CENTER STAGE: Jill Larson On Social Media, Michael E. Knight Returning and the Future of ‘AMC’

The OnLine Network/TOLN
David M. Russell/Prospect Park
David M. Russell/Prospect Park

If you think riding along during “All My Children’s” transition from network television to its new Internet home has felt a bit like a rollercoaster, you’re not alone. Jill Larson (Opal Cortlandt) agrees that the past few months have been a wild ride. But it’s one she’s enjoyed and would do over and over again. “It’s been very exciting, and I feel so fortunate to be part of something that is really pioneering in the world of broadcast,” she says. “There is an excitement, there is an investment [and] there is a commitment to doing everything we can to… bring these shows back to when they were at the pinnacle of their success.”

Doing so means learning the ebb and flow of the online environment, something everyone from the executives to the cast and crew has had to manage. And Larson has been quite vocal with her support of The OnLine Network and Prospect Park’s latest move, which was reducing the number of “AMC” episodes from four shows per week to two shows per week. The actress admits that due to the turbulent history the show saw during its ABC cancellation and Prospect Park’s subsequent failed first attempt to bring it online, it’s easy to jump to the worst conclusions. “When we first heard the news, [we] were sort of like, ‘Oh yes, right. Oh, this happened before, and oh, now we’re being cancelled,’” she says. “It’s hard not to go there initially, but the truth is, these people have invested their heart and soul and their money in making this happen. They believe in it; they want it.”

And while the official word hasn’t come out yet regarding how these recent changes will affect the actors and behind-the-scenes crew, Larson is fairly certain it’s positive all around. “I don’t think it all has been worked out yet, [but my guess is that] we will still be working the [same] number of weeks, it’s just we won’t be creating the same number of shows.”

A schedule which, as Larson points out, will give the sudser a better chance to shine. “We are being judged and compared to nighttime shows that air 10 or 22 episodes in a year; they don’t air 176,” she explains. “We want to raise the bar and show up with the very, very highest quality of product we can. And you cannot do that at [the previous] pace. It’s sort of like making Hershey bars, but everybody else is making… handmade French chocolates.”

For example, as Larson recalls, when the show began production earlier this year, it was a seriously bumpy ride. “We were really like a shot out of a cannon,” she says. “For example, we shot all of my scenes pretty much for ten or fifteen episodes all over the course of just a few days, because my house was one of the first sets to be built.”

But now, things are a bit different. “We’re still cranking out products, but there is more time to sort of consider [things].”

While the production technicalities were being ironed out over the past few months, Larson faced technological challenges of her own: That of being mandated — via the new actor contracts — to join social media sites, an act that initially scared her off! “When they called me to be a part of this project, and it said, ‘You will be required to do this many Facebook posts and this many tweets and blah, blah, blah,’ I just said, ‘Oh god, forget it!’” she recalls with a laugh. “[But] I very wisely hired a young woman who… really helped me get it all going and taught me how to do it and so forth.”

Since learning the social media ropes, the Minnesota native has embraced the new frontier with relish. “Now, I just find it so fun to be able to have immediate contact with fans,” she says. “I always loved getting fan mail, but I also always felt the guilt of not responding in a timely fashion, and so this is a very immediate means of sharing people’s feelings and being able to respond possibly to some things, and I just love it. I just think it’s really fun.”

One of the things she’s been asked — over and over again! — is whether or not Opal will finally get a love interest. Unfortunately, she has no idea at this point if romance is in her alter ego’s future, despite the fact that a middle-aged love story would be relatable to many fans. “Opal is a character that… middle-aged women really respond to,” she says, adding that she has her fingers crossed that a heartthrob will walk through Opal’s door. “I have relayed this message to the producers, and I can only say that I remain hopeful.”

And that’s also the case when it comes to Opal’s psychic abilities. “I hope that they will make some real use of that, because it’s a very real talent or skill that supposedly, we all have; some are just more able to access it than others,” she says. “I think it brings some really interesting qualities to… my character and to the canvas at large.”

Howard Wise/JPI Studios
Howard Wise/JPI Studios

For now, Larson has to rely on her own subtle psychic abilities, which tell her something fans will be ecstatic over: “We would all love to have Michael [E. Knight, Tad Martin] back, and I just have to believe that we will have him back at some point,” she reveals. “Something happened, which happened to me, too, which was that he just got really happy in L.A. He just really loves it there, and his life is very rich and on a certain kind of trajectory that is important for him to maintain right now. But I can’t believe that we won’t at some point or another see him show up in Pine Valley.”

But she’d also love to see Bobbie Eakes [Krystal Carey] return. “I love her, and I love that character she played; that would be really fun to have her around and part of our gang again,” she notes. “But I feel that way about everybody! You know, I’d love to see Walt [Willey, Jackson Montgomery] back. So we’ll see. Hopefully they will have their day and time.”

As for the future of the show, Larson would like to urge fans to continue to be patient and supportive. “We have to try to have confidence and faith that they are exploring and discovering what they have to do to make [success for the show] a reality,” she says. “So try not to be scared, which is what I keep telling everybody — including myself! It’s like a romance gone south, and once you’ve been burned, then you’re a little hesitant to open up again. But I think that we have to.”