Stepping in and Playing It Straight?

By Michael Fairman

Originally published on Advocate.com July 08 2009 11:00 PM ET

Try this one on for size: You are about to step into the role of one of the most devious characters on daytime, you've never done a soap, you are in the middle of a heavy story with no time to learn the ropes, and you are about to play one of the most controversial and shocking plot points ever in the genre -- seducing a gay man as a way to divert him from finding out the truth behind your skullduggery.

And, oh yes, you are straight.

That is the amazing and exciting predicament Michael Muhney found himself in when he landed the role of Adam Wilson in what some would call an "emergency recast." As many know, Chris Engen walked out on the most scandalous role in daytime, and created more controversy when many speculated he did it because of the gay plotline.

Enter Muhney, a Veronica Mars alum, who is relishing the chance to portray the different layers of Adam. Homophobia is not in Muhney's neighborhood, and he can't wait for more of the twists and turns that are sure to make Adam's diabolical seductions and machinations riveting to daytime television viewers.

In this Advocate.com interview, Muhney weighs in on the delicate way The Young and the Restless has handled one man's sexual advances toward another as a master puppeteer playing with someone's emotions and body to get what he wants.

Advocate.com:How has it been for you stepping into the role of Adam at such a pivotal point in the story? You came into this when Chris Engen abruptly left the show. Would you say you were an emergency recast?Michael Muhney: Well, being I am not familiar with the vernacular of daytime, and the "emergency" aspect; it was certainly an expedited casting process and closing the deal process. I think it was more that we were all inclined to get it done sooner than later and move forward. To be honest, if I had the choice of being thrust into the middle of a huge story line like this or put on the periphery, I would prefer to be thrown in the deep end. That way you are really sink or swim, and your instincts kick in and you have to go with your visceral gut instinct.

I had spoken with Eileen Davidson [Ashley] who told me she had talked to you on your first day on the set. She was checking in on how you were handling the pressure of your new gig. You said something like, "Bring it on." It seemed all OK with you.I am not the kind of person who gets nervous or gets rattled. If you want to make a sport analogy… if you want to hand me the ball with a few seconds left, at least I can control that, and I can do something about it.

How did you feel about Adam using Rafe for his cover-up? It's never been done in daytime before quite like this, which has been very interesting.For me, what it did was not only did it expand CBS's horizon and The Young and the Restless 's horizon, but Adam's horizon. What it did was move a character who represents a person who lives in Genoa City and moved him outside of a box that you can neatly check off. "He is straight, he is this, or he is that," and the fact that some lines are blurred makes him more real. How many of us in real life want to feel like we fit into a box? You like to feel that you are an individual who is not quite definable. When they did that with this character, I loved the opportunity to play into a different realm which is usually not touched upon on television. Maria Arena Bell [co-exec producer and head writer] was willing to go there, and go there with style.

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How did you feel the initial seduction scenes between Adam and Rafe were handled? We never saw them really kiss, and we saw the duo buttoning up their clothes after they have presumably had sex.To be honest, I really liked the nuance, and I like the 'Jimmy Stewart' way in which they did that. What I mean by that is, I have always been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock films and older films. I have been a guy who likes the audience to fill in the blanks. To roughly quote a man who made a comment on the scenes, Listen. I am a gay man. I appreciated the way the scenes were done. Do you really want to see someone who is playing with someone's emotions so innate, in a scene that is intimate? Someone is faking and someone is genuine, and that is almost really evil. Adam can go there. For me, the way it was done was tasteful, and it almost makes the audience wonder what exactly happened. You can create that in your head and try to interpret it by how the characters reacted afterwards.

Was there any hesitation by you to play out this plot point? Especially after Chris Engen (from what we have heard) had difficult times playing the darkness of the character, and now you were picking up from where he left off?No. Truthfully, I have a character who is supposed to be adept at card tricks and that is just a part of who he is and what he is going to do. This guy decided to be a puppeteer and play human tricks. When Maria was pitching the character to me, if you will, and when she got to the point where Adam was getting involved with Rafe one way or another, I think I visibly starting rubbing my hands together in the meeting with a smile. I was thinking, "Oh, wow! This is going to be so much fun to play."

