Michelle Stafford left her Emmy-winning role as Phyllis Newman on The Young and the Restless in July to “try new things.” First up: The Stafford Project, a hilarious web series starring Michelle as “Michelle” – a single soap star who has a baby daughter via surrogate and then tries to date in loopy L.A. Coincidence?
Carolyn: How did the web series come about?
Michelle: It evolved from the five years that I was trying to get a child: Going through adoption, should I do it myself or use a surrogate? That whole journey was so insane. Every time I turned around, some new situation was blowing up in my face. After Natalia came, I remember telling somebody at work, “Oh my God, that wasn’t even the hard part. Doing it as a single chick, working long hours on a soap opera with a newborn at home and not having help, THAT’S hard.” I chose not to have help at night, this is not a complaint. But I remember that first year being so exhausted – and then trying to date. I went on a blind date when Natalia was four months old, and I told the guy I had a baby at home. He said, “Cool.” Wait – you don’t have any questions about that? Me having a baby at home? It’s so hard being a filthy whore AND being a nurturing mother [laughs]. I couldn’t mesh the two.
Carolyn: The Stafford Project sure shows you trying.
Michelle: Right? My friend Paige, who is a writer and producer, said, “I don’t know one person who has done it this way. A heterosexual single chick who has done what you’ve done.” This journey was riddled with so many traps and such degradation. But with time, it turned comical. The Stafford Project is a more exaggerated version of what happened to me, but it all really happened.
Carolyn: The first two episodes are a riot. Will any Y&R stars appear in future shows?
Michelle: Josh Morrow (Nick Newman) is in the third episode, coming out this weekend. He is f—ing GENIUS.
Carolyn: Who does he play?
Michelle: He plays another soap actor who works with Michelle. He believes he is always acting and all the women want him. At every moment, he feels the camera is on him. The world revolves around him. Josh is so hilarious, you won’t believe it. He is laugh-out-loud funny.
Carolyn: What’s the premise of the episode?
Michelle: Michelle is getting her hair done and he comes into the salon. He basically tells her she’s not getting it done at work and she needs acting lessons. He is so repulsive to her! Sincerely, episode three is The Josh Morrow Show. He’s awesome. (Watch here: www.thestaffordproject.com)
Carolyn: PHICK fans will love that. Was it hard to walk out of the CBS studio after 16 years? Give me one word that describes it.
Michelle: Stunned. I was stunned that it was happening. That was my last day, and it was over. I had a dream years ago when all the soaps were being canceled that our show was canceled. It was so devastating to me in the dream because I loved everyone so much. I woke up and said, “Oh thank God, it was just a dream.” You have to understand that the greatest thing about Y&R is the people who work there. The crew and the other actors. I love them so much.
Carolyn: Then why leave?
Michelle: You can’t stay somewhere because you love the people. I have goals for my career. It was hard, but it was time. I told Josh and George [Guzman, Y&R’s hair stylist who is also in episode three] that what I miss the most is having lunch with them. Josh said, “So come have lunch with us!” Maybe I will.
Carolyn: Who else besides Josh in the soap world has been supportive of The Stafford Project?
Michelle: Finola Hughes, Crystal Chappell, Galen Gering, Christian LeBlanc, Kristoff St. John, Angelica McDaniel [head of CBS Daytime], Nadia Bjorlin, Nancy Grahn, Frank Valentini [EP of GH], Ron Carlivati [head writer of GH]. Frank and Ron tweeted that people should watch, they are really cool guys. Ron was one of the first to tweet that the show was good. It was so sweet.
Carolyn: CBS couldn’t have been happy when you left, so good for Angelica McDaniel for being so supportive.
Michelle: Yes. I was very upfront with her when I left. I told her, “Listen, I really want to do comedy.” She told me, “I’m on your side. I will always be your cheerleader at CBS.” She’s been great. She also tweeted about The Stafford Project.
Carolyn: If Y&R decides to recast Phyllis, would you want a heads-up from CBS?
Michelle: It’s not their job to call me and tell me if they recast, I have no contract with them. Honestly, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t mean that in a bitchy way. When I left the show, I left without any malice. Now I’m doing other things. The character of Phyllis belongs to Sony and they can do what they want.
Carolyn: That’s very mature. I’ve heard stories of actors quitting and then getting mad that their role got recast.
Michelle: That’s immaturity. If you feel an emotional connection to your show, then you should go back. My feeling is you’ve got to leave and be done. If I got a divorce, I wouldn’t tell my ex-husband he couldn’t date anyone.
Carolyn: I heard that another soap approached you. What can you say about that?
Michelle: This is how I see it: “We’d love to have you” is different from calling my agent and saying, “We have an offer for you.” It would be a tough thing for me to do this project and do a soap right now. You know, you’re doing Tainted Dreams. I’m creating, writing, funding, scouting locations, casting, picking out props, plus picking up my daughter. It’s so fun and creative, but it’s a lot.
Carolyn: How is The Stafford Project doing?
Michelle: We’ve had over 150,000 views cumulatively on the first two episodes and the trailer and it’s only been three weeks. People who didn’t know me from Y&R are watching. But I have to give props to the fans who watched me on Y&R. They are completely watching many times. They’re the most amazing fans ever!
Carolyn: How will you measure success?
Michelle: You always want a big production company to pick up your project and put you on payroll. I’d like someone to develop it for TV – 150,000 views in three weeks is very desirable for a network.
Carolyn: What’s next?
Michelle: We have 11 shows, the last is a two-parter. Since it’s based on my life, we came up with the most interesting stories to tell about this woman and her experiences – no matter how odd or quirky – to make the audience care. Comedy or drama, the audience has to care.
Carolyn: Like they did about Phyllis. Did you take anything from the set on your last day that belonged to her?
Michelle: That is such a great question. At my going-away party, people said, “Did you take your clothes?” No. They were shocked, “Why not?” Because they’re not mine. That would be like stealing. Phyllis had a pair of black jeans that fit me SO well. I’m bummed now.
Carolyn: Who else is going to wear those jeans around Genoa City with your ass print?
Michelle: Lord have mercy, they have my ass print.
For more on Michelle’s life and projects, check out her blog “Doing it as a single chick” at http://www.michellestafford.com/