In a year of unprecedented challenges, daytime dramas have been a great source of comfort to viewers. As it turns out, it’s the same for actors, revealed The Young and the Restless star Jason Thompson (Billy Abbott). The talented actor, who earned his first Emmy win earlier this year, spoke exclusively with Daytime Confidential about his character's historic rivalry with the Newmans, how Billy has and hasn't changed over the years and what romances might lie on the horizon for the Abbott heir.
Daytime Confidential: In your opinion, what makes the Abbott-Newman family struggle so enduring?
Jason Thompson: I think as—I guess as me, Jason—learning more about these two families and more about Billy and his role in it and you know, his history and the rivalries, history and everything else—what I find most incredible is just the history of it. It goes back quite a ways now, and it’s always been fierce and it’s always been expressed by wonderful actors that focus their energy on what’s right for the show and the rivalry. And there’s personal stakes in all these kind of things. I just felt like when I look back, when I see old clips and everything else, it’s wonderful actors and great writing and these people living it. And I think with that you get a history and then you as an audience member know what everybody’s fighting for, which I think is really important.
And when it comes to where Mark [Grossman, Adam Newman] and I find each other at an interesting place and it’s super-fun. I guess to a certain extent it’s about carrying on that kind of animosity and that kind of storytelling. And it’s a thrill. It’s an honor to even be looked upon as something within that realm. So I think Mark and I—we really kind of mentioned it a bit, the history of it all and how important it is to Young and the Restless. And when you’ve got really great material and you’re surrounded by a really great cast and crew, it’s just a lot of fun to play. And so I realize—when I hear Peter [Bergman, Jack Abbott] talking and Eric [Braeden, Victor Newman] talking and Mel[ody Thomas Scott, Nikki Newman] and Amelia [Heinle, Victoria Newman] and Eileen [Davidson, Ashley Abbott], it’s there and they really do feel it. And the respect that I have for them, and what they’ve done in the past to get us to this point, where hopefully we could potentially be part of that story going forward, is an honor.
DC: How will this chapter of Adam vs. Billy differ?
JT: I don’t know if it’s going to be. I mean, it’s going to be personal to them and obviously it involves the family. But I think what’s important is... I feel when these kind of storylines work well—and I only know my own history in working with his industry and learning from fantastic people and writers and producers and directors and storytellers, and the actors, of course—from my old job and this one here, you just have people that really, really love telling the story. And when the audience can feel that people are connected to it, the actors are working hard on it and they can see their point of views, I think those storylines work.
And you can understand Eric’s—or, let’s say, Victor’s—point of view, and Jack’s point of view, and Adam’s point of view and Billy’s point of view. You can decide which one you want to kind of support, in a way, or hopefully there’s a little bit in all of it that you can kind of be familiar with. But I think that’s really evident in the great storytelling. I don’t know how different it can be; the only thing we can do is trust the writers. I thank the writers for giving us the opportunity to play this kind of stuff, and hopefully we can fulfill their trust in the storytelling. But at the same time, it’s really just what we bring personally to the story will be different than others told before.
DC: It makes a rich history for you to build off as an actor, I’m sure.
JT: Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s all chemistry and you’re not only talking about love affairs or enduring relationships; you’re talking about work relationships. You’re talking about all these kinds of things and when the characters have chemistry and the actors have chemistry it can be a very fulfilling workplace for the writers and everybody to have fun at. And I think that kind of goes with the history, you know? You get an opportunity to continue that history as an actor; you’re asked upon to a certain extent which I always look at…
Even last year, it was a really fun year. I was trusted with some storylines that we put some energy into and I thought we did well with it. That’s all you can really ask for. You want to be people that they [the writers] want to write for. And as actors you want to be given that trust and that kind of—the runway to go have fun. And I think that kind of energy is really what’s behind great storytelling, especially on a soap opera, where we’re on every single day and you really have to live those lives. I think it’s really a testament to storytelling and why even soaps in general have been around for so long, because we get to see people’s daily life.
DC: Does Billy suspect an ulterior motive in Chelsea (Melissa Claire Egan) wanting to get to know their biological son Johnny again? You haven’t gotten to explore that Billy-Chelsea dynamic quite as much in your time at Y&R.
