The Young and the Restless‘ Greg Rikaart took the time on the SoapNet “Rock the Soap Cruise” to speak to The Soap Shrink not just once, but twice! I found him gracious, intelligent, and very polite in correcting my mispronunciation of his last name (FYI, it’s RICK-art!). We talked about his Y&R character Kevin Fisher, compassion, and how his understanding of psychology made a two-week character evolve into an Emmy-winning role.
D: A lot has changed since the Soap Shrink analyzed Kevin last summer . Can you tell us what’s going on?
G: He put himself in a situation. Kevin felt guilty about choices he had made in regard to Katherine Chancellor. He was trying to make amends, trying to be the knight in shining armor. He goes to the hotel, sees this guy Clint, and confronts him. So he goes into the hotel, he gets drugged and thrown into the trunk. But he made the decision to put himself in a precarious situation. It wasn’t safe. I’m sure his instincts were going against the decision. But we don’t always follow our instincts.
D: Now he’s having a flashbacks …
G: Well, yeah. I have to wonder how much of this would be happening if Kevin had really conquered his demons completely.
D: What demons does Kevin have to conquer?
G: He certainly has issues with his father, and he certainly has issues of being abused as a kid, and not being protected by his mom.
D: How is all that playing into Kevin’s choices now?
G: He still makes mistakes. He has such a need for approval that after he makes a mistake he feels like he has to fix it and rectify it.
D: Kevin is currently suffering with many classic symptoms of PTSD (Post Trauma Stress D–). Have you studied PTSD? Can you relate to that?
G: Not tremendously. I have not been through any abuse, fortunately. I actually did research on Patty Hearst for this part and what happened to her, what she went through. She sympathized with her captors. I think brainwashing someone by depriving them of food and water is not as difficult as you might think. So I think it’s about immersing myself in that situation and really trying to make it as real as I can. It’s challenging.
D: What do you find challenging about that?
G: Well I mean, literally getting locked in a trunk was something I had to go through and that wasn’t fun.
D: What was being locked in a trunk like for you?
G: It was terrifying. I’m not claustrophobic. But it’s pitch dark, lying in a trunk … (pause) you get scared. I wasn’t thinking about them yelling “cut,” but more like “Hey, I’m locked in a trunk, how the hell do I get out of here?”
D: I think that’s why there seems to be so much honesty in your performance. And I think that’s why your character has really lasted. Originally Kevin was supposed to be on for just a few weeks, right? He was a very angry, pissed off, chlamydia filled guy.
G: Yeah, he was just going to be there for two weeks. In the beginning he was doing all these bad things and I said that for myself as an actor I needed to figure out why. So I justified it by saying, “All right, clearly there was some abuse,” and that’s what I think makes him believable.
D: You invented the idea he was abused? That wasn’t written into the character?
G: I came up with sort of a rough version of it. And then a year or two later the writers really took it and ran with it and developed the whole story with his dad. But I just knew some basic things: he’s bad with women, so he had a mom that was probably abused by his dad and that was the model that he saw. Basic things like that. I didn’t know his dad’s name was Tom, I just knew these generalizations.
D: How did you understand how child abuse could manifest itself in adult relationships?
G: I had taken a psychology class in college, so I knew a little about that. I had a basic understanding of human behavior and how we’re not really all that complex and different from one another. We all experience the same basic emotions.
D: So when you were given a script with very little information other than your character was an internet predator, you’re saying your understanding of psychology helped you to flesh out the character that is so popular now?
G: Yes, totally. It’s just this understanding that pain is what causes people to act out.
D: I agree with that. So why then do you think the fans took such a liking to Kevin and wanted to see so much more of him?
G: Well, I think it’s for the exact reasons we were just talking about. There’s something identifiable in him and real, as well as his complexity.
D: Would you ever like to see Kevin get into therapy?
G: He’s been in therapy.
D: Oh come on, he went once or twice. I mean real therapy to help him work through some of these demons that we were speaking of.