What I thought was interesting was Adam slept with Rafe, and then he immediately called up his girlfriend Heather in a panic and asked to see her. Then he had sex with her! So, what was going on in his head at that point?I think if you are an adult of any level of intelligence, you are going to question what you did. But I think the way Adam wanted to answer that question was to have Heather come over almost to reassure himself of certain things. Whether or not he was trying to cleanse himself of something, or whether he was trying to forget about what just happened or tell himself what really happened, or if he just wanted to remind himself of who he really is, and who he really has true feelings for, as opposed to the people he is out there playing. I like the idea that this character would not draw a line between seducing a woman or a man, because the point is, the end result is what Adam needs. That is to protect himself. He will do it at all costs, and if he has to do it with a cover-up with a woman or a man, and that those lines can be blurred. This shows me that this is a man who is more diabolical, perhaps.

Do you think that in any way his sexual orientation becomes blurred -- gay, bisexual, or straight?No. I don't think that it does. I think the main thing that makes Adam tick is survival instinct. So, if something like this were to happen again, I think he would not blink at the opportunity to do what he had to do to save himself. In this particular circumstance, I think he is not quite a sociopath. He realizes he hurts people, and perhaps he may not feel so wonderful about it. Truthfully, he does not like the carnage he leaves behind. This was a means to an end, and that haphazard, "I don't care what I am doing to this person's emotions temporarily, because in the long term, I have to save myself," is kind of his thought process. In terms of him questioning that part of who he is, I don't think that comes into it as much.

And now yesterday, Nikki saw Adam and Rafe together! Nobody believes Nikki when she is telling Victor and Ashley that Adam is gas-lighting Ashley. How do you feel about it being Nikki that caught them in the act? I think it's perfect!The way in which the fallout will occur will be fun, and of course, it's going to cause some drama. And I agree with you, of all characters who would discover something like that, it's going to be Nikki! It also lends itself to someone who, if they are going to pass something around that they saw something, it may look like it comes from a jaded perspective.

They don't believe her now, anyway!Exactly! That is what is so great about it. It gives Adam the leeway to run around a bit and not in a corner and trapped. I think for Adam, the idea is for him to say, "Never say die." It's advantageous that Nikki is the one who saw it, because in the future he can put her reliability into question.

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Will Adam continue manipulating Rafe?It will go its course, and there will be some residual fallout for awhile. The "relationship" or the chess game they are playing, there is not just one move!

Could Rafe be on to Adam?Well, sure. I am not inside Rafe's head yet. You have to understand. For me, I do not get to physically see the reaction in people's eyes when I am playing them, because Adam is blind. He can't make eye contact. So it will be interesting to see, and fun for me to see how Yani Gellman [Rafe] is reacting and see if it's a bit of speculation… or if he is plunging in headfirst and believing everything I am saying. The way in which he is going to react to me will be interesting for me to watch, as well as the audience!

How is playing blind? Adam's rap is that while imprisoned the convicts stuck hypodermic needles in his eyeballs, when in fact he has been injecting Botox in his eyes this whole time!It's an interesting disconnect. It's a slight handicap, no pun intended, and it's also to his advantage. Adam can kind of play with people at a distance. Imagine someone who is a boldface liar and not having to look the person in the eyes. He can go to sleep at night, because he did not have to look at the faces of the people he is playing with. However, at the same time, I would enjoy the opportunity to look someone in the eyes, at so many different levels. It's certainly a challenge, but one that I welcome.

When you heard about the rumors Chris Engen walked out on his contract because he might be homophobic... and the role of Adam, did it taint anything for you coming in? What was nice for me, and what has been nice up till now, is that I had been pretty protected. I was not aware of the extraneous stuff or issues swirling around.

