To Celebrate The Young and the Restless’ 50th anniversary, The TV Watecooler had the opportunity to chat with Canadian actor Jason Thompson (Billy Abbott)to discuss the Abbott family legacy, Billy’s complicated history with Chelsea, and some of his most memorable moments!
What can you tease for us about Billy’s involvement in the show’s 50th anniversary?
I know there are a bunch of returns, but Billy won’t be featured heavily too much in that side of things. Right now, Billy finds himself in a little bit of a “no man’s land.” But at the same time, he’s quite comfortable and just sitting quietly with Chelsea (Melissa Claire Egan) and they are kind of developing their relationship.
I feel that Billy has also changed with what Chelsea has experienced. They went through it together and I think he’s learned a lot from the process of supporting her, and for her to become stronger and look at her life and be able to re-engage with her life. I think that Billy’s learning a lot from that relationship.
In addition to supporting Chelsea, Billy is also thinking of what’s next for him. Jack (Peter Bergman) invited him back to Jabot and it took him by surprise – it wasn’t even on his radar. Billy began to think about what going back to Jabot could mean. He starts to think a lot about his family, their history, their company, and how he can carry on the legacy.
So, in this moment right now, he’s going back to Jabot and he’s excited about the future. It’s definitely not all laid out for him, but he’s still kind of figuring things out.
It’s great that he’s excited and hopeful about the future. The past couple of years have focused so much on Billy’s “Man Pain.”
I hope so! What I do love about Billy is that he doesn’t really shy away from anything. He goes big and goes high and then he goes low. He can be somewhat all over the place and I think that it can be a little difficult to watch or support him sometimes, but I do like to try to bring as much humanity to him as I possibly can. It is a soap opera, so we’re well within the confines of being a little bit broader and bigger for the dramatic side of things.
But I do really like the times when he’s in a good place. He’s a lot of fun when he is. He’s got a free spirit and is quite jovial. He likes to have a good time, but you know that can sometimes lead him down to paths that aren’t the healthiest for him or the people around him.
There was also a time when Billy was with Phyllis (Gina Tognoni before Michelle Stafford returned to the role) and he was super happy. He was having a great time and he felt like he was in control. I do believe that he is someone who continues to learn more about himself, and I don’t think he’s afraid of doing that.
Where we find him right now is interesting because I feel like he is tapping into some of the choices, decisions, and mistakes, as well as the things that have gone well for him. He’s figuring out how he can be more of service [to others] and how he can be more in tune with what makes himself happy and where he can show up for the people that he loves.
That, I think, goes in hand with his decision about returning to Jabot. He thinks that it’s the right time and that he’s in the right place to take a step in that direction. It can go two ways – it can go from him personally, but also from the show’s aspect. I believe that he’s ready to kind of take on a little bit more responsibility from the Jabot side of things. He’s looked at his father and is starting to emulate him a bit more. From my side, that’s what I see him doing right now. Let’s see how that goes!
Jack has been through that as well, but Jack and Billy are different people. There’s something about John Abbott (who was played by the late Jerry Douglas), and his legacy is something that is very attractive to Billy. I feel like he’s going to start to hone in on that a little bit and tether himself to that kind of future.
Billy recently fermented John in scenes with his nephew Kyle (Michael Mealor). That relationship really has matured. It was refreshing to see the growth.
Yeah, I agree. I really like those scenes. I really enjoy working with Michael as well. [Billy and Kyle] have created their back-and-forth. We’ve still got room for the little jokes, but there comes to a certain point you wonder how much patience Kyle would have for a 40-something man acting the way that Billy does sometimes, whether it’s a relative, friend, or whatever. So, you do have to see an evolution, which is what I love about what we do. You get to see that on the daily and I think the audiences are quick to jump on either bandwagon, like “Oh, I can see that. I like this side of Billy,” or “I don’t like that side, but I can’t stop watching because he’s such a nincompoop! What’s Billy going to do next?”
It’s all those complexities that are really fun with this character. But, yeah, I do see a little bit of a level up in his maturity and how he sees himself, and how he’s showing up in the world. I hope that sticks because I feel like there’s a long runway for him there. Especially on this show, whether it’s the Newmans vs. the Abbotts and the legacy of John Abbott’s family business. You’ve got Jack, Ashley (Eileen Davidson), and Traci (Beth Maitland) – there’s so much there! That family is very rich in terms of storytelling. I think Billy really likes it when he’s in the middle of it all with them. I love all those people as well. I see a little bit more of it in his future!
