The Young and the Restless is gearing up to celebrate its 50th anniversary next March. Before the show became all about the Abbotts and the Newmans, series creator William J. Bell told the stories of the Foster and Brooks families. Jill Foster Abbott (two-time Daytime Emmy-winner Jess Walton) has been on the series since its inception. Recently, Walton sat down to reflect on 35 years as Jill.
Soap Hub: We saw on social media that you were back at the show taping. Fans can’t get enough of you on Y&R. You’ve been involved in some many great storylines over the years.
Jess Walton: I love talking with [fans] about the show. They’re really into the show. I’m a little bit active on social media. I’ll put blurbs and pictures out about my life.
Soap Hub: You wrapped up on Capitol, which went off the air on March 20, 1987, and a few months later, you’re playing Jill Foster Abbott. What was that whirlwind time like for you?
Jess Walton: I was pretty upset about Capitol’s cancellation. I was used to the security. I felt like I could finally relax. Things were very episodic. Working on Capitol was ongoing, and the closest I could come to doing repertory theater. Then, it wrapped. I thought, ‘Well. Okay.’ A few months later, I was airing on Y&R as Jill. But it felt like forever. When the news came down about Capitol, I thought [my husband] John and I can take our kids to Europe. But I felt so depressed about Capitol. John gave me the best advice. He said, ‘Be grateful.’ He said, ‘When you see someone driving a jaguar, be grateful for your Volkswagen.’ I remember taking that advice, being grateful, and then the call for Y&R came out of nowhere.
Soap Hub: In my opinion, when I watch you, I see that you truly immerse yourself into Jill. How did you get a handle on her?
Jess Walton: Ed Scott, [who was Y&R’s executive producer and is now supervising producer at The Bold and the Beautiful], God love him, when a new character came on, he’d be out on the floor all the time giving notes and helping [the actor] shape the character. I didn’t get inside Jill’s head right away because I felt they were still writing for Brenda [Dickson]. I couldn’t say the words the way that she said them. It took me forever to learn the scenes. I said one day to Terry Lester, who was playing Jack [Abbott] at the time, ‘Do you have any advice?’ He said, ‘have more fun with it.’ I loved working with Jeanne [Cooper, Katherine Chancellor] from the beginning. She was put off I didn’t want to watch any tapes of Brenda. But I had already done that with Michael Corbett [ex-David Kimball], whom I adore.
After about a year, I felt I sunk into the character. The other day I worked with Jason [Thompson, Billy Abbott]. He’s the same age as my real son [Cole]. I forgot it was Jill and Jason. It felt like Jess and my son Cole. I remember going through the second divorce with John Abbott [Jerry Douglas]. The characters were having an argument. It was so intense that I forgot I was Jess. I just thought we were Jill and John.
Soap Hub: That’s the immersion I observe.
Jess Walton: (Laughs) Sometimes! You know when it’s hard? When you have a lot of lines. The luxury of doing 5 or 6 takes [is no more]. What I love is rehearsal. I love rehearsing with the other actors. That still happens, thank God.
Soap Hub: Not long after you came on, Jill and Katherine teamed up against Nina [Webster, Tricia Cast]. There were days Kay and Jill were outnumbered! Nina is so forceful!
Jess Walton: She is a powerhouse. I remember a scene where we had dollar bills all over the place for Nina. Jill and Katherine realized there was a naval base on Guam, so that’d be a great place to send Nina. I look back on those scenes with Jeanne…talk about immersion! We’d spend time building to the punchlines, seeing which one of us would have the upper hand.
One time, I came into the living room at the mansion. Katherine was lying on the sofa. Jill walked in, didn’t see her, and threw her coat on top of the sofa, and it landed on Katherine. She turned the lights on and was picking pieces of my coat out of her mouth. One of the fun things was to go online and see that scene in Germany or France and see our fights in different languages.
Soap Hub: Jill had a rival for John’s affections in Mamie Johnson (Veronica Redd), the Abbott housekeeper.
Jess Walton: I loved working with her and being mistress of the Abbott house. I loved being ‘Queen of the Abbott’ clan! I think of that every time I walk by the Abbott mansion set. Mamie irritated Jill from the beginning. I loved working with Veronica. We had so much fun together.
Soap Hub: Jill having Billy cemented her place in the Abbott family.
Jess Walton: I loved it. On Capitol, I played Kelly, a hooker. She had Trey’s [Nicholas Walker] child [only it wasn’t really his]. She wasn’t a member of a core family. When I played Jill, she was a member of a core family. It was great. It made me feel good.
Soap Hub: Did you ever meet James Lipton, the head writer of Capitol?
Jess Walton: Yes. Kelly was going cold turkey, and she was living with the doctor, Thomas [played by Michael Catlin]. She’d been clean for a few weeks. There was a scene where, as Kelly, I put my hand on the pocket of my robe, and I found a pill. The camera went to my face. After I did that scene, this man — James Lipton — came to my dressing room. He said, ‘you are a wonderful actress.’ He went on and on. Capitol had a big turnover of producers. Years later, I saw him on Inside the Actors Studio and thought, ‘Oh, my God. That’s the man who came to my dressing room!’
Soap Hub: A case of mistaken identity.
Jess Walton: After I started on Y&R, I asked Tom Palmer, the casting director, how I was doing on the show. He asked me, ‘Has anyone said anything to you?’ I said no. He said, ‘Well, then you’re doing fine.’ That happened about three times. I finally said to him. I love your daughter. He said I don’t have one. I thought I’d been talking to Bill Bell [Y&R’s head writer/sr. executive producer/creator], and I was referring to Lauralee [Bell, Cricket Blair].
Soap Hub: That’s funny. Do you recall your first Daytime Emmy win in 1991 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for playing Jill? I believe the story was Katherine exposing Jill for playing John and Rex Sterling (Quinn Redeker) against one another, and she lost them both.
Jess Walton: When I read one of the scenes, I thought, how am I going to do this? I think there was a letter between either Jill and John or Rex. Jill threw a huge fit in the middle of the hotel where she lived. She ranted and raved at this poor bellhop. I’d never done anything like that. The scene where Jill got caught – that was Bill Bell’s genius. Barbara Crampton, who played Leanna Love, was in the scene. It was genius. It was like a ballet the way Bill choreographed it.
Check back for Part 2 of our interview with Jess Walton as Y&R prepares to turn 50, and she celebrates 35 years in Genoa City!
The Young and the Restless (YR) airs weekdays on CBS. Check your local listings for airtimes. For more about what’s coming up in Genoa City, check out all the latest that’s been posted on Y&R spoilers, and for an in-depth look at the show’s history, click here.
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