It's been an uphill battle for Diane Jenkins (Susan Walters) since she returned to The Young and the Restless' Genoa City earlier this year. She's had to make amends to family for faking her death, she's tried to convince everyone that she's a changed woman, she's had to fend off attacks from enemies like Phyllis (Michelle Stafford), and now she's trying hard not to let mistakes with Tucker McCall (Trevor St. John) and Jeremy Stark (James Hyde) derail all the inroads she's made with the loved ones in her life. It's been one heck of a return, and Soap Central spoke with Walters to get her take on the current state of Diane's very complicated life. Plus, find out what dreadful soap experience early in her career still haunts her today...
Soap Central: It's been so much fun having you back on Y&R as Diane, who is supposedly a reformed bad girl. Have you found that to be more challenging than just being outright bad?
Susan Walters: Gosh, that's a great question because on the one hand, it's been more painful because she's had to repent so much and fess up to so many uncomfortable things in an honest way, but in a way, that's easier because it feels more honest than just manipulating someone the whole time! So, it's kind of been fun that I've gotten to do both; I'm not just pretending to be upset or pretending to feel badly. I really have been feeling very badly around Jack and Kyle [Michael Mealor]. So, it's actually been really fun to have both things going on.
Soap Central: Alison Lanier (Summer Newman) mentioned how fun it's been to see you playing Diane with this perfect outer shell as she tries to convince everyone that she's redeemed, but that it's been really fascinating to see cracks beginning to form. Are those cracks something that you've been playing purposefully?
Walters: I think I've just been playing the writing. It's interesting because when I've gotten auditions and things like that, I think, "Okay, I really need to make this my own." Or, "I need to fill in the pieces here." But with how well this character has been written since I've been back and how complex it's been, I'm just trying to come up to the material sometimes. The cracks are written in there, and all the other different levels have been written in, so, it's actually been more of my responsibility to come up to it rather than me trying to find out where I can put it in, if that makes sense.
Soap Central: It does, but because you guys are working so fast, it must be difficult to make those nuances come across.
Walters: I have the utmost respect for the people I work with; I don't think anybody on this show doesn't spend a considerable amount of time at home, working [on their scenes]. The only drag is that I do better when I'm in the space. Like, I know that I cross to this couch and then I know that I cross down to this chair, or, why am I sitting here? But all of that work has to be done at home, and then you just kind of get there and you're on the set. There's no winging it once you get there, and I think all of us spend our weekends preparing -- especially when we're working all week... It's not perfect, but we do what we can over the weekend to be ready for when we film during the week.
Soap Central: So, you turn your house into the Abbott living room so you can get the pattern down?!
Walters: [Laughs] Sort of! It's easier once you've worked with the directors and the other actors for a while, because you can kind of hear their voices when you're running lines at home, which helps. Like, on Tuesday, we're going to get there, and I'm the first one up and I have, like, nine scenes in a row, so, I won't have any rehearsal time with any of the people that I'm working with. So, it's really a lesson in trusting yourself, and I already trust them, so that's great. I work with such great people. So, it's like, "Well, I'll just keep listening to what they're saying, and it will keep coming up."
Soap Central: You've had some really great scenes with Michelle Stafford, and the fans love it when you're on-screen together.
Walters: Yes, those scenes are so much fun! Those are my fun days, even though they seem like we're so mean and everything, but truly, those are my fun days. We did a six-page scene where I'm just getting grilled by the three of them [Phyllis, Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott), and Ashley (Eileen Davidson)], and at the very end, Diane starts yelling at Phyllis. And me, Susan, was thinking, "If I can just make it to the last page, then I'm going to be able to just look at Michelle and yell at her!" Because we're used to that, and we enjoy that -- it was like my comfort place at the end of this scene. And all three of those women are amazing to work with, so those are the fun days. They seem like the tough days, but they're the fun days.
Soap Central: What are the tough days?
Walters: The tough days are when you're admitting to your son or your son's father that you've just lied to them repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly. Those are the tougher days for me. If you think about it, as actors, we have to bring the worst parts of ourselves to work -- we have to make those parts available, when usually, in real life, you don't want to get into that and own up to that or imagine that, right? But that's kind of our job. But it's good, and I'm very lucky with who I work with, because we all take it seriously. The pace is super fast, and it's a lot of dialogue, and it's great that everybody is so committed.
Soap Central: You hadn't worked with some of these actors in quite some time. Was it easy for you to pick up where you left off?
