INTERVIEW: Y&R's Jason Thompson on Billy's addiction and downfall

Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2018 1:30:00 PM
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As Billy Abbott continues to play roulette with his future, The Young and the Restless' Jason Thompson opens up about the risks and rewards of delving into the character's new phase of gambling addiction.

The cards are stacked against The Young and the Restless' Billy Abbott. His gambling addiction has reared its ugly head once more, leaving him on the verge of losing everything that's dear to him. Will he be able to get himself out of trouble before his career, relationship, and quality of life take a hit? Don't bet on it.

Phyllis dealt her beau a devastating blow this week when she threw him out of the house for his lies, and portrayer Jason Thompson says this is only the beginning of his alter ego's downward spiral. Is it really the end for Philly? How does Summer play into the complicated situation? What can fans expect from Billy's gambling problem as the summer blazes on? And does Thompson himself have any "addictions?" Find out in Soap Central's interview with the actor below.

Soap Central: You're getting to sink your teeth into one hell of a story right now. How much fun are you having?

Jason Thompson: It's been great, and there have been a lot of moments where I'm able to go back and forth and really try to figure out where I am. It's new for me personally, this side of Billy. I know the character has been through similar things like this in the past, so it's a balance of trying to do justice to where the character has been but also having some sort of evolution to where we are today. So, it's great. I really enjoy this type of work.

Soap Central: Did you do additional research into Billy's past to explore the other times he's dealt with his gambling addiction issues?

Thompson: Yeah, I've talked to other cast members as well as the writing and producing team just to kind of see where they want to take it. I like knowing the trajectory of the story a little bit so I know where I can ebb and flow through it. That helps me somewhat know where I'm at in the moment and at that point try and be free with it at that time. So, this is the kind of story where you get to do that, where there's a little bit of a long plan going forward.

Soap Central: I would imagine that addiction stories of any kind would be pretty intense to play. Has that been the case for you this go around?

Thompson: Yeah, it is. Finding the balance between the addiction storyline and then at the same time, he's got this job and he's now the CEO of Jabot, and he's got the family ties, and the amount of pressure that he puts on himself, and the pressure that he feels from the family. At the same time, in this moment, he feels like he can do it all. He feels like he can have the job, he can have the girl. And I think in his mind, he feels like he can dabble a little bit and have some fun with the gambling and not feel like he's going to lose it all. But that starts to slip away a little bit, as the audience has started to see. So, it's trying to bring all of those things into it at the same time and not get too far ahead of yourself. I think that's the hardest thing to do.

Soap Central: He may have been feeling like he can have it all, but the funny thing is, Billy has been down this path before, and he's lost quite a bit because of it. Does it seem to you that he hates being happy?

Thompson: Yes, exactly! I've had that feeling before where he's got this aversion to success, almost. Or an aversion to things going too well. I don't know if he trusts it. He feels more comfortable when he's a little bit more on the outside and risking things a little bit. He doesn't strike me as a complacent person. And I think that comes up in all aspects of his life.

Soap Central: You've had some scenes where Billy explains what his addiction means to him, which were serious and somewhat poignant. As we know, gambling addiction is an illness, just as Alzheimer's is an illness. Do you feel that the show has given it or will give it the same thought and seriousness that they've put into the Alzheimer's storyline?

Thompson: I hope so, and I think so. It's not something that we haven't done before, of course. But I think what interests me about this type of storyline is that it's more specific to the actual person that it's going through. You could have three or four Alzhimer's storylines going on at one time, and they would all be specific to that person and how they go through it and how it affects their family. And I think addiction is that way, also. So as long as it's nuanced and as long as it, in my opinion, gets into why this person and their past transgressions or what it is in them [causes the addiction], that's where it becomes interesting. Not necessarily just another kind of addiction story, but if you can make it personal to that character, I think that's where the stories start to draw people in.

Soap Central: This one is really nuanced. For example, it includes this strange connection he has going on with Summer [Hunter King]. Do you feel like he's tempted by her? Or is he more annoyed by her? What's going through his mind where she's concerned?

