INTERVIEW: The Young and the Restless' Beth Maitland chats Traci's history, rock star status, romance, and more

Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2022 8:49:33 PM

Beloved The Young and the Restless actress Beth Maitland takes a walk down memory lane as she celebrates 40 years as Traci Abbott, plus get the scoop on the special Abbott sister anniversary episode.

The Young and the Restless is pulling out all the stops for Beth Maitland's 40th anniversary as Traci Abbott, and for good reason! Both she and her alter ego are some of the kindest, warmest, most loving souls on the planet -- so, an on-set party, lookback videos, and a special Abbott sister anniversary episode are most definitely deserved. And so is Champagne, which the actress has at the ready as soon as her anniversary episode airs this Friday, June 17!

In celebration of her four decades in Genoa City, Soap Central caught up with Maitland to discuss her favorite and most challenging Traci moments, which Y&R character was the love of Traci's life, how she feels about the Abbott sisters episode, and the scoop on what's ahead for her character as she embarks on the next 40 years (fingers crossed!) on daytime's number one soap opera.

Soap Central: Congratulations on celebrating your 40th anniversary at The Young and the Restless. This must be really, really exciting for you!

Beth Maitland: It's just amazing. It's truly amazing! And even though we taped the anniversary episode a few weeks ago and had our little celebration, it's still dawning on me. It still continues to sink in how amazing this milestone is. I've been excited to be posting teasers about the episode... and honestly, it continues to just roll over me that this is 40 years, four decades, filled with countless unbelievable moments and people that I've worked with, and coming and goings, and celebration, and loss. It's just this huge wave of emotion, and I just never expected it. I never did. So, it's continuing to wash over me, how amazing this time is.

Soap Central: What did you think about the way that the writers approached the special episode that's going to be airing?

Maitland: I think it's a really great way to flash back, to have Ashley and Traci sharing their memories with their newly found young grandniece [Allie, Kelsey Wang], for us to be able to laugh and cry and share, and for her to be able to ask questions. It was a really fun way to set this up. It stands alone, and there's no promotion of storyline in other areas, but it's very relevant to what's happening in the story, that this young grandniece would really want this information. I love it.

Soap Central: How do you feel about Kelsey Wang's addition to the cast and to the Abbott family?

Maitland: She is a delight! She is a pleasure. We've had a little bit of time running lines, and she's adorable. She asks questions about the show and the history, but also just about stagecraft. There's a lot to learn for an actor coming for an audition who maybe doesn't have a body of work behind them so much -- there's cameras and booms and proscenium and how to manage scenes in small spaces and new actors that you haven't worked with before, and she has plenty -- she's involved in so many areas of story. She's having a really great time, and like I said, she's a delight; she's prepared, she's professional, she's enthusiastic, she wants to be there, and she wants to do the work. I'm just falling in love with her. She's adorable.

Soap Central: Does working with someone who's new to the genre bring back any memories from your own time being new 40 years ago?

Maitland: I was a little bit different because I started in theater, and I did my first play when I was 13; it was over ten years later when I started at The Young and the Restless. And multi-cam shoots in a very similar way to theater, in terms of it's kind of all happening at the same time. With single camera, there's a whole long process. They do a master and then they come in for coverage -- medium, close-ups, and close close-ups -- and you just do it over and over and over from different angles for one camera. But multi-camera is just like doing a play, so I was prepared a little bit in that way. But nothing will prepare you for the amount of work and what it takes to accomplish [a soap], and now it's even more than when I was beginning. Back then, the executive producer and the directors and even the writers could have input and help us find our way developing our characters. Now, there's just no time. You have to just show up on your feet. So, yes, I've absolutely been thinking a lot about that, and on her behalf, because like I said, she asks lots of really smart questions. She's a very bright girl, and she gets it fairly quickly. And she has to, because now, it's even faster than when I started. I joked with her the first day I worked with her, I said, "You know, if you want to do it over, you pretty much have to fall down. Just fall down, and they have to stop!" [Laughs]

Soap Central: That's funny. I've heard you can accidentally slip a swear word in, as well. There are tricks!