Walters: Yeah, and it was great. My first scene with Peter [Bergman, Jack Abbott] and Michelle right after I started back, it was so funny, because Phyllis said something snarky, and then they both walked out, off the set, and I was just smiling from ear to ear, and they actually kept it in that show! I was like, "Oh, crud, that was Susan, not Diane!" [Laughs] But it was just so much fun to be back with them. It felt like it was 20 years ago all over again.
Soap Central: There have been some soft moments between Jack and Diane recently. How does it make her feel to know that he somewhat has her back, or is at least trying to stick up for her right now?
Walters: Well, I think anytime you feel like somebody is listening to you, even though you haven't done anything perfectly, is a confidence builder. It makes it even more special to you.
Soap Central: Particularly right now, as it seems the whole town is against her, which wouldn't not be fun. I can't imagine what that feeling must be.
Walters: [Laughs] I know! When we were doing one of those scenes, he goes, "Okay, we've got to have a group hug before we do this scene, so you don't feel like we don't like you." Because when I first started back on the show, I was joking, and I said, "This seems like middle school, where nobody likes you and you're the odd girl out." And they just laughed and said, "Susan, you cannot take it personally!" And I'm like, "I don't take it personally, but that's how it feels!" [Laughs] And then, I have to laugh, and it's all fun.
Soap Central: I can see it having an effect, even physically in a way, because even though you're just acting, you still have to take on all that emotion and experience it, even though logically, you know you're not in high school.
Walters: Yeah, because you're living it as the character all day, and then you leave work and go home and start working on the next day's scenes! There's not a lot of downtime with her right now. But also, when we're there, we are having a lot of fun in a way. It's not fun material sometimes, but it's very gratifying.
Soap Central: We're hoping Diane gets some nicer scenes, maybe a real romance. Do you think there's a chance that Jack and Diane will rekindle their love?
Walters: I don't know, but I do know that for Diane, and I'm not giving anything away, I know that's her happily ever after. But in daytime, do you really want to be happily ever after?! [Laughs] And, with the characters' history, could they ever really be happily ever after? Because I think Jack and Phyllis are such a great contrast themselves. They make a really great couple, where in a weird way, even though Jack is a much better person than Diane, Jack and Diane have a lot of similarities. She knows him and gets who he is.
Soap Central: And even if they did get together, Phyllis is always there, which wouldn't make things easy!
Walters: Right, right! There's that but there's also the fact that everyone has history that comes back to bite them.
Soap Central: That's the fun of soaps -- the history is always lurking there. The fans love it.
Walters: Can you just imagine the tension in the rooms? Like, my son's wife is Victor's [Eric Braeden] granddaughter, and already there's tension with that, and then it's the son that you left, and she's Phyllis' daughter. So, you have all these relationships that are tense to begin with. It's a small town! [Laughs]
Soap Central: You've been really lucky also to work with a new Y&R cast member in Trevor St. John. What's that been like?
Walters: He's fantastic. It's funny, I saw him in the hallway when we were leaving last week, and I said, "Look, I've got to apologize in advance," because one, again, my scenes with him were in the middle of a bunch of other scenes, and we didn't have any time to even say [our lines] to each other beforehand. Diane has all these exasperated scenes with Tucker, these really fun scenes that kind of show the other side of Diane than what's going on at the Abbotts' house, right? But the timing for so many of our scenes has been [unfortunate] because our scenes are in the middle of others, and we don't have time to rehearse. So, it's really kind of fun to fly by the seat of your pants with him, and he's so present and in the moment and really keeps you on your toes as an actor. It's fun.
Soap Central: He seems like one that you don't know what he's going to do, like he's full of surprises.
Walters: Yes! Which is great, because it makes his character a little more dangerous. He's unpredictable.
Soap Central: Diane has been swearing up and down that she's reformed, and yet all these dark instances are popping up that are derailing her success in convincing others that she's really genuine. At this point do you really believe that she's reformed, or do you think a leopard can never change its spots?
Walters: I think when Diane is speaking from the heart to Kyle and Jack, she is completely being honest. We can all say lots of things, but nobody is Gandhi, you know? Is there anybody who is 100 percent "reformed" in their lives, even if they go through therapy? You're still who you are. But when Diane is speaking to Kyle and Jack and saying how sorry she is, I think she is 100 percent being honest -- which doesn't mean she might not have obstacles in there. I mean, obviously she's the kind of person who did all those terrible things. It's not like she had a lobotomy or a personality transplant...
Soap Central: You never know, it being a soap...
