GH’s Steve Burton (Jason) reflected on his daytime career and many on- screen loves as a guest on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest.
Soap Opera Digest: First of all, tell us how you’ve been doing these last few months.
Steve Burton: Oh, man. You know, obviously, it’s strange times. It’s been really weird. But I got to say, these last couple months have been good for me, personally. There’s not many times in my life where I’ve had to stay home this long, and I’m sure [that’s true] for a lot of people…. I’ve had a couple days in here that have been tough. You go through the emotional swing. We’re stuck at home. What’s going on? Can we go back to work? You get angry. You can’t get any correct informa- tion from anywhere. I know it’s a crazy roller coaster, but I’m just trying to stay focused.
Digest: Let’s take a bit of a deep dive into your career…. What stands out to you about your time on DAYS [as Harris in 1988]?
Burton: Being on DAYS was just a new experience for me. It was really exciting. It was over at Sunset Gower, which I had auditioned [at] hundreds of times. That was a time when, I don’t want to say the heyday of soaps [but] I feel the late ’80s and early ’90s-to-mid-’90s was a good time for soap operas. Stephen Nichols [Steve] was there and Mary Beth [Evans, Kayla] and Billy Warlock [ex-Frankie]. I mean, it was all those guys. My first real introduction to soap operas was DAYS OF OUR LIVES. It was cool. Everybody was nice. It was fun. It wasn’t easy. And I still couldn’t act!
Digest: When you first auditioned for GH a few years later, was that just another audition for you or at that point in your life were you hoping to score a longtime job on daytime?
Burton: No, there was actually a stretch where I didn’t want to audition anymore for soaps for some weird reason. I was testing a lot for TV series, auditioning for movies a lot. Soap operas were just really not on my radar at all…. And it wasn’t even for a contract role. It was for recur- ring at the time. [My] first day I walk in and you have the security guard and then you make a left and you go down the hallway, where all the dressing rooms are, but [there’s] a door there and that door was shut. So I’m at the security guard, which is, you know, 7 feet away, and the doors kick open and it’s Tony Geary [ex-Luke], pissed off. I’m like, “Okay. Welcome to GENERAL HOSPITAL! I’m not going to say a word.” That was my motive for like the first four years. I was like, “Don’t make eye contact with producers, [then- Executive Producer] Gloria Monty. Just go to your room and do your job and shut up.” And that’s what I did.
Digest: When you think about that early era where you worked a lot with the Quartermaine family and then, of course, got involved in the Karen/Jagger story and so forth, how would you categorize those years?
Burton: Oh, man. It was great. It was the best. I mean, coming on as a Quartermaine was the greatest thing for me, ever. That whole Quartermaine family, it was so fun. I can’t tell you how much fun that we all had together. I mean, I love every one of them. I mean, David Lewis first and then John Ingle [playing Edward], Anna Lee [ex- Lila] and Stuart [Damon, ex-Alan], of course, and Leslie [Charleson, Monica] still to this day. And Gerald [Hopkins] was A.J. for a while, then we had a few recasts in there with Billy [Warlock] and Sean [Kanan]. And Jane Elliot [ex- Tracy], Wally Kurth [Ned], I mean, it was so fun. It was a family. We were the big dysfunctional family on camera and off. But we had so much fun…. Stuart Damon was a huge proponent [of] me working more. He would always go, “Hey, you got to give this guy a shot. Give this guy a shot. He’s good. Give this guy a shot.” I love Stuart. He was always a big fan of mine. I love the guy so much. It was just really a lot of fun. And then you had the teen story, too. That was right around the time where, like you said, Karen and Jagger, Brenda and Sean [Kanan]. We were like the young, I don’t want to say [BEVERLY HILLS,] 90210, but that’s kind of what they were going for because that’s what was popular at the time. [Then- Executive Producer] Wendy Riche, she was like, “Steve, you’ve got to grow some sideburns.” I go, “What do you mean?” She goes, “Look at 90210. Look at Luke Perry [ex-Dylan] and his sideburns.” And I go, “I can’t even grow hair on my face! It’s going to look so bad.” Sean can do it and he did it. I couldn’t do it! But it was a lot of fun because we did locations…. Man, I have such great memories of that show and what a way to start a career there. It was fantastic. And then toward the end, that’s when Maurice [Benard, Sonny] came, toward the end of my first four years, and then that’s really what changed my life and acting career, was him. And then I changed into Jason Morgan and that was it.
Digest: You can definitely argue that Jason and Sonny are one of daytime’s longest-running bromances. Why do you think this pairing has struck such a chord with the audience?
Burton: I think it’s because of the friend- ship that we have. I mean, I love the guy like a brother. I mean, I truly do…. He’s such a caring, giving guy. Our friendship, I feel, transferred to on-screen. And all the hard work that we did together, it showed on camera. We were just able to take our friendship to a whole different level with the depth of our relationship than the average friends on a soap opera. That’s what I feel and that’s what I think came off.
Digest: I want to hear your take on some of your leading ladies. Jason and Robin was a really popular pairing in its day. Tell me about working with Kimberly McCullough.
Burton: Kimberly, obviously, was there from a young girl and became just a fantastic actress…. We worked hard and that’s what I tried to carry with me with every pairing, that work ethic, which I had but I didn’t really know how to use until Maurice showed me. With Kimberly, I mean, we worked hard. We had a lot of emotional stories and emotional stuff and it was because of that pairing and her that I was fortunate enough to win my first Emmy. We’ll always be friends. She’s awesome. I’m so happy for her in her new career directing. We had a great run, a great run together.
