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Today’s guest on the Imperfect Podcast is Robert Palmer Watkins who plays Dillon Quartermaine on NBC’s daytime series General Hospital. We talked to him about everything from his struggles as an actor to how landing the role on General Hospital changed his life. I think Robert is a really humble guy. His roots are on the east coast from the Carolinas and it just seems like he’s really dedicated to the work. He really understands what the fans want and what the commitment is to being a daytime actor on a soap opera like General Hospital.
He appreciates everything from the struggles he’s had and doesn’t take it for granted. It was interesting to talk to somebody about soap operas because honestly we weren’t fans but watching his work and watching how it’s done you can see how people are literally addicted to soap operas. They’ve been around for decades. There’s only 4 left, General Hospital being one of them.
The character that he’s playing and the shoes he has to fill is no joke. We also talk a lot about the pressures he faced in taking on this role. Hope you enjoy the podcast and learn more about what it takes to be a soap opera actor.
Keep up with Robert Palmer Watkins on his website http://robertpalmerwatkins.com.
Special thanks to Wendy Shepherd at Studio Matrix for making this interview possible.
Watch What It Takes to Be a Soap Opera Actor with General Hospital’s Robert Palmer Watkins:
Robert Palmer Watkins Interview Highlights:
I know you’re out in Hollywood but you’re originally an east coast guy. What’s your background like? Where did you grow up?
I was born in Salsbury, NC and we moved to Winston Salem when I was 8 years old. When I was 12 years old my dad got a job with AMF Bowling and their corporate office is in Richmond, VA. That was good for me because Richmond is more like a city and the arts are appreciated. There’s a lot going on in the city with theater and art. I kinda got involved and did my first play in high school and before that did sports and when I did my first play I loved it. That was when I transitioned into thinking maybe I’ll be an actor.
I’ve been out in LA for 9 years which is pretty crazy. Time flies.
What was the first gig you landed out in Hollywood?
I think the first, this is so funny. The first thing I booked out of college. When I moved here I went to AMDA which is the American Music and Dramatic Academy because my parents were like you can move to LA, we get it, but we’d feel a lot better about it if you went and started at a school or some type of conservatory just to get your bearings, meet some people. The first two years I was out here I didn’t audition at all but when I finally got out I started auditioning right away.
The first job that I booked was a show called 1000 Ways to Die. I don’t know if you’ve seen it but it’s basically ridiculous reenactments of ways that people have died. The way that my character died was I slipped on a chard of glass while I was taking a shit. I’m using the bathroom and stand up and flush and the toilet explodes, the lid on the back of the toilet explodes, shatters on the ground and I slip and I fall on a shard of glass and it goes into my asshole and I bleed out. That was my start to Hollywood and my mom was super proud obviously.
I’ve done so many random, random jobs as an actor. That one may take the cake though, I gotta say. I think I got like $100 for the day. It was non-union. I was definitely not SAG at the time. You start doing different things, you meet different people and each project gets a little bigger, a little bit more legit. A lot of little roles like that when I first started out.
You were also at a conservatory. You’re a musician. What do you play or do you sing or write?
Write and sing and do a little bit of guitar and producing type stuff. I live with four of my best friends and we all collaborate on different projects. Actually two of my buddies I live with are probably going to get signed very soon. They have a band and I’ll jump in and do a song with them and then I’ll mix it with some of the other friends I know. It’s nice having a platform on a show where we have an audience that will actually watch some of the stuff that I put out there. You know what I mean?
I don’t have any official band or anything for myself right now. I’m collaborating with people as I see fit and I’m starting to work on some original music as well.
I’m sure the day job at General Hospital takes up a ton of time.
I was going to say yeah it does, that’s obviously my main focus but it’s actually a really nice schedule as an actor. Like today, I went in and my call time was 12pm. I went in and everything moves so fast so that once you’re called in you do your blocking, wardrobe, makeup and have a couple hours before you shoot. Then you shoot the scene, you get one rehearsal and then you shoot it. It could be five scenes or ten scenes but usually you’re out of there within 5 hours.
Today my work day was 12 and I got home around 4:45 or something. I mean, that’s not how it always is. Some days you’re there super early until 6pm or 7pm but most days you’re only there for your scenes and you’re not necessarily working every day. It depends on your story line. Like this week I actually worked every day but this coming week I don’t work at all because my character in the show is away.
So it’s nice. Yes I’m busy with it but I actually have more time now than I did when I was a broke struggling actor working four part time jobs.
What was the casting process like to get the role on General Hospital?
Mark Teschner is the casting director for General Hospital, really well know casting director here in Hollywood. He’s really really good at what he does because he remembers people who he meets and keeps them in the back of his head and when a role comes up he just has that eye and mind set where he remembers there’s something about that person that may be right and it could be years later. I think that takes a special type of person to see that in people and remember them down the road.
I went in for Mark when I first got out of college and I was doing all those random acting jobs like I told you guys. I was super excited to go in. It was for a contract role. It went okay, I don’t think I was right for the role and I was a little young and I don’t think I was as trained as I needed to be yet. I was still green but it went well and I could tell he liked me.