G: As someone who loves and cares about him, that would be nice to see. But creatively I don’t think that would be interesting. I think that would sort of dull the edges a bit. I like to think there were a couple of more therapy sessions that happened off camera. But he’s certainly gotten better at handing challenging situations. Somewhat.
D: What would you like to see happen for Kevin after he gets out of his current situation?
G: I’d like to see some tension and conflict between Kevin and Jana. I don’t like playing him content. I don’t find that interesting. Recently Jana and Daniel have had some scenes together. And Kevin and Amber have had scenes together. So they may be toying with something there. I’d be really interested in seeing him become a dad, and the anxiety I’m sure he would have over rearing a child and hopefully not making the same mistakes. But I don’t think that would be a complete blessing, I think he would have a tough time with that.
D: I know that for people who have been recipients of child abuse it can be terrifying to be a parent.
G: Yes, it’s knowing that you have that in your fiber and fearing that you would make the same mistakes and ruin someone’s life.
D: Years ago Kevin said to Daniel, “I wish I could be you, I wish I could be confident like you.” Do you think Kevin has arrived at that place?
G: Sure, he’s definitely more comfortable in his skin these days.
D: How did that happen for him?
G: Well .. .those off camera therapy sessions helped. I think he has been on a journey. And even with the ups and downs of the past few years, he has sort of faced his past. He did face his dad, and I think he has some kind of closure with that. I don’t know if you remember that he tossed Tom’s ashes down the garbage disposal. So I think he has somewhat faced some of the demons. And I think that’s helped to make him on kilter.
D: How do you relate to Kevin? What parts of you are similar to him?
G: I read once, I think in that psychology class, that by six months old you’ve experienced every human emotion. You know you’re hungry for your bottle and your mom’s not there. So I think you can take your own experience and alter it so it fits in. I may not know what the distraught is to be locked in a closet or if the woman I love is holding a gun to my head. But I do know that it is to be distraught. And it’s substituting, as we learn in acting class. I’ve never been a drug addict but I had a teacher who said, “You don’t have to become a drug addict, you just have to think of the worst stomach virus when you can’t get to a bathroom.” Like you need something so badly and you can’t have it. I think being able to substitute is a way I can relate to Kevin.
D: Have you ever been as angry as Kevin was when came to town?
G: I’ve been angry at moments in my life, but I was never the angry young man.
D: How are you different from Kevin?
G: (Pause) I think he’s a little more malleable than I am. I think I’m more set in my ways. I’m not as impressionable. He seems to give in easier than I do. I trust my instincts more than Kevin. I would never walk into a stranger’s motel room. And I think I handle stress much better than Kevin does.
D: How so?
G: I meditate. I really like to compartmentalize problems so they never become enormous or unmanageable. I’m a little more level-headed than Kevin. Kevin’s hot headed, and that’s where we differ.
D: How do you take care of yourself after a day of being locked in a trunk?
G: Just rest, and sleep. A couple of glasses of red wine always helps (laughs). But it does take a toll, and if you don’t take care of yourself you do get run down.
D: What have you learned from Kevin?
G: Compassion for other people. I view him as this entity that is separate from me, yet someone I know phenomenally well. He’s almost like a friend. Because of all the awful things he’s been through it makes me feel more compassionate not just toward this imaginary being, but you make that part of your life.
D: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you have given Greg Rikaart when you started playing Kevin?
G: Honestly, nothing. I know I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I think you need to make mistakes to make you who you are. I wouldn’t change a thing.
D: How does it feel as an actor to know you are making an impact on others?
G: It feels great. You know, that’s the purpose of art. Daytime dramas don’t generally get the regard that I think they deserve. Part of what you want to do as an artist is impact somebody and move them in any way shape or form. So I really do like being told that my performances do that to people.
D: The Thinking Fans of this column have a very sophisticated awareness of psychological issues. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?
G: I never take a script for granted, I never take the easy way out. I really like to try to wrap my head around what is psychologically going on in that situation, and I hope they appreciate that.
Damon L. Jacobs is a family and relationship therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve. He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.