Y&R actress survived brush with death as teen
By Lilana Novakovich
November 24, 1995
Michelle Stafford is every bit as irrepressible as Phyllis Romalotti, her character on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.
And she has Phyllis' drive.
But she's not manic like Phyllis. Or neurotic. Or potentially sociopathic.
But she understands why Phyllis is all of the above, and more. Did we mention her exhibitionism?
Stafford says that when she auditioned for Phyllis, her first impression was, "This is your typical bitch. Then as I began to work with it, I realized, 'Oh, wow, she's a little ill. She's a little bit crazy.'
"I started working with that, the fact that there were these little nuances, that she's a little off. The dialogue sometimes dictates so much desperation and weakness, but how many times do we watch where someone's desperate and whiny and you think, 'Oh, die!' "
So Stafford set out to make Phyllis someone you could possibly meet on the street.
"Someone who would inspire you to say, 'What a great girl. She's so nice. Look at how devoted she is to her son and to her husband. I don't believe she's nuts. You're nuts for thinking she is.' Sort of like the postal workers. They off the whole post office, and all of a sudden their neighbors say, 'He was such a great guy.' "
About those teddies. . .
And what about Phyllis' penchant for wearing scanty teddies?
"Well, hey, I actually have no problem with it. Everybody says, 'Do you feel odd?' Well, no, I don't have a problem with it only because it's so her. If I were playing Christine, then I'd be like, 'Oh, God
. . . ' because she's not going to be parading around in lingerie. It's so much easier to be Phyllis wearing lingerie, because she's using her body as a tool to get Danny (Michael Damian). It makes sense."
A lot of things make sense to Stafford since her brush with death at age 18.
She was in high school, and acting and modelling on the side. She had just landed a commercial but the day before the shoot, her eyelids began to swell.
Her mother took her to a number of doctors, one of whom took an X- ray and discovered a large tumor near the front of Stafford's brain. Additional tests revealed that Stafford suffered from a type of white blood cell deficiency which had caused the tumor.
Stafford weighed her options and chose a doctor "who said he wouldn't shave my head" to remove the tumor. "That was the thing I was most freaked out about at 18 -- 'Oh my God, they can't take my hair.' "
They didn't take her hair, but they took her face. They had to pull it down to get to the tumor.
"There was a plastic surgeon there to put my face back together. Then they had to have an ophthalmologist to make sure I didn't go blind, because they didn't know what they were cutting through. There were all these possibilities. It was a nine-hour surgery."
But it was a success. And it made her re-evaluate her life at the tender age of 18.
"I think the experience colored my life. I found myself reacting differently and doing things differently. I really took control of my life after that."