The Young and the Restless fans were shocked this past May when Michelle Stafford announced that she was leaving her popular role as Phyllis Summers on the number one soap. Originating the role as rocker Danny’s stalker/one-night stand in 1994, Phyllis would eventually become a top front-burning character, being tied to both the Abbott and Newman dynasties. The Emmy-winning actress left the role for three years in 1997 (Sandra Nelson filled in for year), before returning in 2000. Earlier this month, viewers saw Phyllis fall into a coma – a standard soap opera exit plot device. A few days later, the actress debuted The Stafford Project, a web series taking a comedic look at the situations the actress usually finds herself in.
MSN Canada caught up with Stafford to discuss more about the project, including what’s coming up in the third episode (which will be made available this Saturday at MichelleStafford.com), her Y&R exit storyline and a couple of her favourite moments on the show.
Congratulations on the early success of the web series. Your fans are loving it. It’s extremely funny. Can you give us a preview of the third episode?
Yes, thank you! We actually have a special guest star in the third episode, which we’re going to release this weekend. We usually release the episodes on a Monday, but since it is Labour Day – and not a lot of people go away because they have to get ready for the new school year and stuff – we felt that we’d take advantage of that, so we’re going to release it this Saturday, August 31.
All these episodes are based on true events. The idea behind the third episode was given to me by the actor who’s in it. He’s on The Young and the Restless and is a very funny guy. Everyone will get a huge kick out of episode three.
I saw you Tweeting about the show with Victoria Rowell (ex-Dru, Y&R). Have you ever thought about having her guest start? Maybe poke a little fun at all the gossipmongers.
Oh yeah, I’ve already talked to Vicky about coming on the show – I just want to write a really good role for her. We’re just working on our first 11 episodes and after that, I can create more stuff.
But, honestly, I don’t do things for gossip. I would never have anybody on the show to appease the haters. I just want to entertain people.
While you last aired on Y&R earlier this month, you’ve been off the show for two months now, from a production standpoint.
Yeah, maybe a little over two months.
How has that been? Has it sunk in yet?
It’s been great. It’s been really nice to spend more time with my daughter [Natalia; who is also a star on the web series] and to spend more time creating The Stafford Project. I’m the executive producer, co-writer, lead actress, craft services, casting director and even wardrobe! [Laughs]
Has The Stafford Project made you realize that you enjoy things like writing and producing in addition to acting?
In my life, I’ve always been a really great storyteller. Whenever I’m at a party or whenever I have friends over, I’m usually the one telling the funny story. From a very young age, I’ve always been that person. I’ve always looked at life in sort of a skewed, quirky way. The more I live, the more I realize that I have a lot of stories to tell just from my own experiences. That’s how The Stafford Project came to be. I’m producing and writing it along with my partners, “The Paiges” – Paige Dorian and Paige Long. Without them, there would be no project. They direct and write it too. The three of us are sort of this one complete entity.
Longtime Y&R viewers have seen the comedic undertones in your portrayal as Phyllis. When someone learns you’ve been on a drama series for over 15 years, they may not realize this. In the web series your way of showcasing your comedic talent?
I’m honestly not trying to show anybody anything. I don’t really have that in me. It’s just something as an artist – as an actor, writer and producers – you want to create something. You have a desire to create something and entertain people with it. The show’s just born from that. It’s just born from me having the desire to tell a story about a woman who’s just trying to make everything happen…but it’s sort of comedic. She can be any woman out there. I think that so many woman have had trouble having children or raising their kids and being a single mom. There are so many women who go on bad dates or are dating in their 40s and saying “Oh my god! Honest – what is happening?” I’m telling that story…but I’m just doing it in a humorous way so people can laugh at themselves too. I think that many women see themselves in this version of myself that I’ve created for The Stafford Project.
Do you have any other projects comings?
Yeah, we kind of do! I’ve gotten a lot of attention from this. When you get a lot of hits on YouTube, people start watching. I’ve never gone on so many business lunches in my life! People are watching and are very interested in this show and how it’s evolving. We have a couple of other things in the works with a couple of people who really want to be a part of the show and see it soar. That’s been great and it has happened really quickly – in the last three weeks!
That’s amazing. With only two episodes.
I was telling somebody that the other day, that we don’t have as many views as Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke, but we’re getting there!
Its fine – quality over whatever that was.
I get it!
Let’s talk about your Y&R exit. How did you find it? A lot of fans and critics thought it was anticlimactic having one of daytime’s greatest vixens fall down a flight of stairs at the hands of that “hair-chewing child-bride,” and yes – those are Phyllis’ words for Sharon.
I actually didn’t see any of it…I was on vacation with my daughter. Actually, that’s not true. [Laughs] I did see the very last episode I was in. I must say, I looked very good in a coma!
Well, what’s a coma for Phyllis? She’s already the hottest grandmother on soaps.
Oh, that’s funny… But yeah, it’s not my place. I’ve been hearing a lot of things like “We were mad at how it ending,” but it’s not my place to be mad or happy. My job as an actress is to play the role that is written. They decided to write Phyllis into a coma, so that’s what I did.
I think a lot of the viewers would have preferred thing to come full circle for Phyllis. Maybe have Christine getting the goods on what had happened with the hit and run all those years ago. Or maybe even revisit what happened to Sasha Green in that fire.
Well, maybe they can? Maybe the character will come back? It’s not necessarily the end – it’s the end for me, but it’s not necessarily the end for the character.
So you are open to a recast?
It’s not that I’m open to it. By saying that I’m “open to it,” means that I’m still connected to the show and character. I’m done. I know that on paper, that looks really bad when I say that. [Laughs] But, I left the show. It’s legally not even my character. The character belongs to Sony Television. It’s their job to bring back the character if that’s what they want to do and whatever they want to do to continue to make a good show, I completely support. I support Sony, the writers and producers. I have friends on that show and I want them all to be doing well. Whatever they decide that’s going to make the show do well, I’m completely behind.
Before we let you go, can you share some of your favourite storylines or memories of playing Phyllis?
Oh my gosh! There are so many… I loved all the stuff with Dr. Tim Reid [played by Austin Lustig]. I loved that. That was so much fun, man! [Creator and writer] Bill Bell was such a genius. That was really fun, all of that – I loved that Phyllis. The one that was getting into trouble. I loved the Phyllis who was crazy. It was really fun to play. I also loved the whole storyline with Joshua Morrow where Phyllis and Nick were having an affair. I thought that was really great to play as well. We had never worked together before, and then the writers saw the chemistry and really wrote for it. I love it, I thought it was great. Those two things really stuck out for me.