Soap Opera Digest: To put your return in context, let’s go back to 2012. Was leaving GH, and the role of Jason, which you began playing in 1991, a tough choice to make?
Steve Burton: It was definitely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make in my entire life. I grew up on the show, since I was 21 years old. The crew is like my family and obviously a lot of the cast were, too, and it was really difficult to leave. But we had a place in Tennessee and I had always wanted to get my kids there, not raise them in California. It wasn’t really a rash decision of, “Hey, I’m leaving! Right now, today, pack it up, we’re going!” The timing, I guess, emotionally wasn’t right, because it was a very difficult thing, but from a production standpoint, it just wasn’t working at the time for GENERAL HOSPITAL [to commute from Nashville], and we just kind of parted ways at that point.
Digest: Were there hard feelings on your end about it not working out?
Burton: I mean, look, obviously I would have loved for something to work out. But it was okay. I believe things happen for a reason. Frank [Valentini, executive producer] was brought in to kind of revamp the show and he did a fantastic job — and I needed a little bit of a change, as it turned out. As much as, emotionally, it was tough for me, looking back now, I feel it was the right decision for me and my family. And now, coming back, it’s like 10 times as sweet to come home. It’s been amazing.
Digest: At the time, did your exit feel permanent to you?
Burton: I’ve seen over the years that if you walk out, that door could shut forever. Leaving the show, you have to know that. You can’t always just count on, “Hey, I could always go back if I want to go back.” So, I wasn’t counting on it. I guess, maybe, in the back of my head [I thought], “One day, I’ll be back.” But you just never know what the future holds when you leave.
Digest: In 2013, you debuted on Y&R as Dylan, and you just left earlier this year.
Burton: With Y&R, they were very generous with the schedule when I first started. They were awesome to work around my schedule, which doesn’t happen often, so I was super-grateful, but production needs to tell story and when you’re working around a guy, or you can’t work him a certain day, it becomes a thorn in the side of people. That’s just the bottom line. It never got contentious or anything, and I flew back and forth pretty much every week for four years. I was just like, “Maybe it’s time. It’s time to be home for a little while.” It was a great run, a great four years for me, but it was time.
Digest: In 2014, GH recast Jason with Billy Miller. To what extent were you conscious of that?
Burton: I heard rumblings about it and once it happened, Billy and I talked. He and I were friends on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, we worked together, and I was always thinking, like, “Man, who could do it? If they were going to get somebody, who could do it?” And, you know, Billy can do it! He called me and said, “Hey, I’m doing it,” and I said, “Cool, go do it!”
Digest: But Steve, people want there to be drama there!
Burton: I know they do! Look, you have to be realistic. I don’t own the character. I played the character for a long time and I created the character, but if you decide to leave, they can go do what they want. You’re giving them carte blanche to go hire whoever they want to play your role! They waited a while and obviously, Jason was a big part of the show, with Carly, Sonny, Michael, the Quartermaines; he was connected to everybody — Sam, Elizabeth — so it makes sense. You want to tell story, so you’re going to bring somebody else on. People want there to be drama with Billy and me, but there just isn’t!
Digest: When you left Y&R, where did pursuing acting work fall on your list of priorities?
Burton: It wasn’t really on my radar. I launched a nutrition company in February and had other things that were kind of taking my time. I still wanted to act, but I wasn’t really pursuing it until I met my agent, Bobby Moses, at the Emmys. GH won Best Show and I won Supporting Actor and this guy comes up to me and he’s like, “Hey, Steve, congratulations — do you have an agent?” I go, “No.” “Well, here’s my card, my name’s Bobby Moses, I’m Maurice Benard’s [Sonny] agent.” In my head, I’m like, “No way. This guy is not Maurice’s agent!” I went home and really didn’t think about it for a couple of weeks, but one afternoon I called Maurice and said, “Dude, who is this Bobby Moses guy?” He was like, “This guy is the best agent I’ve ever had.” I was flying out to L.A. for the Port Chuck tour [Burton’s band with GH pals Bradford Anderson, Spinelli, Brandon Barash, ex-Johnny, and Scott Reeves, ex-Steve] and I met with him and that was that. Bobby Moses is the man. He gets it done. I’m a hardworking guy, but I can’t pick up the phone and call people. That’s not how Hollywood works. [In that meeting] he said, “What about GH?” I said, “Yeah, I mean, sure, I’d be open to it.” And he said, “All right, cool.” And then all of a sudden, it was like, “Holy crap! I’m going back!” It was crazy.
Digest: For you to go back to GH, what needed to line up?
Burton: First of all, it was my home for years. I love the people and have always missed the people since I’ve been away. But the fact that they have so many dark weeks really is the key. That made it so easy. The emotional attachment I have to the show, to the people, to the crew, to everyone there, was obviously a gigantic part of my decision-making because I’ve always thought maybe I would go back, or I’ve always held such a high place for the people there in my heart. But with their production schedule now, giving me time off to be home with my family, it was a no-brainer. It’s the perfect job.
Digest: It works for your lifestyle now in a way it didn’t in 2012.
Burton: Yeah, and I just have a whole new perspective now. I was really able to work on myself and my personal growth during the five years [I was away]. My perception changed. The best thing, really, to happen to me, hard as it was, is that I left. I left California. I have a normal life, going to high school football games on Friday nights, doing that stuff with my kids, coaching football, and it just gives you a whole different perspective on what we do for a living in Hollywood. I’m just really grateful to wake up every day and get to do what I do. Now, I’m like, “Man, I am so blessed just to be able to go back to a show that I grew up on. And hopefully finish there.” It’s kind of like the circle of life in a weird way.