Maitland: [Laughs] That one may be even better than falling down, I think! I'll have to try to use that.

Soap Central: The special episode will be filled with lots of flashbacks from your time on the show. How do you feel when you watch flashbacks and classic moments?

Maitland: It has brought back some surprising emotion. That's a long time, and Eileen had an interesting comment. She said, "Where else in show business can you have your life played back for you with that much time going by?" If you're in a series, you're lucky if you get a few years, and you're history-breaking if you get ten or twelve years for most nighttime series. And even in series of films or film sequels, kids grow up and time goes by because it takes so long to make a movie, and there's maybe only three or four, and then there's new casting. So, where else in the world do you have your life flashed before your eyes in real time?!

We didn't get to see the flashbacks when we taped the episode part where they roll it in, but now we're getting to see the clips and see our young faces and our boyfriends and our husbands from then, and our young father and our young mother, both who are now gone from the storyline. And really, nostalgia and sentiment are not even a part of it. It's like that multiplied by fifty million times! It's unbelievable. I keep saying it's just washing over me; I'm calling it a euphoria hangover.

I'm just literally stunned by how much this show has been a part of my life in every significant way. It has affected how I've been able to raise my daughter, the comforts that I've enjoyed as a human. I have not been there under contract in, I don't know, 30 years, so all of it has been recurring -- I've been back and forth, back and forth, back and forth; I have not been under contract since my very early time there, so, I've been doing other things... but I have to tell you, I walk into that building, and on a cellular level, I feel at home. I feel that's where I belong. I walk into the Abbott living room, which are the actual same walls from 40 years ago -- that's the same wallpaper, I mean, everything! [Laughs] They've changed the furniture and a few things, but it literally is my home. Forty years! I've never even lived anywhere for 40 years!

Soap Central: Except there!

Maitland: Exactly! But I walk in, I sit down, and I could just bring a toothbrush. It's where I feel the most whole, the most complete, and the people around me there are literally family. I don't mean we play them on TV, I mean seriously: the crew, the staff. And I've watched a lot of those crew people grow up! A lot of them are children of crew people that were my age and young when we were all starting out together, and these are their kids now running cameras. So, it is my greatest pleasure, professionally and otherwise, to be able to still walk into that building.

Soap Central: Do you have any favorite Traci moments from those 40 years, or is that a totally unfair question because there are way too many?

Maitland: There are way too many, but I can touch on a couple, and I don't think the things I'm going to mention are going to be included in the special episode, so it's a great question and gives me the opportunity to touch on a couple of other points that were really special to me. As an actor, my biggest challenge during my time there, the most demanding challenge, was the death of Colleen [Tammin Sursok]. Colleen was Traci's daughter with Brad Carlton [Don Diamont], and the circumstances were that she was brain dead, and decisions had to be made. After hope was lost, decisions had to be made about donating her organs, and all kinds of things went on, but that is the unthinkable, having your child predecease you, and it was the most demanding, emotional [story] I did. I am very, very proud of that work.

And then, in the early days, the Danny [Michael Damian] and Traci and Lauren [Tracey E. Bregman] and Gina [Patty Weaver] concerts. We did these concerts that were utterly epic -- seriously! We would use a whole soundstage for the stage and the backstage area, and in the crowd, they would have a hundred extras. We had light shows and they hired professional musicians who toured with Paul McCartney. I mean, our musicians were world class. And there were days walking into Capitol Records in Hollywood, this building that looks like a stack of vinyl with a sundial on top, and we would go in to pre-record some of the music for expedience on the tape day, and the taping of them went on for a couple of days sometimes. It was literally like doing a giant show in Vegas or something, and we were just these young kids on a soap opera that got to experience this amazing production value. Every department got to shine: special effects, sets, costumes, hair and makeup, just everybody creative, they got to really shine. So, that was also another really amazing time for me.

Soap Central: Would you ever want to see Traci return to her rock star days?

