Monday, June 20, marks 30 years since Jon Lindstrom took on the role of daytime's most notorious serial killer, Ryan Chamberlain. What was supposed to be a short-term stint as Felicia's (Kristina Wagner) psycho stalker surprisingly turned into a three-decade run on the ABC soap opera, thanks to positive reactions from the fans and the addition of Ryan's sane twin brother, psychologist Kevin Collins.
In celebration of his 30th anniversary at GH, Soap Central spoke with Lindstrom to get his take on what the last three decades have meant to him. The actor opens up about his early days in Port Charles, how the soap opera changed his life, why he finds Ryan to be so much fun to play, how the addition of Esme (Avery Pohl) and the reveal of Esme's mother will affect both Ryan and Kevin, and so much more!
Soap Central: Congratulations on your 30th anniversary at General Hospital!
Jon Lindstrom: Thank you. It's a little surreal.
Soap Central: I'm sure! Does it hit you when you look at old clips and see the clothes they were putting you in back in the 90s?
Lindstrom: [Laughs] Yeah, those old clips show up on Twitter and Instagram every now and again. I saw one the other day from the first time that I met Brad Maule (Tony Jones) and David Wallace (Dr. Tom Hardy), and the character Simone (Felecia Bell) was introducing me to them, and I don't even remember doing the scene.
Soap Central: I can't blame you! Thirty years is a really long time, and you also do so many scenes, there's no way you could remember everything.
Lindstrom: That's for sure. You start to lose your long-term memory after a while, anyway. It's replaced by nothing but short-term.
Soap Central: Michael E. Knight [Martin Grey; ex-Tad Martin, All My Children] calls it "garbage memory," because you have to memorize the lines and then toss it out to make room for the next.
Lindstrom: That's pretty true. Garbage memory? Well, thank you, Michael! I'll use that!
Soap Central: But do you remember anything about your audition for General Hospital?
Lindstrom: Yeah! In fact, [GH's casting director] Mark Teschner still tells the story. I had come and gone through there a few times. I played a car rental agent in 1983, because I knew the casting director for the show, a guy named Marvin Paige, who had helped me get my first agent. He brought me in and cast me as this car rental agent, and then he brought me back in a few times over the years, once for Jimmy Lee Holt, which went to Steve Bond, of course, and once for Frisco, which went to my friend Jack Wagner, who I've known since we were waiting tables. And finally, I came in somewhere in the wintertime and met Mark Teschner for the first time, because Marvin had decided to retire. So... I read for Mark, and he said, "Great, can you come back tomorrow and read for [executive producer] Gloria Monty?"
So, I went in, I read for Gloria, and nothing happened. A couple of days later, I found out after the fact that Gloria had actually left the show within a couple of days of my audition... and I thought, "Okay, well, that's gone." But then I got a call about six months later, "Mark wants you to come in and read for this new role," so, I met with Mark, and he said, "Yeah, I think you're right for this. Can you come back and meet our new executive producer, Wendy Riche?" And I said, "Of course, I can." So, I came back in, and I read for Wendy and the head of daytime at ABC at the time -- me and about 15 other guys who all looked the same. And about a week later, I got a call, and they asked me to come for a callback with the producers, so I went back in, but this time it was only me and Michael O'Leary from Guiding Light [Rick Bauer], and we were like, "I guess it's down to us, dude!" [Laughs]
Soap Central: Oh, wow! I didn't know it came down to you two.
Lindstrom: Yeah, that would happen all the time. There's a small group of us that were always at the same auditions. Michael O'Leary was one, and another one was Bryan Cranston [ex-Dean Stella, One Life to Live; ex-Douglas Donovan, Loving]. I used to see him all the time. In fact, Bryan got the pilot for Malcolm in the Middle right at the same time that I got General Hospital. Kevin Sorbo is another one, all these people -- George Clooney. [Laughs] We were all kind of coming up together.
Soap Central: Those stories are the greatest.
