Julia Pace Mitchell on Returning as 'Y&R's Sofia to Say Goodbye to Neil Winters

Michael Maloney
Exclusive Michael Yarish/CBS

Malcom (Shemar Moore) reminisces with ex- Sofia Dupre (Julia Pace Mitchell) on Young and the Restless

Starting Thursday, April 25, Julia Pace Mitchell reprises her role of Sofia Dupre on Young and the Restless for episodes in which Genoa City residents bid a tearful goodbye to beloved Neil Winters (the late Kristoff St. John).

Pace’s tenure on the top-rated CBS soap ran from 2010 to 2012. Her character was involved with not only Neil, but his brother Malcolm (then, Darius McCrary), in fact, marrying them both during her time in Genoa City. Sofia left town after her union with Neil ended, taking their son Moses (Dax Randall) with her. In 2013, Mitchell gave birth in real-life to son Stephen.

How 'Young & the Restless' Bids Farewell to Kristoff St. John & Neil Winters

How 'Young & the Restless' Bids Farewell to Kristoff St. John & Neil Winters

On April 23, the residents of Genoa City begin to learn the devastating news that Neil has passed away.

Sofia’s been referenced rarely in her years away, but when St. John took a leave from Y&R a while back, the writers explained his absence by saying he was taking care of Moses after Sofia had been in an accident.

Mitchell, the daughter of actress Judy Pace (Peyton Place) and late actor Don Mitchell (Ironside), spoke to TV Insider about how reprising Sofia helped her process her own grief over losing St. John and if she’d be open to more episodes.

What did Kristoff mean to you as an actor and a person?

Julia Pace Mitchell: I was such a new person in the soap world when I came to it. Kristoff made me feel so incredibly comfortable and welcome. I always felt safe — like he had my back, no matter what. He was so good at it making me feel comfortable. I learned so much from being around him. He was super supportive.

Had you been familiar with Y&R before joining it?

Yes. My family was huge Drucilla (Victoria Rowell) and Neil fans! It’s what everyone watched all around the world. I’m not surprised by the turnout and response to Kristoff. He was in everyone’s home. It’s a loss for all of America. That’s how I feel, too.

Daniel Goddard Previews the Neil Winters Funeral Episodes on 'Young & the Restless'

Daniel Goddard Previews the Neil Winters Funeral Episodes on 'Young & the Restless'

The actor, who plays Cane Ashby, previews what fans can expect to see and shares personal memories of Kristoff St. John.

How did your return for these episodes come about?

I got [a] call. I think I was in denial that this had happened. It didn’t feel real. It had to be a hoax. I talked to Darius McCrary (ex-Malcolm) the morning of. Then, someone from the show called. That’s when it felt real. I started crying on the phone. I was happy to be involved, but it’s such a reality check that he’s gone.

Can you talk about how coming back to the show may have helped with your own closure?

Before going back, I went back and watched our old episodes and scrolled through videos of him just being silly. Something about revisiting him in a different way made me appreciate my time with him more. I didn’t fully realize at the time how lucky I was to have worked with him. Even when I got to set, it felt like I was back with family very quickly. It wasn’t five or six years – it was all familiar faces and family.

Julia Pace Mitchell as Sofia and Angell Conwell as Leslie (Michael Yarish/CBS)

One new face for you was Shemar Moore (Malcolm)!

I had never met him before. My sister was freaking out. “You get to meet Shemar Moore!” He’s every woman’s daytime dream. It was exciting, but at the same time it was sad.

Did the history all come back between Sofia and Malcolm?

Shemar was like, "Who are you?" He didn’t know my character at all. He had been gone when I was there. We had a conversation [about our backstory]. But I didn’t know where the characters really stood but we filled it as much as we could.

Kristoff St. John Remembered by 'Young and the Restless' Co-Stars & More

Kristoff St. John Remembered by 'Young and the Restless' Co-Stars & More

The actor passed away on Sunday at the age of 52.

Did you meet Dax Randall (Moses)?

Yes! He’s so adorable. He’s such a little gentleman and so professional. Everyone around him was crying and he’s the ultimate professional, very sweet. I so enjoyed watching Bryton [James, who plays Devon]. Loren Lott, who plays Ana, is a ball of energy. It was really sweet.

What’s kept you busy since leaving the show?

I moved back to California for the sunshine and I’ve been teaching theater. Motherhood is the biggest role in the world! Coming back to Y&R was a shot in the arm. I’d put it on the back-burner. I remember Kristoff encouraging me to have a family and spend as much time with my son is possible. He said, “Go have a baby.” He was that kind of person, who understood the importance of family life and realizing it’s important not to get caught up in "TV life." I spend every day with my son [Stephen]. Now, he’s old enough to say, "Mom, leave me alone!"

Do you have any special memories of Kristoff?

I had a picture on my phone of Kristoff when put on some colorful underwear, which he wore when we had a love scene. It was one of the first times I had to make out with someone on daytime TV! The print on it was so funny! He made me feel so comfortable and he was never inappropriate.

Josh Griffith, head writer, co-executive producer, has said that Neil’s family will endure. Sofia is the mother of Moses, Neil’s son. Would you be open to more visits?

Of course, I’d be open for that. The Winters family is part of American history, I feel. There are a lot of women out there who are "Sofias" — single moms, who have a business life and a child. That’s not always reflected on television. When I got back on set, I said to myself, "Oh! I went to school for this. I know how to do this." It felt like coming back into myself. I know Kristoff would tell me not to give up on my dream.

Young and the Restless, Weekdays, CBS