Maitland: Um, sometimes those ships have sailed! [Laughs] But every now and then, they let me sing on the show. It's way different than it used to be, but I like that every now and then they let Traci sing. When Marla Adams was still in the storyline, playing Dina, our mother, and she was frail and she was ill, it was at Christmas, and she said she missed Christmas caroling. So, Traci burst into song and got all of the siblings to sing along with her, a Christmas carol for their mother. Moments like that I think are probably enough. I don't know that soap operas [could even do something like our rock concerts now] because of the pace and the expense of licensing music; there are all these practical things that make it a little hard to do these days, but I'm glad that every now and then I get to sing.

Soap Central: Traci had some unique storylines for a soap opera in the early days when she was incredibly self-conscious and did things like extreme dieting and popping diet pills. I feel like the show was ahead of its time with those storylines, but I'd love to hear what you thought of those moments and what the fan reaction was at the time?

Maitland: Honestly, [tackling stories like that] was a goal that [Y&R creator] Mr. Bill Bell made for himself and the writers every summer. In those days, when kids were off school, there weren't VCRs just yet and there were no reruns and there was no cable, so... that's when they got to watch the show. So, he would do a storyline each summer especially for young people. He did this also for adults, as well, in terms of groundbreaking storylines, like breast cancer. And I know Jeanne Cooper, who played Kate Chancellor, had a facelift, and they wrote it into the story; she actually had one, and the reveal, the removing of bandages, the crew was in her hospital room, and the reveal was on-camera for the story, as well, so America got to see along with Jeanne as they removed the bandages after her facelift. So, there were amazing first-time-done things that Bill was famous for.

In terms of me each summer, the one summer it was bulimia, and that was a newly named illness that hadn't even been much talked about let alone identified, so, there was the bulimia storyline, and then there was the diet pill addiction, and there was bullying, a complicated Traci and Lauren bullying storyline that went on over years. So, there were lots of topics that were covered, and they were not easy to play. As a human, as an actor, getting a job on a soap opera and being told you can't lose weight, "You have to keep weight on, we've got years' worth of story that we're going to tell about this," was tough.

It was a different way to look at things, but actually, fan response, as you asked, was overwhelming. There were so many people that related to Traci as a result of her being a real person instead of being a traditional beauty that we're used to in soap opera casting. For there to be a real-looking girl on TV, the fan response, I was not prepared for. I was in my early 20s, and there weren't computers, there were letters -- and there were suicide notes, and there was no way to respond quickly if people [wrote suicide letters]. And I took it really seriously; I hired someone to help me sort through and manage things, and I answered every letter for years. It was really overwhelming -- but not in a negative way. I hope I'm not making that sound negative, because it was overwhelming in a really amazing way that shows for sure, with paper proof, that soap operas reach the audience, that viewers take this seriously, and that viewers are moved to think bigger thoughts by what stories are told on television, and we need to really be responsible about all of that. Some of it's for fun -- some of it is bigger than life and just lots of fun -- but there were some really important stories that were told, and I'm really proud of that.

Soap Central: Do you still get fan mail, or is it mostly social media now?

Maitland: There are actual letters every now and then. Social media is most of it. It's not at all like it was. In the olden days, there wasn't even access to the Internet by normal people -- it was obviously burgeoning and there were computers and all of that, but it wasn't in our homes so much. So, there were so many letters, they used to have people that they employed that managed the mail; they filled out a weekly report of what characters and actors got how much mail, the report was turned in to the network and the producers of the show, [and it showed] what fans thought about storyline progression and who they liked together. There were reports written based on the letters that came in, and it was taken very seriously.

Fan response now is so fleeting and quick, and it's really difficult [to measure]. I don't even know if it's even possible, even with algorithms, to track the fan response and feedback on social media, even if it's just a count based on the network and the show [feeds]. It is so far-reaching. It's an interesting forum for people who are anonymous to make statements that they probably wouldn't write down and send to us! [Laughs] And it allows them to make statements that they probably wouldn't say if it was face to face. So, it has offered a bunch of freedom that I don't know is always productive, but it's really interesting to see. It's an instant reaction to things, and again, I don't think that there's any way to track it, in terms of story, so I don't think it influences how the writers are going to or if they're going to turn a corner and change something, based on that reaction. But as an actor who is interested in what people think about my work, I have to take it with a grain of salt. It's very instant, and it's very interesting.

