Y&R's Michael Damian dishes on his new film, High Strung, and his dream Genoa City return

Posted Monday, April 04, 2016 11:19:04 AM
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Y&R's Michael Damian dishes on his new film, High Strung, and his dream Genoa City return

The Young and the Restless' Michael Damian (ex-Danny Romalotti) opens up about creating his killer dance film, High Strung; what he'd want for a Genoa City return; and how fans can pretty much blame the French for convincing him to leave daytime.

Ask any soap star what their dream storyline scenario might be, and more often than not, they'll say they want to play the villain who makes other characters' lives utterly complicated. But not The Young and the Restless' Michael Damian (ex-Danny Romalotti), who tells Soap Central he'd rather Danny not make waves if and when he returns to Genoa City. Keep reading to find out why, as well as exclusive details on his upcoming dance film, High Strung (in theaters beginning Friday, April 8), which tells the story of a hip-hop violinist and a classical dancer who embark on a music and dance-filled romance in New York City.

soapcentral.com: Hey there, Michael. How are you?

Michael Damian: Hey! I'm well, thank you. How is Soap Central in command?

soapcentral.com: It's going really well. There is always some kind of crazy soap drama, and as you might imagine, it never seems to slow down.

Damian: I love it. And I hear the shows are doing really well. Especially the Y&R ratings. They're going up and up and up higher than they have been the last couple of years.

soapcentral.com: Yes, that's true. Everybody is using the word "resurgence," and we really couldn't be happier, especially with so many shows being cancelled in recent years. And the fans are happy, as well, obviously. I'm sure you know firsthand how passionate soap opera fans are about the genre.

Damian: Oh, they're amazing! I think [the networks] are now realizing that soap operas are the real reality shows. I mean, look at Victor Newman [Eric Braeden]!

soapcentral.com: Oh, for sure! Especially given the last couple of weeks with his courtroom drama. It's been crazy -- like Making A Murderer! Do you ever check back in with the show and see what's happening?

Damian: Oh, really? I love it. And yes, I watch it at the gym when I'm on the treadmill. I've got to keep in the loop, because everywhere I go, people [ask me questions about storyline], and if I don't have an answer, they get mad. So I stay prepared! And they know I pop into Genoa City from time to time. They're so great. They're the most loyal fans I've ever, ever experienced. They're amazing.

soapcentral.com: And what's really, really great about your soap fans is that they'll follow you to other projects, as well. They really care, and of course they always wish you'll come back to the show, but you kind of have a lifelong built-in fan base.

Damian: Oh, yeah, they supported me when I played Joseph [in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat] on Broadway and in L.A., and all the music I've had out. They've been incredible. And all the movies we've made, the last 13 movies I've made. I get tweets every day with people saying, "Hey, I bought Flicka!" or "I saw this, I saw that." They've been amazing, and I'm very fortunate.

soapcentral.com: High Strung hasn't come out yet, but the trailer has been released. Have you gotten a lot of fan comments about what people have been able to see so far?

Damian: Oh, yeah. They're following us everywhere, they're part of our High Strung Street Crew, they're recruiting other people, they're putting up posters. They're incredible. They're ready to come out in full force. I'm really, really excited about having that core following that is still with me. It means a great deal.

soapcentral.com: How long have you been working on High Strung?

Damian: I would say probably a year and a half.

soapcentral.com: And what do you think about how it how it all came together?

Damian: Oh, it surpassed, and we had really super high expectations. Landing the incredible leads that we got, Keenan Kampa is one of the most amazing ballerinas in the world. She's the only American ever to be accepted to the Mariinsky Ballet Company of Russia, and finding someone like that? She's extraordinary, so you're going to see world-class ballet in the movie. Dave Scott, one of the most amazing choreographers who's done Step Up, So You Think You Can Dance, You Got Served, Stomp the Yard, some of the great legendary dance movies. The beautiful and talented Jane Seymour to play the tough-love teacher. And Nicholas Galitzine, who I can't wait for America to see, is a young British up and comer. He was just voted Star of Tomorrow in the UK, and he's this really deep, really wonderful actor who plays Johnnie. So we've got some really great people in the film. And 65 dancers that we found all over the world, so that was amazing. The songs are incredible. We have 13 dance numbers in the movie, and so we have all these different songs, and putting that soundtrack together was amazing. I can't wait for the soundtrack to come out, as well. It was quite an experience.

soapcentral.com: I saw a little tidbit about Nicholas saying he thinks you really took a chance on him because he actually didn't know how to play the violin. So what did you see in him that made you want to cast him?

