Steve Burton’s Break From GH Gave Him — And His Alter Ego — A Fresh Perspective.
In 2012, legions of GH viewers were crushed when Steve Burton decided it was time to hang up his Port Charles uniform (black T-shirt, jeans, black leather jacket) and exit the role of Jason, which he had played, save for a few short breaks, since 1991. A four-year run as Y&R’s Dylan McAvoy followed and then, amid much fanfare, he signed on to return to GH late in the summer of 2017.
Two years later, Burton is even more thrilled with his decision to come back — and even more certain that he did the right thing by leaving. “When I left the show in 2012, I know everybody got upset, but it happened for a reason,” he begins. “I needed the break. I look back now and I’m like, ‘Man.’ I see myself as not having a lot of fun. The stories were pretty emotional all the time at that point, and I was just in this kind of funk, carrying all the stuff that we did and being so serious all the time.”
At the time, he wasn’t as aware of the psychological toll the job was taking on him. “I don’t think you [can see it] until you can step outside and you’re away for a little while and you can look down on the past, almost like you’re in a helicopter looking down,” he muses. “You’re living [the character] day in and day out and we’re doing these stories that are so real to us and real to our body and our brain, and then we’re supposed to just shake it off and go home and act like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, and that’s just not really how it goes. It wasn’t a bad circumstance, by any means, but obviously actors go through other stuff outside [of work] in their personal lives. It was a tough five years for me. My dad passed away, which I never talked about. I had all this stuff going on in my personal life on top of everything else and it sure didn’t make things easy.”
Especially because of the intensity with which he approached his work. “There was a long run there where Kelly [Monaco, Sam] and I were working every day, and it was highly emotional with a lot of preparation. Kelly and I would meet every day and break down our scenes. Every single day, we were going through scenes beat by beat. ‘How can we make this better?’ There was so much focus on it and so much focus on, ‘Oh, my character wouldn’t do this or that.’ It’s like you were just in it. Obviously I love the character and I love the job and the opportunity, but I needed a breather, for sure. I definitely needed the break to work on myself.”
His time away from GH allowed him to “totally reset,” he declares. “It changed my life for the better just to be able to come back with a fresh perspective. I’m trying not to beat myself up as much now as I did back then.” If there’s a downside to that, he grins, it’s that, “Now, I want to have so much fun at work, and I have to stop myself from having fun because I still have to be somewhat Jason-esque!”
Possibly as a result of Burton’s increasing easygoingness, the Jason Morgan of 2019 is something of a kinder, gentler iteration of the character, or at least one more apt to show emotion. “I think a lot of it is me growing as a person,” he offers. “First of all, it was very emotional coming back to the show and doing those scenes with Laura [Wright, Carly] and Maurice [Benard, Sonny] and Kelly, Leslie [Charleson, Monica] — the emotion was just there anyway. We couldn’t even stop the emotion if we wanted to! I started off pretty emotional. ‘Is this guy gonna come back and cry every scene? What happened to him?!’ I don’t want to say I didn’t show a lot of emotion [in earlier years], because I did, but you never really saw me being animated or anything like that. I think I smiled maybe once in 10 years. I made a career out of scowling! I don’t really have an answer [for the change]. I don’t know if I’m letting more of myself seep into Jason now. Is he written lighter? Maybe. Is he written nicer? Yeah, maybe he is.”
Whatever the cause, the actor is having a blast with Jason this time around. “I just feel like I got a second chance at GH,” he enthuses. “I’m not going to take it for granted. I’m grateful for the opportunity, grateful to go home.” More apt to go with the flow than he was pre-2012, the actor says he’s only considered pushing back against a GH directive once since his return. “I almost said no when Jason wore a softball outfit. I took one for the team there and I did it for the writers. You’re welcome!” he teases. It’s a sacrifice that will live in perpetuity, thanks to the trading cards the show made of its softball players and released on social media. “I saw that card and I go, ‘Oh, no! It’s forever!’ ” he groans good-naturedly.