Soap Central: You touched on Traci's long rivalry with Lauren Fenmore, so I'd love to hear if you have any standout memories from their catfights over the years? I know you've had some pretty good moments together!

Maitland: Tracey Bregman and I are very close friends. I've said it before, and I will continue to say it forever: our friendship is one of my great gifts from that show. I think the bullying storyline was harder for her to play than it was for me to play, because she's not that person at all. It's been so much fun to watch them let her evolve into a person closer to herself, so Traci and Lauren could actually get around to the apology day; decades after their very complicated youth, they were able to become friends and shake hands and say, "It's water under the bridge. Let's go forward from here." That is great. But classic, classic fight scenes, one of my favorite days on the show was I was married to Brad, and she was having an affair with Brad. He had a heart attack, and we were in the hospital waiting room, and in she walks, and we had it out -- water in the face, pushing each other through coffee tables, throwing magazines at each other, and I think there was even hair pulling! [Laughs] It's one of my favorite moments and one of our famous catfights. Every once in a while somebody will post it on YouTube. It was just so much fun and so hilarious and so therapeutic, to kind of get all of that stuff out and then walk out of the building and go have cocktails together. [Laughs]

Soap Central: I've seen a photo of a banana split being poured over a head, as well, which is pretty hilarious.

Maitland: Actually, the black and white photo of it happening is framed and is in Tracey Bregman's dressing room! It's epic. Epic! [Laughs]

Soap Central: How do you feel about sharing your 40th anniversary moment with Eileen Davidson?

Maitland: We started just a few days apart from each other, and actually, the 40th anniversary episode is airing within just a couple of days of when our first air shows were on television 40 years ago, so all of it was very copiously timed. And it has been so much fun to spend these [days with her]. She's been in and out of the building, I've been in and out of the building, and yet, here we are, circling back at 40 years. There have been other Ashleys, but she's back, and she's the signature Ashley from start to finish. We have been through so much together -- we've been through marriages and children and loss and accomplishments and great joy. Really, we're back to that family conversation we had earlier. All of the Abbotts, and many of the people outside the Abbotts in terms of the cast members, all of us have been raised together; we've all grown up together; we've all matured together; we have watched milestones in each others' lives, personally and professionally. So, it is not only a pleasure but perfectly appropriate that we started together within just a couple of days and that we're celebrating together these 40 years later.

Soap Central: A lot of actors say that their castmates are a second family, but in your case, with that much history, it's true.

Maitland: And you spend all that time saying things to each other in scenes that are family things that you say! You support each other, you cry with each other, you cheer for each other. It's all the activities that we've experienced together, whether it's scripted or real, that we all go through as families. So, you're absolutely right.

Soap Central: You've had some significant romances over the years, so I'd love to get a comment or a memory about some of your on-screen husbands, starting with Michael Damian as Danny.

Maitland: He is so charming, and he is the funniest guy. We're still friends, and I still see him from time to time. I go to his premieres, because he's a director, also, and he's directed lovely movies for Hallmark and for Lifetime. He's also directed his own; he and his wife, who is a dancer, did several dance movies. So, I love to be able to catch up with him, and I love to see them both and watch their successes. One lesson he taught me was how to deal with fans. Michael is so caring and nurturing of his fans, and he understands in a way I didn't. When you're in a play, people clap, and then everybody goes home. But this is a very different scenario. We have fans who have been watching since longer than I've been on the show that remember everything I've been through. Michael taught me how to respect that and how to honor that, how to be friends with those people, how to appreciate them, and how to treat them when you meet face to face. He never turned anybody down for an autograph or a picture or a hug. That guy is so generous and so committed to caring about the fans and the viewers' investment in us and in him. And he taught me great lessons about that. He's a great guy. I saw him recently, and I don't know when I will see him again, but I am so excited that he will be included in this anniversary episode.

