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Y&R's Jess Walton discusses the tribute to Jeanne Cooper, regime changes and her fondest moments

2013-09-20 Jeevan Brar
Jess Walton (Everett Collection): Photo © Microsoft Photo

The Young and the Restless icon Jess Walton recently spoke with MSN Canada to discuss the recent tributes to both Katherine Chancellor and her portrayer, the legendary Jeanne Cooper. The Emmy award-winning actress also candidly discusses her status at the soap as well as her fondest memories of playing Jill Abbott for the past 26 years.

Let’s talk about the tribute to Jeanne Cooper first – the one that aired in May. This was beautifully done. How did it come together?
It was our executive producer’s idea. I was thrilled with it and I couldn’t have been happier. I thought it was well done. Everybody loved Jeanne so much and they were so thrilled to be a part of it. We were thrilled that her family got to be there, Corbin, Caren and Collin. It was so lucky the way her last episode was.

 You got that last scene with her.
It was like a goodbye episode. We were able to play off that. I really love that they did a tribute to both Kay Chancellor and Jeanne Cooper separately. I think it was really important to honour the actress at the time of her real death and then later to thoughtfully bring in the story of Katherine Chancellor’s death. I thought it was very respectful.

It was also done very quickly. I think within two weeks of Jeanne Cooper’s passing you had this beautiful tribute.
It was done very quickly and it was fresh in everybody’s mind. We were all pretty raw from it. I’m just so thrilled that the show realizes her importance to The Young and the Restless. We’ve got tons and tons of tape on her – I hope they can still include her in episodes every once and a while. You know, when characters think of her.

That was a nice surprise to have her appear to Jill and Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott) at the memorial service.
It was a loved idea!

The recent episodes featuring Katherine Chancellor’s memorial garnered mixed reviews. Many had hoped Katherine’s granddaughter, Mac, should have been there. There were four actresses that could have come back to play her. Phillip (Thom Bierdz), Jill’s son, wasn’t even mentioned at all.
That’s the choice of the producers you know…nothing to do with me. There were several people that could have been brought back.

A lot of people also thought that Billy (Billy Miller) should have been the one to go hug Jill when she broke down instead of Cane (Daniel Goddard).
Yeah…the trouble is, is that Cane was involved in her storyline at that time and that’s the choice that the writers had made. I would have loved for it have been both Cane and Billy, myself! I would have loved to have seen all of her grandchildren there as well. But, we did have a lot of people there, so I guess they had to make their choices.

It was great to see Nikki and Jill get along to plan the memorial. Both have stories where Katherine is sending them on some sort of mysterious quest – will they share screen time again?
I’m hoping so! And I know Melody hopes so too. We’ve been talking about it in the makeup room because a lot of the fans really loved that interaction with the two of them. I love working with Melody, it’s absolutely great. A lot of people have also been urging the Esther (Kate Linder) and Jill thing. They’re really liking that a lot as well. I’m hoping that they’ll follow up on that as well.

The fantasies that Jill and Esther had during the will reading we great.
They were so much fun to do! They’ve had a really good fan response too.

What can you tell us of your current storyline? Katherine’s left her billions to others but Jill’s getting these cryptic objects like the drawing and the music box.
I have no idea where it’s going to go. I’ve heard rumblings and it sounds really intriguing and exciting. I’m sure that whatever road they are going to go down is going to be very satisfying! But I have no idea, they don’t let me know!

Are you on recurring status with the show?
Yes, it is.

Was this a personal choice?
That’s a personal choice. I’m supposed to retired, actually! I had left the show because the last regime didn’t really show much interest in Jill. When Jill Farren Phelps took over, she made it very clear to me that she really was interested in the character of Jill and wanted to bring her back – which is why I came back. But I’m still supposed to be retired! [Laughs] Although, it’s not working out that way!

Selfishly, we’re relieved.
Thank you very much! It’s nice to feel wanted.

Unfortunately former executive producer and head writer Maria Arena Bell dropped the ball. Even with Jill’s pairing with Colin played by Tristan Rogers, which was well received.
Oh, I know. That was my very favourite romance for Jill, ever! I was completely aghast when she let him go. That was actually a big part about why I left.

