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Telma Hopkins On Her Y&R Gig

Telma Hopkins, who rose to fame as a member of the singing group Tony Orlando and Dawn before launching a sitcom career (GIMME A BREAK!, FAMILY MATTERS), makes her Y&R debut on June 1 in the role of Denise Tolliver, a private eye who reveals shocking news about Amanda’s past — but she’s been a fan of the show for decades. “YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS became one of my favorites just because the stories were so intriguing, and I knew people that worked there — Marguerite Ray [ex-Mamie], Victoria Rowell [ex-Drucilla], Kristoff St. John [ex-Neil],” she says. “I just got hooked! I mean, I remember when Peter Bergman [Jack] came on. I’ve just watched it for a long time and really enjoyed it and, of course, it became more personal because of people on it that I knew. And when Bryton [James, Devon] came on as a kid, that just really sucked me in even more.”

That’s because her own association with James dates back to when they played mother and son on FAMILY MATTERS, a gig James began at the tender age of 3. “I’ve been his pretend mommy for most of his life!” she marvels. And while the prospect of not only appearing on her favorite soap, but reuniting with James, was appealing to her, it wasn’t an automatic “yes” when Y&R reached out to her about the role of Denise. “I was extremely nervous because they work at a different pace than I’m used to,” she explains. “So I did call Bryton before I said yes, to talk to him about it and ask, you know, if he thought I could handle it without having a nervous breakdown! But after that, I was really excited. It’s a different genre for me, for sure, but I’ve watched the show enough where I felt like I was walking into a family, with people that I know. I know their real names as well as their cast names! I’ve followed them, and I think some of them were surprised by how much I knew about them as people, as opposed to just from watching them on TV for the last 30 years.”

When Hopkins reported to the Y&R studio at CBS Television City, it was a homecoming of sorts, as she used to film her 1974-76 variety show, TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN, on the premises. “We shot right across from THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. In fact, it’s THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL stage now. I’ve been back since the show was off, doing different shows — I did WAYNE BRADY, I think I did a HOLLYWOOD SQUARES, stuff like that — but it was weird coming back this time because it was familiar and yet unfamiliar. It’s familiar because I practically park in the same spot I was parking in when I was doing TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN, and it’s different, of course, because they take your temperature before you can get in the building now and you’ve got to go get Covid tests and all that sort of thing. So that part is really different because I was looking forward to just hugging everybody I saw, and you can’t do that anymore! It was kind of surreal. The funny thing was, the elevator is just as slow as it was all those years ago. It actually made me giggle.”

The actress has gotten to meet some of her favorite Genoa City personalities in the past (“I had the pleasure, years ago, to meet [the late] Jeanne Cooper [ex-Katherine], who was really someone that I just admired so much, and watched and loved; I just felt an attachment to her”) and was delighted to expand that list on the days she worked. Topping the list? Eric Braeden (Victor). “I was so excited,” Hopkins gushes. “We got on the elevator at the same time and it took a while before I realized it was him because we’re masked up. But when I realized it, I started babbling like an idiot [laughs]. He was so nice, but he was in a hurry, and I was trying to get in my, ‘I’ve been watching you forever!’ I was thrilled about that. Michelle Stafford [Phyllis], who I lo-o-o-ve, I got a chance to meet her; Christian LeBlanc [Michael], who I love; I met Sharon Case [Sharon]. It was wonderful!”

Though they didn’t tape together on their first day, James was there to greet Hopkins. “He was the one I got to hug,” she beams. “I didn’t even think about it, you know? I just grabbed him! Certainly him being there when I first walked in, because he wasn’t in that first scene that I was in, was very comforting, to know that he was there to support and to encourage. He’s such a calm person and it was just good for me. It kind of settled me in.” Still, she had some butterflies to battle. “It was nerve-wracking,” she notes of getting through her first episode. “But a good kind of nerves, you know? If I hadn’t been nervous, I’d have been worried because this is a new genre for me. I’m not being funny; I’m not doing what I usually do, so it was very important for me to feel grounded in it. Mishael [Morgan, Amanda], and Leigh-Ann [Rose, Imani], my first scene was with them and they were just, ‘You’ll be fine, you’ll be okay.’ ” After, “I felt great because I got through it and I felt good about it — and the director felt good about it, which is even better. But I was still shocked at how it was just like one and done. Like, ‘That’s it? No more? I’m gone?’ I was surprised at how quickly it went and relieved that it went so well and that kind of took that real anxiety out of it for me, so I wasn’t quite as nervous the second show. But I told them, ‘Don’t get carried away [with the amount of dialogue for Denise], because I will come up missing.’ I don’t know how they do all that dialogue! I have great, great admiration for those actors because they do some serious work.”