Since Billy Miller came on to the soap opera scene with his performance as troubled Richie Novak on All My Children, savvy soap fans knew that this guy had the “It” factor! Subsequently, after finishing up his time in Pine Valley, Miller’s next stop would be CBS The Young and the Restless where in 2008 he took over the role of the loveable rascal, Billy Abbott. In that role, Miller turned in memorable performance after memorable performance, and took with him three Daytime Emmys for his work over the course of his tenure with the series. At the end of 2013, contract talks broke down between the actor and Y&R and he decided to depart the series, wrapping up his run with some high stakes emotional scenes on-air in January of 2014.
After winning his first Daytime Emmy in late June of last year for Lead Actor in a Drama Series, rumors began to run rampant that Miller would end up being the recast Jason Morgan, previously played by Steve Burton (Dylan, Y&R), on General Hospital! And voila! It came to pass! Thanks in large part to the handy work of GH executive producer Frank Valentini, who added the stellar Miller to the already super soap-star cast in Port Charles.
Billy premiered in the late fall of last year as the believed-to-be-dead Jason, who now calls himself “Jake” … an amnesiac with a newly reconstructed face, thanks to Ava Jerome (Maura West) running the poor guy down with her car! As “Jake” has been taken in by Elizabeth (Rebecca Herbst) and had developed feelings for her … connected with Carly (Laura Wright) … has had a strange reaction being around Sam (Kelly Monaco) … has his son Danny (that he doesn’t know he has) running towards him every time the little boy sees him … and the evil Helena (Constance Towers) hypnotizing him to carry out her dirty work as her “Soldier Boy”, including trying to kill the wife he doesn’t know he has … this guy is having significant trouble trying to figure out just who he is, why he is doing what he is doing, and what is going on around him. But that, in the hands of an actor of Miller’s capability, makes the journey intriguing to watch as viewers patiently wait for the day that Jason will remember his connection to those he loved in Port Charles!
On-Air On-Soaps caught up with Billy Miller last week at the ABC TCA Winter Press Tour cocktail reception, where we discussed his thoughts on: taking on the pivotal role of Jason, being a recast, leaving Billy Abbott and Y&R behind, and what he thinks of the men that succeeded him in that role, the Daytime Emmys, his new General Hospital leading ladies, and more. Ladies and gents, here’s Billy!
So, when the powers-that-be at GH came to you and said something along the lines of, “You are going to be playing Jason, but as “Jake”, and this is how we are going to pull this story off with you as the new actor taking over the role,” was that daunting for you?
BILLY: They did not actually explain much. It has been unraveling for me, as much as it has been unraveling for the viewers. It’s a different way for me to work, but we are navigating new waters, and a new working relationship, and we are going to figure it out together … and we will see where we go.
You have your very own distinctive acting style that has served you very well in this genre, and your popularity with the fans. And with this Jason AKA “Jake” role, you have noticeably, as has been your staple in the past, injected some humor into the character.
BILLY: You have to remember this is “Jake”, this is not Jason. If you think about it … it’s really three different personalities that will collide. “Jake” will evolve as a character, and if he gets his full memory back he could possibly be a Quartermaine depending on how they want to retell that tale. And, then we have Jason Morgan, and then this guy who is not going to lose his “Jake” memories. So, there is room with all that to put in a little humor, which I think is more of a strength of mine than not utilizing it. So, I hope I get to do that. Soap Operas are so melodramatic that you got to have some fun! You know, I do think fans like some humor. Think every time you may have been in a hospital with a loved one, and the first person to crack even slightly a joke really relieves the tension, and it is also part of that rollercoaster that we’re presenting on a soap.
What did you think when you got the scripts where “Jake” was now to be ‘Soldier Boy” to Helena Cassadine (Constance Towers), while wearing a ski mask to terrorize Sam (Kelly Monaco)?
BILLY: It’s definitely different than what I thought was going to happen, but it’s kind of fun to dress up like a power ranger and do whatever you want to do. I mean, it’s not like you’re going to get in trouble for not sleeping the night before …you’re never going to tell! (Laughs)
You have two GH leading ladies right now … Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) and Kelly Monaco (Sam)! What can you say about these gals?
BILLY: They are both beautiful women. I have always been spoiled in that regard. Haven’t I been? … Amelia Heinle (Victoria, Y&R) and now these ladies! Rebecca is so sweet, and she has the best skin that has ever been graced upon, just no make-up and with just porcelain skin with not a flaw on it! Even as a guy, it really kind of bothers you when you walk in to the studio in the morning all blood shot, and beet red, and she looks so perfect! (Laughs) Rebecca always shows up bright and shiny and ready to work. And as for Kelly Monaco, again I have been very lucky! They are two very different people and both very fun to work with.
How has it been working in scenes with the incomparable Constance Towers? She can play the villainess like no other!
