Richard Burgi dishes about his daytime and prime-time career

Soap Opera Digest: In 1986, you landed your first contract role on ANOTHER WORLD, playing Chad Rollo. Tell us about your experience.

Richard Burgi: It was out in the old Esther Williams /Douglas Fairbanks studios in Brooklyn…. This wonderful actor, Doug Watson [ex-Mac], who was a decorated war hero in World War II, was the lion of the pride … It was a really interesting time and so much fun. John Whitesell, the executive producer, was and still is a gem of a human being. He just really had a knack for bringing out a lot of good stuff from the actors and creating a great ensemble. I had so much fun and it just provided me with [acting] chops…. I was a lot less disciplined back then in my 20s.

Digest: After two years, you popped up on ONE LIFE TO LIVE [ex-Randy] and then AS THE WORLD TURNS [ex-Glenn], so you were really making the rounds on the New York soaps. What was that like for you?

Burgi: Well, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, I was dating someone who was very popular at the time, we had met on ANOTHER WORLD, and we had rescued this little mockingbird that had fallen out of its nest in Central Park, so I had gone to this audition with this bird in a shoebox and she and I were making all of this racket. Later I got this call from my agent or manager who said, “What did you do? They think you’re kind of crazy.” [OLTL Executive Producer] Paul Rauch is completely different than Whitesell. I got the job and I guess [Rauch] had it out for me. Everybody always walks away whenever he comes on the set, he’s terrifying, and I got fired for something arbitrary. And then I got on AS THE WORLD TURNS, which was super-fun. I worked with some amazing people.

Digest: After AS THE WORLD TURNS, you moved to Los Angeles. What prompted you to switch coasts?

Burgi: My old manager at the time, God love her, was this fiery old broad from Brooklyn, and she said, “Richard, you’ve gotta get outta town … Get outta here!” … So, I just packed up my car and my dog and moved to L.A.

Digest: Shortly thereafter, you landed on DAYS OF OUR LIVES as Phillip. He was engaged to Kimberly right in the thick of her multiple personalities disorder. What do you remember about your times in Salem?

Burgi: I remember that [Patsy Pease, ex-Kimberly] was really fun and it was a departure from so many shows because I could ad-lib. When I went in, I made her laugh with some of my ad-libbing, so we had a really fun time.

Digest: Let’s touch on a few of the projects you worked on between your daytime appearances. First of all, on SEINFELD in 1994 you played a doctor who caught the eye of Elaine.

Burgi: So much fun. What a great show. I didn’t know what the show was about. I went in and made this choice to play this doctor who was truly self-absorbed and reminded me of some doctor friends of mine, where you’d be talking to them and they’d being staring off. When I did that, Jerry said, “Why did you do that? I love that!” Being part of [that show] was delightful. People think it happens so spontaneously, but he works it, rehearses it and he’s one of the hardest-working guys I had the pleasure to be around.

Digest: As we get later into the ’90s, you starred opposite Cheryl Ladd in ONE WEST WAIKIKI, and then several seasons of THE SENTINEL, which was canceled and then brought back by popular demand. What was that like to have fans rally around your show and reverse its fate, at least for a time?

Burgi: Getting back to ONE WEST WAIKIKI, it was in the top 10 as a pilot … It was brilliant working in Hawaii but working in Vancouver [for THE SENTINEL] was really magic. My son was born there and I absolutely adore Canada…. [The show] had such a following, which I think was why the executives felt compelled to prolong it. It was a fun show and we produced some wonderful stuff.

Digest: What stands out to you about your role as the extraterrestrial husband of Y&R alum Susan Walters [ex-Diane] in the TV movie I MARRIED A MONSTER.

Burgi: I never realized that Susie was on Y&R until [during] a wardrobe fitting and the guy said so. She is one of my favorites. She is hilarious. She and I got to do something after that, I forget what it was, but that was absolutely insane. We shot it in San Diego and Susie is such a gem to work with. She’s so talented, such a goofball and so smart but she doesn’t take herself seriously.

Digest: You were in contention for the lead role in 24, which ultimately went to Kiefer Sutherland, and you wound up playing a different but pivotal role in the first season. What was your experience with the show and working with Kiefer and the creative gang behind it?

Burgi: [Co-Creator] Joel Surnow called me and said, “We have a role and [would] like you to be part of this,” and I said, “Great! Sounds good.” Again, we just laughed and had so much fun. Being with Kiefer every night was always very interesting; he likes to have a good time. The show was super-dramatic but like so many other ones that I’ve done, it creates its polar opposite and I’m always looking for silly stuff to do…. I had this deer mask and I would put it on when we were shooting out in the woods and poke my head around the corner just to goof off when they said, “Action!” … I like to make people laugh by making an ass of myself, so that’s what I remember the most. Then I remembered being called in to read for this sitcom and the casting director said, “I hate that you’re so evil,” because of what my [24] character did and I thought, “Well, this is getting off on a good foot here.”