Lindstrom: So, I go in, and I read for Wendy and the other women, and they said, "Thank you very much," and then Michael went in. And as I was leaving, I was walking across the parking lot towards the valet, and I heard somebody yelling my name behind me, and I turned around, and I saw a security guy running towards me. At that time in my life, I hadn't worked in about two years, I had no money -- like, less than $100 in the bank -- and I had some pretty serious credit card debit, which now, I would say, "That's no big deal," but at the time, it seemed pretty overwhelming. I brought in a roommate who had also had some rough years, so I didn't have a whole lot, not a pot to piss in, basically, so I wasn't sure what was going on, but I can tell you that the frame of mind that I was in, if I saw somebody in a uniform running at me, I would run the other way! [Laughs] But I thought, "Okay, I haven't done anything on the lot, and this guy works here, so... it's probably okay." "Yeah, I'm Jon. What do you need?" And he says, "Well, they want you to go back up and read again."
So, I go back in, and I said, "Okay, thanks for having me back. But what is it that you're not seeing that I can show you?" And they said, "Well, we just kind of wonder if you can be scary?" [Laughs] And I was like, "Oh! Okay, well, the last time you [asked] if I could be friendly," because it was going to be with Kristina Wagner, and she wasn't going to know that I was a psycho, that I was a stalker. So, I did the scene, and I played it in a way that any time the other character would maybe be looking at something else, that's when I'd let the real intention come through. And they saw it and said, "Great, thank you very much," and I had the job by the time I got home. Michael went back to New York and went back to Guiding Light, I think. I talked to him not that long ago -- he's a great guy.
Soap Central: Did you know at the time that the role of Ryan had the potential to last 30 years?
Lindstrom: It's kind of urban legend now because it was originally only going to be three months, a summer storyline. It's what I call a "surgical strike villain." My job at the time really was to just come in and drive a wedge between Mac [John York] and Felicia in order for them to get together at the end of the story at the end of the summer -- that was my job. And I thought, "I'm not thinking about moving on," I'm not thinking, "Will this carry on?" I'm just thinking, "I want to get my credit card bills paid, I want to get a few bucks in my pocket, because I've been really beat up, and I've really questioned my choices and if I should even be an actor anymore." Because I had really started to lose faith in myself -- and you do that after a while. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, and make sure that anybody who had said no to me in the last couple of years was wrong.
So, the next thing I knew, the storyline took off, the character became very popular, the ratings of the show went up, and nine months later, I'm still doing this storyline, and I don't have a contract. My agents were really bugged -- they felt that I should get a contract and a raise, and they were very frustrated, but to me, I was like, "I don't care. I'm having a great time!" I really didn't care, because I was making money, I was out of the hole, and my bills were paid. I was like, "If this job ended today, I think I'd be just fine. I got everything that I came for, and I hope they did, too." Well, then I got a job offer out of the blue for As the World Turns. It was the role that Paolo Seganti wound up taking, Damian Grimaldi. But the offer came, and I didn't really want to move to New York -- I was having a really good time [at GH], so, I thought, "If they will commit to me with a contract and think of something to keep me around, then I'll stay at General Hospital. If not, then I'll take the bird in the hand and take the job that is a guarantee." Turns out, General Hospital was like, "You know what, what we'll do is we'll finish this story, but we'll also come up with a new character," which was Kevin Collins.
Soap Central: How lucky is that?!
Lindstrom: Right?! Within a week, I had signed a new contract, started a new character, and they flew me to New York for the Daytime Emmys for the first time, because it just happened to be coming up. Though, they had no seats for me in the General Hospital section because that was full, so they put me in the All My Children section, where I sat next to a teenaged Sarah Michelle Gellar [ex-Kendall Hart]. We sat and talked to each other the whole night. [Laughs] And that was my beginning at General Hospital 30 years ago.
Soap Central: There's a massive interest in serial killers right now -- there are tons of true crime shows and documentaries and podcasts. Was there a similar interest when you landed the role of Ryan, or do you think GH was ahead of its time in creating Ryan?
Lindstrom: It was actually a little ahead of its time. There was a period there when the closest we got to serial killer was when Basic Instinct came out in 1992. That was such a huge hit, and I remember they started using a variation on the theme music from Basic Instinct as Ryan Chamberlain's theme song; they were using this creepy violin music every time Ryan would walk on stage. Aside from that, I remember it kind of kicked off a trend. Getting into around '94, '95, '96, there was a real explosion of serial killer stories everywhere -- TV, movies, everywhere. So, I would say, yeah, we did kind of pre-date it; we were a little bit ahead of our time with that one.
