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Susan Walters On Her Return As Y&R's Diane

When we last saw Diane Jenkins in 2011, she was lying facedown in water with her head bashed in and played by Maura West (Ava, GH). Now, Y&R has tapped Diane No. 2, Susan Walters, to reprise the role — that is, when she finally answered their call. “I never pick up my phone, so I got a text [transcribed by voicemail] that said, ‘Hey, this is tony marina from wine art, give me a call,’ ” recounts the actress. “I thought it was about drinking wine and doing art, so, it just didn’t register with me. Now, I once met [Executive Producer] Tony Morina, when I flew in to play Diane for one day, but that was over 10 years ago, so I didn’t respond to that message.”

Luckily, the two were able to make contact. “Tony said, ‘Hey, we’re bringing Diane back. Would you be interested?’ ” Walters shares. “I was texting with my manager at the same time, ‘Oh, my God! Y&R wants me back!’ and I told Tony, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ When I later told him about ignoring his first message, I said, ‘What if I never called you?’ He said, ‘Well, Susan, we would’ve kept trying [laughs].’ ”

Walters was well aware that her alter ego had been killed in self-defense by Nikki on screen. “Tony explained how they were going to make it work,” Walters notes. “I just said, ‘Doesn’t matter to me. My Diane was alive when I left, so I have no problem coming back. That’s somebody else’s problem [laughs].’ ”

However, Diane’s encore was kept under wraps to ensure a big surprise for the audience. “I didn’t tell anyone,” reveals the actress. “I wanted to reach out to a couple of people in the cast but I couldn’t do it. And then, Christian [J. LeBlanc, Michael] sent me an old picture of him and me at work and I thought, ‘I don’t dare tell Christian.’ I just responded about something else and he didn’t reply. But when Peter [Bergman, Jack] found out, he called me and it was just so great to talk to him. He was very excited and I was just thrilled.”

For added security measures, Diane’s name on scripts was replaced with “Taylor”, and the camera feed to all monitors in the building, including the actors’ dressing rooms, went dark. “I was also told, ‘Best not go out for lunch,’ and whenever I was called to the set, they used my character’s faux name,” Walters adds. “It was actually kind of fun.”

Walters’s first day back “was a blast,” she enthuses. “I knew Michelle [Stafford, Phyllis] was working and when I walked into the makeup room, she was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ ” she recalls. “And then she said, ‘You don’t understand, Diane was really, really dead.’ And I was like, ‘You know what? She was really, really blonde, too.’ ” Since LeBlanc wasn’t working that day, Walters still surprised him. “I happened to be using his dressing room that day, so I sent him a selfie of me and he texted back, ‘Wait, what are you doing there?!’ ”

Now Diane has a 10-year-plus gap to fill, which was up to her portrayer to flesh out. “The first two weeks were scenes of me constantly explaining how Diane is alive,” she reports. “Not only was it a lot, but it was also a story that I had not participated in, so it was new information for me. And last week, I explained Jack and Diane as parents, and that led to explaining the circumstances of Kyle’s birth, which was with the first Diane [Alex Donnelley].”

Thanks to Kyle, Diane is also a grandma, something Walters is looking forward to playing. “My daughter, Grace, will soon be a first-time mom, so Linden [Ashby, ex-Cameron, her husband] and I are going to be grandparents,” she gushes. “Our granddaughter is due in August and we’re super-excited about that. Our other daughter, Savannah, is working in the legal counsel of business affairs for Paramount/Viacom TV, so everything is wonderful for us.”

For now, Walters is reveling in her return engagement. “What’s so great about this medium — and I’m talking in broad strokes — actresses at my age, we’re the moms, the attorneys, the doctors, the mayors, so those characters don’t have a full life, but in daytime they do and I haven’t had that in a long time,” she explains. “I’m playing a woman with feelings that I get to express, plus all of her wants and needs and desires that aren’t contingent on the younger person in my scene. For a while, when I worked, it’s usually been a guest spot, where I’m always the new girl but the nature of Y&R is that it’s very inclusive. Everyone here has been so welcoming to me. At the end of the day, I just want to tell Diane’s story really well — and there’s a lot to tell.”