'Young & the Restless' Star Thad Luckinbill Talks J.T.'s Miraculous Resurrection & Playing an Abuser

Michael Maloney
Q&A Howard Wise/jpistudios.com

The best kept secret in soaps is out! J.T. (Thad Luckinbill) is alive and kicking, after all, giving hope to fans of The Young and the Restless that Nikki (Melody Thomas Scott), Sharon (Sharon Case), and Victoria (Amelia Heinle) won’t have to re-enact the "Angels in Chains" episode of Charlie’s Angels.

While Y&R’s storyline of emotional and physical abuse shined a light on the dangerous pitfalls of excusing away an abuser’s unconscionable behavior (as Victoria did with her angry ex), viewers couldn’t believe that the show would take the otherwise-heroic J.T. in this direction. Sure, as a teen, J.T. left an intoxicated Billy (then, David Tom; now, Jason Thompson) in the freezing snow, but overall, J.T. had been remembered as the hero who saved Colleen (Lyndsy Fonseca) from burning alive in Gina’s restaurant.

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TV Insider spoke to Luckinbill, who has become a successful film producer since leaving daytime, about why he returned to Y&R on this story, his first pre-nomination in the Outstanding Supporting Actor category at the Daytime Emmys (the actor, along with everyone else, will learn tomorrow if he advances to the next round), and more. Read on for the scoop!

When you first came back to the show in late 2017, did you know what the plans for the character were?

Thad Luckinbill: I did. It wasn’t without a lot of thought that went into it on my end. I’m overly protective of J.T., to a fault. I started playing him 20 years ago. It was either Jack Smith or Kay Alden [former head writers] who came up with the character. Initially, it was a three-episode character who was a party buddy of Billy and Raul (David Lago). Fast forward 11 years later, and I was still there. I was the only actor who played that character. That’s a testament to how well the character was written and to the fans.

J.T. Hellstrom (Thad Luckinbill) and Reed Hellstrom (Tristan Lake Leabu) in 2017 (Sonja Flemming/CBS)

When Mal (Young, then-executive producer/headwriter) came to me with the idea [of J.T. being an abuser], I had to really think about it because it was definitely out there. I always miss being at Y&R. I have strong friendships there. It’s like a family or a high school class. I love the people and the place. Even though I’m doing something different now, the possibility of coming back and revisiting the show seemed exciting. But I had to be careful and think it through in regards to what we were saying with the character and what we were doing with it.

Right away, fans were saying there’s no way J.T. would become abusive. How do you feel about that and where the show took him?

I had to go with some of it on faith in regards to where I thought the story was going and what we could do with it as opposed to knowing everything up front. I relied on the good faith we created with the character over the years in terms of his integrity and knowing my strengths as an actor. I knew I could "massage" angles, things that were too strong for the character, and in places where it might have been softer, I could try to amp it up. There’s some flexibility between the actor and the writer.

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Viewers learned that J.T. was angry at Victor (Eric Braeden) over his role in the death of Colleen (Tammin Sursok), but she died in 2009. J.T. waited almost a decade to deal with his feelings.

That relationship [between Colleen and J.T.] was a big part of what I used to justify where the character was. Other things came to light that I didn’t even know about. Even in this next round of me being there, it’s really clever what Josh [Griffith, head writer] has come up with. You trust the process. I know Y&R works because they’ve been doing it for over 45 years. You let go. It’ll be fun. It may not be exactly what I expect or it may be more than I expect.

Had you ever played a character who was this violent?

I feel like I have. Nothing’s coming to mind. I don’t know if I can give you a specific example. I feel like I always play either the All-American guy or the guy who wasn’t what he seemed, but nothing like this.

(Monty Brinton/CBS)

Was it harder or easier doing the abuse scenes with Amelia (your wife in real-life)?

To be honest, I don’t know what I would have done it with anyone else. Amelia’s a great actress. She has two Emmys [for playing Victoria] and they’re well-deserved. I’m a subtle actor, always have been. I try to play things real and grounded even when it’s soaps or heightened [situations], even comedy. Amelia does the same thing. I think when you do something this serious if you don’t try to find grounded, real moments and play them with that approach [then it won’t work]. Other people might be able to make it work. I know I wouldn’t be able to.

Was the trust level pretty high between you two?

Yes, absolutely.

Victoria Newman (Amelia Heinle) and J.T. Hellstrom (Thad Luckinbill)  (Cliff Lipson/CBS)

Congratulations on your Daytime Emmy pre-nomination for your work in this story. What did you submit?

Thank you. I wanted to keep [my reel] short. Daytime’s great because you get a chance to try some crazy things. If it doesn’t [work], you move on to the next day.

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You’ve become a successful movie producer (La La Land) since leaving Y&R in 2010. A lot of people in your spot might’ve passed on an invitation to come back to daytime.

I’ve never paid attention to the norms in this town. I just kind go [where the work is]. You do what you do. You try it all and you see what sticks. James Franco (ex-Franco) was on General Hospital when he was nominated for an Oscar for 127 Hours. I think it was Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side) who once said, "Actors act." It’s such a simple comment. If you like to act, then act. Who cares what it is? A local play or a blockbuster Avengers movie. If you’re having fun, then do it.

The Young and the Restless, Weekdays, CBS