Not only is Burton approaching the job with a lighter attitude, but he’s discovering a love of comedy as he criss-crosses the country performing his stage show with Brad-ford Anderson (Spinelli). “It’s a whole other side that I’ve never even explored as an artist,” he says. “We’re having so much fun doing it that it should be illegal. Seriously! It’s opened a whole new kind of portal in my brain of like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is amazing. I’ve got to go down this road. I’ve got to learn as much about comedy as I can.’
“I’m at this point in my life where I just love to have fun,” he concludes. “I just don’t take life so seriously anymore. I embrace life! And I’m grateful every day when I wake up.”
Just The Facts
Birthday: June 28
Hometown: Indianapolis, IN
Party Of Five: Burton and wife Sheree, who wed in 1999, are the proud parents of Makena, 16, Jack, 13, and Brooklyn, 5. “Makena’s an artist; her aspiration is to work for Disney or Pixar. Jack loves school, loves all sports, loves video games.” As for his youngest, he chuckles, “I’ve never seen anything like this kid. She has so much personality and is so smart. She keeps us on our toes!”
Trophy Case: Burton won the Supporting Actor Daytime Emmy in 1998 for GH and in 2017 for his work as Y&R’s Dylan.
Listen Up: Tops on Burton’s podcast playlist? “I listen to Joe Rogan. He has guests from every walk of life on, and I find it so interesting. And I also listen to a bunch of science nerds talk about anti-aging and nutrition.”
Pay It Forward: “I love helping younger actors on the show or guiding them however I can, like I had people who helped me,” says Burton. “Stuart Damon [ex-Alan] was a big proponent of mine for a long time. He would always go up [to the powers-that-be] and go, ‘You got to give this kid more stuff, he’s great.’ ”
The Grand Tour: Burton and Bradford Anderson (Spinelli) are traveling with their stage show. For tickets and more info, visit stonecoldandthejackal.com.
DID YOU KNOW?
Though he got his start on a sitcom, OUT OF THIS WORLD, Burton says, “I couldn’t even really comprehend comedy at that point. I just didn’t get it, I didn’t get the structure of it. I said my lines, but I didn’t have great timing.” The actor suspects this might be why his character frequently donned wacky hats. “I think they were like, ‘This guy’s not funny, but he’s got good hair, so let’s just put him in a funny hat every week.’ ”
While on Y&R, Burton learned a valuable lesson from Eric Braeden (Victor). “Things move so fast in daytime, you can get so caught up in the pace that you start to pick up a cue faster, or start talking faster. But watching the way Eric took control of his time in a scene reminded me, ‘When I’m in a scene, this is my time with my scene partner.’ It helped me slow down.”
Last year, Steve Burton launched a podcast with buddy Bradford Anderson (Spinelli), the aptly titled THAT’S AWESOME WITH STEVE & BRADFORD, where they interview castmates ranging from veterans like Genie Francis (Laura) and Maurice Benard (Sonny) to up-and-comers like Eden McCoy (Josslyn) and Katelyn MacMullen (Willow). It’s been a thrill for Burton to get to know his co-stars better by having them on as guests. “I know these people, obviously, but it’s made our relationships deeper, because I literally sat with them for an hour and a half and learned everything about their lives,” he says. “Kathleen Gati [Obrecht], we rarely talked, we rarely saw each other, but after her podcast, I feel like I’m friends with her now. Now, I make it a point to stop when I see her in the halls. ‘Hey! How’s it going? What’s happening?’ I love really learning about what makes somebody tick and to hear their stories. For me, that’s the cool part of the podcast. Even someone like Maurice, I knew a lot of his story, but I was still surprised at a lot of the stuff that I didn’t know. With Michael Easton [Finn], that’s another one. You wouldn’t look at Michael and go, ‘That guy’s an artist.’ You’d say, ‘He’s an actor. He’s McBain. He’s the man.’ You wouldn’t know this dude writes graphic novels and poetry and that he’s a screenwriter. He’s a real artist! It’s good to be surprised by people that you know really well; I just love it.”
All back episodes of THAT’S AWESOME WITH STEVE & BRADFORD are available at stonecoldand thejackal.com.