Damian: Oh, absolutely. He came to the audition, and he was so well prepared. He's a musician, a guitar player, and I could just see his commitment. We saw the acting was amazing, and I could just see his musicality and how technical he was, so we just figured, once we got him an amazing teacher [he could play the part]. And just so you know, whoever we hired, we would have had our composer, who's an amazing guy, Nathan Lanier, compose and score and also play all the parts. So no matter who played the role, Nathan would have created the score anyway. So what we did was we put Nathan in an amazing boot camp with an incredible teacher to work on technique of fingering and bowing, which is really the hard part. And I have to say, by the time we finished shooting, he was playing the parts, he looked amazing, and people I think are going to be really surprised to see how he adapted so beautifully.

soapcentral.com: Were you pretty integral to the casting process?

Damian: For feature films, the director should be right there and make all the final decisions, because you really have to have one vision for the movie, and that's when you get into a thing where things start to look a little choppy and little bit mixed up and abstract, if it's not one clear vision. My job is to hire people that are smarter than me! People who are smarter and more talented and more creative that I can work with. I have to be the conductor.

soapcentral.com: Was filming this project quite a challenge, considering there are a lot of song and dance numbers, or did it seamlessly come together?

Damian: I've directed music videos, and so I knew we basically had a movie and 13 music videos that had to be put together so it didn't feel choppy and it had one feel and moved the story. That was the most important thing; the story has to keep moving, the story about these two young people in New York, passionate young people, trying to pursue their dreams, meeting and encounter[ing] this amazing dance crew, and how these three worlds collide. It needed to follow how they move together, and follow the love story and really just go on a journey with them. The only difference is you have to have all the music pre-done, written, recorded, ready for playback on the set, and then you treat that segment, that music, like a music video but not, because it is still a film, and the story has to be always moving forward. It can't be just images strung together. It has to have a cohesive story. But technically it's like a music video with dance numbers. I was ready for this. I was excited, and I couldn't wait to do it.

soapcentral.com: Has your background with soap operas affected you or helped you in any way in your career as a director?

Damian: Oh, all the time! Absolutely. Working with marvelous directors and writers and producers. Just starting right at the top, [Y&R co-creator] Bill Bell is an incredible storyteller, and I tell you what I learned on The Young and the Restless: I learned that you have to move fast, and when you're shooting a movie, you have to move even faster, so it prepared me to be organized. I'll never forget, my first day on The Young and the Restless, the director, Frank Pacelli -- and keep in mind, I had never acted on a TV show or a movie, nothing; I was 17 -- I'll never forget he gave me some blocking, like, "Okay, now go over there and then say this line and cross to there," and I was like, "Okay, okay." And he goes, "Why aren't you writing this down?" And I said, "Oh, I can remember." And he goes, "No, you need to make notes in your script next to your line," so he got a pen for me and started marking his directions all over in my script, and from that day forward [I took his advice]. And now I sometimes hear myself emulating Frank Pacelli, saying, "Did you write that down? Where's your script? Where are your notes?" [Laughs] It's pretty cool. It came full circle. The Young and the Restless was my boot camp. I was thrown into the blender while it was on high speed, and it was pretty cool. I loved it.

soapcentral.com: What made you decide to focus on directing rather than acting? I'm sure your soap fans are happy for you, but they miss you on-screen, as well.

