As the circle of people who know that “Jake Doe” is really the beloved Jason (Billy Miller) of Port Charles grows … cover-ups, secrets, blackmail, and more have caused the once upstanding characters of: Elizabeth (Rebecca Herbst), Nikolas (Tyler Christopher) and even Laura (Genie Francis) to go to extreme measures to ensure that “Jake” does not learn his true identify. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to each other, “Jake” is working closely with his true wife Sam (Kelly Monaco) to figure out the connection between Hayden (Rebecca Budig) being shot just as she was about to tell-all to the twosome, and Nikolas. But now that Hayden has awakened from her coma, what does that mean for “Jake’s” future?
With no recollection of his past, and only flashes of moments that he can’t quite piece together, “Jake” has relied on Elizabeth’s kindness and understanding, and the two have fallen in love and are engaged to be married. But, Liz is withholding the critical truth, so she can finally have her own chance at love with Jason. To complicate matters further, Jason and Liz’s biological son, Jake, has returned from the dead! Will “Jake” come to realize that this is his little boy?
Three-time Daytime Emmy winner Billy Miller is the man at the epicenter of this storyline on General Hospital that when all is revealed will resonate and shake-up the canvas in a massive way. Miller, who left his successful run as Billy Abbott on The Young and the Restless back at the end of 2013, joined GH in the fall of 2014, and was a recast in the role of Jason, played for two decades by popular fan favorite Steve Burton (now Dylan, Y&R). While many fans of GH have commented that they are losing their patience with “Jake’s” story which feels stuck in neutral, behind the scenes a GH head writer switch saw ABC relieve Ron Carlivati of his duties, and the co-head writing team of Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante taking over the reins. The women had previously written for Miller at Y&R.
On-Air On-Soaps chatted with Billy to get the scoop and the lowdown on all things “Jake”, the challenges he has faced since coming over to General Hospital, the criticism he has taken from naysayers, his thoughts on his Port Charles leading ladies, if we will see Jason Morgan, the enforcer re-team with Sonny (Maurice Benard), or if Jason Quartermaine emerges, or a hybrid of each, when “Jake” figures out who he really is, and more. Candid, funny as all-get-out, charming, and one of the best in the biz, here’s what Billy shared.
You have been working very closely with Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) as your on-screen love interest. The two of you are creating this couple, and the character of Liz is completely lying to “Jake”! What has it been like working with Becky in this capacity?
BILLY: Well, you know what? That is not the first girl who has ever lied to me. Actually, it is usually the other way around, and so this is a breath of fresh air! (Laughs) Becky is awesome, and she has that beautiful porcelain skin, which I have said before. Let’s be honest. All the girls on General Hospital are straight up gorgeous, and half of them are tiny, which is great for me because they make me look so tall. Yup, I’ve got Kelly Monaco (Sam) and Becky, and Rebecca Budig (Hayden). It’s like: “Jake and his Little Women”.
What did you think when they brought back Little Jake (James Nigbor)? Were you going, “Wait a minute! I’m ‘Jake’ and he is ‘Little Jake’! How is this going to work?”
BILLY: I first said, “Stop calling this boy ‘Little Jake’. You are going to give him a complex. His name is Jake! (Laughs) And my character’s name is really not ‘Jake’.” They refuse to call me “Big Jake”, which by the way that’s not nice! (Laughs) We all want to be called “Big Jake”. (Laughs) Don’t we? Now, Jason Thompson (Patrick) likes to call me “Little Jake”. Nice of him! Interestingly, we don’t give “Little Jake”, who is not that little by the way, an iPad, or a PlayStation to play with. We give him a miniature toy motorcycle every day, and tell him to go play in the corner. You know he is thinking: “I should go back to Helena’s (Constance Towers)! I had a whole palace full of toys there! I had minions I could order around, too! Now I am stuck in this little house with ‘Big Jake’ and these little motorcycles.” (Laughs)
You have also been developing great on-screen chemistry with Kelly Monaco. What are your thoughts on how that is shaping up, and playing to the audience?
BILLY: People say, “He is supposed to be Jason. He should have some romantic chemistry with Sam.” I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. At the moment, I’m playing Jake, who has a romantic interest in Elizabeth. Let’s not make him,“Two-Timing Jake”. Don’t forget, this man doesn’t know who the hell he really is or that he’s actually married to Sam. He doesn’t have an idea of himself or have a self-propelling trajectory. “Jake” is like a new fish dropped in an old aquarium, and he is now trying to figure out the in’s and out’s of what is going on in this foreign world. OK, it’s taken a year. He’s a little slow! (Laughs) A character like Jake can’t start a scene, or a conversation really … he doesn’t have a sense of history or how things came to be so he doesn’t have anything to push off of. The only thing “Jake” can do is react. That is why it’s so important for him to hold on to the Elizabeth character in his life. Liz is giving him all of this guidance, and has been there for him. Now there were some flubs there with her taking up with Ric Lansing (Rick Hearst), but he is a handsome bastard, so it’s OK. (Laughs) “Jake” is a good guy. I can’t wait to get into the darker side of the character. That has always come easier to me, and is so much fun to play. I think a Jason Quartermaine – Jason Morgan – “Jake” collision would be fun to watch. By that I mean, watching him come apart and watching him be deeply troubled in his mind, would be great. It feels like I have been nibbling on some stuff for a while now, and I want to play. But as far as Sam, that is Jake’s buddy. He is not going to overly show: “Oh, I find myself attracted to this girl.” I am not going to beat the audience over the head with it.
