This interview originally appeared in the October 22, 1996 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Everyone loved GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Jason Quartermaine. So, when his portrayer of five years learned that irreversible brain trauma would transform daytime’s nicest guy into a sullen rebel, Steve Burton was understandably worried. “That was one of my biggest concerns,” admits the down-to-earth Burton. “It’s hard as an actor for the fans to go, ‘Why are you so mean?’ I explain to them that Jason’s behavior is an honest reaction to the situation. But I’m trying to pick places where I can become a little nicer and more likable.”
Two years ago, Burton wasn’t worrying about character justification. He was so far back-burner, he nearly fell off the stove. “I didn’t even want to act anymore because I’d come on just to say, ‘Grandmother, would you like some tea?’ ” he laments. “But one day, Maurice Benard [Sonny], who I’d never met before, came up to me and said, ‘You’re very believable. I can see that you have a good gut for acting.’ ” Inspired by the compliment, Burton’s blood started pumping again. The next day, he approached his new mentor, asking simply, “Just show me what you do.”
Now, after recreating Jason, it’s Burton who could deliver the acting advice. “I had to look at it as, ‘I am a new character.’ Of course, shaving my head helped a lot.” Not that the transformation has been easy. “I’m most vulnerable when I’m acting,” reveals Burton. “As a Quartermaine, I could get away with it because I played such a nice guy. But it’s much harder as Jason Morgan, because he’s so tough on the outside and vulnerable underneath. Now, I have to cover up both his and my vulnerability. With my new character, I have to pick my moments.”
Burton is no stranger to seizing the moment. After his parents divorced, Burton lived a nomadic existence in the Midwest with his mother. He proudly relates, “When we didn’t have a lot, it didn’t matter. My mom always did whatever she could for me.” Ironically, their close relationship made it difficult for a 16-year-old Burton, visiting Dad in California, to tell her that he wanted to stay — permanently. “That was the hardest phone call I ever made,” he says softly. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m not coming home. I want to act. I have to try.’ ”
The actor soon landed the sitcom OUT OF THIS WORLD, “thirty or forty” commercials, and a recurring role on DAYS as teenager Harris Michaels. Next stop: Port Charles, as Alan and Monica’s younger son, Jason Quartermaine. But after a few years of pouring tea, Burton told GH brass that he didn’t plan to re-sign when his contract expired. Executive Producer Wendy Riche changed his mind. “Wendy promised me that a storyline was there,” he says. “And she told the truth. It’s the payoff after waiting so long.”
Helping Burton endure the waiting game was his girlfriend of two years, actress Tara Reid (ex-Ashley, DAYS). According to Burton, the couple began living together “two weeks after we met. I just never left her house. Tara’s great. She’s everything I want.” Although Burton’s GH character has burned up the bed sheets with Carly, Reid has yet to perform as on-air love scene. Burton says with a smile, “We have to be trusting and open with our relationship, because sooner or later, she’s going to be doing the same thing I am … whether I like it or not.”
Although the couple isn’t ready for marriage, they recently became parents — to Tequila, a yellow Labrador. “We had to put the dog in the bathroom because it wasn’t potty-trained, but it kept crying. So, I took my blanket and pillow in there and slept with it on its first night home. It was ridiculous,” he laughs.
Actually, that sounds just about right for the nice, likable Steve Burton, who won’t even use the phrase “anti-hero” to describe the new Jason. “He’s ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy.’ But kinda.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthdate: June 28
Birthplace: Indianapolis, IN
Car: “A black Mustang, but I’m getting a truck. The dogs are killing my car, man.”
Pass The Tissues: “Whenever I see Leslie Charleson [Monica] cry, I start crying, too.”
Will Jason Get His Memory Back? “People always come up and ask, ‘How’s that amnesia?’ But it’s brain damage. This is how he is for good. I’d put up a hell of a fight if they changed it.”
What About Those Qs? “They’re the Addams family of daytime. Lila’s the only normal one. Who knows? One day, we may see her hangin’ at Jake’s Bar.”
WRITTEN IN THE STARS?
If you’re an infomercial junkie — or just an insomniac — you’ve probably seen the one for Psychic Friends Network more times than you’d care to admit. Dionne Warwick and various celebrities (including Steven Burton) encourage America’s couch potatoes to make a connection with professional psychics. Burton confesses he got involved because he went to school with Warwick’s kids, and the singer personally asked him to plug the service. Besides augmenting his bank account, has Burton’s endorsement of the ‘Friends’ made him a believer? “I believe in psychics because a lot of times they do end up helping people,” he hedges. “It’s fun and interesting. But I don’t live my life by it, that’s for sure.”