“I’m free, I’m open, I’m willing, I’m available,” declares Kristoff St. John. With taping over for the day, the jeans-clad actor settles into his spacious YOUNG AND RESTLESS dressing room, ready for conversation.
Twenty-five-year old St. John has already proven his flexibility. He joined YOUNG AND RESTLESS within weeks of the demise of GENERATIONS, where he played rich kid Adam Marshall. GENERATIONS was a milestone in daytime TV because it featured a black core family on the front burner, but low ratings caused its cancellation in January, 1991, after almost a two-year run. St. John looks back with regret: “I tend to believe that if we’d had a different time slot, then maybe we would have found a greater audience. I don’t think NBC gave us the benefit of the doubt.”
Pointing to the positive aspects of the show, he notes, “Many of the major issues in black families were brought up as often as they could be, although I believe [Creator] Sally Sussman wanted to make the point that black people are just like white people when it comes to middle and upper class. I can agree and disagree on some levels.”
Any mention of how the show didn’t work is quickly met with disagreement. “The result is I’m seeing more minorities on daytime television. If it hadn’t been for GENERATIONS, I wouldn’t be on Y&R,” he believes.
YOUNG AND RESTLESS’s producers contacted St. John several weeks before the show ended. Originally hired as a day player with the possibility of expansion, he was offered a contract after two days of taping. Though the actor wasn’t looking to do another soap, the atmosphere, security and chance to develop the YOUNG AND RESTLESS character won him over.
Neil is Buppie (Black Urban Professional) cosmetics executive. “Sometimes it’s a little difficult to play Neil Winters,” St. John confesses. “I read a letter from someone who wrote that Neil was a stuffy guy. That sort of hurt. Watching a young black man get ahead in the world is, I think, an enjoyable experience.”
Like Adam, Neil is an educated nice guy, but the similarities end there. “Neil is a highly aggressive, corporate type; Adam was a little more carefree.” St. John thinks the character of Adam was closer to himself. “I’m not a corporate type and I don’t need to put in sixteen hours to make me feel good,” he says.
Lately, the actor is putting in more time on the set as uptight Neil Winter’s relationship with streetwise Drucilla Barber begins to heat up. Victoria Rowell, who plays Drucilla, says that running lines with Kristoff is great because “he’s very honest with his choice.” St. John counters, “I’m very fortunate to work with someone as talented as Victoria.”
Despite good relationships with cast members, St. John maintains he is a loner. While responding to the question of who he hangs out with, he shifts slightly on the couch; the body language speaks for itself. “I’m not shy, but I find it pretty hard to get close to people and maybe that’s just me. I’d have to say I made a pretty good friend out of a cousin, Charles Smith. He plays for the L.A. Clippers.
“My father once told me that it’s unusual if you find more than two friends your whole life and I have to back that up because so far I have two; that’s my mom and my dad and I have a third — that’s my son.”
The actor’s son, Julian, is the joy of his life. When he talks about the toddler, who’s nearly two years old, the pride and fascination tare obvious. “Julian has changed my life tremendously,” he offers. “I feel it’s a privilege to be in care of this little person. It’s a gift from God to be able to have a young child in one’s life.”
Despite the fact that he wanted a child early in life, it was a jolt to become a father so soon. “I was scared, knowing it was a lifelong responsibility,” he confesses. “I had no idea what diapers were or how to change him. I was constantly getting up at night to check to see if he was still breathing. You tend to be overprotective, which I was. The least little sign of a cold, I was freaking out,” St. John recalls with a laugh.
Even at Julian’s tender age, his daddy has a preference as to his son’s athletic future — professional football or baseball. “I was sort of glad he was a boy,” St. John reveals. “I’m very athletically inclined.” For now, St. John will have to be content with the hijinks of his son’s terrible twos and wondering what he himself must have been like at that age.
Though Julian is certainly the source of much happiness, he’s also a source of pain. St. John recently split from his son’s mother and isn’t sure how it’s going to affect the time he spends with his little boy. In fact, his breakup, after living with his girlfriend Mia, is the one thing that he’s not eager to discuss.
When prodded, he will say that the couple did talk about marriage. “But it’s not something that happened,” he adds.
“Marriage to me is a very sacred thing,” he begins tentatively. “You have to be sure of that person before you enter into that agreement. It’s a spiritual sacrament. It’s until death do you part. Well, so many women believe it’s ‘Until I change my mind,’ so I’m scared of marriage. And my father’s experience with marriage. My real mother was married to him for two years and then she couldn’t stay with the family because of her parents’ pressure for her to leave. My real grandparents are Portuguese immigrants and they didn’t dig the fact that their daughter was [married to] a black man. So, there’s a lot of pain and hurt behind that, although I didn’t recognize it until I was older. To this day, I haven’t seen my mother.”
The person whom he considers his mother is the second wife of his actor/director father, Charles St. John. “My mom, my stepmom [Marie],” he explains, “is a very well-trained English actress who gave up her career to manage the family. When I was a child, my parents moved around a lot, so I was bopping in and out of a lot of different schools.”
In 1974, at the age of eight, St. John entered the family business. He got his first break on the old Clifton Davis sitcom, THAT’S MY MAMA. He was a cute kid who fit into any number of shows needing cute kids. “I did a lot of episodic television, quite a few series too,” he recalls. The role that St. John believes was pivotal to his career was that of a young Alex Haley in ROOTS. “After that, it just kind of snowballed.”
Many roles followed, including stints on THE BAD NEWS BEARS, HAPPY DAYS, WONDER WOMAN and CHARLIE AND COMPANY, the Flip Wilson/Gladys Knight series. “I remember when I first tried out for CHARLIE AND COMPANY, I went to [see] the casting director, producer and network in one day. When I got there, Flip was sitting in the chair and the first line he said — which was not in the script — was, ‘Damn, I have to climb a ladder to talk to my son!’ Everyone busted up laughing. I was much taller than him and they thought they would make that work.”
Like most young actors, Kristoff went through an awkward stage. “I had about a two-year break in my career and that was okay. It gave me some growing time,” he reflects. Unlike some of his peers, it didn’t leave him with any heavy identity problems. Some ten years after his TV debut, a guest spot playing a friend of Denise Huxtable on THE COSBY SHOW led to a recurring role in the spinoff series, A DIFFERENT WORLD, which brought St. John to GENERATIONS.
Though his credentials indicate a seasoned veteran, St. John maintains, “It’ll always be a challenge. I can come out here and be so confident and kick a — all over the place and leave here feeling like I’m on top of the world. The next day, I come in and feel like six feet under — that I didn’t do the job that I wanted to do.”
St. John’s aspirations may one day take him away from the soap world, but for now he’s content to approach life and his career one day at a time. “I have some long-term goals,” he admits. “But I try to keep myself in the present because that’s the way I manage my life. I get up in the morning and see what I have to do today and if I haven’t procrastinated, I go to bed at night and feel good. Then I can tackle tomorrow’s problems. You know, handle life on life’s terms.”