Thirty years ago, on November 26, 1991, Christian Jules LeBlanc made his debut on Young and the Restless as legal eagle Michael Baldwin. Charismatic and charming, Michael, in a story that was perhaps ahead of its time, tried to pressure novice attorney Christine Blair Romalotti (Lauralee Bell) into sleeping with him in exchange for a position at a prestigious law firm.
After being censured, Michael went off the deep end and attempted to sexually assault Christine. He was shot and sent to jail where he recovered. Y&R opts not to bring back most of its villains but after serving about four years in prison, Michael was paroled. He manipulated his way back into Genoa City society and finagled his way into getting back his law license.
Over the decades, Michael’s mellowed but he still has that edge he can tap into when the moment calls — usually when he’s in the courtroom. Off-screen, LeBlanc is a successful artist (check out his work here) and he’s currently headed to New York City for a new off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Theater at St. Clement’s in January 2022.
TV Insider chatted with LeBlanc on the occasion of his three decades in Genoa City. Read on to get the three-time Daytime Emmy-winner’s thoughts on playing, whom Michael calls, “the smartest person in the room,” and tune in for Y&R‘s celebration of the soap star on January 10.
Did you know that Michael was going to be a sexual predator/harasser when you auditioned?
Christian LeBlanc: It was just Bill [Bell, creator, head writer, and senior executive producer] and Ed [Scott, executive producer]. I didn’t have a screentest. I knew Michael was off-color. I don’t know if they specifically said this will be a sexual harassment storyline but I had to have known? This was the first off-color character I played. I went for it and I think that’s what impressed them.
Michael burrowed a tunnel from his apartment to Christine’s apartment so he could bypass the guard outside her place so he could attack her. Along the way, you tied up Nina (Tricia Cast). You and Tricia still play that uneasiness in scenes together.
Yes. Nina did not like Michael. [Tricia and I] adore each other in real life.
Other men who’ve attacked Christine either got trash-compacted to death or suffered fatal falls out a window. Michael went to jail for four years and then, was paroled. Clearly, the show wanted you back!
I didn’t know it was rare for [a villain] to come back. Michael came back. He still had an edge. Michael still feels like he’s the smartest person in town.
Greg York, Y&R’s late costumer, once said he wished you and Michelle Stafford (Phyllis) were on the show at the same time. That eventually happened.
Absolutely true. We both heard that from other people, too. They all said you two will love working together. It’s such a specific and personal thing. To really thrive [as I do with Michelle], what’s exciting is how the hell did we get here from where the scene started? You feel the other person is really enjoying you.
Michael toned down the harassment but he’s never lost his edge.
One of the glories of this character is being a lawyer is such a portable thing. He could be introduced into other storylines. It’s all about the writers giving you different parts of you that can make a whole human being. That’s why they bring in best friends for characters. It’s important to have those characters. The writers gave me Kevin, Gloria, and Lauren and I got to make a bigger character. There are places to be intimate in different ways. Michael can always be a jackass in the courtroom.
The show started to pair you and Heather Tom (ex-Victoria) together in 2003 but she left the show. Do you have any memories of that time?
I remember Victoria being so young when I first came on the show. I remember it being so easy working with her.
Your longest-running leading lady is TV wife Tracey Bregman (Lauren). What do you remember about them putting you together?
We have an amazing cast. It’s like when I worked with Lauralee [Bell, Christine]. If she had been uncomfortable for a second, I would have fallen to pieces. I have sisters and I had never done that kind of violence. If she’d been uncomfortable, I would have read it and it would have affected my performances. She went for it. That’s not easy for a woman, I can imagine. The same thing with Lauren. When they put me at a table with her. She’s so charming. Lauren used to make fun of Michael because of how he was with Christine. She had a past…of course, they’d work together. What sold Michael on Lauren was that she saved [Michael’s brother] Kevin [Greg Rikaart]. She put up the bail and got him out of jail.
Joan Van Ark (ex-Valene, Knots Landing) originated the role of Michael’s mother, Gloria. She played it for a short while and then, Judith Chapman took over the part. What are your memories of them?
“Joan Van Mummy” and “Mummy Gloria.” Joan had come in and I remember buying her as Gloria hook, line, and sinker. Michael told her, “You are not touching that boy” after he’d been beaten up in the hospital. The stage manager counted down…”5, 4, 3, 2…” and as that was happening, Joan leaned over and hugged me tightly and then, released me and the scene began. That was her first day — not mine. I don’t think she was ever committed to doing the show for a long time.
I read with all the women who came in to take over the role from Joan. All of them were really talented. They wanted to do well. They wanted the job. They were professional and vulnerable. Judith came in and was wonderful. Judith knew the volume of work necessary and she knows the medium so well.
What response have you gotten to your white hair?
[Laughs] I promised Judith that I’d never get fat or go gray. I started coloring the hair because it felt fitting. According to my family, I have a great, great grandmother in New Orleans who had a white head of hair that was award-winning and I have her hair. I was just playing with it and it went blond at one point. The fans on social media [responded]. My hairdresser has told me some women pay for this [color]. When I went in with this color, Tony [Morina, Y&R’s executive producer] said, ‘This is amazing.” I said, “You’re just saying that because it’s the same color as yours!” Maurice Benard [Sonny, General Hospital] has [commented on] my social media telling me he wants my hair!
Is “Dark” Michael gone for good? Or could we see him again?
I think we could. They bury it hard. Michael was in therapy and became a model prisoner. I think as long as Michael’s in court and he’s smart, he can be that way. If he ever lost Lauren or the law, that’d be a tipping point. That’s what makes a character.
A few actors have played your son Fenmore. What are your memories of Zach Tinker, who last played the part and has since jumped over to Days of our Lives: Beyond Salem to play Sonny.
[Zach and I] have the same energy. He’s wonderful. Each person in the Baldwin/Fisher mix is seamlessly interconnected with the others. They all have that twisted part.
You’re headed off to New York to appear in an Off-Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
Talk about a “bucket list” jackpot!!! Tennessee Williams in New York City — during the holidays, no less! I have a lot to be grateful for this holiday season. Especially the enthusiasm and support of the producers, writers, and cast of Y&R. It’s true! A little play can make your day!
Any shoutout to the fans on this 30th anniversary?
It’s because of them that I’m here. They watch the show and have given me a life I didn’t know I could have. Because of that and because of acting being brought to me…with their support, I found the thing I needed to do with my life. That’s a great gift to be given. The viewers have kept us all going. I was at an appearance in Canada when Michael was at his most dastardly and I was given a standing ovation. I said, “That says more about all of you than it does about me, folks!”
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