Soap Central: And then there's Don Diamont, and I'm sure you must still see him, because he's just across the hall at The Bold and the Beautiful as Bill Spencer.

Maitland: And I often share his dressing room on days he's not there! First of all, Brad is the love of Traci's life. He is definitely the greatest loss romantically that Traci has ever experienced. And Don and I, we were together so much in the early years, learning how to negotiate all this stuff, going to photoshoots together, learning about being soap stars, learning about what it takes to commit to the work and manage your life at a time when there were probably thirteen or fourteen shows on the air, and soap operas were a really big deal. Don and I went through a whole lot of personal things together, too. Some tremendous loss in Don's early life, and I could not respect and adore him more as a human. He took on children that he didn't have to be responsible for, he raised his niece and nephew after the loss of his brother -- Don takes in strays and takes in who he's responsible for, as well. There are no bounds to his generosity and caring. He is a family man, and it's kind of surprising in a package like that, for him to be as devoted a friend and as devoted a father, husband, son, brother. He is an amazing man. There is so much going on behind that gorgeous fašade, and I am so grateful and honored that we are friends.

Soap Central: You've done a lot in 40 years, but is there a crazy soap opera storyline that you'd love to play that you haven't had the chance to yet? Like, buried alive or an evil twin, that kind of thing?

Maitland: [Laughs] You know what? No! And I'll tell you why. I would like to explore comedy a little bit, and I try to find moments where Traci can laugh about something. I say exactly what's in the script, but I try to play it in a way that is a little bit of a surprise. I love to do that as a personal challenge. Forty years later, it's my responsibility also to keep things fresh and to keep things interesting for the viewers. So, I would love to explore something kind of comedic. I don't mean corny, and I don't mean embarrassing -- I mean something genuinely comedic. I don't want to be buried alive. I don't want to have an evil twin. However, I might want to have a mystery child that was not known about, because Traci is so maternal, and with that much nurturing, she has to spend it on nieces and nephews and friends and relatives, but not on any true [immediate family member]. And that's what I'm hoping for my relationship with Allie, is that Traci becomes a very maternal figure to her. Traci is maternal to Kyle [Michael Mealor], she is even to Billy [Jason Thompson], who is her brother, but she's still more like a mom to him. And she is also maternal with Lily [Christel Khalil], Colleen's best friend; there's a great connection there. But it would be really fun to have some surprise child that turns back up.

And the other thing I really want for Traci is romance. Traci still is a real woman -- she's matriarchal and she's generous and kind and giving and all of that, but I don't want her to be a spinster. There is such opportunity here to send a message to every woman, every person over a certain age, that there is still hope in life for your dreams to come true, for new chapters that you don't expect, for things left on your bucket list that you still can accomplish, and it would be really fun for me to play a romance for Traci.

Soap Central: You know who else said that to me recently? Kate Linder about Esther! Maybe Traci and Esther should go out together and meet some men!

Maitland: Like, go to the club? [Laughs] Can you imagine?

Soap Central: I think it would be great! And speaking of clubs, I once read that you always have Champagne in your fridge, so I hope that you've popped a bottle in celebration of your anniversary.

Maitland: Not quite yet -- I'm waiting for the anniversary episode to air. But it's chilling! It's there and ready, don't worry! [Laughs]

Soap Central: I really, really appreciate you giving me so much time, and I congratulate you again on 40 years at Y&R. Is there anything else that you'd like to add before I let you go?

Maitland: The closing thing is just this: if we are to circle back on what these 40 years have meant to me, going forward -- and hoping for another 40 [laughs] -- I am just walking in gratitude. I am so grateful to have played Traci for all of these years, to have shared all of these moments with the viewers who make our world go 'round. And I am so excited and enthusiastic to see what the future holds.

What do you think about our interview with Beth Maitland? What are your favorite memories from her 40 years as Traci Abbott? What would you like to see for the character's future? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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