What was it like coming on to a show like Y&R where Billy not only already had this established history, but also a big family? When you joined General Hospital as Patrick Drake, he was a bit more isolated, although we did get Rick Springfield making a few appearances as Noah Drake.
Yes, Patrick was a little bit more of a lone wolf, for sure. Especially after Robin (Kimberly McCullough) passed away, but then came back… That stuff in between.
It’s different, but it’s amazing. It’s really funny, man. The Newmans vs. the Abbotts – they’re very close and competitive. We Abbotts stick together, as do the Newmans. I love the tension between them because it brings a kind of percolation to the storylines.
I love working with the rest of the Abbott family. I get excited about working with every single one of them, whether it’s stepping into that Jabot office, or the Abbott family living room. You can feel it when you walk into the living room. You know the history and you can feel it [there]. It looks exactly the same as it did back in the day. I went down a rabbit hole a couple of weeks ago watching old episodes about John, and it all looked and felt the same.
I also love having Jill (Jess Walton) as Billy’s mom. She’s a bit of an outlier and Billy being Jill’s son always pulls him a bit out of the inner Abbott family circle.
When you walk onto that set, the support that you get from the other actors, not only on the day-to-day workday, but it’s all the time. They are all just a great, group of people.
What’s it been like working with Jess Walton? Unfortunately, she’s not on as much.
I love working with Jess! We talk all the time. [Laughs]. If I could share some of our text messages, I would. I love our back-and-forth. It’s a real love that we have for each other. I love when she comes back. She’s a fantastic actress. Everybody is just joyful when she’s there. We have a great bond and I think a lot of that comes from Jess. We feel so connected to each other. We’ve had numerous scenes where we’ve just been able to challenge each other, but she always ends up falling back into a place of love – one that you would only have for a child. I feel like she does see me and can really love me as her child. She’s very capable of doing that because she’s a fantastic actress and she’s got a big heart!
There’s not a day that I don’t wish that we worked more together, or that she was just on the canvas more. She brings vitality to every single scene and she’s always a pleasure to watch – and it’s even more fun to actually be in the scene with her. We don’t always know where a scene is going to go, but we always have this trust in each other. We just trust those little moments and it always comes out right in the end. That doesn’t happen with everybody, but it does happen a lot with people on our set because we’re really close. Jess is great.
You spoke to Soap Opera Digest recently about how the Billy and Chelsea pairing could be triggering. I know you weren’t in the role at the time the incident occurred, but I’m sure you did your research on how to approach their history and how Billy was taken advantage of. How do you go about playing that?
Yeah, it was tough. I mean, even for Missy too. There were questions about what the right thing to do was – do we bring it up? Do we not? Do we leave it? Obviously, the decision to touch on it was made, so then you start to think, “OK, well, how am I going to unpack all this at this point [in Billy’s life]? What does it all mean for him?”
And just because they may not have gone that deep, he does have a son that he’s looked at for however old Johnny is now. Close to 14. There are probably not many days or weeks that it doesn’t go through in his head [about how he came to be] … When he’s having breakfast with him or when they are in the car together. This probably comes up for him a lot.
Acknowledging what Chelsea did to Billy was probably the right thing to do. This genre allows us to go to the hard places and we do topical things sometimes. The character history [on these shows] are very long, and yes, we do have revisionist history at times as well. Which can also be part of the genre.
While I wasn’t in the role at the time the storyline took place, I do think about it. But it also depends on what’s on the page. That helps me to understand where things are headed and what the outcome is. It’s the elephant in the room when Billy and Chelsea are together. Knowing what we’ve been through, how do we move forward to a point where they are now?
I think that from Chelsea’s point of view, it’s “How do I move forward and acknowledge the things that I’ve done in my life which have really hurt people and caused dramatic ripples throughout my life and the lives of other people? I have to come to terms with that.”
I know it’s been a long answer, but the challenging thing really is appeasing everyone’s point of view. I can see it from my social media that many people do not like it. Others thought that maybe we shouldn’t really bring it up again, but there are other people that believe that we didn’t do enough to address it. There are people who have been hurt in similar situations that would love to feel represented in a storyline like this and it could help them.
Even going back to the suicide storyline, there were moments where I had to really gather myself before I looked at social media because I never knew what I was going to come across. There were people reaching out for help. When you’re the actor, you’re there [acting it out], but they are the ones who are seeing themselves on the screen.