Jill Farren Phelps has been in charge for about a year now. The show’s already lost Josh Griffith as a head writer. Sony has finally confirmed that Shelly Altman and Jean Passanante will be head writers while Tracey Thomson will be a co-head writers. Passanante is a relative newcomer to this show and four out of the last five soaps she was at have been cancelled. Altman and Thomson are relatively new to the series. Eric Braeden (Victor) himself said that he hoped someone who understood the history of Y&R should be in charge. What are your thoughts on this?
That’s up in my mind too. I really hope they have a consultant who is very familiar with the history of the show. Obviously, that’s important to all of us who love the show and have been on the show a long time. I mean, a certain amount of change is good, but a certain amount of continuity is absolutely essential.

How did you feel about the Fenmore retcon? Jill was suddenly the daughter of Neil Fenmore and Lauren’s half-sister.
I thought it was a strange choice. It didn’t seem to make much sense to me but I have to tell you, I just so relish that relationship with Tracey Bregman (Lauren). I adore her and I love working with her. It seems like we have built up a great fondness for ourselves as sisters. It gives me a very nice feeling to play sisters with her.

It translates well across the screen. I think a lot of fans were initially surprised but the performances made it work.
I’m glad it comes across! I think our fondness for each other and both of the characters need for a sister has really made it work. I thought it was very strange at first too!

Can we expect some romance for Jill? How the hell is Jill Abbott single?
[Laughs] I know! It seems that they don’t remember what Jill’s really about, doesn’t it? That was always pretty uppermost with her. I don’t know, we’ll see! Right now, everything is shifting over and we’ll wait until the dust settles again. I really love what they’ve done with Jill in the Katherine storyline. That makes me very happy and I’ve been treated very well by Jill [Farren Phelps]. I’m very hopeful.

That will come as a relief to a lot of fans as Phelps does have a reputation in the industry and the fact that she cares for you and your character, it’ll send some positive points across.
Yes, I think so because I’ve had nothing but great experiences with her. I’m very fond of her.

You shared that the pairing with Colin was your favourite romance, can you share some of your other favourite storylines or moments?
I really loved that whole Cane storyline when he first came in. That was fantastic! I liked the story where I found out I was Katherine’s daughter. I’ve been there for about 26 years, so there are a lot of stories. I loved the divorce storyline with John Abbott (Jerry Douglas) as well. Basically, any storyline that was heavy with me in it, I love! [Laughs] Because, it gives me something to do and something to play! So really, that’s probably the bottom line.

I adored the Colin storyline. To me, it was Colin and Jill falling in love with the best sides of each other. He came in when she had just lost Cane and was very needy. He came in to use her and he fell in love with her. He was so kind to her that she fell in love with that good side of him. She was at her lowest and softest. These two characters that were actually rotten human beings in certain areas, neither one of them saw that part of each other. They only saw the good. I thought that was so magically about that.

It’s really unfortunate how that ended. Things change, and actors can be brought back.
Things do change and you always have hope!

A lot of fans miss the relationship between Billy and Jill. Jill spends all this time worrying about Cane, who isn’t even her real son. But what about Billy?
Jill and Cane have a natural affinity. He needed a mother so much and came into her life when she was mature enough to give it. Billy and Jill are so difficult because she was so very selfish in his upbringing and it kind of soured him on her so much and they’re very awkward with each other. I mean, she loves him very much! He’s her baby. But they don’t have a decent relationship at all. They don’t spend much time together, it’s all very surface. They’re not a natural match like Cane and Jill are. Jill really feels like Cane’s mother. So, she feels like they are both her sons. But it’s very awkward with Billy. She feels guilty and he meets her with so much anger, almost all the time. And she doesn’t know how to get around that.

I think that’s a rich storyline to explore and play out.
Yeah, that would be great. I hope they do pick up on that!

The Young and the Restless airs weekdays on Global and CBS. Canadian fans can also keep up to date with Y&R on, through On Demand and mobile devices using the Global Go app.

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