BILLY: She is an icon and a lot of fun. I am a mumbler, as I am sure you know. And so Constance will say to me, “Can you speak up? I don’t know what you just said!” (Laughs) Constance is so very regal, and still gorgeous at her age. She has this presence, and she keeps you on your toes, and she is ready for anything.
Were you at all worried when you came to GH from playing Billy Abbott on The Young and the Restless, and how you would be perceived by this audience? After all, you took over the role from the very popular Steve Burton (Ex-Jason, GH, now Dylan, Y&R).
BILLY: Billy clearly worked out for me very well, but when I got there, and people don’t know this, but Y&R didn’t want to see me for the role of Billy at one point. People were hesitant for me to take over that role as a recast. And, at that point, I was replacing David Tom (Ex-Billy, Y&R). We were very different people, so I wasn’t that worried about it. And as for being the replacement for Steve Burton on General Hospital, I love Steve and I think he’s great. There is nothing that I can really touch that he has done. I have to find my own thing, and hopefully we can find it with the “Jake” character, and so when he becomes the Jason character, he can be augmented and that could throw him on to that trajectory, but I don’t know. I don’t write the show, but I hope that would be the case.
I know GH head writer Ron Carlivati has high hopes for this storyline, and this character, with you at the epicenter.
BILLY: They have dealt with him very well. I have been working quite a bit, and so it seems on how these things go … that they are definitely giving this story and my character a full shot, and again I am not the Twitter guy. Therefore, I don’t know how it’s playing to the audience, but I am sure there are some people that hate it and will never be able to accept someone else playing the role of Jason … but, let me tell you what? Steve Burton is fine in Genoa City. He is down at The Grove (a high-end shopping mall near CBS studios) everyday having a good time. (Laughs) I have talked to him, and he is very happy at Y&R. So, I don’t think he is coming this way.
The role of Jason affords you the opportunity to be the tough guy, a romantic guy, a sensitive guy, and a troubled guy. It has potentially many facets. However, are you at all questioning when you get the scripts right now, what exactly are “Jake’s” motivations?
BILLY: As it is now, it is something I never quite fathomed. Drama-wise, GH plays more the camp of soap, whereas at Y&R it’s more old-school melodrama. Y&R moves slower and GH moves faster, and here we will have more outlandish events. I am not seasoned in that in my own life, (laughs) but I am finding how to play that, and playing some of the tough guy material is fun. I like to do it in a slightly different way. There are some things to play there that don’t have to be portrayed as exactly the big bulky badass. “Jake” clearly has some muscle memory and instincts as an enforcer type. It’s fun, but don’t get me wrong. I miss some of the Billy Abbott fun stuff. A lot that I am doing with “Jake” has that in it, and that is because “Jake” is a transient character. I know a lot of people are like, “That’s not how Jason acts!” However, Jason is a different guy right now.
Speaking of Billy Abbott, the way you interpreted that character was a soap classic. You have become so beloved by the fans of daytime, and in particular, the women in the audience love you!
BILLY: Well, they haven’t seen me in person… and they might be very disappointed!
I hear that you submitted yourself in the race again this year for Outstanding Lead Actor for your work on Y&R for this year’s Daytime Emmys.
BILLY: I was talked into it, and I don’t know if I will stay in the competition. I might pull out, actually. It seemed like some of my last scenes on Y&R were some of my best work. I hear Y&R might use that for their Drama Series submission, and then I thought, “Well, if they are then I will, too!” I mean, it’s tough to submit or not submit, and decide whether to be a part of it. The whole idea is not about winning, really. If people don’t submit then nobody’s getting together, and if people don’t realize that in a genre that is supposedly “dying”, then people should be celebrating every chance they can to get together. If you don’t participate then it’s going to be between two guys and one going, “I really want one!” (Laughs) I have to worry about my mom’s Emmy expectations now that the Oscars are upon us, too! (Laughs)
You have also been very busy appearing in primetime roles including Suits, Castle, Major Crimes among many others!
BILLY: I got a good little gig on Suits, and I got a small part in the film American Sniper, which is cool. I got to work with Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper. Now every five minutes I get a call from Texas with someone yelling: “God damn! I didn’t know you were in that movie!” (Laughs)
Were you considering just continuing along the lines of doing episodic work and feature films, instead of returning to the soaps?
BILLY: The way things kind of shook out, I was very lucky. I was working constantly doing a lot of independent films and series, but there is something about General Hospital that offers me the ability to be here, and yet do other things. The schedule is drastically different from Y&R. I lived at CBS Television City and there wasn’t a lot of time off. I don’t think I ever paid for a plane ticket a week out, and here at GH, I know that I got bulks of two weeks off like every other month. The only way there is more leeway here is that when you are shooting, you are shooting, you are there on set working. They take lots of breaks, which makes it easier to potentially book a guest-star role here, or an episodic role over here, and so it worked out. At Y&R, there is just too much going on with a lot of people to be able to do that, as it was explained to me, and that’s why I left.
