It’s a rare thing to grow up on a TV show, but The Young and the Restless‘ Christel Khalil has done just that.
Starting on the super-popular soap opera at age 14, Khalil has played Lily for nearly 15 years, with the exception of a brief hiatus from the show for a year. Her character has grown up right along with her, and the issues she faces on the soap, over time, have matured from teen problems to full-on adult melodrama.
At the moment, Lily is facing huge questions about her marriage to Cane (which is never, ever uncomplicated) and her foray into modelling. Expect big decisions from her, and don’t anticipate Khalil’s beloved character to go anywhere anytime soon.
Global News sat down with Khalil in Toronto to talk about the show’s longevity in a competitive industry, what’s next for Lily on Y&R and which soap-opera veterans taught her the most in her career.
Global News: Do you feel blessed to be part of the most popular soap opera on TV for so long?
Christel Khalil: [Laughs] In the beginning, I didn’t think about it because I was so young. I was like, “Yeah, this is just what I do.” Now that I’m older, I’m like, “Wow, this is such a rarity.” It’s an amazing thing to be able to say that. It’s the best job ever.
Lily is pretty much your character. When you were away from her for that year, was it hard for you?
I left because I needed a break. Being away was nice at first, but after about six months or so, I was like, “OK, this kinda sucks.” [Laughs] I really missed the show. There was this point where I felt… it’s almost like family.
You’ve grown up on the show. How does that feel?
It’s funny, anyone who’s in my storyline feels like my real-life family. You know everything about each other. Daniel, who plays my husband [Cane], he’s seen me through my marriage, my divorce, my kid being born. Before you run lines, you’re catching up… I know people on the show better than I know some of my best friends. We spend so much time together.
Bryton [James, who plays Lily’s brother Devon], too, he’s my son’s godfather and we’re very, very close.
What is it about Y&R that contributes to its longevity?
Bill Bell, the man who started the show, was such a great storyteller and really understood the audience. He created this formula that works and kept it going. It’s almost like they haven’t reinvented the wheel… though they’ve tried to. Whenever we have new head executive-producers come in and they try to put their stamp on things, it falls apart.
Over your time on Y&R, you’ve had some outstanding co-stars, some real high-level vets. Was there anyone in particular who really pushed you forward in your career?
The easiest person to work with and to be emotionally vulnerable with is Kristoff St. John [who plays Neil, her sort-of dad]. Whenever we have a scene together, it’s so easy for me to drop right in with him. With others, I have to work at it. I don’t know if it’s because he was the first person I ever screen-tested with. He played my dad, and sort of was my dad in the beginning. When I’m on-camera with him, it’s not like I’m really acting.
He’s the biggest teddy bear, but he’s also the biggest dork and idiot around. [Laughs] The jokes he tells… such dad jokes.
And of course, you worked with Shemar Moore for a while, he’s technically Lily’s biological father. How was he on-set?
He’s such a beautiful man. Sometimes I’d look at him and be like, “Wow. This is real.” [Laughs] He was really great to work with as well. It was the same thing, he has a very warm presence, and he really cared about the show too.
Were your friends ever jealous of your closeness to Shemar?
Not jealous, but I do recall one time when the Emmys were held in Vegas, my girlfriends and I were hanging out with him and his friends, and… I won’t go any deeper into that story. [Laughs]
Lily is having a tough time at the moment. Where’s her head at right now?
Cane and Lily have gotten over so many issues together, but his infidelity — and getting someone else pregnant — is the thing that’s broken the camel’s back. It’s a big deal! We’ve always been able to work things out, but in this scenario, I don’t think we can. In her head, she’s really scared.
Given their history… these characters have been together for 10 years, she’s in a place of not knowing what to do and doesn’t know what’s up or what’s down.
Do your fans want Lily and Cane together?
Every writer has tried to break us up and it has never worked. [Laughs] Everyone always wants us to make it work.
And how much do fans have an impact on storylines?
I think it has a big impact. For instance, when Cane died on the show, the fans went ballistic. They sent an airplane over CBS! That’s why they brought him back. Sony was like, “We need to keep him on.”
So yeah, fans do have some power.
What can fans expect from Lily over the next little while?
The great thing about the writers now is they’re letting stories take time. Before, a storyline would happen within three months. Now, to be honest, a month from now it might be the same… oh wait! That’s not true… there is something that does happen, and I don’t know how fans are going to feel about it. They might be upset by it. It’s going to be interesting.