Then he called me back in a couple years later for a different role and went decent again but nothing. And then a year or so went by and I saw he was doing a class at a studio here in Hollywood and I was like maybe I should just take that class and get back in front of him because I know he liked me and I think it’d be cool to develop a more personal relationship with this guy. So I actually took his class and remembered me right away.
We had a really good rapport and I got his email, we stayed in touch and I guess this role came up for Dillon. I play Dillon Quartermaine on General Hospital. This role came up and he remembered me. He called me in and then I didn’t hear anything for 3 months and then I got another call back and I had to go see the producers. After the producers we had to do a screen test. And the screen test, that’s the final thing you do when you’re getting cast for a role. There was myself and five other guys screen testing. Even at that point there’s still six of us. You’ve gone through the ringer for this many call backs and met the producers and there’s still six of us! Really?! It’s kind of disheartening when you get there. But I got it so it worked out.
Mark told me, I knew when this role came up I had to get you in for it. I guess he knew and kept me in mind. It was a process to answer your question. It is a long process most of the time. Then sometimes they change their mind or they rewrite the role or they decide not to bring that character on the show yet so they hold off for a year. I think that’s what happened with my character because I was called back and there was several months where I didn’t hear anything. There’s so many variables that go into it, into booking something. A lot of it doesn’t even have anything to do with your talent. You’re too tall next to the girl or you’re too short, or too white, or not white enough. There’s just so many things.
How much research did you do and how much did you know about General Hospital before going in to audition?
The funny thing is they are very secretive about who they’re casting, when they’re casting, what they’re casting. I play Dillon Quartermaine who is a legacy. The Quartermaines are one of the main legacies on the show and Dillon was on the show ten years ago, played by Scott Clifton who is now on The Bold and the Beautiful. Dillon’s return to General was a big deal and they definitely did not want it leaked. I didn’t even know until I booked it that it was for Dillon Quartermaine. They had a fake name I think it was Dustin or something. My manager called me when I booked and he said you got it and you’re playing Dillon Quartermaine which is cool to hear as actor because you know that name has some weight to it. It’s been amazing. It’s very secretive. I thought I was auditioning for a brand new character named Dustin.
Is it a lot of pressure playing a role with such history?
You know there definitely is because you want to honor what the character means to the show. I wanted to honor what Scott brought to the character because he’s a great actor and he originated the role. I definitely wanted to keep some of the stuff and quirks and sarcasm that he brought to the character but I also wanted to make it my own. It’s been 10 years since he’s been on the show so I think he would be a different person now. The character, the reason he left the show, storyline wise is he went away to LA to pursue a directing and acting career, which is cool. So when I come back 9 years later I think he would have grown up a lot.
There’s definitely pressure though because these Soap fans, they are very passionate and if they don’t like something they let you know. Nowadays with twitter and Instagram and facebook and everything, snapchat, periscope, they have access to letting us know when they like or don’t like something. You hear from them. I definitely was aware of that. I definitely researched the show. I definitely looked at his work on YouTube but I also tried to compartmentalize it and throw it out the window also because I wanted to make it my own and make personal for me.
What’s the most challenging part of working on General Hospital?
The speed. It shoots unlike anything, any other type of medium. Film, prime time tv, anything other than soap you have multiple takes. A wide shot of both actors, then they do a one shot of one actor then the other actor, the same scene over and over to get different angles. There’s more rehearsal time, more discussion with the director, there’s just more time in general. A soap, especially nowadays, because they’ve really cut down on budgeting, time is money to the extreme on a Soap. There’s only four of us left.
Every day we could shoot between 2 and 3 episodes. It’s the amount of material that we’re filming in a day and the rate at which we are shooting it is just insane. People come on the show that are guest starring or playing a recurring and their mind is blown. They’re like this is how much you guys do in a day? I mean, that’s how I felt when I came on. I was freaking out. The whole first week I was shooting I had a packet this thick for every day of the week. When I would finally get the first packet down I’m like okay good but then wait the next day I have another packet that looks like that? It’s crazy.
It’s just the best training as an actor because your brain just learns how to do it. Your brain learns how to memorize things quickly and that was always a huge struggle that I had was learning material. Memorizing stuff. That was probably my biggest issue as an actor. I gotta say this job has completely changed that for me.
I shot today and I did not have my script from last night. We just moved and my script got misplaced. I was just hoping I didn’t have a lot of material today so I could learn it when I got on set. I got on set I had a ton of material. It was terrifying. The director was like really dude you didn’t have this? Are you gonna be okay? They were worried for me because it was a lot. I had about an hour, I went down to my dressing room and I just learned it. It stuck.
It’s crazy your brain has that capability. It’s like a muscle and I didn’t believe that shit when I got on. I was like I think you either can memorize or you cant memorize. No. You can train your brain to get better at that which is pretty cool.
Is there any improv working on soap operas or do you strictly stick to the script?
