Monday, August 4, 2014

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chris L. McKenna on Playing Det. Harding on 'The Young and the Restless' and Revisiting 'One Life to Live's' Historic Coming Out Storyline (Part 1)

Chris McKenna plays Det. Mark Harding in The Young
and the Restless
.
Queens, New York native Chris L. McKenna has been acting since he was a child on stage, television and in film. He landed the role of Joey Buchanan on ABC soap opera One Life to Live at age 12, and has gone on to star in numerous priemtime series including 90210, Touched by an Angel, House M.D. and Castle. He made a return to Daytime TV earlier this year to take on the role of Detective Mark Harding on CBS' The Young and the Restless. Fans instantly connected with his portrayal of the tough guy cop, and have been singing his praises on social media, wondering what is inside Harding's tough exterior and whether or not he will find love. Serial Scoop recently caught up with McKenna to get his take on the character and to revisit his involvement in One Life to Live's historic coming out storyline. Read Part 1 of our exclusive interview below:

SERIAL SCOOP: You seem to be having so much fun on the on The Young and the Restless. What has your experience been like so far?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: It’s been criminally fun. [Laughs]

SERIAL SCOOP: [Laughs] I like that.
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: It is a great group bunch of people. It doesn't seem fair. Everybody was so welcoming, from the top down. And it's been a fun character to play. They have been giving me fun stuff to do and I get to be kind of a jerk. [Laughs]

SERIAL SCOOP: Daytime is completely different than it was when you started on One Life to Live, the pace especially. What has that been like for you?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Yeah it's so funny. It had been so long, 20 years since I had last been on daytime and, yes, as fast as we used to do it its way faster now. I was ready for it to be jarring. [Laughs] But I have got to tell you it was really comfortable right away and I realized this is why I'm so comfortable with getting new scripts everyday because I was trained this way as a kid. Stepping right in, I was surprised and happily so at how comfortable it was. It's so much fun. I like working in a fast pace and this suits me just fine.

SERIAL SCOOP: Now Harding has been referred to on twitter as Detective Yummy Pants, Officer Yummy... [Laughs]
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: There have been a couple of those. I have noticed. I will take it. It's fine with me. But I have nothing to do with my pants. [Laughs] The fans have been really great.

SERIAL SCOOP: Harding is getting soap fans all lathered up. What do you think it is about him that is causing such a reaction?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Well, he's not making a lot of friends in Genoa City. He's really tight with the Chief but he tries to arrest everybody else. [Laughs] He certainly has a chip on his shoulder. They haven't given me much back story on the guy yet but he's seen some pain. He's got some darkness in him. Fisher and he are starting to square off so the only friends he has he is starting to lose too. I think Harding says the things people think. He's tired of the rich and entitled people getting in his way. He's a cop, a down to business guy.

SERIAL SCOOP: Those Newmans and Abbotts always getting what they want.
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Exactly, he is tired of it. He's a blue collar kid.

SERIAL SCOOP: Have you created your own back story in your mind about Harding's past?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: If I had I wouldn’t divulge it; it's just going to change. I feel like it's a dangerous thing to do on these shows because I'm going to find out I had sex change or I used to be a telephone operator, I have no idea what I'm going to find what I used to be. I stick with what it is on the page and go from there.

On Y&R, Det. Mark Harding enjoys giving Kevin Fisher a hard
time. Photo Credit: CBS
SERIAL SCOOP: Detective Mark Harding deserves love in his life. We have Abby (Melissa Ordway) who is available. We have Traci Abbott (Beth Maitland) who is back on the show for a bit. There's even Kevin (Greg Rikaart)!
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: There's Kevin too. [Laughs] There's Courtney (Kelli Goss). There is a rich tapestry.

SERIAL SCOOP: So who would you choose as the love of Harding's life?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Listen, if you think I’m going to get myself in trouble you're out of your mind. [Laughs]

SERIAL SCOOP: I know, I know, but he deserves love!
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: He seems to me like he wants to be with Paul (Doug Davidson). [Laughs]

SERIAL SCOOP: Right. They have a bromance going on right there.
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Absolutely, I think he is jealous of Christine. [Laughs] They've also hinted at some history with Courtney as well, with Kelli Goss. We'll see. As many people have noted online he could use some love in his life.