Did this all happen within 48 hours?It was longer than 48 hours, it takes awhile. You had to set up a meeting, then you show up, and then they are pitching you the character. Then it takes a few days to negotiate the deal. For Hollywood the deal closed fast. I did not get myself involved in those other issues. I guess if it were me in Chris Engen's shoes who was here before me, I would want the benefit of the doubt. My mom always told me there are three sides to every story -- there is your side, her side, and the truth. That is where I don't like to get involved too much, and wish people well for the choices that they make. I can tell you for me, I actually became more excited when I found out Adam was going to play a game with someone of the same sex, because to me that's juicy stuff!

Are you gay-friendly? Not homophobic? No, I am not homophobic at all. If anything, I will flirt with a tree. [ Laughs ] To me, it's fun. I grew up really admiring my mom's dad, and in German it's called opa, and that means "grandfather." This man, you would sit down at a restaurant, and he would just love to be charming. He would flirt the pants off of anybody and enjoy that connection. So to me, if I have another person in the room and I have the opportunity to connect with them, as my character or myself, that's great. I certainly have no walls with that and I don't think an actor should if playing a part like this. I am glad I am the one playing the part. I don't want to put any barriers up. If anything, I want to push through some traditional barriers and embrace a large contingent of the audience that is out there, rather than alienate them. I think there has been a lot of respect that has been paid to the scenes. They are done in a way where, if you take the sexuality out of it and the identity of the sex being male/male, this story line is no different than a guy who is trapped in a corner and has to make a play on a girl and convince her of false emotions to get what he needs in the end. And in today's day and age, I like that they are willing to open up a new chapter and have a guy do that to another guy!

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Very well said! How is working with Yani?He is great, and responsive in rehearing. He is a very open guy, and that made me more comfortable in brushing my hands against his lip.

Was there a moment when the two of you said, "Oh, how are we going to do this?"No. That was more on me in the story. I am the aggressor and I am the one making the moves, if you will. Rafe is just being responsive to what Adam is throwing his way. Because Yani made me feel comfortable enough, I felt comfortable enough to make the moves I need to make, and that after it's over and we are done with the take, Yani won't go, "What the heck were you doing?" He is great about it.

How about working with your on-screen dad, soap icon Eric Braeden [Victor]?He is fun. He is a big pussycat. I like that guy. Again, with the German thing. I bonded with him by speaking German with him on the set. Eric is very paternal in a way that I am familiar with. It's been quite enjoyable to work with him and several other people. He is right there at the top of my list of someone who I get to go sparring with, if you will.

And how is working with the woman you are tormenting on a daily basis, like Eileen Davidson [Ashley]?I start all of my workdays by giving Eileen a sweet, nice, soft, genuine hug. I then resort to beating her up emotionally for the rest of the day. She plays someone who is starting to lose her marbles so well. You can go too far with it and it's campy, and you can be too subtle with it and it's not readable. But where she goes with it, and allows my character to go with it, and allowing other story lines to rattle her, she does a phenomenal job. I couldn't be crueler to a nicer person!

At the end of the day, do you ever pinch yourself, saying, "I have this amazing role"?Christian Leblanc [Michael] came up to me on my third day and said, "You know, I told the producers I was willing to quit my part and my character and be reintroduced to Genoa City as Adam! It's a great role to play and I would love to play it!" And to hear other people put it in a way where you realize how lucky you are to get your hands dirty with something like this and really dig into a character is terrific. I do at times say, "Wow, this is a job that I get paid for and I am having so much fun." I am a kid in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory running around going, "All this is edible? Are you kidding me?"

In closing, what can we look forward to from Adam? Dare we dream!Look forward to some unpredictability! As soon as you think Adam is going bad there is some good. As soon as you think Adam is doing some good, he makes a turn for the worse. What I like about the character is that he keeps you on your toes. You are not sure what he has tucked up his sleeve, but the fact that the character is introduced into this story line as a person who is of a higher level of intelligence just sort of underlines the deviousness. So watch out for more games he is playing with people.