Digest: Did you care about stuff like who you’d be playing and what the story would be?
Burton: I honestly really didn’t ask about story. I was so happy to go back and see my friends and family there that I was like, “Just do it! Whatever it is is going to be fun and cool.” I trust Frank and I said, “You don’t have to tell me everything.” He said, “Well, we don’t know everything, but when we do, we can talk about it.” I was like, “Just let me get my script and see what I’m doing.”
Digest: When GH announced your return, what did the outpouring of excitement from your fans mean to you?
Burton: I have always been so grateful just to have fans, to have people that support us. I know it’s a huge part of their life; I’ve seen five generations together who watch the show and it means a lot to people. I gave everything I had to the character and obviously people responded to it. That really means a lot to me. So, I’m excited. I got excited when they announced it and I’m looking forward to the story that they are going to tell. I think fans are going to love it.
Digest: What was it like going back to the studio for the first time?
Burton: I went to the studio the day before I worked; I knew it would be so emotional for me that I didn’t want to start work the first day I saw everybody again for the first time. I drove pretty close to the same route I used to drive for 20 years — and it was weird! It just brings back all these feelings and memories of all these things that you did with people in the neighborhood; there were places where I’d played basketball with Kin Shriner [Scott], restaurants where me and Maurice would go eat at all the time. My whole time on the show was just flashing back on my drive in. When I got inside the building, the first person I wanted to see was the person who gave me my job, [Casting Director] Mark Teschner. It was cool to see Mark and reminisce about the days where he made me stuff my shoes to be 6’1” [as then-Executive Producer Gloria Monty wanted to cast a Jason who could stand eye-to-eye with Gerald Hopkins, ex-A.J.]. Frank was in a writers’ meeting, so I went to see a lot of the producers and the art department and everybody, and then Frank came out and we talked for a little while. I met Maurice for lunch and when we came back, that’s when I kind of went and saw everybody, the crew and the cast that was there. I saw Laura [Wright, Carly], which was great, and hair and makeup and wardrobe. It was just awesome. I was literally there from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Digest: Just a whole day of shaking hands and hugs.
Burton: Yeah. It was amazing. It was great to see Kelly [Monaco, Sam], it was great seeing Becky [Herbst, Elizabeth], obviously. I got to see Leslie Charleson [Monica], my mom, which was awesome. And I saw Billy — and we didn’t hit each other! Incredible, isn’t it [laughs]?
Digest: So, what was the Billy/Steve dynamic?
Burton: The Billy/Steve dynamic was that I called Billy before I came back. I said, “Hey, man, you called me when you were taking Jason and obviously, you heard I’m coming back, and I just wanted to tell you that I’m looking forward to it and I hope you stay, because I think we’re going to have some cool story.” And then, honestly, 90 percent of the time was us talking about restaurants [as Miller and Burton both own eateries]! It was all good, man.
Digest: This is the question I’ve really been dying to ask you, Steve. Don’t you think that the question of “Who is Jason?” should be settled with a black T-shirt runway showdown between you and Billy?
Burton (laughs): Sure, that’d be awesome. Actually, I think it should be a staring contest!
Digest: Your first airdate was September 19. Are you excited to get this ball rolling?
Burton: Oh, I am so excited. Everybody has speculation, everybody thinks they may know what it is. Nobody knows what it is! But they’re speculating if he is [Jason], if he isn’t, what’s gonna happen when he sees people. The story possibilities are endless and people are, I think, looking forward to it. I can’t wait.
Digest: Do you feel pressure to make it great, to live up to the hype, if you will?
Burton: Whether we want there to be pressure or not, I think there is, a little bit. So far, it’s going really well. And honestly, I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t — I probably wouldn’t say anything! But right now, everything’s really cool and I’m having a ball working with the people I’m working with, who I can’t say. So far, double thumbs up.
Digest: Having been back to work for a bit now, do you feel like you made the right decision?
Burton: One hundred percent. It’s always felt like home to me. Jason’s penthouse, that really felt like my living room, you know? You feel that way because of the environment that the crew provides for you, because they’re so awesome and professional. Being back there with them definitely made it so much easier and so much more comfortable to be on camera again. When I went to Y&R, man, I was so nervous the first day, I wanted to throw up. You get over it, of course, because once you get under the lights and know your lines and prepare, you’re okay, but being back at your home? There’s nothing better. That’s why I signed a 30-year contract [laughs].
Digest: It makes sense to me that it would be emotional to see, say, Leslie Charleson, but it’s only now occurring to me that it might be emotional to see the sets! Like the penthouse, which was so much a part of your life.
Burton: When you just said that, I kind of got goosebumps. The first time I walk back into the penthouse is going to be a trip, I will tell you that right now. And I will make sure I walk through the front door, too, instead of just walking through the invisible fourth wall! Even the Quartermaine foyer, all these sets that I haven’t been in that I have such huge memories from … It really is cool. It’s amazing. And for the record, I’m there long-term. This is not stunt casting, for me to be there for a month and leave. At all.
Digest: And happily so, it sounds like.
Burton: Yeah! I’m excited. It’s going to be awesome.