Soap Central: And how about you -- were you ever interested in real-life serial killers?
Lindstrom: Oh, always! I've always been interested in crime and the dark side of humanity. Don't ask me why because I don't know! [Laughs]
Soap Central: Well, it obviously serves you well, because you've been playing one very, very masterfully over the last 30 years.
Lindstrom: Thank you.
Soap Central: Many daytime fans consider you to be one of the greats of the industry. Do you recognize and honor your work in that same way, or does it feel kind of weird to do so as the person doing the work?
Lindstrom: Well, you know, I was raised to be humble. [Laughs] It's a strange feeling to tell yourself, "You're really quite good at this. You know what you're doing." But you have to have that belief, or else you'll never get anywhere. I think a lawyer knows they're a good lawyer when they walk into the courtroom -- if they're going to have a shot at winning, they have to believe that they're good. And yeah, I think I've proven it to myself over the years. Like I was saying, before I got this job, I'd had a true solid two years of unemployment, and that was after having done Rituals with Kin Shriner [Scotty Baldwin] and several TV movies and a bunch of episodics and some plays, and for all of them, I was getting good reviews, good notices on everything, and then all of a sudden, it just stopped, and I couldn't understand why. And here my friends were getting jobs that I thought would be a no-brainer for me, that I would at least get a shot at.
It really hit home one night when I was watching a TV movie about the USS Indianapolis, which was the ship that delivered one of the atomic bombs that was dropped on Japan, and on the way back, it was torpedoed -- true story -- and all the soldiers wound up in the water, and a lot of them were eaten by sharks. It's a terrible story, but it's quite a heroic story about WWII. And I was watching this with someone who I'd expressed this frustration to, this, "There must be a conspiracy against me -- I can't seem to get anywhere these days," and we're watching this movie, and there's all these people that I hang out with in this movie! And my friend turns to me and goes, "I think you're right -- there is a conspiracy against you!" [Laughs] Even that person was like, "Yeah, why aren't you in this thing?" And I was like, "I know! I didn't even get a chance to read for it. What the hell?!" But these are the kind of things that you go through as an actor. It's just the ups and downs of the business.
Soap Central: The good news about soap roles is that you can generally always come back, if you do a good job and the fans like you. So, General Hospital has been the gift that keeps on giving for you!
Lindstrom: It really has. It's been a great blessing in so many different ways. So much good has come out of my involvement with that show specifically, that I would never disparage it! [Laughs] I will never bad-mouth that place, that show, or the people that make it. It's just done too many good things for me.
Soap Central: Do you have a favorite between playing Ryan and Kevin, or do you enjoy playing them both equally?
Lindstrom: They're both a challenge, but Ryan is always a little bit more fun. There's no social governor on Ryan. I remember Richard Gere being interviewed to promote one of his movies... and it was a movie he was really good in -- he played a psycho cop, a bent cop, and he was asked, "Why do you like playing a role like this so much?" And he said, "Because they're easier." And I completely get what he was saying. It is easier in that you don't have to whittle everything down into what this particular character would do, think, say, or feel about a certain situation. When you do that, kind of by design, you have to hold something back. If the impulse is there, when you play a bad guy, and if you play a crazy bad guy especially, you can let that impulse go, and therefore, there are no rules, and therefore, there are no bad performances or wrong choices. You can play pretty much whatever you want, and it's appropriate. And that is hugely liberating. So, as a result, Ryan always has a certain amount of life going on that just can't be contained. Whereas Kevin is a completely different guy; he's a rather measured fellow, and for good reason, but that's who he is. So, I can't say I love one more than the other, but I will say that Ryan is just a little bit more fun to play.
Soap Central: A lot of acting is playing off the other person in the scene, so what is your approach when you're actually playing off yourself in these scenes with Ryan and Kevin?