Thompson: Well, I think he's a little confused by her and the way she's being. At the same time, I think his relationship is a little rocky, and once you leave a door open, sometimes you open yourself up for... [laughs] a lot of things, really. And right now, he's a little on edge. And I think Billy likes that feeling, being on the edge and not knowing which way he's going to fall at any given moment. I think she represents that a little bit right now, and Phyllis [Gina Tognoni] is going through her own stuff and is distracted, and he's starting to notice that a little bit, also. And I think it also has to do a little bit with the business. I don't think that he really trusts anybody right now. He sees this corporate world, and he knows a little bit about it, but the amount of people that are trying to get at him, I think he's trying to keep everybody a bit at arm's length.

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Soap Central: Well, things between him and Phyllis have definitely taken a turn for the worse: She found out about his gambling and just threw him out of the house. That will be quite a blow for all of the Philly fans. Do you think the couple's bond is strong enough to deal with this, or is this moment a potential deal breaker for them?

Thompson: No, I don't think it's a deal breaker with them. I feel like with this couple -- in the good and the bad and the ugly -- they do understand each other. So, I think they both know that they can be impulsive towards each other and in other, separate aspects of their lives. And I think that draws them to each other; there's an appreciation for risk that they both kind of get off on. A lot of their energy comes from that, I think. There's a level of fireworks with them, and it can be with passion, it can be with business, and it can be in these kinds of moments, too, where they just fly off the handle a little bit. But I think given a little bit of time, they can both have some perspective. So, I don't think this is the end all, be all for them. I think they have a lot that they can build on still.

Soap Central: Gina Tognoni is so super talented. What is like working with her? I've heard that she really goes the extra mile in scenes.

Thompson: My favorite thing about Gina is the amount of work that she does away from the scene, whether we're trying to figure out what we want out of the scenes or just breaking them down a little bit. I feel like once we get to the floor, within our relationship, we're able to feel free to just go for whatever happens, and we'll both be there to support each other. And that makes it fun and makes it exciting. It's part of what brings this couple together, in a way, the spark that, doing that within the scene, brings to the relationship. I'm never 100 percent sure how the scene is going to go, and I think that she would say the same thing. Actors have different ways of working, and everybody could have a little bit of a tweak, but I think what I appreciate about Gina is that she is adaptable not only in her process to a certain extent, but when she's on set, she's adaptable. That just makes it fun, because you're never 100 percent sure where it's going to go, whether you take it to a new place in the scene or a different dimension from what we had talked about beforehand or what we thought was there. She'll go with you, and vice versa. When she goes, I feel very confident in just being with her and going along with it. And I'm assuming she would say the same thing [about me]. Something that started with the whole Billy and Phyllis affair and the Jack [Peter Bergman] stuff, before we got into the "five, four, three, two, one," we always said to each other, "Okay, let's just be two human beings in this moment right now." I appreciate that that means a lot to her and that she's willing to be vulnerable like that. And again, kind of like with the addiction story, what makes it work in my opinion is the personal journey of the one in the scene. It's hard to tell new stories in daytime because we have told so many stories. We're 45 years on the air, and all the other shows have been on the air for almost just as long -- and some shows longer. You have to make it personal, to me. That's what makes the stories work. So, whenever you have an actor who is willing to go there, it's always fun to play with.

Soap Central: Billy has been a notoriously difficult character to get right. As you know, many actors have played him over the years, some with more success than others. Now that you know the character well, do you have any idea why he has been so difficult to get right?