Walters: Right! Maybe that'd be a new thing. [Laughs] But it kind of makes her interesting in a way, because in life, we can certainly grow up, and we can certainly change and try to be better, but sometimes you get caught in old patterns.
Soap Central: Especially if there are triggers, like the entire town hating her. It's almost like she's being pushed to do something horrible!
Walters: Exactly! She's tried to not react. Well, kind of! I just love the fact that it's been written, like with Nikki, she's like, "All right, enough already." She's not going to just try to suck up the whole time, every single time. She does get to a point where she's like, "Okay, I've had it. Now you're making me mad! Enough is enough." [Laughs] Especially because, I didn't know the history of some of these other characters since I've been gone, but they've all made a lot of pretty poor judgments about things. Like, the other day, the character or Jeremy was going to call me a criminal or something, and somebody was like, "No, no, you can't do that because there are so many of those in this town!" How perfect is that?!
Soap Central: Before you returned to Y&R, you'd been doing a lot of primetime series, including The Flash fairly recently. What made you decide to return to the world of soap operas?
Walters: It was really timely because we had COVID going on, and about a year ago, I was getting ready to go do The Flash, and I had to take so many different COVID tests, which was great, to get into the country, but at that point, if you got COVID, which happens while traveling sometimes, no matter how masked up you are if you're unlucky where you're sitting, and at that time, you had to quarantine in a hotel for at least ten days -- they're bringing the food to you, that kind of thing. And I am so claustrophobic, I could not imagine going through that. So, I was a little nervous about flying, plus, I was working with a young woman who was pregnant with her second child, and I was like, "God forbid I give this person COVID by accident." So, there was just a lot of stress going on with the travel, and I was thinking, "Oh, my gosh, if I get stuck in that hotel for two weeks with food being stuck under my door, what would I do?!" I'm a worrywart. I really overdo it. So, that happened. And plus, I was also thinking that I have more stories to tell. I've done a couple of guest spots on shows like Minx, but being on Y&R, it's just nice to do a job where I'm my age and don't feel like I have to be the mother of the teenager, that sort of thing. So, then I got the phone call from [Y&R executive producer] Tony Morina, and I thought, "What perfect timing! I get to go play somebody who isn't just the mom or the doctor giving lines to the younger actor. I don't have to travel, and I don't have to worry about being stuck in a hotel room in another country." And I thought, "How nice would it be to just drive to work and get to work as I am?" And then it was so appealing to me to play a character 20 years older. A lot of the people in our audience have matured, so it was kind of like, "Hey, yeah, you've gotten older, I've gotten older, too, and we still have stories to tell. We're still relevant women." So, I just thought the timing was perfect. I was like, "All right, I can't say any more of this scientific gobbly-goop, and I don't want to be stuck in a hotel room, and this traveling thing is crazy," and that particular trip to Canada, I ended up sitting in immigration for two hours, trying to get out. The whole thing was just so stressful, and I just said, "I'm done! I'm done. I want to be able to drive to a studio, see my dog at night, see my husband." It was great.
Soap Central: Because Diane was murdered and even had some voiceover as a dead woman, it didn't seem like it was possible for her to come back. What did you think of the return story?
Walters: Well, it's kind of funny because they said, "Well, we'll explain it." And I said, "Well, it doesn't matter to me, because it wasn't me!" It was a different Diane, I was never murdered, so I didn't have any problems with that! [Laughs] But they've done an amazing job with it. I had to say a lot to explain it all, but it all made sense in this world, and it was great.
Soap Central: Fans are willing to overlook all kinds of things that happened in the past because they're just so happy to have you back on the screen.
Walters: That's nice to hear. And also, the character of Diane had affected so many people when that happened, that her return has given a lot of the other actors fun stuff to play. It wasn't like a new person that came to town, and then you have to make a relationship and then you can have lifelong hatred of. It was all like, boy, just very immediate.
Soap Central: Do you have any personal hopes for Diane in the year ahead?
Walters: I'm really bad about that -- I don't really look ahead. I know what Diane's motivations are, what her happily ever after is or what her idea of that is, but me, Susan, I'm just doing what's in front of me because each time I read a script, I'm excited by what's coming up. I open up the script, and it's like I'm watching a juicy episode of something that I can't wait to sit down to, you know? I really can't think of the future stuff for her because I just trust that it's all going to be interesting.
Soap Central: Your first big role was also on a soap opera, playing Lorna Forbes on Loving. When you think back to your time then, starting on a soap for the very first time, and you think of your time now, being back in soaps, how does it make you feel?
Walters: Old! [Laughs]
Soap Central: I did not mean to imply that!