Lindstrom: [Laughs] Yeah, in those cases, I do kind of have to think, "How would so-and-so react to the other" later on when I have to come back and shoot the other side. Mark Teschner is very good at his job; he always gets good actors for me to work off of, whoever is working off-camera. And talk about a thankless job! They've got to learn all the dialogue, learn all the blocking, and do everything that I have to do, but they never get seen. They don't even get their face on camera! [Laughs] But Mark always finds good guys to do it. I usually tend to do Ryan first, because it's easier to comb his hair afterwards and make Kevin look good and put together, and that way, I can just, "Woo-hoo!" and play Ryan, and once I do that, I have a fairly good sense of how Kevin is going to respond, because you're right -- acting is reacting; it's basically listening.
Soap Central: Do you do anything special in preparation to play either character? Like, listen to music to get you in the mood, anything like that?
Lindstrom: No, not anymore. I would say that I used to, but nowadays, it's just second nature, after 30 years! It gets a little easier.
Soap Central: You play Ryan's creepy scenes so well, and I know you're acting, but can you think of any time that you actually creeped out any of your co-stars?
Lindstrom: I remember freaking Kristina out a little bit, in a time when we felt like we knew the story was really working. It was earlier on, during the initial run of Ryan, and Ryan had taken Felicia up to a cabin and found reasons for them to be stuck there, and it starts to dawn on her who he really is, and I remember there was one scene in particular where she was asking me these probing questions, and all I was giving her were these monosyllabic words, like, "Yes. No. Uh-huh," while staring at her the whole time! [Laughs] I was just kind of boring my eyes into her, and when they finally said, "Cut," she squirmed and hit me on the shoulder. She was just like, "Aaarrrgghhh, EWWW!" [Laughs] She was like, "You're creeping me out, dude." And I was like, "Well, you know, it's working. Thanks for listening!"
Soap Central: Avery Pohl did an interview recently where she said something similar, that there were some scenes you did together that made her skin crawl, because you're so convincing.
Lindstrom: Yeah, we had talked about that. Avery is a terrific actress. She's such a serious young artist and a real pleasure to work with, aside from being just a lovely person. She really is great. But yeah, we got those scenes, and it was the first reveal that Ryan really is her father, with the daddy references and all of that, we were both like, "Well, this could go either way..." We wanted to be sure to get the creepazoid factor in, but we said, "We've gotta get the sex out of it. There's one thing about adoration and needing someone's approval, but we have to keep away from the other side of that, the really creepy stuff." So, we just worked it. But that's kudos to Avery, as well, because she strives to play the right note. After 30 years, I can do that, but she's still a young actor in her twenties, and she was able to pull it off. But, yeah, when we got on set, I said, "All right, everybody, let's just get this out of the way, all right? One, two, three: Eeewww!" And we all did it together and got it out of the way and then we could shoot the scene.
Soap Central: How do you feel about Esme being introduced as Ryan's daughter? Is that a fun twist for you?
Lindstrom: Oh, I think it's great! It says a lot for the future, and it impacts Kevin in a way that I wouldn't have expected, because he's going to have feelings about what his brother was out there doing all those years. Also, here's this niece, and how's Kevin going to feel about her? He can't just have her locked up like he can Ryan -- unless she does something really bad! [Laughs] I think it bodes well for everybody, in terms of just things to play. And I think we'll be playing a lot of that out this summer, but right now, of course, I don't know what we're going to be doing, because they don't tell me anything.
But overall, I think it's a testament to the longevity and the durability of the characters. People find a reason to relate to both of them -- Kevin and Ryan -- on one level or another. Oftentimes, it has to do with siblings and how complicated family can be, how infuriating they can be. You can't choose your family, and you can't kill them, either. But also, it just feels like a fairly natural progression to me. We do have some idea of where her mother is, but obviously, I'm not going to go into that. But I would really love to know the ins and the outs and the details and play that out as the story dictates.
Soap Central: The fans love stuff like this, and they really examine the show's history to find clues. Has this reveal also prompted you to look back at Ryan's history and think, "Well, who could Esme's mother be?"
Lindstrom: It's funny because it hadn't really hit me, and I had never really thought about it, because I never thought that Ryan would ever allow himself to get that close [to anyone else]. But, of course, having a kid is not necessarily being close to someone. I have a friend who has this beautiful kid from a one-night stand [laughs], and I don't know what his relationship is with the boy's mother, but he and the boy have a great relationship. So, it's not necessarily the result of a loving, kind, mutual relationship, is my point. It can be the result of anything. I hope it's not the result of something truly dark, like a rape or something. I would personally love to find that there was some sort of actual connection that Ryan might have had with one person that resulted in Avery. That I would love to see, and not just because it's a redeeming factor that could bring a little bit of a bright light to him, but also because people are people. Even Jeffrey Dahmer loved his parents.
