TBT

#TBT - Michelle Stafford

Michelle

Credit: JPI

This interview originally appeared in the June 6, 1995 issue of Soap Opera Digest.

IN FULL BLOOM

After A Life-Threatening Illness, Michelle Stafford Blossoms As Y&R’s Bad Seed

The look alike. They sound alike. They even share the same hair color. But thankfully, that’s where the similarities end between Michelle Stafford and her YOUNG AND RESTLESS psycho alter ego, Phyllis Romalotti. “I don’t have the balls that she has,” says Stafford with a sly grin. “Phyllis is gutsy, but she’s also crazy. I could never keep going after a man who rejected me. I would just walk away.”

Not Phyllis. Since arriving in Genoa City last fall, she has committed a multitude of sins (including attempted murder) — all in the name of love for her husband, Danny. Stafford expected to get poison pen letters by the bagful. Instead, sympathy came pouring in. “I thought people were going to send me dead cockroaches or something,” she laughs. “And I did get one mean letter after I ran down Paul and Chris. But in most of the mail, people empathize with Phyllis because she is a mother who is trying to hang onto the man she loves.”

While Stafford doesn’t agree with Phyllis’s tactics, she can relate to her character’s determination. “I have always had to work my butt off for everything I’ve gotten — and everything that I haven’t gotten,” she says bluntly. “You know how you hear stories about people walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, and they get discovered? Well, that kind of thing never happened to me. I knew I wanted to model and act; I tried my best to make it happen.”

The Chicago native moved to Montrose, California with her family (mother, father and an older sister) when she was just a baby. After graduating from high school, Stafford hit every modeling agency in town. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in her. “No one would touch me because I was carrying too much weight and I wasn’t the right look,” she candidly reveals. “I tried for a year and got nowhere.” Stafford didn’t give up — she just shifted gears by getting an agent and landing television commercials. She was finally on her way to breaking into the modeling business when tragedy struck. “I developed a brain tumor,” she says softly. “It was so bizarre. My left eyelid kept swelling and I didn’t know why. I went to a doctor, who took an X-ray. That’s how I found out.”

Surprisingly, Stafford took the news that she needed brain surgery very calmly. “I felt relieved because I finally knew what was wrong — and I knew that the tumor was not malignant,” she recalls. “The only time I experienced fear was when I was being wheeled into the operating room. It suddenly hit me: ‘Maybe I won’t wake up.’ It was a very intense moment.” Having her family by her side made all the difference. “My parents had divorced and my mom had remarried, but they were all there for me — my mom, dad and my step-dad. They were all amazing.”

On the road to recovery, Stafford picked up a new attitude. “I don’t want to sound glib, but it was a very good experience because it really kicked me in the butt,” she muses. “I went on a diet, started working out and dyed my hair red.” This time, Stafford was not rejected by the fickle fashion world. An agent at L.A. Models took one look at the thin, titian beauty and signed her up immediately. “I was doing runway shows in Tokyo, Milan and Paris. It was really cool, but I didn’t appreciate it,” says Stafford. Although the money was rolling in, she kept thinking about an acting career. “Nothing is ever how you think it’s going to be — ever,” Stafford laughs. “My saying is, ‘The grass is always greener, then you get over there and you realize it’s Astroturf.”

Her mantra proved true when Stafford left modeling to pursue acting. At first, she did well, landing a role on the syndicated soap TRIBES. But the show was soon canceled, and the actress found herself unemployed — for the next three years. “It was devastating. It was hard financially and emotionally.”

The going may have been tough, but Stafford wasn’t about to throw in the towel. Her persistence finally paid off when episodic work started coming her way. And then, she scored the plum role of Y&R’s Phyllis. “I’m so happy to have a contract gig — I could stay on YOUNG AND RESTLESS forever,” enthuses Stafford. Will she? “Wherever this gig takes me is where I’ll go. I’ve seen enough of the downside of this business. It’s nice to have the chance to do something I love. I’ve earned that!”

 SLIP INTO SOMETHING SEXY

You’d think that a former fashion model would be used to strutting her stuff in front of a camera. But on the runways of Paris and Milan, Michelle Stafford never had to don the sexy lingerie that Y&R’s Phyllis favors. “I was a little self-conscious the first time I had to put on a teddy,” admits Stafford. “So I didn’t really look at myself [on the monitor]. I went over to all the guys on the crew and said, ‘Okay, make your jokes now. Get everything out of the way.’ ” The straightforward approach helped. “It made the mood much lighter. By the time I to do another scene like that, it was much easier.” But will skimpy silk nighties be enough to lure Phyllis’s reluctant hubby into bed? “So far, no,” Stafford says, “but Phyllis has plenty of sexy teddies and she’ll never stop trying.”

 JUST THE FACTS

Heritage: “I’m Polish, Czechoslovakian and English.”

Single And Ready To Mingle: “I’ve dated a lot and would love to be involved with a cool guy, but I’m okay with going to bed alone. I’m sure it would be a lot more lonely to be in bed with someone who you really don’t want next to you.”

The Benefits Of Being A Redhead: “Once I went red, compliments of Clairol, I got more modeling work.”

She Gets By With A Little Help From: Michael Damian (Danny) and Lauralee Bell (Christine). “They have both been great. I also hang out with Vivica [A. Fox, Stephanie]. She’s really cool.”

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