So, you are not playing that into your scenes with Kelly that there is this undeniable attraction? Because in essence, these two are husband and wife, only Sam has no idea that “Jake” is her believed-to-be-dead husband Jason, and he doesn’t have a clue what she really means to him.
BILLY: No! She is a friend, and it would be inappropriate. Sam is with Patrick. That behavior doesn’t make any sense coming from Jake. We aren’t there yet guys, we will get there eventually. I can’t over foreshadow “Jake’s” relationship with Sam. Where I have been able to play and open up a little bit is with Elizabeth. Remember, “Jake” has been manipulated the entire time he has been awake after being run over by a car, so he might have some trust issues. Look, I’m working hard to make this come across as realistic as possible. I think when we do that … we are doing right by the genre. There are times I have heard that the fans say that, “He looks bored.” I am not bored. I just want it to be good and truthful. Most of what I’ve had to play up until now is stillness.
The pacing of General Hospital has been very different than what you were, perhaps used to when you were over at The Young and the Restless. Has that posed any challenges for you?
BILLY: I am used to a more old-fashioned soap that has longer scenes. GH had been having, up till now, faster moving scenes- which I called “little vignettes”. It’s hard sometimes with those types of scenes, because you can sometimes feel you get cut off in the middle of your sentence. I know there is a reason for it, and that is how we do it on this show. It’s my job to make this work. I have had some good days, and I have had some bad days where I could have done better.
One of my favorite scenes of yours was when “Jake” was talking to his mother, Monica (played by Leslie Charleson). It was such a poignant scene as she recalled to this seemingly stranger the love she had for Jason, and what he meant to the Quartermaine family.
BILLY: That is mom, and that was a real scene. Being from the south, which I am, and walking into somebody’s home and talking to their mother, that is exactly how you would address them as we did in that scene. It was like a mother and son scene, which was why it was ironic, fun, and a really cool scene. We didn’t have to shoot anybody. We didn’t have to pull a microchip out of our heads, and we didn’t have to play up to plot. We were allowed to play two people sitting on a couch talking. It is the best scene that I have had on GH thus far.
What do you think “Jake” will do when he finds out that Nikolas and Elizabeth have been lying and conspiring to keep the truth from him of his true identity?
BILLY: I don’t know. I don’t necessarily think a long wait between hearing who he is and remembering everything is good. But, what I am really looking forward to playing is when those personalities collide, and they let me out of the gate a little bit, and help me stretch as an actor and work. A lot of what we do on the soaps is exposition. That’s a necessary part of the job. Though, this character has been idle for a long time, I don’t want people to lose interest. Because he is a guy who is trying to figure stuff out – fish out of water type of guy – sometimes I like to play with a bit of comedy. Then I get accused of throwing in Billy Abbott from Y&R. Now I could see it being a little bit like Billy Abbott – but Billy had my asinine sarcastic attitude in him (Laughs) and with this guy “Jake” he has a lot more fire in him, which we are not quite ready to show just yet. I think some levity is fun. I don’t want to mimic Steve Burton’s version of “Stone Cold.” What Steve did was great. I want to be able to go back and forth and try things. Come on, having had so many brain surgeries the guy should be a little off! Look, everybody wants the sexy bad guy, who can tell a joke, and who loves kids! And that’s what we have right now. Well, I’ve got to work on the “sexy” part, but we’ve got the rest! (Laughs)
Rebecca Budig is now on contract at GH. She first appeared on the canvas in a ruse set up by Ric Lansing pretending to be “Jake’s” wife. The two of you knew each other from your time on All My Children, correct?
BILLY: Yes, but actually Rebecca came back to All My Children right when I was leaving. In our first and last scene, I was tied up in a chair while she, Babe and Kendall threatened me with a poker…or something like that. Rebecca is so fun. She is great as Hayden, and she is an amazing actress. Rebecca easily fell right back into the rigors of daytime, and she masters difficult dialog and monologues.
At the present time, “Jake” is not a man of many words! (Laughs)
BILLY: Correct. What is interesting about this character, as compared to Billy Abbott, “Jake” doesn’t do a lot of talking. When I was on Y&R, I used to say to myself, “Shut up Billy!” Also, I’ve learned that my lower voice and soft speech can be a problem. GH is mostly mic’d from above, so we are losing my end of the dialogue sometimes on this show. It is a problem I know, and I’m addressing it. When I got to GH I was like, “Why is everybody yelling at me? I hear you!” (Laughs) And then after the first two shows aired, I could see why, as I was very low on the audio.
