Steve Burton recently shocked fans of "General Hospital" by announcing that he is leaving the show, ABC's last remaining soap opera, after playing Jason Morgan on and off for 21 years.
The 42-year-old actor recently sat down with George Pennacchio of KABC Television, parent company of OTRC.com, to explain why he is departing the series, how he feels about it, what he'll miss most about the Port Charles community and what he plans to do next.
1. Steve Burton gets emotional when thinking about his "General Hospital" exit."I'm not really used to it yet," he said, his voice wavering. "You know, you kind of gear up for the announcement of saying, 'Hey, I'm leaving.' And then, once it's out there, it's just kinda .. It was definitely kinda weird for me, you know. I'll find myself getting. .. like now. (pauses for several seconds) It'll be hard."
"I guess it would be easier to say I'm leaving and then be gone and now have to be there for another month," he added. "And drive onto the lot and do those things that you're used to doing every single day that now I'm going to have time to think, 'Hey, I'm not going to be driving on this lot again.' Just definitely have a different perspective going to work."
2. He knows he's made a painful decision.
"I think there's a lot of people who are upset," Burton told OTRC.com "The fans are obviously upset. It's definitely a change. It's going to be a change for me and the show and everything around it. I've disappointed many people and I've had such great fan support over the years and it's just, you know, it really is bittersweet because I keep in touch with people on Twitter a lot and I've come to know a lot of fans personally over the years, you know, by name. Hundreds of them. And it hurts. It hurts.""I'd grappled with the decision for a long time," he said. "You know, it's hard to even really talk about it because I've been there for 21 years and it's been such a blessing to be able to have a job that long, to be in a place .. I know everybody around there. It's like my home and it wasn't an easy decision."
3. He salutes the "unsung heroes" of "General Hospital."
"The crew are the unsung heroes, always," Burton said. "I love them dearly. I do everything I can for them and they do everything they can for me. So I've had a lot of touching conversations with the crew because I've known them for so long. So that's going to be really difficult. It's really the people. A lot of the cats have said some really nice things on Twitter. Jason Thompson, Scott Reeves and Maurice Bernard."
4. It was time to move on from "General Hospital" ... and fulfill a dream.
The actor says that he had tried for years to sell his Los Angeles home so he and his wife and two children - son Jack, 6, and daughter Makena, who turns 9 on September 5, could move permanently to Tennessee, where he owns a home in the country. Property prices and demand have plummeted in recent years amid a U.S. recession.
"We were trying to make plans to go to Tennessee for a while and every time we tried, the door was shut," Burton said. "I couldn't sell my house or this happened where we couldn't go and this last time, I was like, 'Alright, let's give it one more shot. Let's try to sell the house.' And it sold in six weeks and I'm like, 'Okay, we're going.'"
And my contract was coming up, on 'GH' and I just felt that it was time, time to move on, again," he added.
5. It is still unclear how Jason Morgan will leave.
Steve Burton is set to tape his final "General Hospital" episode on September 25 but he says he is willing to stay on the show longer to give the writers and producers time to plan his character's exit.
"I'm going to leave it all up to them," Burton said. "I've offered extra time if they need to close some story but right now it's kind of, the ball's in their court and we'll see what happens."
6. Would Steve Burton ever return to "General Hospital"?
"Well, I'll never say never because I've said that four time in my life and it has always happened when I say it, so I think definitely, you know, [Executive Producer] Frank [Valentini] said I'm welcome to come back. I think the door is open. I'm just going to see what other doors are open out there."
7. He's actually been keeping busy outside of Port Charles for years - with pizza and beer.
"I opened a craft beer bar in Chicago which is called the Beer Market, which is doing fantastic," Burton told OTRC.com. "We're opening five more - two in Pittsburgh, two in Cleveland and another one in Chicago in the next two years. And then Crust, which is a gourmet pizza bar. It's in Studio City [in California]. It's awesome. The food is amazing."
8. He's also working on a novella with James Franco, frequent "General Hospital" guest star.
"I pitched one," Burton told OTRC.com. "James did a couple of days on 'Hollywood Heights' for [former 'General Hospital Executive Producer] Jill [Phelps] and he's like, 'Hey, I want my production company to do one of these.' And we're like, 'Okay, James.' So we all came up with an idea and pitched it and we're in negotiations now, so that would be after the year sometime, after the first of the year."
"Hollywood Heights" is a teen soap opera produced by Phelps that airs on Nick at Nite. Burton said there is no release date yet for his new project with her and Franco, who has guest starred on several episodes of "General Hospital."
"We're looking for the outlet," Burton said. "I'm not really even supposed to be talking about it that much. But it's okay, 'cause we're going to do it because James is you know, set on doing this time and we're looking forward to it."
9. Meanwhile, Burton is looking forward to family time.
The actor has exited "General Hospital" several times since he made his debut in 1991.
"I left about 12 years ago and got to do some great stuff and I've got some stuff in the works outside now, inside the entertainment industry and outside of entertainment," Burton told OTRC.com. "I'm just, you know, ready to get my family there, which they're there now and just start my life there and take some time off. I'm going to take three months off, first and foremost and just spend time with the wife and kids.
Burton filmed the 2001 movie "The Last Castle" in Tennessee. The film also stars Robert Redford, James Gandolfini and Mark Ruffalo.
"That's how I got to know Nashville and I spent about four months there," Burton told OTRC.com. "My wife and I, we loved it so much that we said if we ever had a chance to raise our kids there, we would. And we sort of kind of started planning for that about seven years ago and it worked."
"I'm from Ohio originally, the Midwest, and I came out here [to Los Angeles]," he said. "I've been out here about 26 years now. I just thought [Tennessee] was a better environment to raise kids. Not that you can't raise kids anywhere, good kids, but it's just more of how I grew up and I wanted my kids to experience the seasons and just a place like Tennessee, it's great."
He is well aware that country living is going to take some time to get used to. But it has its perks.
"My driveway is the length of three football fields," Burton said. "So we have 17 acres there and an old farm house and the kids just run outside all day, play outside all day, it's great. Totally old-fashioned, it's great. We're out in the country, too. About a half hour to the grocery store. (Laughs) My wife's not adjusting to that one too well yet, but we're getting used to it."Reporting by George Pennacchio of KABC Television, which produces the entertainment show "On The Red Carpet" (check for local TV listings).