We Love Soaps traveled to Peapack, New Jersey before GUIDING LIGHT taped their final episode. As fans prepare to say goodbye to the beloved 72-year-old soap on September 18, we are sharing our interviews with the cast including Emmy nominee E.J. Bonilla (Rafe). Bonilla shared his thoughts on Rafe, his film work and his trip to the Daytime Emmy Awards.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You started on the show over two years ago.
E.J. Bonilla: Weird, so weird.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was this your first professional gig?
E.J. Bonilla: I had done some other stuff. I was in a Burger King commercial - I was a chicken. It was a voice over for Burger King chicken fries. It was a whole bunch of fun, I got to stay behind a glass and joke around with three other guys for two hours and make a bunch of money. It was really cool.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did GUIDING LIGHT come about?
E.J. Bonilla: When I first started applying for college I was hoping to go for theater, for drama. And when I talked to my manager, she sort of told me not to, that it wasn’t such a good idea, because you’ll be tied down for the time that you’re learning, and you won’t be able to audition so much. A lot of programs encourage you to stay in the program and get what you need and then get out and use it. She was like, “We want you to keep the ball you’ve have rolling, rolling.” So I got accepted at NYU and I was going to stay in the city. But I wanted to know what it felt like to go away. So I went away to Barnum, a little city upstate, but close enough to come down for auditions. It when I was out there I got the audition for GUIDING LIGHT. I came back down, had a callback, then I missed my callback because I fell asleep on the train. They don’t know that actually.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What did you tell them?
E.J. Bonilla: What happened I missed my train by that much [emphasizes with hands a tiny bit]. My friend drove me to the train station and I was like, “I have this big audition we have to go, we have to go!” And we missed it, I literally heard it pulling off. I was like, “When’s the next train,” and the lady was like, “in about an hour,” and I called my manager. She told them that the ice on the tracks was delaying the train so they had to melt the ice before they could keep going because it was Amtrak. And they believed it [laughs], they were like, “Fine, sure, let him come down as soon as he can.” And I was tired, I had stayed up the night before doing something like rehearsing or something like that. I was like, “I’m just gonna rest, I have an hour before the next train comes.” Next thing I wake up I’m like, “What time is it? Oh my God!” And I asked the lady and she was like, “Oh that train just left.” So I missed my callback. They luckily didn’t see anyone they liked enough and when I came in for my callback it was like the second callback for everyone else. And I still booked it, because I’m AWESOME [laughs]. Oh my God, I’m so awesome!
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was the fan response to you when you first started?
E.J. Bonilla: To be honest with you, all I know is from the mail I got sent, it was all nice stuff. I know there are blogs out there, that I’ve never really paid attention to, I went on them once, and they were just mean. I did not go back. Some just say I’m a horrible horrible actor.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I know on our blog, when the Emmy Nomination came out, I wrote that I was very happy because you’re underrated. I was thrilled.
E.J. Bonilla: High five to you! [Slaps hand] Thank you very much! There’s a difference between giving criticism and having it be supportive and say what you’re not so crazy about, and then just smacking people around with bricks. There’s a big difference. I think a lot of people have that idea about critics - that to be a good critic you have to say what’s wrong and that’s not necessarily true.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I usually establish what I like first...
E.J. Bonilla: Which is a gentlemanly way to do it.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So you were on the show for awhile, then you left the show for awhile. Rafe got into some trouble...
E.J. Bonilla: Rafe was in jail for awhile. I think I’m the only character who served his full sentence on a soap.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That is very unusual for a soap. What were you doing during that time?
E.J. Bonilla: I was really happy when they gave me all that stuff to do, because I felt like I was an actor again. When you’re playing every day situations, it’s just honestly not that interesting. When you’re in prison you can make this complete back story for yourself about what’s going on and why are you this way and why are you that way. It’s just so much more fun as an actor to play that. I was having fun, I thought that was the best stuff they ever wrote for me while I was in prison. But me personally? When I wasn’t on that much I was lucky to get some other stuff. I went away to the 2008 Sundance Films labs, and worked on a film called Meadowlands while I was out there which was really awesome. The “labs” is where actors and first time directors go to work on their scripts. And they’re allowed to hire actors for a few scenes they need the most help with. So you go out there and you play.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were also in another film that came out recently.
E.J. Bonilla: Oh yeah. I starred in another film called, Don’t Let Me Drown, which was really nice. It debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival which was awesome. Honestly, it was so beautiful out there with the snow and everything. I’m proud of it. I loved the director, Cruz Angeles is his name. He’s just an amazing person, like a real artist. Not in it for the fame or the fortune type. Just, “I wanna make something that’s real.” He’s that kind of person. And that’s kind of the way I am. So I just want to be believable. I want to be an amazing amazing actor someday. Whether it makes money or not, I just want it to be amazing.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Speaking of reality, when Rafe came back to Springfield this past year, he found himself in a story which is one of the more realistic stories being told.
E.J. Bonilla: This is true. I’m very proud of this story.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: “Rafe Has Two Mommies”.
E.J. Bonilla: I have two mothers! And that’s okay! Alright?
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Rafe had quite a problem with that. Have you been given a hard time because of Rafe’s attitude about the relationship between Natalia and Olivia?