Soap Central: In addition to your 30th anniversary, General Hospital is also celebrating its 15,000th episode, which is quite a big feat. Do you have any favorite episodes that you've done throughout the years?
Lindstrom: Wow. I think that if you're really doing the job well, it all becomes a bit of a blur, because the idea is to get lost in it. But for me, my favorite moments are behind the scenes, like the times I spent laughing with John York. There's just something that happens when John and I get together, especially when we step on stage together, we can't help but make each other laugh, which is funny, because when the characters started out, Ryan and Mac, they were enemies! Of course, Mac and Kevin became best friends, but that took a long time. But when it comes to John and Jon, we have always had such a great time, to the point where, just a couple of weeks ago, we were working together, and we got on stage, and we both had to say to each other, "Don't start! Don't you dare start now. Don't you do this!" And we do it anyway, because we can't help it! [Laughs] We wanna laugh, we wanna enjoy this. We always have a lot of laughs, and really, I can't pick out one episode that I think is my favorite. There are just too many to choose from. But I can say that my favorite state of being at the show over all these 30 years has just been the ability to laugh and really love where we are.
Soap Central: You've had the pleasure of working with some amazing actors at GH. You just mentioned John York, and you also mentioned Kristina Wagner. But you also have Lynn Herring [Lucy Coe] and Genie Francis [Laura Webber]. What do you think about being surrounded by such talent?
Lindstrom: I am a very lucky guy to be able to work with such people. Yes, Maura West [Ava Jerome], Genie Francis, Lynn, and on the guys front, I get to interact with people like Charles Shaughnessy [Victor Cassadine] and Jeff Kober [Cyrus Renault], and all of these aces that we bring in once in a while. It's been great. And it leads me to other things. I was in Boston in February, shooting a movie with Chris Cooper and Robert John Burke, and I stepped onto set the first day, and I had already met Chris, because we rode in in the van together from the hotel, but Robert John Burke, who I knew from all sorts of things, ever since he replaced Peter Weller as Robocop, I mean, I've seen this guy for years, and he walks right over and is like, "Hey, Jon. So happy to meet you. You've been coming into my living room for years now," and I'm like, "Jesus, you're a General Hospital fan?!" And he says, "Oh, yeah!"
Of course, it got around the set, "Oh, there's a guy from General Hospital here," and pretty soon, here's Chris Cooper and other people going, "So, do you ever use cue cards?" [Laughs] And I was like, "Um, no! We never use cue cards. Despite what you think, we're not like Tootsie! Wipe Tootsie out of your minds. It's a great movie, but that's not how we do it." And they also wanted to know, "Well, how many pages do you have to learn?" And I was like, "Well, gee, Chris, my worst day was 120 pages." Which is true. It was me the whole 120 pages, all twin scenes, all day. The entire stage was cleared except for the set that I was working in and the hub, which is a permanent set, we never move that, the nurses' hub. But they had me in a hotel room as Ryan freaking out, and me as Kevin on the other end of a phone, and then scenes by ourselves as we were trying to work out some big problem. It was 120 pages -- basically 60 pages, but I had to do everything twice.
Soap Central: Dang. I really hope this was during the time when you guys were super pampered, when the budgets were high and they'd bring you Champagne afterwards!
Lindstrom: Yes, thank God! We didn't get Champagne [laughs], but yes, at least the budgets were high! But anyway, to stand there and tell an Oscar winner like Chris Cooper, "Yeah, I did 120 pages in one day," and to see the utter bafflement in his eyes, of like, "How could that even be possible?!" [Laughs] It was great. It was just great. It precedes me just everywhere I go.
Soap Central: The film that you mentioned, is that Boston Strangler? Is there anything that you can say about the film or your role in it at this point?
