Soaps.com sat down to speak to Michael Muhney this week for an important and timely discussion about bullying on social media, and to dish on his controversial "Y&R" character, Adam Newman. When we spoke, Michael had just begun recuperating from recent surgery on both eyes to remove pterygiums. It was interesting to hear that his procedure actually came about after the actor visited a doctor to be fitted for contacts to make his eyes look smoky and glassy (so as to look realistically blind as Adam), as opposed to the other way around, with writers scrambling to accommodate Michael’s eye surgery in the script.
Keep reading to discover why the issue of bullying is so significant to Michael, why he’s speaking out, what he hopes will happen as a result, and to hear some scoop on what will happen (or not happen) as Adam reflects on the past while in Kansas...
Soaps.com: Michael, we’re speaking today because Soaps.com reached out to you to initiate a discussion on bullying in social media, following an incident where a person attempted to spread lies about you on Twitter, and the gossip spread to our "Y&R" message board. Perhaps you could tell us what happened and how it made you feel?
Michael: Not to put too light a point on bullying on social media, and not to get too heavy handed with it either... My celebrity status isn’t huge, but I can relate to celebrities in that I get recognized all the time and work in television. I sort of feel like I have this duplicitous life where I’m a celebrity on a very small scale but a regular person on the other hand, and I’ve noticed that as social media has grown over the past ten or twelve years, people are getting more and more brutal. The way I see online social media heading, if people aren’t careful - it’s a complaint box. If you stay in a nice hotel for a weekend and everything is perfect, you leave without event; you stay silent and go on with your life. If you stay at that same hotel and get awful service or something’s wrong, you go out of your way to fill out a complaint. So, that comment box in the lobby is filled by the complainers. I think that’s what social media is getting dangerously close to becoming – a place for all the grumpy people to vent and to be rude, crass, and judgmental; to connect dots that aren’t even there - and they’re pretty brutal. Twitter, this phenomenon where the actor, entertainer, or artist has a chance to speak back, speak out, squash rumors, or comment about something in real time, I see as an opportunity for the celebrities to speak back as regular people, and to kind of stand up for themselves.
Soaps.com: Is that what happened in this case?
Michael: In this case, you know, people can say what they want about the character I play, I knew what I was getting into when I signed on for this role; I played Sheriff Lamb on "Veronica Mars" for three years and was the antagonist. You’re talked about a certain way online and that’s understandable, but when it starts getting so personal that it’s talking about you, your relationship with co-workers, and maybe your parenting skills, your spouse, and your family – when people go to that level, that’s when I see red.
Soaps.com: It crosses a line.
Michael: I want to speak out and tell people they don’t know who I am, and they don’t know who we are on Twitter. They get a little sneak peek from comments that we make, but I certainly can’t judge anyone I know by a few comments they make on Twitter, so I don’t expect that coming my direction. Nevertheless, some people will do that, and get cruel and harsh, and they’ll have conspiracy theories about you being a bad person. I’m very sensitive to bullying because of some experiences I had growing up, but I’m also very outspoken. Since I was young, I liked to speak up for the underdog. Because I spoke out so much in junior high and high school, trying to help other people, I was brutally beaten up when I was thirteen years old by one of the biggest, strongest guys in school. I spent those years being hit, beaten, tripped in the hallways, you know, stuff thrown at me, by this guy and his couple of friends. In high school, this guy targeted me on the football field, came and hit me after the whistle, and snapped my femur in half. Later, when I was in college, I found out that the same guy raped a younger relative of mine. So I’ve carried hardcore baggage about bullying with me my whole life.
Soaps.com: And you’re still speaking out...
Michael: I just have never changed. I speak out against systems that I think are broken, whether it be the Emmy process, actors that I feel that were overlooked, or voting polls – all that kind of stuff. I’m a huge proponent for the NOH8 campaign and gay marriage. I just sympathize with people who are being bullied. What’s interesting is that as a grown man, father, and professional, I’m speaking out about some things that could get fixed and it’s causing some bullying. I knew that speaking out would make me a target, but it doesn’t mean I won’t fight back. I just think [online bullying] is a really important issue, especially now with YouTube and all the social media where you see teens that are committing suicide through bullying. I’m always going to speak up, and people will form certain opinions about me, but I still believe it’s the right thing to do.
