'Y&R's Tyler Johnson Sounds Off on Theo's Big Paternity Reveal

Michael Maloney
Q&A Sonja Flemming/CBS

A better parking spot. A larger dressing room. There are lots of ways a show can let an actor know that he’s appreciated. But nothing beats finding out that producers have tied your character to some core families. That’s the case with The Young and the Restless and Tyler Johnson, who plays Theo Vanderway, the newly discovered grandson of Stuart Brooks (Robert Colbert) and Dina Mergeron (Marla Adams)!

This paternity reveal (Dina gave birth to Stuart’s son, Eric, Theo’s dad) ties Theo to his best “frenemy” Kyle Abbott (Michael Mealor) by blood and for life so, expect their interactions to take on new dimensions. Alas, the Brooks are gone from Genoa City – sisters Lorie and Leslie (Jaime Lyn Bauer and Janice Lynde) did make an appearance last year for the show’s 45th anniversary – but on the November 4 episode, Theo will share an emotional encounter with Dina, his newly discovered grandmother.

Read on to get Johnson’s insights into his new position on the show and which cast member has been instrumental in helping him get acclimated to the fast-paced world of daytime TV.

It must have felt pretty great when you learned that Y&R wanted to make Theo be Kyle’s cousin.

Tyler Johnson: Yes. I certainly am humbled and grateful. The gravity, as well of the response I’ve received, is not lost on me. It’s the biggest honor in my career to join this historical legacy. I’m very excited.

Michael Mealor as Kyle (Johnny Vy/CBS)

Do you have any Y&R fans in your family?

Yes. Myself, first and foremost. When I was growing up my mother had Y&R on as well as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. I’d been hearing about Victor Newman (Eric Braeden) since I was in diapers! My mom was really excited for me when I got this part. I was also fortunate enough to tell my late grandmother that I’d been cast on the show, but she wasn’t able to make it to see my first episode. I can still feel her presence, especially when I go to the studio. I know that she’d be extremely proud of me right now.

How did you come to join the show?

It really came down to the wire. I was asked by my agent if I could put something on tape [because the show was recasting a part]. It was like 9 or 10 at night. I stayed up late and did the material. I wanted to catch that [director] Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line) ‘golden sunlight’ [lighting]. A friend helped me use a sheet [as a backdrop] and hold a tripod while we shot it.

A few days later, I had a meeting with the whole crew [at Y&R]. It all moved so quickly. I was left breathless in the best possible way. It didn’t have time to sink in, which may have been to my benefit. Y&R is such a legacy show. I think what helped me [get the part] was that I was able to be myself and be present. There were particular optics I wanted to portray. I was authentic both in the audition and in my meeting. Maybe that’s why they went with me.

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Daytime moves at a rapid-fire pace. Who at the show helped you get acclimated?

Peter Bergman (Jack). From day one, I think he has seen something in me that maybe he relates to. He has this ability to speak to me… he’s taught me so much about me being a man on this show. Not to be disparaging about my own father, but [Peter] has acted as a father figure to me. He’s taught me about standing on my own two feet.

And yet, in the Halloween fantasy episode Tyler tells Jack’s he’s taking conservatorship of him and sending him to be with Dina. There is no loyalty!

[Laughs] That was so painful to do! That was nuts! He and I had just finished having a [great] conversation. He has shepherded me through in a way that has made me so grateful. Then, the following day, I’m having to [play a scene] where I’m committing him! Peter’s commitment to being committed speaks to his professionalism and talent. I wouldn’t allow myself to overthink the scene. I thought if this were Tyler Johnson sending Peter Bergman off to live with Dina, I would have broken out in a cold sweat!

 

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Was the Halloween episode fun to do?

Yes. The sitcom [segment] was fun to do. Michael [Mealor] and I actually got to play as if our characters were friends for a scene. That was incredibly fun and it was great to do something different. I really admire the production and the writing [teams] for putting that episode especially together. It was a nice deviation from the story to do something where Kyle and Theo aren’t at each other’s throats.

What was Kyle and Theo’s relationship like back in New York?

I spent a decade in New York myself and I understand the concept of projecting wealth and success [before it’s been attained]. I believe Theo was guilty of that. He hasn’t been as successful as he’s let on. I think that’s why finding out he’s both a Brooks and a Mergeron will be so disorienting for him. I think Theo, while living in New York, developed a resentment towards the elite [which includes Kyle]. Now, Theo’s finding himself being that which he grew to detest. He’s finding all the tools in his toolbelt are no longer effective. The scrappy underdog is no more.

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Comedy’s tough to do on soaps but Theo fainting in Society’s kitchen with Lola (Sasha Calle) was pretty funny.

Tony [Morina, executive producer] and Josh [Griffith, co-executive producer/head writer] have been great about giving me so much more freedom than I ever would have expected. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the text. It’s not so much about going off text as it is [the show] giving me the freedom of interpretation and to let Theo be quirky. "Quirky" is the best word I can think of to describe Theo. They don’t pull me back too much. They can see what I’m trying to do with him.

We’ve seen a promo where Theo meets Dina now that he knows she’s his grandmother. Can you tease what those scenes were like?

First of all, it’s an honor to work with Marla and also to have [Peter] there in those moments, too. Ironically, Dina’s the one person who’s in a position in a way to give Theo some answers, but she’s also unable to do so [because of her Alzheimer’s]. I found those scenes very painful. Marla is such a fantastic actress. She brought me to a place where, I felt, there were no cameras or sets or lights – only the interactions between us. Marla has the ability to do that, and in between scenes, she’s making wisecracks. But as soon as the [camera rolls] I couldn’t help but be completely taken in to those moments.

Young and the Restless, Weekdays, CBS