Damian: I think it started when I created and produced a pilot called Red Eye. We were trying to get a project for me as an actor, and we produced it and put the whole thing together, but we were having trouble finding a director. I had made a short film prior to that, so I was already in love with directing and I was learning a lot and studying and shooting and I'd even bought a couple of film cameras. This was all on 16mm film, so I was editing and cutting and mixing it. I knew mixing aspects from my music career, so I was sort of involved. I just wanted to learn as much as I could from all aspects. And I'm still learning. And then, what happened was, we could not find a director [for Red Eye] with the budget we had. We were in France, shooting on location, and the producers we were working with said they had an idea for me to direct it, and I really didn't want to because I was acting in it, but they said, "No, no, you have to because you've already been orchestrating it and putting these casting sessions together, and you know the look and the feel and design and the production and the wardrobe," so that was sort of the beginning. So I directed the pilot Red Eye, and then from then on, it just started to take off, and High Strung is our 13th film. It's fun. You get to work with everybody: producers, actors, everyone. As an actor, you're not in the post-production phase. You don't do all the editorial, color balance, scoring, and marketing. You're just there for the work and the PR events you're brought on to appear at. But it's really fun [being the director], because you get to work on all aspects.

soapcentral.com: Now that you have all this experience, does it feel different when you come back to Y&R? You were last there for Katherine Chancellor's [Jeannie Cooper] funeral, right?

Damian: First of all, that was a tough appearance, the last one. But it was bittersweet because I loved being with everybody, and I could feel the warmth. I could feel Jeanne's spirit with us, and [her son] Corbin was there. It was really a special moment and a bittersweet shoot. But really, I'm so glad I was there to be a part of it. But no, it's a different technique and a different way of shooting. The way they shoot The Young and the Restless is extraordinary. How they do it is remarkable, five shows a week. Film style is completely different. We're lucky if we shoot eight pages in a day, whereas The Young and the Restless shoots 55 or whatever in a day. It's an amazing setup they have going on over there, how organized it all is.

soapcentral.com: You started so young, so it must feel like a second family.

Damian: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I had some great times. Great, great memories.

soapcentral.com: I know you get asked this all the time, but once more, for the record: would you be open to a Y&R return?

Damian: Of course! Yeah. I've told them many times, if I'm not out of the country or directing, if they let me know when it's going to happen, and I'm in L.A., then absolutely. I always have a great time popping on and shaking things up a little bit, giving Paul [Doug Davidson] a few words -- my best friend who's now betrayed me! [Laughs] Or if they're happy, because that's all I need to know, I won't come stir things up. If they're happy, I don't want to be a home wrecker.

soapcentral.com: But isn't that the fun, being the one that wrecks everything?!

Damian: Oh, no, I don't want to do that! I just want to come back so I can have Eric Braden walk up to me like he did every day for I don't know how many years and say to me, "Michael Damian, rock on!" Every time I see him. And you know he boxes, so he would do the fake punch, like he was going to punch me in the stomach, and go, "Rock on!" with a playful jab to the ribs. I told him I want to get him into the studio and record part of a song with me and have him say, "Rock on!" with that German accent.

soapcentral.com: If anyone could get him to do it, I bet it would be you!

Damian: I love him. He's so funny. We have a really fun friendship on the set. He's awesome. I do with all the cast. They're really fun.

soapcentral.com: Is there anything else you want to add about High Strung before I have to let you go?

Damian: My wife [Janeen, who helped make the film] comes from the dance world. She's danced with Michael Jackson, and she comes from that whole world, so that's what it is. It's music, dance, and a love story. We made it to entertain and inspire people. Hopefully they come out of the theater feeling really good. Every night after I performed in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I had people come out saying, "I just feel so good! The show made me so happy!" And they were light and happy and inspired, and I hope High Strung does the same -- in its own way -- and gets the same kind of reaction from people.

For more information on High Strung, which will be in theaters this Friday, April 8, check out the film's official website.

Are you looking forward to watching High Strung? Would you love to see Damian return to Y&R? If so, what kind of storyline would you want to see for Danny? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, on our message boards, or by submitting Feedback.

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