Soaps.com: It’s important to note that one comment about an actor that is untrue or taken out of context, when repeated across social media, can end up being retold as a fact, and can be very hurtful. Where would you ask fans to draw the line, or what would you ask them to take into consideration before posting?
Soaps.com: For some, the line between actor and character seems to become blurred...
Michael: That’s a very good point you bring up. Even the small percentage that are cruel and judgmental will say, "Look, I know Michael Muhney isn’t a baby stealer...so clearly I’m intelligent enough to know he’s not his character." That’s not where the line gets blurred. It gets blurred because they’re not around me, they’ve never heard me talk, so the only thing they know about me is hearing my vocal inflections as Adam, they can’t imagine what my voice really sounds like – the gentle side that I have, and the non-arrogant side that is so far from being Adam. So they read every tweet and every interview hearing the voice of Adam, and see everything in the most bent, twisted, negative way. They don’t realize they’re not able to draw a line. As long as there are human beings on this planet, there are going to be bullies, but I’ve learned in my life that a lot of times, the biggest bullies are actually the biggest cowards. I don’t go out there looking for trouble, but when they come at me personally, my family, or my work ethic and co-workers, that’s when I want to stand up. Say anything you want about my character, and talk about that fictional pretense, that’s fine, but beyond that, maybe I’ll speak out. We can all speak out against these cowards/bullies.
Soaps.com: Some just put out a constant stream of negativity. You’ve set some boundaries when it comes to interacting with fans on Twitter. How has that worked for you?
Michael: I’ve had to use and abuse the block button; it’s just a consequence. Another thing is, people will say, “I didn’t even address him on Twitter, I just used his name, so he must search for his name.” What they don’t realize is that I have a feature on my Twitter that lets me know when people say my name, because a lot of newbies to Twitter try to send me a message, but don’t address it @michaelmuhney, so their messages are being lost. The feature lets those comments get through to me, and every now and then catches people saying bad things too. I’m not psychic, but I’m going to take a chance and say that as soon as this goes to print, that 1% out there is going to get even more brutal with me. The hope is that the other 99% can shout down these people in the message boards, and on Twitter and Facebook, so as we move into the future, by the time my kids are adults, perhaps social media is a little more responsible, and it’s not this constant stream of negative consciousness, instead it’s people talking the way you would if you were standing in line at the bank next to a stranger and you had an opinion about them. What would you say in person? Perhaps you want to speak the same way online.
Soaps.com: The flipside of all of this, of course, is that it’s great for you to be able to interact with all of the fans that give you positive feedback.
Michael: Oh, man, the positive fans...it’s overwhelming. I had hoped for, and somewhat expected, there to be a contingent of fans out there who were going to love Adam after what I was able to invest into [the role] over time, but it’s been a pleasant surprise for me to see an abundance of people who have gotten behind me and the character. To be able to have an outlet to receive all these positive comments is humbling and gratifying, and I’m very appreciative of it. You really get to realize what sort of impact you’re making on a lot of people out there. Certain co-workers I have – Melody Thomas-Scott (Nikki), Josh Morrow (Nick), and Sharon Case (Sharon) – they all had funny opinions about Twitter before they got on it, and once they got on it, they’ve come to me since then and said how much they love it, and how happy they are that they did get on and are able to communicate with so many fans who are so supportive. So it can really be a positive arena. I’m thankful it exists because I’m able to ride on the wings of these beautiful compliments people give me daily, go to work, hold my head up, and know that I’m making an impact; that people are being moved by what I do, and I’m doing my job.
Read Part II of our Michael Muhney interview, in which we discuss his character, Adam Newman. Join us on Twitter @soapoperafan and Facebook. Come tweet and Facebook with us about "The Young and the Restless," all the other soap operas, "Glee" "Grey's Anatomy," "Vampire Diaries," and "Venice the Series!"
- Candace Young