Last Friday, cast, crew, press, executives, and family (including Kristoff’s beloved dog Brando) gathered together on the set of the Genoa City Athletic Club at CBS Television City to celebrate the 25 year milestone of Kristoff St. John (Neil Winters) with The Young and the Restless.
Throughout the celebration honoring the powerhouse actor, several speeches were made all illustrating Kristoff’s unwavering commitment to the material, bringing Neil Winters to life day in and day out, and touching upon Kristoff’s inner-strength in facing the unimaginable for any parent, the tragic death of their child.
It was day of emotions, tears, and laughter for one of the finest actors working in our genre including; Kristoff reading a heartfelt congratulatory note from his father, acclaimed actor and director, Christopher St. John. On-Air On-Soaps was on hand to listen to the speeches and share in the festivities. Immediately following, we were able to chat with the guest of honor, up close and personal, for some closing thoughts on this special day. Here are some of the highlights below:
Y&R’s executive producer Jill Farren Phelps kicked off the celebration with these words: “In the course of his 25 year journey as Neil Winters, Kristoff has won 2 Daytime Emmy Awards and 8 NAACP Image Awards. In watching the material that you submitted this year for the Emmy’s, I was reminded of what we all know; you are an extraordinary actor. Neil Winters has been married 5 times, raised Devon and Lily (and Moses too!), and just in the 4 years since I’ve been here, he’s lost and regained his sight in a sensitive and gripping performance while giving us the haunting and heartbreaking portrayal of a man battling his darkest demons in the bottom of a bottle . . . Bravo Kristoff. You’re a fierce actor. You’re your own man. You’ve shown remarkable courage and heart against all odds. And you are a valuable member of our Y&R family. AND you have the cutest dog! Thanks Kristoff. Congratulations and much love. ”
Next, Joshua Morrow (Nick Newman) took to the podium and offered up to his co-star: “You are an incredibly talented actor, and I have enjoyed watching your work. You can tell the true measure of a man in how he handles adversity, and brother, I have seen you slay dragons and stare down demons. I have seen you rise up and show everyone what you are made of. It has to be some of the strongest stuff the world has ever seen.”
Bryton James (Devon) in an emotional, and off the cuff speech told Kristoff: “You set this standard of commitment and excellence of every scene I have seen you in, and every scene I have been in with you, and it’s taught me. You have shown me and guided me every step of the way. You showed me not only how to go about being an actor, but how you go about being yourself in life, too.”
Christel Khalil delivered a short speech which included: “It’s so easy to work with Kristoff. If I have to cry in a scene all I have do is look at him, and I just start bawling. We just have that connection. ”
When it was finally Kristoff’s turn to address his Y&R family he noted, “This is very humbling to hear these words you have said, my family.” He then told how his life in Genoa City began: “Bill Bell (co-creator and former head writer, Y&R) said, ‘How would you like to work on this show? I said, ‘Of course I would.’ I had come from the last place show. I knew Y&R, because I had watched it while I was in my dressing room at Generations at NBC. The biggest difference between Generations and Y&R was not the writing, but the look of the show. It was the seasoned actors that are on this show. It was unlike anything I had every watched before. So when I got here I was in awe. The first person I met was Victoria Rowell (Ex-Drucilla), and the second person I met was Eric Braeden (Victor), and the other men on the show, such as Peter Bergman who is the ultimate professional. The difference between he and I is Peter will come out to the stage on a two-scene stand by, while Kristoff is just getting in the shower!” (Laughs)
Following the presentation, On-Air On-Soaps asked Kristoff some questions about his journey at Y&R, beginning with the ups and downs of being on a soap for an amazing 25-year run: “Nothing is easy, but when you have a family near and far, it can be rather dysfunctional, and in that dysfunction, you have a happy balance of acceptance and dislike. So when you do come together for a joyous occasion, it’s all about the joy, and on the set it’s all about the joy. Drama off the set is a whole other thing, even when people at times here haven’t brought the joy. I was going to say one thing in my speech about one person who told me once; “You don’t have a story. And you want to be careful, because you want them to make note of you. You want to get out in front of them, and you need to remind them. I have a lot of story and I guarantee you that I am the new breed, and you need to make sure you become that.” I felt like knocking his block off, but what does that service? That was a family moment between someone that was here, and someone who is no longer here, who thought he would be here forever. ”
Kristoff on reflecting on his on-screen children; Bryton James and Christel Khalil, and the sentiments they shared: “Like they said about me, I value them like my real family, my personal family. They have been surrogate children for me. Everything I do on stage with them, and acting as their father is a piece of me that I have been able to learn from my children: Paris, Lola, and Julian, and how to be a better man and how to be a better father. But those two have put me in my place a number of times, and stopped me from going off the deep end as a man. Christel and Bryton have been the glue here for me at the Y&R stages.”
Kristoff on if being at Y&R helped pull him through the most heartbreaking of personal tragedy following the death of his son, Julian: “The show didn’t really factor in until I looked out over Julian’s funeral and I saw a sea of my peers and they were all there. That meant everything to me. I don’t know if everyone realizes that. I wanted to say things up there today about it, but I knew I would fall apart, and I couldn’t have gone on. I was able to come to work a couple of weeks after being off, and man, it was during that part of the storyline that deserved a personal experience that came from the depths, and unfortunately it was through that experience of the death of my son, that I was able to parlay good performances with people that I love and respect here.”
Kristoff reflects on his 25 years of storylines; when Neil has languished on the back-burner, or has been front and center, and how he has kept that in perspective, as well as his thoughts on his current storyline: “I had a lot of great stories. I also had to mention Victoria Rowell in my speech. I had to. But when you have real meaty story it becomes the show for a period of time, it does. It’s months on end, whereas I have always felt somewhere in the middle. It’s not back-burner, and then we go to the front, and then we go in the back, and we are relegated to what I like to call, ‘Winters Wednesdays’. (Laughs) But this past year has been fantastic! For some reason, this storyline with Bryton and Hilary (Mishael Morgan) has been dragged on longer than any storyline I have been a part of. I am not sure why other than I believe Bryton and Hilary’s characters became extremely popular, and so the fight has to be for Neil rescuing the relationship, and realizing he can’t, and then going off on a tangent to force it to happen, but I have been the villain. I like playing the villain, too.”
Kristoff on after hearing the accolades that he is a ‘great actor’, and if he views himself that way: “When you are good at something you can tell people about it. When you are great at something than other people will tell you about that. How do I dare accept when someone uses the word ‘great’, when there are so many beautiful actors out there in the real world? I am but one of many, many, many. Interpretation is everything. Acting is reacting, and I somehow am able to bring realism to the work that I do. I don’t know how great that is, but I know how natural it feels. I think part of that is because I started as a child, and by the time I reached my adult years I was able to draw on stuff. Luckily, I have had a great character to play.”
Share you congratulations to Kristoff on his 25 years with Y&R in the comment section below! And let us know, what did you think of the thoughts he conveyed and the admiration and respect shown by his co-workers and friends? What has been your favorite moment in the life and times of Neil Winters?