Michelle Stafford left her Emmy-winning role as Phyllis Newman on The Young and the Restless last July to “try new things.” First up was The Stafford Project, a hilarious web series that earned her a boatload of critical acclaim and over half a million views on YouTube. Next up was shocking fans by waking up as Nina Clay on General Hospital. The action picks up this Tuesday (June 3) when Nina starts to reclaim her life. Brace yourselves…
Carolyn: Tell me about your first day on GH.
Michelle: You mean when they snuck me in the studio for the surprise scene when Nina woke up? I wore a hat and glasses and I was there for 10 minutes. That was technically my first day. Ten minutes… that was a great work day [laughs].
Carolyn: Okay, tell me about your second day. Were you nervous?
Michelle: No. It’s funny, I only get nervous when I have doubt about what I’m doing. I like this character so much, and I was really excited to start playing her.
Carolyn: What were your first scenes like?
Michelle: We actually shot something that airs after my first appearance, something to air later on. The way GH films is, they pull your scenes from the script so that you only know your scenes from the day that you work. So I don’t know what other people are doing.
Carolyn: That’s how EP Frank Valentini keeps secrets.
Michelle: I guess so! I had a lot of scripts so I knew what was going on with my character. Ron [Carlivati, head writer], Frank and I spoke at length about what was going to happen in the beginning, so I knew what they wanted from me. Ron is not a careful writer. He GOES for it. So I don’t want to be careful. I’m going all out, because then if it’s too much they can bring me down. We’re finding the character together. Ron writes to your strengths. He watches you and gets ideas from you, so you’re doing it together. That’s so important for a head writer.
Carolyn: So you just walked into GH and threw down?
Michelle: Yes. I figured I’ll come in and do it, and if I suck Frank will tell me.
[Valentini responds: “There’s no chance Michelle Stafford could suck. And in fact, she’s amazing as Nina Clay.”]
Carolyn: How was it being on a new set with new people playing a new role?
Michelle: Frank directed the scenes which made me feel very at ease. He’s a really good director. I’ve known Frank a long time. He has a vision for the character, and a very strong viewpoint. I really like that in an executive producer, I think that is so necessary. I’m sure people know this about Frank, but he’s on set all the time. And I agree with all his notes!
Carolyn: Not all actors like being given notes from the director or producer.
Michelle: No, but I love it. He walked up to me at one point and said, “I need you to be more vulnerable.” I get that. I’m really good with, “Be funnier,” “Do it faster,” “Be better.”
Carolyn: “Be better”?!
Michelle: I know what he means by that. Listen, Carolyn, you don’t hit it out of the park every time. You go for it, but you don’t always hit it. Sometimes an actor makes a splash on one show and then comes onto a new show expecting they’re going to make another splash. But you have to start each new job anew. I’m the new kid on the block. I am at GH to aid story.
Carolyn: How is your dressing room?
Michelle: Very nice. I just figured out how to work the temperature because it was freezing. I thought it had to stay like that – “Oh God, this is going to be tough” – but I’ve got it now.
Carolyn: How are the people?
Michelle: Cool. They’re really happy to have me there, which feels great. Maura [West, Ava] was texting me before I got there saying, “I saw your dressing room. I’m so excited you’re going to be here. You’re going to love it!” Finola [Hughes, Anna] and Nancy [Grahn, Alexis] texted me too, of course. Everybody in hair and makeup is really cool, too. They’re all very professional.
Carolyn: How is working with Michael Easton [who plays Nina’s husband, Silas]?
Michelle: Amazing. I took his parking place one day and I want to publicly apologize for that. They gave me his spot; I think they just saw the “M.” He’s really smart. He’s a writer himself… God, there’s so much I want to say about our conversations but if I tell you it will give away the character. There’s so little I can say!
Carolyn: Well, we know that Nina has been in a coma for 20 years, her husband Silas cheated on her with Ava and they had a daughter Kiki, and we just saw her wake up from a coma. Or do we just think she woke up then?
Michelle: You probably did just see her wake up.
Carolyn: Nina sure looked pretty for a chick that was asleep for 20 years.
Michelle: Didn’t she? [Laughs]
Carolyn: With Donna Mills as her mother, she was not going to let Nina go to hell.
Michelle: That’s a good one. Funny you bring this up. I did my research on people in comas for a long time. They have no muscle tone. They can’t speak. They don’t get motor skills back.
Carolyn: Obviously you can’t play her as a blob for a year, it’s a soap opera. What about your hair?
Michelle: I had a bunch of blonde highlights in my hair when I got the role. I looked like I had been in a coma in Malibu. So I put this brown wash over my hair to make it mousey. I also stayed out of the sun because I didn’t want to look all glow-y. I don’t come in glamorous. But at the same time, when Nina goes to see her husband she’s going to make sure she looks good. She was in a coma, but she’s still a woman. There’s so much you can get away with on Daytime TV!
Carolyn: Please. Characters are shot in the head and the next day they have a band-aid. Kids grow up overnight. Characters are recast…
Michelle: That’s the deal. The story moves on. If I came out of a coma after 20 years, I’m not sure my go-to would be to get all sexy and hot. But we’ve got to have drama!
Carolyn: How is your story with Silas and Sam [Kelly Monaco]?
Michelle: It’s OUR story, not my story. It’s important that they kick ass and I kick ass. I already told you about Michael, and Kelly is amazing. I really like my scenes with her. I haven’t seen them yet. I hope they’re good.
Carolyn: Is it just the three of you in scenes?
Michelle: Yes, at this point it’s a threesome.
Carolyn: Will fans be surprised by Nina?
Michelle: Oh, yeah. I think so. The promo that’s airing now (http://daytimeconfidential.com/2014/05/28/watch-out-port-charles-nina-clay-wants-to-reclaim-her-life-on-general-hospital-promo) has a lot of people saying, “Oh, she’s going to start trouble.” Well, imagine if you came out of a coma and had a husband that didn’t file for divorce all those years. So you’re still married, but he’s in love with someone else. Then, you find out your mom put you in the coma. Everyone has moved on, which pisses you off because you’re still stuck there.
Carolyn: Madeline put Nina in the coma because she didn’t want her to have Silas’s baby. Is that kid alive?
Michelle: I don’t know anything about that.
Carolyn: Anything else you want to tell me?
Michelle: Um… yes. Ryan Paevey [Nathan] is a doll! I am so happy to be doing the brother-sister relationship with him. I really like Ron’s take on that. He is so lovely to work with. It’s easy for me to think of him as my little brother.
Carolyn: Have you worked with your fave Ilene Kristen yet?
[Note: In my book “Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter,” Michelle talked about being a fan of Ryan’s Hope and said Ilene Kristen is one of the main reasons she became an actress. “I felt very connected to the character of Delia on Ryan’s Hope because she was so broken,” said Stafford in the book. “No one understood her, and she was trying so hard to be understood. All she was trying to do was fit in, and she couldn’t. No one wanted her to. I loved that.”]
Michelle: I haven’t worked with Ilene yet. But I have stalked her. I saw her across the commissary and I was like, “Oh my God, my idol!” She is a great broad and a true actress.
Carolyn: And there is no higher compliment.