E.J. Bonilla: I haven’t. I think that people respect that we’re telling different sides of the story. I mean, I know they had Bible thumping Christians responding to the story, but liking it. And saying that they appreciated everyone telling it honestly. They feel for Natalia because she’s in love. I think that’s amazing. I think that’s a step, especially for the soap opera world. I think that’s important to tell that side of the story. I think Rafe maybe doesn’t know as much about it as he should. But more than he’s mad about his mother being in love with a woman, he’s upset that she’s not who she said she was supposed to be. If that’s the way she was since he was born then he would accepted it like nothing. But, “You’re different now. I went away and I came back and you’re not the person you were supposed to be.” Whether it was her being in love with a dog or whomever or whatever, whatever she was doing. There’s a huge change here, and that’s not comfortable, that’s not easy. Change is scary. I think it’s normal for him to react in the way he did.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And Rafe has always been her focus, he’s always been her boy, and suddenly he’s not getting her primary attention anymore.
E.J. Bonilla: She loves someone else. And when it was his father that she loved he didn’t like it at first either. And then he started to love his father. And then it was like, “Okay we’re going to be family. I can see that. This is what it is supposed to be like, this is what it is supposed to feel like. Oh my God, this is amazing.” Then his father passes away and it’s just them again. And he’s like, “You know what? This is how it always was anyway. This is how it’s supposed to be.” So he gets passed it. “And now you’re in love again it’s a woman?” That’s just a crazy change to come through. I think any family goes through that if there’s a change like that.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Just having to go through jail and go through prison has been a big change. How do you understand how serving time has affected Rafe?
E.J. Bonilla: I’ve never been to prison, obviously. I’ve never been to prison, locked up, incarcerated, in the big house. What would I feel like if someone was telling me all the time what I can and cannot do? I mean, we argue with our parents when they get too bossy. So imagine if you couldn’t argue back. And if you did you would get punished, severely. I am told to when to eat, I am told when to drink, I am told when to shower, I am told when to shave, I am told when to go to sleep. You’re locked up, and you’re locked up internally as well. That’s scary, it makes you shake. What was good for him was that he went from a maximum security penitentiary to a minimum. It is a huge difference. I’ve been to prison to visit friends and family. And those guards that are there? Sometimes they really are... sometimes people with badges feel they have so much power.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In what ways are you similar to Rafe?
E.J. Bonilla: Well, he’s much more serious than I am. That’s a fact. But I think we have the same respect for family. I love my mother and she’s my world. My family and I are so close it’s not even funny. That’s one of the things I try to carry over with the character.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In what ways are you different?
E.J. Bonilla: He’s so frickin’ serious. I don’t think I’m as quick to judge as Rafe is. Or as quick to act as he is. He sort of gets flustered and [snaps] captures the moment. I’ll sit back and think about it for a moment or two.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would you have liked to have seen happen if there was more time to tell more story for Rafe?
E.J. Bonilla: I want him to get back with Daisy. I think it’s important when you’re younger and you fall in love and it may not be possible because you’re both changing a lot. He’s been through a lot and I think he’s never lost his love for Daisy. But he’s able to be her friend now which is really special. When you get to a place with someone that you can fall in love and get out of it but still be friends, I think that really means something. I would have liked to have seen them be there a little bit more and maybe develop as a friendship this time, and maybe a kiss or two.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What would you like to see professionally for yourself in the future?
E.J. Bonilla: I’m a baby. I’m a complete baby. I haven’t experienced as much as I’d like to so far. But I’ve been blessed enough and I’ve done a film and I’ve done a few where I’ve gotten to gain some experience. I want to be on film. It’s the best place to capture the most real things. I want to play with amazing writers and directors and create things that make people escape from their normal realities. I want to give people a break from the regular world and sit there and breathe for a moment, whatever that means.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Are you excited about the Emmys?
E.J. Bonilla: I am excited. I haven’t celebrated so much yet. But I’m excited because I get to bring my family and let them see what I’m doing. We all just moved to Queens, and my brother is incredibly busy. He’s an electrician and he’s like the man of the household and the family. And whenever anybody needs anything they always go to him. I’m excited to take them somewhere and show them, “Look, you know, I do stuff too.” It’s always hard when you have someone following their dream because you’re not always sure if they’re going to make it or not or do something with it. So I can take my family to L.A. and go to the Emmy’s and see their son or brother or nephew maybe win an award, that’s pretty cool.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Who are you going to miss the most here?
E.J. Bonilla: Alan Locher! [Telenext publicist standy close by] I don’t know if you’ve met him but he’s amazing.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: He is a cool guy! But aside from Alan Locher?
E.J. Bonilla: Who am I going to miss the most? I can decide that, that’s just mean. I love everybody here. Actually, everybody says that. Let me give some real gossip. I don’t like most of the people here. [Laughs]
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: And what would you like to say to the readers of this who are grieving over the loss of you on their screen and GUIDING LIGHT?
E.J. Bonilla: “Are you really that sad? Really?” That’s what I would say. “Really, I’m not that good. Or special.” Thank you for watching. And I hope if I’m every somewhere else that you may care enough to see me there too.