What are your thoughts on the recent writing regime change at General Hospital, which saw Ron Carlivati being replaced by the co-head writing duo of Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante? Do you have any idea how that might impact your character?
BILLY: Walking away from Y&R was a big and scary move, and a lot of people would not have made it. I was lucky enough to come to General Hospital. Ron Carlivati and Frank Valentini (executive producer) were very welcoming. They brought me here. I think Ron is a brilliant guy – and he has been a head writer for a soap now for something like 8 years between One Life to Live and General Hospital, and that is a steam engine. The head writer job is a job that often goes unappreciated. If a storyline doesn’t land as initially expected, the writers hear from everyone – the actors to the grips, if something comes across as down right magical, they are lucky to get a head nod of appreciation. I couldn’t handle that job. I love when shows in other mediums freak out during their fourth TV season, and their 44th episode. You have to laugh. You’ve got to give it up for all of the soap opera writers. It’s such a hard job. There are going to be ebbs and flows on every soap. You are going to love it, and you’re going to hate it. That is why viewers and fans have been watching for decades. That is why your grandmother watched, and why it has been handed down many times generationally in families. I hate when people lose their jobs. Though, I am not worried for Ron, because he is a very bright and talented guy. He will be fine. I can say these ladies, Shelly Altman, and Jean Passanante have written for me over at Y&R. We had a lot of success in that time. We have not met and talked about anything, or the future of the character, as of yet. Off topic – I have to thank Frank, the cast, and the crew for allowing me to do my “shtick” and have some fun between scenes. We are doing melodrama day in and day out, and for me you have to break the ice, and then you get into the scene in a short amount of time and play the drama of it.
You have also had to come in and hit the ground running and establish this connection with Laura Wright’s Carly. Jason and Carly were, of course, bff’s. How has it been creating this sense of this unexplained bond, where for all intent and purposes to both of them, they had just recently met?
BILLY: We come from two different directions, and we could not be more opposite, and it works. Laura is a workhorse. She takes and handles a ton of difficult dialog and is ready to go, and always professional. I want to explore the Jake/Carly relationship in new and fresh ways. Look, I will always get the Steve Burton (Ex-Jason GH, now Dylan Y&R) comparison. I am sure someone is getting the Billy Miller comparison somewhere else. Steve and I have talked about it and my take on this character. I am not hiding anything from him. We are friends. Steve and I shared a manager at one point. When I was deciding whether or not I wanted to get into soaps, that manager used Steve as an example of somebody you should watch who can do this, and who had a very long and successful career, and is a good actor, and a good guy. But the bottom line is: no matter what role, or what soap you are on, for the most part, in whatever you are playing, you are going to have a little bit of you in everything you play. I know Steve gets some heat sometimes at Y&R for being a little “Stone Cold”, or this and that, too.
It’s been so interesting over the last few years watching major stars switch soaps for one reason, or another. How do you see the genre in its present state? There are less than a handful of daytime soaps left.
BILLY: There is no competition between soaps. We all need our ratings up. We all need to continue to celebrate and do good work. Even at the Daytime Emmys, we are really not competing … we are hanging out. Sure, it’s fun to walk around with the trophy. It was great for my mother. She loved the hell out of it, and so did my dad. At the end of the day, it’s really just about all of us still being allowed to do this. I get accused that I have one foot in the genre, and one foot out. That’s not true. I owe my career to this genre. I do like to do other things and roles, because it keeps me sane. There are a lot of actors who, when they have a hiatus, like to take a vacation. I’d rather work on something – another show, or guest-star spot. I am the guy who will shoot all day, then run out to make an audition, and have fun doing that. You have to keep trying to do different things. Presently, I am looking for a class to get back into so I can study and get a different perspective, and see what I can bring.
Will we finally see some major Sonny (Maurice Benard) and “Jake” scenes? Fans have been waiting for that. You really haven’t had much opportunity to work with GH icons, such as Maurice, or even the recently exited Tony Geary (Luke).
BILLY: Maurice and I talk about it all the time in the hallway … we are ready to fire it up. You know, Tony Geary (Luke) on his way out said to me, “We had one scene together. This is b*s.” Tony was very good to me, and so too has been Jane Elliot (Tracy). I like to think I am easy to get along with.
In closing, what can you say is coming up for “Jake” in the short term?
BILLY: In the short term, there is a Sonny and Carly wedding coming up … so I think hilarity will ensue there! (Laughs)
So, what do you think should or will transpire so that “Jake” finally recalls he is Jason? What did you think about the comments made by Billy Miller in the interview on the challenges he faces in the complex role? What woman will the guy actually end up with when all is said and done in Port Charles? Are you looking forward to seeing more of this Daytime Emmy winner getting the opportunity to showcase his acting chops in the coming months on GH? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.