Lindstrom: Yeah, that's the one I did with Chris Cooper and Bobby Burke. I can't say anything about it because we're all under [confidentiality agreements]. I don't play much of a role, but I sure was happy to do it. Keira Knightley is the star, and she is just as lovely and as nice as she is talented. She's just a lovely, lovely person. I didn't even get to do a scene with her, but we were around! [Laughs]
Soap Central: Do these big anniversaries like your 30th at GH prompt you to take stock of the career goals that you've achieved and think of the goals that you'd still like to achieve?
Lindstrom: Usually, it ends up coming back to how long I've known a lot of these people. When I talk to John, it's like, "Dude, we've been friends for 30 years. Isn't that incredible?" When I talk to virtually anybody on that show, Kin, I've known since 1985. He was on the first TV show I did that got me out of the restaurant business, which was the first syndicated soap called Rituals. When I look at the life that has happened between then and now, it's a little mind-boggling. It's all gone by too fast, but everybody says that. But yeah, I still have ambitions, and I still have goals that I want to achieve. I'll be flying to New York, partly because [my wife] Cady [McClain, Jennifer Horton, Days of our Lives; ex-Dixie Cooney, All My Children] has some work to do with the theater company that she works with out there, but also, I'm going to my first book conference called Thrillerfest, because one thing I've always wanted to do is write novels, so, I've written my first novel, and I'm going out to this conference. Everyone always says, "Well, if you're going to write thrillers, you've gotta go to this thing. You've got to meet people, you've got to talk to them." So, it's a whole new road for me in a lot of ways, a whole new learning experience, and I'm really looking forward to it. And people keep telling me, "Hey, man, your association with your whole career is actually a big leg up. You'll probably get an agent, you'll probably get a publishing deal." So, it's like, "Well then, I'm going to go!" Of course, we'll see, but yeah, isn't that incredible?
Soap Central: It definitely is! Is there anything you can say about your novel at this time?
Lindstrom: It's a contemporary crime novel with elements of noir. It's about an over-the-hill film actor who has to save somebody. That's all I should say about it right now. I love crime books, and I always thought it would be fun [to write my own]. First, it led to me contributing to stories, and doing that really got my interest going into learning how to write a screenplay, and I wrote my screenplay called The Hard Easy after trying to write it as a novel and realizing, "I'm way in over my head here! Maybe I should stick to a screenplay first." [Laughs] Joan Didion did say a screenplay is just a big-ass outline for a novel. So, I thought, "I know how to read a screenplay, I know what makes a good one, so maybe I'll just try that." So, I wrote a screenplay, and it got made. So, I wrote another one, and it got made, and I directed it. So, these things all led to each one, and now that I've done those things, I've proven I can tell a story, and now I'm going to write a book and see if I can do that and bring all those things together to make that work.
Soap Central: You mentioned Cady, whose work you've always been extremely supportive of. Do you think she's influenced your work since you've met her and vice versa?
Lindstrom: Yeah! Cady is such an extraordinary individual. She's the smartest person I've ever met, she's absolutely gifted in everything that she does, and she's one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met in my life. When I have to step into something new, whether I'm doing an audition for a different kind of character or if it's a big project that I really want to be a part of, she's been an extraordinary help to me when I'm trying to find my way through it. So, what else can I say? I married up!
Soap Central: Is there a crazy soap opera storyline that you haven't had a chance to play yet that you'd love to at some point in your career? Everybody else says they want an evil twin. What does the guy who already has an evil twin say?
Lindstrom: Oh, gosh! [Laughs] I would love to see if I could do the Liam Neeson Taken thing. When Liam Neeson did Taken, he was in his 60s, and to me, that was like, "Dude, you're giving hope to old guys everywhere!" [Laughs] We're health conscious around here; we try to take care of ourselves, and as a result, I would love to be able to see if I still have some of that "lead action hero" thing in me... If you want to know what I'm talking about, watch Taken. It's why Liam Neeson is still doing these fairly low-rent action movies now -- they take in millions and millions of dollars, because old guys everywhere want to see him do his thing. [Laughs] He gives hope to guys like me.
Soap Central: Well, congratulations to you again on 30 years at General Hospital! We can't wait to see what the next 30 will bring.
Lindstrom: I know! Me, too -- it feels like we're just getting started!
What do you think about our interview with Jon Lindstrom? What have been some of your favorite memories from his 30 years at GH? What do you hope to see for Kevin and Ryan's futures? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.