Digest: Another show that became a huge cultural phenomenon was DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and in 2004, you began playing Teri Hatcher’s ex-husband, Karl, who ultimately had his way with several of the housewives.

Burgi: It was so funny. I read the script, loved the name, loved the idea, liked the writing. I went in and met [Creator] Marc Cherry and [he and] a director at the time started bickering. Subsequently, I was offered to do this [other] show that I had read for that Susie Walters had done called POINT PLEASANT. I called my manager at the time and said, “You know, this DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES seems like chaos, I kind of don’t want to be around it right now.” He said, “That’s probably a good idea because I think they really wanted this guy, Jamie Denton, who had a contract with ABC, [but] that show was canceled and I think that you might be the second choice for the character, the plumber.” I said, “Okay, then I wanna do this show in San Diego,” and that’s when I worked with Susie on POINT PLEASANT … That show was canceled and then [HOUSEWIVES] asked me to read for Karl Mayer.

Digest: What was it like to be part of that show and all of the attention it got?

Burgi: I’ve been a part of a lot of shows throughout my life, and to have something with that sort of impact was really crazy…. It was really wild to be a part of that phenomenon…. It got a little weird toward the end when Marc Cherry tried to micromanage it…. He was more hands-off the first couple of years and then it became much more micromanaged from there but we all still had fun. It was a little more restricted towards the end. It was kind of the tightening of the noose until it hung itself.

Digest: Marc clearly liked what you did because he hired you again for DEVIOUS MAIDS to play Henri, the brother of Susan Lucci [ex-Genevieve; ex-Erica, ALL MY CHILDREN]. So what was it like to share the stage with her?

Burgi: Another iconic figure of daytime and an extraordinary talent. She was such a professional and a sweet soul. She’s just a love and I don’t hear anything other than that [about her]. Daytime is such a grind and a humbling crucible; you don’t have the ephemeral ups and downs of being on a nighttime show or a movie. I rarely find people on daytime with these difficulties of egos and Susan Lucci was one of them. She could have been such a diva and a difficult person to work with but she was just the opposite. Super-fun, professional and ready to play. Marc is super-talented and I wish that show had gone on further.

Digest: You came back to daytime in 2015 to play Paul Hornsby on GENERAL HOSPITAL and were written out the following year when he turned out to be a serial killer. You had the opportunity to work with three top-notch Emmy-winning Port Charles leading ladies and we’d love to hear what you have to say about them, starting with Jane Elliot, who played Tracy.

Burgi: Oh, Jane, she’s amazing. Really acerbic, funny, smart and super-talented. Having done that show for so long, she still took every day as a full commitment. I’ve worked with people that take it easy, but we had so much fun working together. I know they were phasing out Tony Geary [ex-Luke] at the time, so they brought me in there to torture everybody.

Digest: And you worked with Finola Hughes, who plays Anna.

Burgi: Another super talent, bright and funny. We had a ton of fun working together. I just chose to go in this weird way and I probably scared the heck out of them. Daytime is just one of those things where you can really camp it up and I made this choice to reveal a real ugly side of him.

Digest: And Maura West, who plays Ava, and also played, by the way, Diane, the same role as Susan Walters on Y&R. Maura and you were great together.

Burgi: She is a love. Again, really talented and a lot of fun to work with. I think I really pissed her off one day. I went out and had Italian food … I love garlic but I forgot that I had a love scene with her and I don’t know if she ever forgave me for that. I was so blessed to work with these extraordinary women.

Digest: Obviously, the job market has been different for actors in light of the pandemic, so how would you describe your life in the last year?

Burgi: I was supposed to do a show with Katey Sagal for ABC called REBEL and then Covid hit and so they paid me, which is really lovely, some stick-around money. Then in December, we picked it back up, so I had to go in and test for Covid. I tested negative up until two days before I was going to shoot and then I tested positive. They had to recast. Adam Arkin, who was directing, was really sweet and called me and said, “Look, I’m really sorry, but I’m doing your role,” because they couldn’t recast it that quickly. But then two days later, I tested negative. I was offered a show up in Montreal that I put myself on tape for and they wanted me up there two days after Christmas, then quarantine for two weeks and I would’ve been up there until April. As much as I wanted to go up there, I had family here…. Everybody is good…. Surfing, hiking, spending a lot of time with my kids.

Digest: One of the things we love about you is that for all of the incredibly diverse success you’ve had in prime-time television, you still come back and visit us in daytime. It’s interesting you have an appreciation and love for the soap genre.

Burgi: I’ll tell this to anyone at any time, I respect daytime actors more than any other actor. They’re the hardest-working, the most humble, for the most part, and super-talented. I’ve done it all and for me, as an actor, it’s the most challenging. It’s the closet thing to doing a show live. I love daytime.