Digest: Tell us about working with Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth).
Burton: Obviously, Becky’s a great actress and her work ethic is fantastic. When we started working together, we were just like, “Look, let’s just figure this out and work.” And something happened. We had great chemistry and it worked. We had great storylines. She was great to work with, man. We had a great run also. Our friendship off camera, again, I think it transcends to camera. We had a lot of fun.
Digest: In 2004, the Jason/Sam romance that continues to this day began. Tell us about working with Kelly Monaco.
Burton: I think why there was a success in this relationship was that it was never meant to be a relationship and that’s what was cool about it. It was almost like The Bodyguard. I was here to protect this girl and make sure everything was okay and that she stayed healthy and stayed safe. And then we became friends and then it went into a romance. That was kind of the first time, I think, I ever had a relationship on the show where we were just kind of friends. There was no motive of us even being together until they saw us starting to work together, like, “Wait a minute. There’s something here. Okay. Let’s go this way.” And that’s what we did…. We had a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful trust and working relationship that made it really easy for us to do stuff. It was great.
Digest: I think it’s fair to say that “JaSam” fans have really been clamoring for the two of them to be a little happy for a while.
Digest: Would you welcome that or do you feel like the drama lies in keeping them apart?
Burton: I don’t know. I mean, that’s always the problem with soap operas. I mean, can’t we just be happy for just a little while? I mean, come on. I was in Russia for five years. Can’t I have some happiness some- where? But yeah, it’d be nice to be happy and have a bit of a … I don’t want to say a normal life because you can’t really have a normal life with what Jason does, but just our life, you know? Let’s just get our life back and then we can deal with Cyrus and all this other stuff that’s going on with the show. But yeah, it’d be nice.
Digest: You did take your leave from GH for a little bit and you ended up going over to Y&R to play Dylan McAvoy and you did pick up a second Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the process. How would you describe that experience that you had on Y&R?
Burton: You know, I know a lot of people didn’t like it. I was threatened multiple times on Twitter for going over there, for leaving GH. But you know, I was at a time in my life where changes were happening and I needed a break, quite honestly. And having that break and then being able to go to another show with a whole new character, a whole new perspective, like, “Hey. I’m the new kid here. I’ve got to prove myself. I have to work harder than I worked at GENERAL HOSPITAL because yeah, they may have heard of me, the actors, but I’m over here now and I’ve got to do something.” It was really refreshing for me to go play a new character. They had written the character and it was great. I had so much fun there, quite honestly. The actors were great, the actresses were great, the crew. Everybody was very welcoming. I just wanted to work and I wanted to do something different. People may forget that actors were born to do different things. We want to try different roles. We want to try to expand and do something different. Playing the same role for a long time is great because you get to go through crazy stories and do some cool stuff and be tested as an actor. But to play a different character is nice, too. That sort of gave me the opportunity to go play a different character and play with different people and just be on a different show. It was fantastic. It was awesome. I made some great friends over there, lifelong friends, people I still talk to today, like Peter Bergman [Jack] and Doug Davidson [Paul]. It was just really great for me. It was a great four years. I mean, to win an Emmy 20 years apart I still go, “How is that even possible?” It was so crazy. It reignited a passion of acting for me and that’s what was important. They gave me great story while I was there. It really paid off and it worked out. Most importantly what it did was it gave me a new perspective coming back to GENERAL HOSPITAL … Having the break refreshed me. I was able to work on myself personally, too, just because I had time off and I wasn’t working a lot of days at Y&R. I was traveling a lot so I had a lot of time to listen to books on the plane and just work on my mental game. When the time came to come back to GH, I just had a whole new perspective on going back home. That’s what it felt like, just going back home, seeing everybody with a whole new perspective of “Man, I’m getting a second chance to go home.” That’s really what it was for me. I try to remember that every day. It’s like, “Hey. You got a second chance to come home. You’re home. Do your job and be grateful.” That’s really what it is.
Digest: You’ve been back on GH for almost three years. We have talked about (Jason) being a little more easy to cry. How much do you think that comes from your own evolution as an actor and a person and how that applies to the character?
Burton: I mean, I think the writing is always there, but I think it was more probably the evolution of me as a human being just being more grateful, responsive, vulnerable, appreciative…. Those things really help you open up as an actor. I joke about it, too. I’m like, “What the hell happened to me in Russia?” Because I come back and all of a sudden I have “manopause”. This guy starts crying at anything. What is wrong with you? It’s great. I joke about it but the fans respond to it. They kind of joke with me. It’s probably been more me, I hope, evolving as a person and just being able to be more vulnerable, just in general, in real life and on camera.
Digest: That kind of brings us to the end here. When you think about the Steve Burton that first walked into that GH studio in 1991, could you ever have imagined becoming such an important part of the show, an Emmy winner?
Burton: No. I don’t even think it was on my radar then. It’s crazy. I don’t know, I feel so grateful and it’s such a blessing to be able to look back and go, “Holy cow, man. From 1991 till now, look at your journey.” And, obviously, there’s ups and downs and personal lives and all these things, but to have that kind of be the stability, which usually it isn’t for actors, right? The job isn’t the stability for actors, it’s usually their family life, hopefully, that gives them that stability. But I kind of had both. I have a great family at home and then I have this great family at work. What a blessing that is. To look back, no, it’s still kind of mind-boggling…. It’s been an incredible, incredible journey. I’m com- ing up on my 50th birthday, which is even crazier to even say, [but] I feel so great. I feel so energized in life and just ready for the next chapter.
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