Looking over how Phyllis has both grown and regressed over the past six years is a testament to the writer’s ability to understand Phyllis and her motivations at her core. She has nothing but respect for Gina Tognoni and her portrayal of Phyllis. She watched episodes of her Tognoni’s work, and she was impressed. “The writing for Phyllis has changed because it’s been different for 6 years. It changes with the story, with different actors. I love the challenge of playing Phyllis a little bit differently every time. The writers really guide the way you play it now.” When asked if some of the acting choices were her own or if the writers tell her how to play a scene, “They give tweaks, but they mainly trust us. It’s pretty obvious in the writing and I have a tendency to ‘Go Big or Go Home’ so sometimes they’ll pull me down. (Laughs) They make me go home.”
During a SOD podcast taping, she mentioned the worst thing is that people become complacent when it comes to a character. “The worst thing is that they go ‘Oh it’s another show.’ I’d rather have people go ‘God, that Phyllis is a bitch and I bet Michelle Stafford is exactly like her.’ I’m cool with it. I’d rather have that than people go ‘Oh, it’s another episode of The Young and the Restless’ in a bored tone.” Her main intent is to make people have some type of reaction to Phyllis. “My goal is to have people hate Phyllis or to love Phyllis, to feel some kind of passion for my character. It’s like in a relationship: I’d rather burnout, just crash and burn, than to be boring and stale.”
Nick and Phyllis are two consenting adults, so when asked why Summer has such a problem with her parents being together, Stafford postulates it’s because they’ve crashed and burned so many times. She said to look at Phick from Summer’s point of view. “Can you imagine being the kid where your parents get married and then they divorced while you were young? Then he goes back to his ex-wife, has a kid with his ex-wife, and then wants to marry the sister of your mother? And then goes with another woman? Can you imagine growing up with that? And then they get back together again and then they hate each other, then they get back together. She’s just OVER it. If I were Summer, I’d be like ‘just get married and make it happen or stay away from each other.’ I’d be over it, too.
Queried about whether there would be some action and adventure with Phick in the future or just them making out all the time, she reiterated that, with COVID, they can’t do that. “So what? Y’all are gonna be looking lustfully at each other from across the room?” She laughed and agreed. When reminded that Phyllis and Nick are happy and they’re never allowed to be happy for long, she conceded she doesn’t know where the relationship is going. “COVID probably changed some long-term stories. It’s going to be a challenge for the writers” in regard to revamping storylines.
One of the more exciting things to happen to Phyllis is her friendship with Amanda Sinclair played by the beautiful Mishael Morgan. Stafford teases there will be some good Amanda and Phyllis scenes coming up in the future. “I loved Hilary and Phyllis’ friendship with Gina and Mishael. I thought it was a really great relationship. I’m looking forward to Phyllis continuing on with having a female friend. The writing for Phyllis and Amanda is interesting for me and I love working with Mishael. She’s amazing and such a sweetheart. Just real. We’re building that relationship and I like it. It’s a real girl-relationship.”
She laughed at the wonkiness of Amanda having a crazy ex running around and Phyllis dipping out to go to the hospital to be with Nick. “I saw that on paper and was like ‘What?!?’ When we were rehearsing, I was like ‘Oh my God, what a horrible friend!’ Phyllis is like “I gotta go. You’re okay now. Lock the door.’” Stafford conceded it would have been great to have Phyllis stay and have a real girl conversation about Amanda’s ex and all the emotions she was experiencing. When asked about how interesting it will be to see what happens with Billy and Amanda seeing as Phyllis was in a relationship previously with Billy. “There has to be a Billy on the show. I really like Jason (Thompson) and what he’s done for the Billy character. Billy tries to get it right and he just never does, you know?” I keep waiting for Phyllis to shade the hell out of Billy and it hasn’t happened. “To me, they’re writing it like she doesn’t see it; she doesn’t see anything going on with Amanda and Billy.”
When asked if the hotel storyline would have a speedy resolution, she said there will be more of it in the future. “Hopefully I can make it really fun for y’all. That’s the goal, but honestly, I think we’re still playing out all the storylines that were in place prior to the COVID situation. You know me. I go with the flow and make it as entertaining as I feel I can. I hope people dig it.”
When asked about her TV son, Stafford has nothing but positives to say about Michael Graziadei that she affectionately refers to as “The Graz.” “We need him back. I love him. I would love for Summer to have some interaction with her brother, Daniel. “I think The Graz would be open for it and I know Josh (Griffith) really likes him. Let’s make this happen. ”
During a discussion about the changes in Phyllis when she first hit the streets of Genoa City and now, the biggest takeaway is that she isn’t as reactionary. She’s matured a bit. She doesn’t automatically just run you over with a car, but when I said she’s still a little bit petty, Stafford laughed and said “Only a little bit? I like vindictive Phyllis. I like petty Phyllis. There’s gotta be somebody on the show. I don’t mind her being hated. I don’t even mind people hating Phyllis, thinking I’m like Phyllis, and hating Michelle Stafford because I don’t care. My goal is to entertain folks.”
It’s very different now than it has been. “I really like messed up Phyllis. I’m always trying to find where she’s screwed up within a scene, build and play off that. I’d like to see her screw up more. Other people probably feel the same way, but I just come out and say it.” She opines that it’s fun when your character is flawed. “Breakups are really fun to play–the hurt and the angst. I know Josh (Morrow) and I love to play the breakup and the hurt and pain. Playing two people in love, you HAVE to really play that up in order to get the real payoff when you break up. When it’s really good story and my character is flawed and screwing up, I’m there.”
She relates the ebbs and flows of breaking up and the inevitable hurt and pain to the character of Nina Reeves that she played on General Hospital. “ I really liked the relationship with Nina and Valentin. He was ALWAYS going to screw her over, ALWAYS, but I think as an audience member it was hard to constantly watch.” Also hard to watch: the scenes where Nina was ripping into Willow.
“In the real world, a stepmom coming in and doing all that you’d be like, ‘I have nothing to say to you; you’re not the mother.’ That was the one problem I had with that storyline: her actual mother, Lulu, was not around.” Stafford knew of the speculation that Nina and Willow would be mother and daughter and thought it was going to go that way before she left but also thought it was smart that they changed it. “Different actors bring something different to the party so going with Nelle being the daughter is interesting.” She loves that the audience knows Nelle is Nina’s daughter but no one else does, “I love stories like that where the audience knows but no one else knows as long as it doesn’t drag on too long.”
Commenting on her time on GH, “It was a great job. It was great working on GH. I loved Nina, I loved everyone I worked with. I know I sound like a girl scout; I’m not trying to. I loved that gig. When I was at GH, people kept waiting for me to talk mess about Y&R. I loved Y&R. There was nothing bad. I think people were looking for something bad because they couldn’t understand why I would go. I still talk to my homies there; there’s nothing bad to say.”
Much as she watched Y&R after she departed, she admits she’s seen some episodes of GH and has nothing but praise for Cynthia Watros who took over the role of Nina when Stafford returned to Y&R. “I love what Cynthia is doing. She’s so good. I wish I saw her more. I wish there was more of her on the show because she’s so good. Different actors bring a different dynamic. I only worked with Ingo (Rademacher) for three weeks, but I like what they’ve done.”
As we wrapped, I asked what advice 2020 Michelle would give to 1994 Michelle. She thought for a second and then replied, “Save your money. That’s what she’d say to that girl because 2020 is going to be a mofo.”