There was a weekend last month when Jess Walton was no longer Jill Abbott. Different magazines reported various reasons for her leaving, as well as for her change of heart. One outlet printed that after Jess “discussed the matter with a beloved ‘The Young and the Restless’ co-star, she and the show hammered out a new deal.”
Jess wants to set the record straight, stating: “It had nothing to do with my co-stars. It had to do with my family and this economy. I felt so bad that so many people have lost their jobs, that all of a sudden I thought: ‘This is really silly. I have a wonderful job, and I really think I owe it to myself and my family to continue on.’
“But I really was off and done. I really did come back in that one weekend. I am very fond of Maria (Bell, co-headwriter) and the Bell family. I am very fond of my co-stars and the crew. But, ultimately, it was a decision between my family and me, and had nothing to do with anyone at work.”
Another big piece of news happened around the same time: the cancellation of long-running soap-opera mainstay “Guiding Light.” When Jess and the rest of the “Y&R” cast found out, she reveals: “We were shocked. I was walking down the hall, and Eric Braeden (Victor Newman) asked: ‘Did you hear? “Guiding Light” just got canceled.’ The first thought that came to mind was gratitude that we are still on and that our show is still going strong, and we have a really nice place to work. We get along so well and we laugh all the time; it’s really, really nice working there.”
Aside from monetary or economic reasons, Jess has an even better reason for further exploring the character of Jill: “I have to say that the turn the character is taking (finding out she is not Katherine Chancellor’s daughter) is really intriguing to me. This came up right before the negotiations. It’s kind of hard to say goodbye to her when she is just turning a corner and becoming all feisty again.”
Dedicated viewers know the reason behind her feistiness: Jill is reeling from the news that she is not Katherine’s daughter. Jess recalls when she first realized something was fishy.
“As I was reading the scripts, I was thinking, ‘Who’s screwing with the DNA?’ Then I realized, no one is screwing with the DNA; the DNA isn’t matching. I am very excited about the new story line. I am always glad when there’s a big change.”
Although Jess is grateful for the new angle to her relationship with Jill, she admits: “I very much liked the fact that they were mother and daughter. I just don’t know that it was ever handled right. I just thought that we’d been playing one thing for so long that the new direction would have to add something interesting, it would add other dimensions, instead of just ‘You old cow!’ and ‘You tramp!’”
Now that these old rivals are no longer related, Jess is anxious to see where this will lead them. “We’ve now had 32 years of a feud, and I don’t know how long you can just flat-out play that. With this new discovery, we’ve had a whole new change-up, and we could play off this. Now we can come back to the feud with renewed vigor, with fresh eyes.”
Katherine Chancellor and Jill Abbott had always been arch enemies. From stealing lovers, companies and even loved ones’ lives, Kay and Jill have seen it all on their personal battlefield. Then, a few years ago, they discovered they were mother and daughter. While some animosity lingered, a love between them managed to grow.
However, the results of Katherine’s recent DNA test to prove she was not Marge also proved she is not Jill’s mom. Jess Walton, who has played Jill on “The Young and the Restless” for 23 years, is anxious to see how this all pans out.
Jess reveals: “I think she suspected it was coming. When it was finally confirmed, I think she felt like she had been kicked in the stomach. She did have genuine emotional love for Katherine, and now she was no longer her mother.
“I think we should wait for the dust to settle before we come down to what is really going on with her. She is still dealing with the shock of it, with many conflicting emotions and with grief, because it’s the death of a relationship.”
Is Jill fearful of what her new relationship with Kay might be? Jess knows that is a definite worry that Jill is dealing with. “She knows she’s not blood. She goes back to the fears of how awful Katherine can be and how vindictive in the past Katherine has been: when she stripped Jill’s son of his name, when she kicked Jill out of the mansion, when she drove over the cliff drunk with Philip and killed him, all her cruelties to Jill — real or imagined. All that fear comes back. She realizes all of this in a split second. All of this comes pounding down on her.”
Because of this, viewers can look forward to seeing a revived and feisty Jill, one who has to fight for everything she has. That’s just what fans, and Jess, love most about Jill. “She always bounces back; she is a survivor,” Jess explains. “She’s like Scarlett O’Hara in that way. She was poor at one time, and she hated it, and she swore she’d never be poor again. She’s had a few times up the ladder, and then back down. She has experience with never being down for long. So there’s a lot of hope in her.”
Jess has a lot of hope for her alter ego as well. As she explains: “I just always want to see Jill succeed. She is more fun when she is fighting with her back against the wall, and we’re going to see a lot of that.
“I would love to see her get in a relationship. She hasn’t had that in a while. With Ji Min, I don’t think that she expected it, nor did he, but they just fell into this really lovely relationship, and I don’ t think that was really examined and ended too quickly.”
“Y&R” continues to win the ratings race, being the No. 1 soap every week for more than 20 years. Jess has a theory as to why this is: “Our writers have remained fairly faithful to the characters that Bill Bell laid down, and they’re still around. I always think that soaps are popular because they are a family replacement. So many families are split up, and people move across the country.
“There’s a way of turning on a little box in your living room and checking on family members, and they almost become like family. It is inherent in every human being, this desire for family, and soaps are like a substitute family. Because our writers keep their characters on — it’s not like other soaps that get rid of theirs and change theirs — we have the same ones. We have the same core families and core characters that people grew up with and have grown with.”
Copyright Cindy Elavsky 2007-2009 All rights reserved.