JT: No, I haven’t, really, and Missy [Claire Egan, Chelsea Newman] and I were kind of discussing that, not necessarily knowing. But there was a line in there and the way that I kind of interpreted it personally was, first of all, he’s not really trusting her character right now. He doesn’t obviously trust Adam and it feels like she’s giving him a very, very soft landing, and the last person he’d trust is anyone who chooses to be with that guy, to a certain extent, and have him around kids. I mean, obviously, because of the Delia [Sophie Pollono] thing, not anything else [LAUGHS].
But he doesn’t really trust her right now and I don’t think he really trusts anyone in that camp, to a certain extent, but deeper, much, much deeper than that, is "Don’t you dare take away another one of my kids." If she’s connected to Adam, that’s connection to me and that’s Delia to a certain extent. So yeah, I think there’s a lot of story to be told there, if that’s where we choose to go. To be honest, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I know Missy and I really connect, tried to connect, those kind of dots for us. And, you know, the potential of that story and what one little line means sometimes and whether it comes around or not is somewhat out of our control, but it’s still got to be there.
DC: Were Chelsea to potentially bond with Johnny, do you think that could potentially disrupt the agreement that Billy and Victoria (Amelia Heinle) have come to for a little bit?
JT: Um, I mean, I would say that they would be pretty aligned in this, I imagine. I can’t imagine that Victoria is really that trusting of Adam and Chelsea at this point either. So, I don’t think that would really come in between them. They are in a pretty kind of—they're in an interesting place, and in my somewhat short history, but in talking and listening and looking back on other times, it’s like they’ve always kind of had these ins and outs of their relationship.
But at the same time there was a deep kind of appreciation and understanding on a level that doesn’t always work. But there is a deep love between the two of them and it’s nice when they can find a groove where they get to express that in a way, safely, and you can see where the connection is sometimes…Of course, there’s the other end of that spectrum, but at this moment right now, they feel kind of aligned.
DC: Is it possible that Lily Winters (Christel Khalil) and Billy will rekindle their romance? And how might that affect ChancComm?
JT: Well, yeah, I would say yes to all that. I think there’ s really nice potential there between these two characters. I adore Christel; she’s really funny to be around and she really works hard. She really enjoys herself when you're working together, which is a lot of fun to kind of be around. Which, in turn, helps the characters a little bit, just feel more relaxed around each other, which is cool. Because there is history there and there are a lot of things that have happened since their togetherness, or whatever you want to call it. You know, it’s an ever-evolving story, which, when it’s an ever-evolving story, any opportunity to pick it up with a little momentum—which is what kind of feels like your bigger question here—is just like the connectivity of all that kind of stuff and how you kind of keep it alive, which is what I think we’re trying to find right now with those two.
And when you put it in a workplace like this, I always find it very, very interesting because there’s the practicality of these kinds of things and we both know, and everybody knows, that Billy isn’t exactly practical. He’s not exactly thorough-thinking in his actions sometimes. And Lily is that [practical], and she’s a confident, bright woman who’s been through a lot and still really believes in humanity and so it’s a nice juxtaposition between the two characters. It’s interesting when I find them; I find them at a little bit more of a later place in their life. I think they’re both kind of fond of each other and I think they do both respect each other. Still not 100 percent. They’re a little weary of each other but they’re building that relationship which is fun.
DC: And how might Victoria react to Lily and Billy reigniting an old romance?
JT: I don’t know; that’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know how she would react; that’s an interesting one. I mean, there’s a lot of ways you could go with it, but yeah. It’d be cool to just see them—I don’t know... I tend to go on the personal side of things. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see them in a really great place? Just where they’re, like, co-parenting and, you know, maybe we go over there for Thanksgiving and we all hang out. I mean, Billy and Victoria get along just fine, you know, should that be any different? Well, we’ll see, but of course, like you said, there’s always ways that you can take it.
DC: Billy shines opposite both Lily and Amanda Sinclair (Mishael Morgan). Could we see a triangle there?
JT: Gosh, you know, I just have to say, I would take anything with those two powerhouses. They’re both really, really fun to work with, and I think character-wise, I think there’s some really interesting things there. Amanda knows Billy in a way right now—probably more than anyone else in the world right now, as far as his current reality, and how he got to this modern place at the moment. But I think that could be, I guess. I always find it a little presumptuous that two women would want the one guy at one time, you know? But I guess when there’s perspective on it, maybe it makes a little bit of sense. But I mean, Amanda as a character is a really lovely character. They’ve really given her some legs and Mishael has really stepped in and really connected to it, which is a lot of fun. I know she’s happy to be back and we’re very happy to have her back, too, as Christel so. Those are two really great characters.
