QUITS JOB, GRABS KID, LEAPS :: Beloved by millions around the world for her role on television’s The Young & The Restless, Michelle Stafford made a big, bold move this year – quitting the top-rated show to create anew on her own terms. Michelle spoke with TheGGN publisher Shaun Proulx about her hysterical new webseries, The Stafford Project, and having the kind of confidence to make a move that many wouldn’t dare dream of doing.
Hear their full conversation and watch the first episode of The Stafford Project below, or read a condensed version of their chat:
Shaun Proulx: How are you, Michelle?
Michelle Stafford: Hey! I’m good, how are you?
SP: I’m so good. The last time I saw you was in the back of a limousine in front of a flea market.
MS: Ha, oh don’t tell anybody about that!
SP: That stays between you and I. So listen, I wanted to say congratulations on The Stafford Project, a very, very funny piece of work, and I’m not just buttering you up.
MS: Ah, thank you!
SP: I think you made me laugh more in five 10-minute episodes that are now online, than I would most other comedies on television.
MS: Oh, that’s so cool! Really? That’s so awesome!
SP: I’m gonna call you a maverick. I love that you’re ahead of the curve, by putting your work online, tell us a bit about that decision.
MS: You know what? I had this idea to tell the story for a while because I was writing this script about the way I came to be a mother, a single gal trying to be a mom, and the funny that came from that. And then a friend of mine, Paige Dorian, I was in one of her web shows that she was producing, and she was telling me you could actually put something out right now; I wouldn’t have to “shop around” my script and do that whole thing. That’s how it came to be.
SP: As a media personality I’ve been putting my work online for over 10 years now, and for me, it’s like… there’s nothing like cutting out the middle man, and I wondered if for you, especially coming from the structure The Young and the Restless would contain, if this feels kind of like a creative liberation now.
MS: We’re sort of on that apex of something very exciting as far as viewership and telling stories, and it’s fascinating to see how many people are going to the web. It’s not just the demographic of the 22 year olds, it’s all the people. I don’t think this show that I’m doing is really speaking to a lot of 22 year olds, but it’s definitely speaking to, you know, 30 year olds, 35 year olds, and they’re going to the web to watch it. A lot of people will say, “I love it, it’s just 10 minutes, I can watch it during my lunch break.”
SP: One of the things I really love to talk about is people who have the balls to make bold life moves; my admiration of you really hit a new high when you quit Y&R and chose to do this. I wonder what that took, I wonder if people called you crazy, I wonder if people called you called you brave, I wonder if anyone said the web was beneath you. What has that experience been like, because people in safe jobs, or even just well-paying jobs, or jobs they don’t even like, will just stay there forever.
MS: The thing with playing a villain on a soap opera is you get introduced as a villain. Phyllis was a villain, she was a psychotic groupie freak – and then they turn you into a leading lady. It’s not an easy role to write from the writer’s standpoint, and The Young & the Restless went through – in the last six years – five different head-writers. And every time a new head-writer comes in everybody’s character changes, because the writer is coming in to replace the other one, who was fired. So, usually, the company wasn’t happy with what the preceding writer has done, so they’ll change things. So Phyllis went through a lot of changes in the last six years: we want Nick and Phyllis together, we don’t want them together, we do, we don’t, or we want Phyllis edgy; we don’t want her edgy…
It went back and forth, and that’s tough for every character, but I think particularly with Phyllis. She lost the particular edge she has – it’s not that bitchy edge, it wasn’t just mean. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, by saying this. It’s not anyone’s fault. I think that’s what happens to a villain when you make a villain into a leading lady. People really want the edge back, and I played it for fifteen years, and that was enough. I could have stayed and made lots of money, and re-did my kitchen, but at the time, my contract was coming to an end. As well, my sister had cancer, so when you talk about a safe decision, here’s my sister, who just got a promotion in her company, she’s traveling all over the world, she’s doing amazing things, and then all of a sudden she finds out that she has stage-three breast cancer. So she’s feeling safe, she’s feeling great, she’s living life, then all of a sudden, boom! So by going through that journey with my sister, and going through sessions and experiencing that – there’s no such thing as safe. Safe is bullshit.
SP: That’s what I’m talking about! That’s the heart of it: you didn’t want to see it like it was safe.
MS: No, I didn’t. I really didn’t Shaun, because it just doesn’t really exist. You look at the world and in the States the government has shut down. Like, huh? And safe doesn’t really exist if you’re really out there living life. I think people desire safe, because it makes them comfortable, but life isn’t comfortable, and that’s the reality, and you have to create. If you’re an artist, you have to keep on creating, and I really wanted to do other things.
I saw Billy Miller (‘Billy Abbott’, Y&R) yesterday and he let us use one of his restaurants to shoot. He’s a doll, and he said, “So, are you missin’ Y&R, are you missing us?” I said, “You know what, I miss you guys so much, I miss the actors, I miss the people who work there, I miss the crew, but I don’t miss the show.” I just don’t, and I’m not even saying that in a bad way, but I made the decision to go, I really played it out, I really had a great time, but it was done for me, that experience was done.