Thompson: Well, I think that's exactly what makes him an exciting character to play. It's fun to see if you can really go there with him. I think over the years, writers, producers, the network, they feel like this is a character that they can let out of the stables and allow to run loose. He doesn't have too many boundaries, and he doesn't necessarily play by the same rules. He's got to have a lot of life, because he has a vitality to him. He doesn't take too many things too precious. And you have to have an actor willing to go there and willing to have fun with him. And in saying that, the amount that we do in the speed that we do it, the most difficult thing about our job is to try and feel free knowing that you have pretty much one take to get it right, and you've got an exuberant amount of dialogue in one day in your scenes. So, in order to feel relaxed enough to feel free is probably the most difficult thing to do. It's a hard job to do, and this character is not an easy character. To me, that's why he's exciting, and it's why I have fun going to work. I can say, "Okay, what's this guy up to today? How is he going to react?" He could fly off the handle, or he can laugh in the face of danger. He can do anything, and that's what makes it fun. And everybody has a different take on that. Throughout the time [that many actors portrayed Billy], there were different producers and different writers and different executives and different people at the network, so it's not only just the actor that gets it right or gets it wrong. It takes a big team to get the guy right. Of course, the actor is somewhat of the last frontier with the words, and his job is to bring it to life, but at the same time, a lot goes into it on other levels. I've never met any of the other actors, but I know Billy [Miller], and obviously he's a great actor and has a lot of life in him, too, so that helped the character. And for me, that becomes part of his vitality, the kind of life that I can bring to him, and that's what makes him an exciting character to play. So, you have to be willing to have fun with him and not be too precious.

Soap Central: Exactly how Billy is -- as you said, he doesn't take too many things precious.

Thompson: Exactly. It's like an alter ego, in a way. I have so much fun with him because he's a little more reckless than I am in my personal life. I absolutely feel like I can't do any wrong with this guy.

Soap Central: As your General Hospital fans know, this isn't your first addiction storyline. Your GH character, Patrick Drake, became addicted to pills after losing Robin (Kimberly McCullough). What do you remember most about that story?

Thompson: For good or for bad, I remember how it started; I was in the hub, and Frank [Valentini], our executive producer, came up to me and said, "You have a drug problem." And I said, "Okay, cool. When are we going to start that." And he said, "Now." And I was like, "What do you mean now?!" And he said, "You're on them now." So that's what I remember most about it. From one scene to another I had started a drug problem. [Laughs] But it just goes to show what we're doing here and how it's not an easy job, that we have to be adaptable as actors. Storylines can change on a dime, just like that. But it was new for the character, which was fun for me, of course. So that's what I remember the most about it.

Soap Central: Patrick was addicted to pills, Billy is addicted to gambling. Is there anything you have a soft spot for?

Thompson: [Laughs] I love potato chips and popcorn! Once the kids go to sleep, my wife [Paloma] and I will make a little homemade popcorn, and that's pretty much our treat. That's the good stuff right there.

Soap Central: Homemade popcorn is always the best. I'm curious about the craziest gambling addiction story you've ever heard -- if you've heard any?

Thompson: I don't really know. I don't think I know any stories.

Soap Central: I'll tell you a quick one, and it's so scary and sad. They have a huge problem with online gambling addiction in China, and I read about an addicted teenager who didn't trust that rehab would help him, so he literally cut off his own hand so that he physically could not use the computer anymore.

Thompson: Jeez. There are people that help you before you get to that point. Just please, if you have a problem, go get help. It's like anything, it can tear you apart but there are places you can go. [For example, you can call the National Council on Problem Gambling helpline at 1-800-522-4700].

Soap Central: Is there anything else that you'd like to add about Billy's storyline before I let you get back to work?

Thompson: I feel like where I enjoy my job the most is when I'm trying to understand the human behavior of somebody. I think that's what we do well in this genre. We have the time and the capability to show somebody almost on a daily basis, to show their daily life and how [something like addiction] can affect them. So, I'm hoping we get to do that in a way. I know that some fans have probably seen this storyline with Billy before, and they might not feel like it's anything new. And the best thing about this is that everybody gets to have their own opinion. But I hope that we can do something a little bit different, where it doesn't feel the same. I know there's a huge responsibility on me to make it feel different. However it evolves, I'm just as anxious to see as anybody else. That's where this job is the best. I get to slowly but surely see where it's going, and I'm just as excited to see where it's going to go on a daily basis. That's a big responsibility, but that's where this job is at its finest.

What do you think about our interview with Jason Thompson? Do you feel like Y&R is telling this phase of Billy's addiction in a fresh, new way? What would you like to see for the character in the weeks ahead? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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