She's still lying in a coma on The Young and the Restless but, in real life, two-time Emmy winner Michelle Stafford is kicking ass and taking names — as always. Her new comedy webseries The Stafford Project (MichelleStafford.com), which debuts Aug. 5, skewers reality TV, Hollywood agents and even Stafford's own adorably sad love life. TV Guide Magazine scored an exclusive sneak peek at the first two episodes and a one-on-one with the lady herself, who tells us why she has chosen to exit her crazy-popular role as Y&R's Phyllis (her last airdate is Friday, Aug. 2) and why her millions of disappointed fans shouldn't be hating the powers that be.
TV Guide Magazine: Congrats on The Stafford Project! It's terrific and audacious and so, well...you! As we know, there's never a dull moment in the life of Michelle Stafford. Is that why you're turning it into a web series?
Stafford: A primary reason I have left Y&R is that I want to do comedy. I decided I needed to create something for myself, and you write what you know, right? I teamed up with my two friends, Paige Long and Paige Dorian, and we came up with The Stafford Project as a way of finding the humor in all the degrading things that happen to me. I just lead that kind of life. Things go wrong. Things blow up in my face. But even the most difficult things in my life are riddled with comedy, like how hard I tried to have a child. I went through years of literal hell — seven surgeries and nine different adoption cycles all of which failed. I was constantly being told I was an old bitch, that my eggs were as old as the hills. Then there was the in-vitro doctor who, after giving me two surgeries and looking up my vag every other day, suddenly revealed that he had feelings for me. Plus there's all the reaction and the criticism I get because I'm not married. "How come you're single?" "What kind of a loser must you be?" "There must be something wrong! Are you a closet lesbian?" And most of this comes from other single women, or women who are in a miserable marriage! It's insane! At the time, none of it seems funny. In fact, it's pretty horrific. But now that I have some distance and a beautiful daughter [Natalia Scout Lee, 3, who was born via surrogate using Stafford's fertilized embryo], I am able to look back at everything and find the humor in it all. And I do know how to tell a good story! So I thought, why not turn all this into a web show? Self-deprecation is my friend.
TV Guide Magazine: Does this series feel like therapy to you?
Stafford: It's very therapeutic! Maybe it will help other women, too. There's such torment attached to being single and trying to find a man these days. Torment! In the second episode I go on this date from hell that actually happened to me. We've all had them, but you keep on trying. This series is about Michelle Stafford but exaggerated elements of me. It's got heart. You root for her to succeed because she has so much hope. If you don't have hope you just look like a stupid woman who keeps dating tools. I also throw in the fact that I'm in my 40s and how I don't want to admit that. Society has decided that it's all over for me when, in fact, I'm still feeling like a hot bitch. I'm still getting my groove on!
TV Guide Magazine: You also don't hesitate to savage your agents. The opening episode has them convincing you that soaps are over and that you must do a reality show to save your career. Any of that true?
Stafford: That's not a conversation I've ever had with my own agent but it's definitely a reflection of the way people perceive soaps. It's the same ole bandwagon bulls--t you keep hearing in this business — that soaps are dead. Meanwhile, everyone's still looking for their 10 percent commission. My agent on The Stafford Project is named Steve and so is my real agent, who watched the first episode and was just filled with criticism. He did not find it lovely. I'm going to have to give him some time.
TV Guide Magazine: In the series, you reluctantly go ahead with a reality show. Are you one of those actors who hates reality TV and all it stands for?
Stafford: Not at all! Hey, I watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and get off on the fact that they're all rich and miserable. What's that one broad's name? Linda Vandertrump? I love looking into her closet! I fantasize about having a closet just like that. So, even though a lot of actors hate this reality s--t, I totally get the appeal.
TV Guide Magazine: You've cast your daughter in the series. Does she have any clue...
Stafford: That I'm exploiting her? [Laughs] I just know I'm going to be killed for putting her in this project! But you know what? I don't care. I've been made fun of so much because of the way I created my child. I went out and got some sperm on my own, like on a damn soap opera! I already know I'm going to be ridiculed. There are some groups who think the way I conceived my daughter is a sin. That's fine. They can think what they want. My daughter is absolutely f--king amazing and she's having a good time on this show. She's actually the best actor in the group. She knows her lines. She improvs well. She's having a blast! [Laughs] And when she's older she can look back at all this and complain about how her horrible mother shoved her into show biz!
TV Guide Magazine: Let's talk about your departure from Y&R. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night wondering, "What the hell have I done?"
Stafford: Not at all, but I do wake up going, "Wow. It's really, really over. I'm not on the show anymore! I'm not Phyllis!" It's been 15 years of my life, so it's wild. I don't have regrets because it was a very thought-out decision, not based on any kind of emotion, and a decision that took me a couple of years to reach. It wasn't a "F--k you guys!" sort of thing. Not at all! I don't feel comfortable divulging all of my many personal reasons for leaving the show, but I've been very honest with the people at Y&R and with the fans that there is no malice, no anger involved.
TV Guide Magazine: Yet many of your followers don't want to believe that. They want to blame your exit on [exec producer] Jill Phelps or [head writer] Josh Griffith. And some think you're being punished for leaving, which is why Phyllis was put into a rather anticlimactic coma.
Stafford: My going had nothing to do with Jill and Josh. You don't leave a show you love after 15 years because of one person, or two people. At least I don't. That just doesn't make sense. But, if people are pissed, I can see why they might find Jill and Josh an easy target. Nobody should be mad at them. And I am not being punished with the way they wrote out Phyllis! When I spoke to them about my decision to leave, I did say that I thought it would be a mistake to kill Phyllis. And they were very funny about it. "If we say we're going to kill her, will that make you stay?" [Laughs] A little blackmail! I like that they have kept this role open and I totally support the idea of a recast. Phyllis is way too important of a character to let her go away just because I'm leaving the show. So, no, I'm not being punished. Executives and writers just don't think that way. They've been very kind, and for the fans to think otherwise is just not right. Why is it so hard to accept that I just want to go? I'm an actor. We want to do lots of things. [Laughs] And if I fall on my ass with The Stafford Project, I want to really fall on my ass! You know, it's kind of unnatural to be an actor on a soap and pretend to be another person for so many years. You're making out with men. You're rolling around naked in bed. Who else has a job like that? [Laughs] Only a whore! Soaps are a great job but you find so many soap actors turning into their characters. It's a lot of intensity. That's why jumping into this comedy web world is so exciting for me now. People don't think someone who's been on a soap for 15 years can do comedy. The very least that can happen with this is that somebody somewhere out there thinks I'm funny and that's good enough for me.
TV Guide Magazine: Well, we're going to miss you madly on Y&R but can't wait to see more of The Stafford Project and whatever else the future holds for you.
Stafford: Thanks! Yeah, who knows what's next? [Laughs] Hopefully, it's not me working at The Cheesecake Factory!