SP: This is what fascinates me about anyone who makes a sharp left in their life. You’re not going to remember this, but earlier this year, you gave a shout out on Twitter to someone that I love who was finding out if they needed more chemo that day, and I was on Twitter the same time as you, and I asked you to give a shout out to them because I knew it would make their day – which it did, by the way. I had this sense, when I heard that you were leaving, and I knew about your sister and about the stage-three cancer and everything that you were going through. My dad had passed away at an early point in my life, and I saw really early on that life isn’t safe. People want the feathered nest, and it’s such an illusion. Don’t you think that your real kind of comfort and feeling of safety comes from the discovery that you are safe no matter what, which is what you’re realizing, that your safe, and you’re creating really great comedy, and opening doors for yourself, but it takes that courage to say: “I’m over it, I’m honestly over with it, I’m moving on.”
MS: Yes, you made a point, you know. We are all looking for the feathered nest, because it’s really fun! It’s really cushy to know that I can pay for my daughter’s school next year. I mean it is. I can’t lie and say I’m completely fine in not having a secure job – this isn’t secure. I go to a meeting and I think it’s going to work one way, and it goes another way, and it’s kind of a roller coaster, but I really like riding it, and oddly, you’d think that I’d have a different reaction. But my daughter has given me a lot of confidence, to actually take the jump, and my family.
SP: Tell us more.
MS: You think once you have a daughter, you’re, “Oh gosh, I have to stay with security”, but like you said, your security is based on beliefs in yourself, you’re security should not be based on other people writing you a cheque – because now you’re giving your security to someone else. Your security in your own belief and your own confidence in yourself, that’s where your security should lay.
SP: Yay! This is the conversation I wanted to have with Michelle Stafford, everybody! THIS IS IT!
MS: It’s true! It’s true! It’s just true, it’s not my opinion, I mean if you’re putting your security into whoever is writing you a cheque, then all of a sudden you’re giving them so much power. And we’re doing that all the time, with life. We do it with our governments. We do it with so many doctors. It’s a very interesting thing, and my daughter’s given me a lot of confidence with the whole way she came to be. It just completely shut me down as a woman, but then after she’s born, I’m making it work, and it brings me tremendous amounts of confidence as a human being. Someone was telling me the other day, “Your really tough,” and I said, “You know, it’s funny, I’m not tough at all, actually.” I’m not tough at all. I’m not really ballsy at all. What I am, is very, very confident, and not in an arrogant way, not in an arrogant way at all, because other people should feel that way too about themselves. I’m confident in what I can do, I’m confident that I can deliver, and that’s based on a lot of practice, and a lot of research and a lot of knowledge about what I’m doing. My decisions come from a confidence in myself.
SP: Don’t you find you get confidence by doing things as confident person does? Know what I mean? Like some people say, “Oh, you’re so brave”; you’re not really brave until you do an act of bravery. You’re not going to be confident until you behave like a confident person would. Do you agree with that?
MS: Yeah, I do. I agree. I suppose it was brave of me to leave the show. I didn’t really see it as brave.
SP: What’s your intention for The Stafford Project? I’m wondering if it’s a calling card for HBO or Netflix; it has that kind of vibe all over it. Do you have a bigger intention for this?
MS: I was telling Nelson, our mutual friend, that in the beginning, it was just to do something fun, let’s do this, let’s just see what happens.
SP: Can I tell you the line in episode five that made me pee a little? Kelly Preston, that episode made me laugh the most, it was so funny. You and Kelly Preston are playing actresses, and you’re shooting a commercial for “White Secret” perfume, which is funny in itself. It’s this poolside shoot, and throughout the whole episode, Michelle is getting more and more hormonal, and she can’t get pregnant, and everyone else on the set is pregnant, and Kelly Preston announces she’s pregnant, and I peed a little when she says to you, she gives you the advice that “a baby won’t present itself to a hostile womb“.
MS: I knew you were going to say that line, by the way. Yes, that was Paige Long. Paige Long had a lot of zingers.
SP: Well, it’s super fresh, and super fun, we’re going to post the first episode, for everyone’s pleasure. The people that check out this conversation are going to be those who are really interested in you because your living hard and full and I wondered what you learned in the past few months since starting The Stafford Project and leaving your past behind, what have you learned that you would want our audience to know?
MS: I’ve learned how to treat people nicely. It really goes a long way, to acknowledge people, and thank them for their good work, that goes a very long way. I don’t think enough people do that in life, and I think people will work harder for validation and acknowledgement, that they will for money, actually. I learned that good friends are important to have and if you have two amazing friends, you gotta dig those relationships and cultivate them because they are very very very important. Your good friends and your family who support you. People who love you and support you are very very important in your life, and you don’t ever want to screw up those relationships, you just want to aide them and love them and be true to people who really love you – and you can tell who they are.
SP: I gotta tell you that that really hit home for me, and where I’m at right now. We have our acquaintances, and then we have our friends, and knowing the difference between the two of them.
MS: Yeah, sometimes we screw up, but the people who are supporting you in what you do, and are very honest with you, you want to keep those people around. You want to support them in return.
SP: You are ten times lovely, thank you so much for the chat.
MS: Thank you, I love talking to you.
SP: Anytime, I wish you the best of success, you brought a lot of people a lot of happiness as a performer, as you know. And this is really fresh, The Stafford Project, and I hope that you get everything that you desire with it, alright? Have a great day, Michelle!
MS: Thank you, you too, Love!
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