Had you checked in to see David Tom, and his replacement Burgess Jenkins, in the role of Billy Abbott on Y&R after you left the show?
BILLY: I saw some of David Tom and some of Burgess’ work. I met Burgess at the Daytime Emmys last year, and he is a very nice guy. I want to meet David and I never have, but I do know his sister Heather Tom (Katie, B&B) well. We are all three very different people, and we are going to interpret the role of Billy three different ways. And just like it is playing this role that Steve Burton used to play, not only is it cheap to mimic somebody else, it’s boring. One is not better than the other, it’s just different. It all depends if anybody finds what you’re doing appealing, and if they are going to back you and that is where it gets tough.
As a three-time Daytime Emmy Award winning actor, have you had conversations with GH executive producer Frank Valentini, and head writer Ron Carlivati, about how you would like to see Jason’s story evolve?
BILLY: The only conversations we had at the beginning was about: if this was a good idea for me to come to General Hospital to do this character … and what their landscape is all about. We are about to have those conversations now. I wanted to wait till after the first of the year to feel it out. I don’t want to fall flat on my face, and I don’t think we have yet, but I haven’t had the breath to do some stuff, but again, back to the Emmys, I want to make it so we can all be a part of this thing. There was nothing from the eligibility period for me to submit from GH this time. We are not there yet, and I want to get there. I don’t want to take a job, just to take it. I gotta knock their socks off, and I need the material to do it. If I am going to come in and do this, I don’t want it to end up being, “Well, I like Billy, but it feels like he is just holding somebody else’s spot.” I want a shot to do what I did with Y&R, and I heard that may be damn near impossible to do on two different shows, but I think I can handle it.
GH has an A-list heavy hitter cast. The show does it’s best to spread the story around, so everyone eventually gets their turn up to the plate. Do you like to be working a lot?
BILLY: I grew up as a boy from Texas, and so I am always going to work. If you leave me alone for too long, I will always find something to do. I own bars and stuff, too! While I was at Y&R, I practically lived there, and shot over 200 episodes a year. That can be difficult to continue to make it interesting for everybody, including the writers. There is a little bit more fluidity here, but Y&R has a huge cast as well.
Is there a part of you that really misses being on Y&R?
BILLY: There is a part of me that misses Y&R, and a part of me that misses All My Children! Being in your 20’s, and acting in New York, and having some money in your pocket is a damn good time! You should try … its fun! I miss all the people I have worked with in the past.
Did you ever think you would be this soap opera star entity?
BILLY: I have definitely developed a name in this genre, but it’s never going to be an Eric Braeden (Victor, Y&R) or Peter Bergman (Jack, Y&R) type of thing, or Maurice Benard (Sonny, GH) here. I came in a little late for that, but hopefully, at best, I will be a considered a good actor in this genre.
How is working with Laura Wright (Carly)? The Jason/Carly relationship is one of the most pivotal to his story and hers!
BILLY: She is a trip, man. Laura is great, and they give her a workhorse amount of material. I think the Jason/Carly relationship got picked right back up without a hitch. I think that is going very well. Laura is a lot of fun. She knows the genre inside and out. Laura has been on a lot of soaps, and she has a lot of good advice to offer. She is very welcoming. I kind of came in head down and mouth shut, and not like my normal self! (Laughs) At Y&R it was like, “Here comes that crazy bastard!”(Laughs)
Has there been any scene thus far during your time on GH that you have truly liked your performance in, or enjoyed doing?
BILLY: I really have enjoyed getting to know the other actors, and how they work and what makes them tick, and what buttons you get to push with some of them, and what buttons they find in you. As far as a particular scene … not yet … because for “Jake” things are so broken up. They are not full tangible things yet. Just like he is! “Jake” is not a fully realized anything. If you think about it, he has scrambled eggs for a brain. He has such a disconnect from himself, and everybody else, that we don’t really see him alone very much unless he is having a bad dream. You can’t really do that much with that, as in soaps, you really need someone to bounce off of. That can be a difficult character to write – when he doesn’t have the connections he needs – or to know how to interact with people – and then to show him talking to himself is tough. And when you think about it, the only conversation he would have with himself is trying to figure out who he is! However, the guy trying to figure out who he is has become a very interesting part of the story for me to play.
So GH watchers, what do you think of Billy Miller’s performance, and the Jason AKA “Jake” story thus far? Which gal do you hope he ends up with romantically on-screen … Sam or Elizabeth?
How do you see the story playing out … and which persona do you hope ultimately comes forward with their memories … Jason Morgan, Jason Quartermaine, or a fusion of such with Jake?
What do you think about Billy’s comments on replacing Steve Burton in the role on GH, and Burgess Jenkins taking over his former role on The Young and the Restless? Comment below!