Missy would say the same. It was quite traumatic some days as some social media messages would be of individuals who were really struggling.
What we do is that we try and hold up a mirror to some of the things that people are going through in this world, but they may not always get to be unpacked to the greatest extent. You’re not always going to get the right answer, unfortunately. It’s difficult to tackle those kinds of storylines or even bring them back up – do we throw gasoline onto a flame, or do we just let it simmer? So knowing that I wasn’t part of that storyline when it happened was challenging, but I like that because I’ve got to take it and filter through what I’ve been through as Billy, and then I get to carry that forward. So, you know, it just becomes part of a deeper, deeper history, which I’m all game for! I like that kind of homework.
What have been some of your most memorable moments from your time on the show?
There are many – including my initial conversation about coming over to the show. You know what this character is like! I spent a month just talking to the writers when I was asked to join. I didn’t originally know that it was for Billy Abbott. I thought that maybe they were just going to write a different character. And then when I found out who I was playing, I did look into his history.
On my first day on set as Billy, I was kind of this ghost. Billy was in a coma, and I was hearing [stories] from all the people who cared about him. Being on the outside that very first day felt very real. Hearing those interactions and stories [from Billy’s loved ones] was amazing. It was an amazing day.
I’ve really enjoyed working with Amelia Heinle (Victoria) as well. She’s amazing. Billy and Victoria have been through a lot and there’s been a lot that’s happened in their relationship.
I also really enjoyed building Billy’s relationship with Christel Khalil’s Lily. From understanding who they were, what they are now and what they could be, in that sort of way. That was super fun. We dealt with the challenges of COVID and continuing storylines where you couldn’t be within six feet of someone. But yet, Billy and Lily built their whole relationship for about a year and a half without actually being more than six feet within each other! That was challenging.
The storyline that I won the Emmy was really great. That was a fun day of work. It was quite heavy but good. Doing scenes like that, where you’re just fighting yourself, you don’t get to do that very often. Then actually winning the Emmy while being at home. The expectations of what you’ve dreamt about – winning an Emmy and what that moment could be – and then the reality of it [winning while you’re at home because of the pandemic] was different.
There are so many moments that I could keep going! They all kind of start popping up! But that’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s just ever-evolving and it just keeps going.
I’m so proud and blessed to be part of it. We’re talking about 50 years! I mean, I’m a blip on those 50 years – to a certain extent. I’m quick to realize that there have been an incredible about of people that have brought their lives into this show. You don’t always realize how much of yourself you give when you’re showing up. Not just from an acting standpoint, but our whole crew. There are camera people who are here from 7:30 in the morning and stay until we’ve wrapped. There are the people in wardrobe, production, PR, writers, directors – there are so many people, and to have been doing this for 50 years, that’s a lot of people who have given a lot of themselves for this show. We do it because we love it. Yes, it’s a job, but it feels incredible to be part of something like that.
You recently launched Rancho West Beer! When is it coming to Canada?
Oh, that’s a good question! Nothing would make me more proud than that, for sure. I would love to bring it up there. We’ll see!
I’m learning all about this [business] and how intricate the distribution side of things are – you know, with the permit process and that kind of stuff. It’s a lot, but we’re really proud of it.
Obviously, I’m a little bit biased, but it tastes fantastic, and we wouldn’t have put it out if it wasn’t. I feel very confident putting it up with any other beer on the market. It tastes amazing and the great mission is to try and do our part to take chemicals out of the agriculture system and just show that there’s a better way to make things.
It’s still beer. We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously! We’re still having a good time. I think I’ve gotten past the age of doing keg stands, so it’s a little bit different now in how I partake. It’s kind of like one or two a week kind of thing [now]. But for us, the beer itself is just really a conduit of trying to bring people together. If we learned anything throughout COVID, it’s how important community is. Just being in communion with people and hanging out, whether it’s sitting around a campfire, or in your backyard, or in your living room – with family, friends, strangers at a bar or restaurant – whatever it is for us, the beer is the conduit.
The mission is to try to get chemicals out of the agriculture system as much as we can because we’ve shown, and we’ve proven that there are better ways [to make it] from a sustainability standpoint. That’s what we’re really trying to strive for. And then from the brand and cultural standpoint, it’s about bringing people together! We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we’re having a really good time doing it.
The Young and the Restless airs weekdays on Global and CBS. Canadians can catch up with episodes on demand, the Global TV app, STACKTV, and at GlobalTV.com.