They do allow you to improv a little bit especially as you get to know your character. When I first got to the show I tried to stick pretty much word for word with what the writers did because that’s just how I was trained. Respect the writing. They wrote it this way for a reason, every word is important. As I’ve gotten more comfortable playing Dillon and making him my own, I am allowing myself to be a little more free with the dialogue. As I’ve gotten to know my character I feel like I embody how he talks and things now. Sometimes we’ll get a scene and I’ll say is there any way we can change this to this to sound a little more natural or younger or hipper.
Sometimes if you’re in a scene and you forget your lines you have to improv. They would rather you improv a little if you mess up than start over because that’s money. To answer your question there’s a little embellishing and a little improv but most writers and producers want us to stick with what’s on the page.
What is the biggest change in your life since landing the role as Dillon Quartermaine?
Oh gosh, literally everything. Like I said I was working every job I could, barely paying my rent. A month before I got this my car blew up on the highway because I didn’t have money to change the oil. I had a melt down with my parents on the phone. I don’t know what I’m doing. When is this gonna happen? It’s crazy because it hadn’t even been that long. It felt like an eternity but really I had only been struggling and auditioning for five years. There’s actors that go 30 years and don’t book anything.
I don’t mean to sound like a diva by saying I was auditioning for five years and didn’t get anything. Really in the grand scheme of things that’s not that long but when you can’t afford to eat it feels a lot longer than five years. So there were some struggles but honestly I’m really grateful I went through the hardships of it because I appreciate it. I see some actors book something so fast out the gate and I don’t know if there’s the same respect for the job when you get lucky like that. I’m glad I had to work really hard to get something. It taught me a lot about being an adult and a responsible actor.
My life changed financially. I’m not a millionaire or anything like that but I’m way more comfortable than I was. I don’t have work other jobs that I don’t want to work. I have that freedom to just focus on my acting and my music. I’ve changed because I feel good about my time is being spent growing as an artist rather than working a 9 to 5 job that has nothing to do with what I want in life.
Like you said I get to be on camera several times a week and just play around, experiment and try stuff and get paid for that. That’s every actors dream. I still have to pinch myself. I’ll be walking off set and I cannot believe this is so awesome. I had no idea being on a soap would be this great. I wanted to be an actor but I wasn’t targeting being on a soap. Now that I’m on one I can see why people end up having a full career on soap. The schedule is amazing, the money is great, the flexibility and just getting to work. So many actors don’t get the chance to work. The fan base is amazing and its allowed me to do other projects like my music or other independent films and now there’s an audience automatically built in and they’ll help me promote it and get it out there and blast it out to the world.
Outside of General Hospital what other work do you have coming up?
Yes I did an independent movie that I had a small part in called Theater 9. It’s going to be coming out soon. I just did Season 2 of a web series called Last Life which is a supernatural kind of web series that actually just aired in the past few months. That did really well. They have a pretty big built in fan base with the sci-fi genre. Let’s see what else have I done recently.
Im actually in the process of reading a bunch of scripts because I would like to fund my own project and produce my own movie and play something that’s different from anything I’ve played before to grow as an actor and experiment and be in charge of something. I’ve been working on my music which is great. I got to sing in the opening of the Day Time Emmy’s which was exciting. I just the episode of the nurses ball which is once a year on General Hospital. They have this talent show where characters get to perform. I actually got to sing and I’m really excited for that to air because it was all choreographed. It reminded me of being back in theater.
I’ve been staying busy with these fan events. They’ve been flying me all over the country. I’m hosting he fan events now with Laura Wright who plays Carly on the show. Her and I are hosting these events where we go to different cities and the fans in the area of General Hospital can take pictures and we sign autographs and do a Q&A from the stage. I walk around with the mic and people ask questions. That’s been fun too because I’ve gotten better at talking in front of people. Hosting is something that’s always been interesting to me as well. I’d like to maybe dabble in that as well.
Where is the next General Hospital fan event taking place? Is there one scheduled?
Yeah, you can all of the events on my web page at www.robertpalmerwatkins.com under the events section. I’m doing one in Marco Island actually in two weeks. Raising awareness and raising money for autism, kids with autism and other special needs. You can buy tickets for that as well if you to the events page on my website.
The last thing I wanted to mention was something really cool that I’m really excited about that we are doing in July 5th – 9th. I’m doing a retreat in Costa Rica. We are allowing 30 people to sign up. Anybody over the age of 13. Families, singles, friends, whatever. It’s going to be really cool because I’m partnering with my fitness trainer who’s a celebrity trainer Jordan Rude. He’s also my brother in law and Jennifer Grace who’s my life coach and mentor. We came together to do this retreat in Costa Rica.
Everything’s included once you buy your ticket. We’re going to be doing different activities. I’m going to be doing acting and music. She’s going to be doing life coaching, yoga, meditation with everybody and then Jordan is going to be having workouts. It’s called a digital detox. Basically when you check in you have to put your phone and your laptop, you have to check it in, we lock it away and you are free from all of that shit for four days.
I know that I need that very badly right now. I feel like everyday I’m just looking at a screen all day long. It’s just to be able to reconnect with who you are and I think it’s going to be life changing. Everybody please, if you’re interested in that spread the word.
You can get tickets at http://jennifergrace.com/costarica.
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