SERIAL SCOOP: Changing gears a bit, it was 22 years ago that One Life to Live launched a storyline where Billy Douglas, played by Ryan Phillippe, came out as a gay. It was groundbreaking at the time for daytime. Looking back, did you realize how important a story this was?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: I was told. It was talked about a lot. We went and visited the AIDS quilt. I was aware but didn't appreciate it. I wasn't able to. It took me awhile. In fact just last week, a fan wrote a letter telling me how affected they were and how they were gay and didn’t know it, and didn't know they were normal and it was okay until they saw that storyline. I was teary reading it. The impact it had on people I couldn't appreciate it as much at the time, I was kid, and I was 14 years old. It's only since that I've come to realize how proud I am of that.

Chris McKenna played Joey Buchanan in One Life to Live.
SERIAL SCOOP: The head writer at the time, Michael Malone, was quoted as saying that he initially wanted Joey to be gay but the network rejected it, because they didn't want a core member of the Buchanan’s to be gay. At the time how do you think you have felt playing that, at that age?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: I would have been fine with it. I grew up in show business. I played a gay character at that same time in a play with Andrew McCarthy and Giovanni Ribisi called "Dare Not Speak Its Name." I had a kiss with a man. It's why I also I didn’t realize it had an impact because I never thought it was a big deal. So I couldn't understand to some people it it was. I would have been totally fine with that. Of course on the other hand I hadn’t kissed anyone yet. I had my first kiss with a girl on One Life to Live. It would have been difficult either way.

SERIAL SCOOP: What is it like having your first kiss on camera?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Oh gee, I handled it like a pro. Oh wait, no wait, I threw up afterward. [Laughs] I was 14, she was 20 years old. It was very nerve-wracking. I could not breathe. I probably would have been the same way kissing a guy; it wouldn't have made a difference.

SERIAL SCOOP: If you think back on your time at One Life to Live, do you have a favorite experience?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: It was not my first kiss. It was definitely not that. [Laughs] I had a great time on the show. Actually, It was doing the make a wish foundation softball games. The charities and the people I met and the kids we were raising money for. I have pictures of them with me in my bedroom here in Connecticut. My mom keeps it all up. There are pictures with Jessica Collins (Avery on Y&R, then Dinah Lee on Loving) and Amelia Heinle (Victoria on Y&R, then Steffy on Loving). I've shown them and we've reminisced about them. Those were such great times.

SERIAL SCOOP: Back then you weren't in the same league, no pun intended, as Jessica Collins and Amelia Heinlie, because they were older, but now, they could be your love interest on The Young and the Restless.
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: I know, do you know how exciting that is? I was going through puberty when they were 23, my god. Going to work with them now is crazy. I could totally date them now. Back then, it was a pipe dream. [Laughs]

SERIAL SCOOP: So what is it going to take to keep you in Genoa City long term?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: Oh hey, I don’t know. We'll see. I don’t know how these things work. I'm having such a great time. There are a lot of storyline possibilities.

SERIAL SCOOP: If Young and the Restless wanted you to sign a contract, would you be open to staying?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: When it comes to business stuff I mean I suppose everything would have to be in line for both parties. I love this role and I love playing it. I would certainly be open to the conversation.

SERIAL SCOOP: That sounds great. Anything you would like to share with your fans, especially the ones who refer to you as Detective Yummy Pants and Officer Yummy?
CHRIS L. MCKENNA: What can I possibly say to that? I love them, too. They are all yummy to me. [Laughs]

EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part 2 of our interview, Chris L. McKenna discusses working with Nathan Fillion, the actor who replaced him as Joey, and offers an update on recent projects including the play "Taste," as well as films Blind Pass and Off the Grid.

Michael Goldberg is a freelance writer, producer and actor based out of New York. He regularly contributes television and web series features to Serial Scoop.

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