heart, the biggest talent. In my opinion, he’s the most popular, the most iconic, the most accomplished, the most deserving African-American soap star of all soap opera television because he earned it over all the years on one show, after he started out on GENERATIONS [as Adam]. There was Randy Brooks [ex-Nathan] and Phillip Morris [ex-Tyrone] and some others before him, but Kristoff made a mark. Without Kristoff, there’s no me, there’s no Christel Khalil [Lily], and on and on and on. Bryton James [Devon] calls him the Denzel [Washington] of daytime and it’s perfect. Kristoff deserves that.
Digest: What was it like to return to Y&R?
Moore: It was really nice to go back and see where I started. I hated that it was under these circumstances, as we all did, but what was so beautiful about that day is we all honored each other, we all hugged, but we all knew why we were there. I’m not on the show anymore. I’m doing what I’m doing. They’re on the show every day.
Digest: What do you think Kristoff would tell you now?
Moore: No more crying. Malcolm said it in the tribute, I say it in real life. I got my tears out. There were a lot of tears, but now there’s no more crying because Kristoff wouldn’t want that. I’m just carrying him on my shoulders like I did in real life. That was our thing. I have a picture framed in my office of him on my shoulders and the two-page monologue that I deliver in the tribute. It’s now framed in my office for the rest of my life. He was my brother. I miss him. And everything I do now as an actor…. You know, I had to earn my way and find my career. But again, I don’t even have this opportunity without Kristoff St. John. Every time I do a scene or go on a talk show I say, “This is for you, Kristoff. I hope I make you proud.” And then I go forward and I do what I gotta do.