Walters: I do, though! [Laughs] It's an interesting question, though, because what I loved about Loving was it was my first job, and it was so neat to see how we were all in it together and we all supported each other. It wasn't the same work environment at all -- underlined, underlined at all -- because we had a really abusive producer on Loving. So, we bonded together because we were excited about this new show as actors, but then, a lot of the more established actors really took care of me because of the environment. What's similar about The Young and the Restless is that it's kind of like when you do a pilot, where you're all this troupe and you're in it together, and we're really supportive of each other. We show up at work, and we're excited to be there. Nobody I work with is going, "When do I get out? When do I get to leave?" I did a scene a couple of weeks ago, and I kind of missed the mark. I got a little off track at the beginning of the scene, and afterward, I said to Peter, "Dang, this is the first time in six months that I'm going to be driving home, thinking, 'Wow, I didn't get there.'" And he goes, "Well, let's do it again," and I go, "No, no, they've moved on. There's so much to do." And this is Peter Bergman, who's been on the show forever and has places to go, you know what I mean? But he said, "No, no, let's do it again," and he called the stage manager over, and they had already moved the furniture out of the way and had gone on to the next scenes, and the cameras had been schlepped across the stage, but everybody came back, and I did the scene over again, and it was actually a really good scene. And I was like, "Wow, what a great environment that is, that you have people who so care about their job to that extent." So, in that way, it's the same way as at Loving -- we're all trying to take care of each other. So, that's a similarity. What's interesting for me, and my husband has really noticed this, I kind of have PTSD a little bit. Like, when I start to stumble over a line, which is what normal human beings do sometimes, I immediately get nervous, like I'm back on Loving.
Soap Central: Because you'd get in trouble for stumbling over lines there?
Walters: That producer would make fun of me over the loudspeaker and stuff. So, I go back there, and I have to say, "Susan, you are 40 years older than that! Look at all you've survived. It's okay." But I still go back to being Lorna on Loving and getting yelled at and feeling like I'm stupid or something. It's interesting to be full circle back there again. Which, if I'm around somebody who is nervous or new on the show, I'm like, "Okay, no worries, take your time, you've got this." And the cast of Loving was very supportive in that way, but it was definitely a different environment. Y&R is pretty special -- you've got the producers and the directors and the stage managers, and I'm constantly telling them that they just make the day for me. They're just so respectful and so helpful, and they make you feel like it matters, because we are moving so quickly.
Soap Central: You mentioned your husband, Linden Ashby (ex-Cameron Kirsten, Y&R; ex-Paul Hollingsworth, Days of our Lives; ex-Curtis Alden, Loving) and you also mentioned that you do a lot of Y&R prep work at home, so I'm curious to know if he helps you run lines? Does Linden ever play the roles of Jack Abbott or Victor Newman?
Walters: [Laughs] I was going to say that when I got the job and I was doing this whole thing with The Flash, I looked at Linden and I said, "Are we doing this?" [Laughs] "We" because it wasn't going to be just me, because it takes a lot. And oh, my God, he's fantastic, as is my daughter, Savannah, who moved out from New York. She was living with us, and right now, she's staying with me because Linden is out of town, working, and she helps me with lines at night. And she's also great! It's really fun to have his perspective and her perspective, because she's 29, about some of this. They really add to my thought process about it, plus, they help me run lines, which is great. I'll go in and tell Josh [Griffith, Y&R head writer], "Well, Savannah says..." [Laughs] She comes up with some really good things! She's a lawyer, and I'm like, "Savannah is just really angry that Ashland couldn't be around the child. She's still on that!" [Laughs] So, it's really kind of fun. It's definitely a family affair. And Linden has helped me so much, and he's such a good director himself that he'll help me find my way through the scenes. It's great fun.
Soap Central: Is there anything I didn't ask you about that you'd like to add?
Walters: I think you asked me really great questions, and I appreciate the opportunity to be able to tell you how grateful I am to be in that work environment. Peter Bergman called me when I was in Vancouver, doing my second episode this year of The Flash, so after I knew I was coming back on the show, but it was a week prior to me starting, and I get this phone call from Peter Bergman, and it was so great, because it had been 20 years [since we'd spoken] -- well, I actually had visited the show one day about ten years prior -- but he was so excited for me to come back, and it made me so excited, and it's just been great. It's been a really good nine months, and God willing, it will keep going!
What do you think about our interview with Susan Walters? Have you been enjoying her return as Y&R's Diane? What would you like to see for the character in 2023? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.