DC: You are a father of young children in real life. On Y&R, you’re playing a man who tragically lost his young daughter and is still dealing with that grief. Tell me a bit about that balancing act—and how does your real family inform that aspect of your performance?
JT: Yeah, well... Yeah, I guess, I mean, to a certain extent, it is a balancing act, but I think that more importantly you have to learn how to do that, I think, in my opinion. This is just my opinion—I kind of do what is right, what kind of works for me to a certain extent and sometimes—I mean, it took me a long time to learn the...I guess, the craft of acting and then how to do it honestly and then using your personal life and at the same time, you know, keeping your personal life private to a certain extent and all this kind of stuff.
I mean, you're kind of—to me, the most fun I have in this job is just kind of living in the kind of empathetic world in a way where you get to kind of take kind of stuff on in a way and then I get to use that in my work. It’s just, it’s somewhat cathartic in a lot of ways and yeah, now having kids—I didn’t have kids when I was at General Hospital and Brooklyn [Rae Silzer, Emma Drake], you know, Patrick Drake storyline—sorry, Emma and Patrick and Mom and Dad storyline and the three of them, when they lost Robin [Kimberly McCullough] like that was a relationship that was very, very nurtured throughout time. You really got to see Brooklyn develop as a young person and as an incredible actor and her own vulnerabilities and all those kind of things, which was really wonderful to see on screen. And that was before I had kids, but you’re kind of talking about a human life and you don’t have the kids. I think it helps me a lot to understand kids to a certain way and whether we ever get to kind of really play that storyline, I think it’d be wonderful.
I think—I personally think, and I think this is probably because of my relationship with Brooklyn, how great she was, and her parents and how wonderful that experience was—I think that there’s so much potential storyline in really great childhood kind of stories on these shows and to really kind of see character in vulnerable places where it’s not wrapped up in business. It’s just real-life stuff. I really do think that those storylines bring great value to your overall story, I think, and then personally, yup, I think it all helps. They’re all tools that I get to use and, coming home, it’s—I’ve gotten better at just kind of keeping in the back of my mind what I need for the next day and letting the rest of it go and getting prepared for the next day. It’s just, it’s mostly practice.
But, I mean, being on a soap for 15 years or whatever it is, I’ve gotten a lot of practice at it. It takes a lot of time, so that’s kind of my very long answer to my work process.
DC: Well, I think it’s really interesting because at some point you have to draw a wall between yourself and your character…
JT: Yeah, I wouldn’t really call them walls, though. I wouldn’t really call them walls because it’s more so like—there’s got to be, the energy flow has to be there, or it’s not really honestly connected to who I am, in a way, because I am using personal life at the same time to connect to what he’s doing. So I totally—yes, you’re right, you have to have some sort of guidance between the two worlds, but to me you’re just... Dividing the walls between all that is not as interesting as a life. I get to use it all, which is really fun for me.
DC: I love that you’ve learned to how to filter what’s Billy and what’s Jason, which is obviously very important.
JT: Yeah, manage it a little bit better, yeah [LAUGHS]. Sometimes, yeah. But anyway, yes, you’re correct.
DC: Sometimes, it seems like Billy has a self-destruct button that he will continually press at any given moment. How do you play that energy without letting the character become too immature in the viewers’ eyes?
JT: Yeah, well, I hope he doesn’t come across too immature, but at the same time, there is a little boy in there that kind of got cut short maybe in a couple ways. But what can I say? I mean, he’s still a little boy because he loves explosives. You know what I mean? He likes fireworks. He’s okay letting it kind of blow up and see what collateral damage happens, to a certain extent. I mean, that’s the kind of line that he lives on, you know. So yeah, I mean to me that’s, it’s…so much of it is in the writing, too. And when you have the connection to the writing, it’s easier to just let him be a real, full, living person, and then you can see that living person and then you know the dialogue and the actions kind of speak for themselves, which I enjoy about where I’m at with this character right now.
Jason Thompson airs as Billy Abbott on The Young and the Restless five days a week on CBS. Check your local listings.