Peter Bergman Reflects On 20 Years
Peter Bergman (Jack) recently celebrated 20 years on The Young and the Restless. In a recent interview on the set, Peter revealed how he landed the role of Jack Abbott, shared the painful experience that helped him fully embrace his character, and what lies ahead for Smilin' Jack Abbott. Read on…
What did you know about the character of Jack Abbott before you started on the show?
"Strangely enough, I knew nothing about Jack Abbott. I was working on All My Children, which aired opposite of The Young and the Restless in New York so I never saw it. If I saw it, I would only see it for seconds, and it always seemed very dark to me. All My Children was so brightly lit, by contrast. I wasn't familiar with the actors on the show. I found out about the role when they called me, and asked me to audition for the role of Jack. It turned out that Melody Thomas Scott [Nikki] was a fan of All My Children, and she suggested me to Ed Scott [her husband and producer at the time]. She had heard that I had been let go from the show. Ed Scott arranged, through the casting office, for me to come out, and audition with Jess Walton [Jill] and Jerry Douglas [John]. The audition went very well, I guess, and they were supposed to let me know in a couple of weeks. I auditioned on Friday, and they let me know Monday that I had the job. I came out unaware of Jack's character. I had a couple of tapes to watch of Terry Lester in the role, but after a couple of minutes I knew that wasn't going to work for me."
Tell us about the first day on the set of The Young and the Restless…
"My first day was very strange. I had just come from All My Children, which was a much smaller building, where everyone shared dressing rooms. At CBS, everyone stayed in their dressing rooms. There was a bit of a star thing going on. I had a scene with Eric Braeden. The crew was using cue cards, and I had never seen that happen before. So it was a very strange. Plus, I had the double-whammy of moving from the east coast to the west coast. My daughter was four weeks old at the time. Poor Mariellen, moving out here with a newborn, and living in Bob Woods [Bo, One Life To Live] west coast home. He let us rent his home in North Hollywood. Walking into CBS, everyone, including the prop guys, knew more about Jack Abbott then I did. Everyone."
After seeing the character on paper, what was your conscious choice when tackling the role?
"My conscious choice was this, from that day until today, Jack is not annoyed by the 'little people' ever. Jill makes his stomach turn. Brad [Don Diamont] made his skin crawl. Victor Newman [Eric Braeden]? On a deep, visceral level, Jack hates this man. He is a new money climber and Jack hates him. He doesn't find Victor to be an annoyance. He really hates him. Jack is very passionate about everything. He doesn't do anything in a small way. This also goes with how he falls in love. These were all really clear choices I made with Jack. I have learned over time that there is a kind of snide nature to Jack. He felt himself above everybody, smug. He found Brad a nuisance. Found Jill a tiresome bore. I kept wedging it in wherever I could, and they seemed to like it."
The character of Cliff on All My Children was a hero. Jack could be considered by many a villain, but you have always managed to give him layers…
"The thing about villainy is, its scariest when somebody is being sincere in it. When they have convinced themselves they are doing the right thing. That is a scary thing. It is true in life as well, when you have boss or a co-worker, who is so convinced they are doing the right thing, and they are just stepping all over people. I wanted Jack to have Achilles heels. My favorite Achilles heel of Jack's was Mamie. When Jack was around Mamie, Jack was like a little boy. He couldn't lie to her. He couldn't deceive her. She saw right through him. She knew all of his stuff. She was a grounding influence on him. Then Jack's relationship with his father was very important to me. John Abbott was both a father and a mother figure to him, therefore larger than life figure in Jack's life. Obviously, when John died this was more than a death to him, this was Jack's rudder. This was his guidepost. His conscience was gone. He was rudderless there for quite awhile."
At what point did you feel comfortable in the role of Jack Abbott?
"I will tell you a funny story. Not too many people know this. I have props in this dressing room to support it. It didn't happen quickly. I didn't feel like it was mine. Part of it was me, not letting go of All My Children. That ended before I was ready to let it in. I was out in California. There were things about this job that I didn't like, and there were things about that job that I missed. The role of Jack was clearly a better role, much better than Cliff Warner, but in terms of owning it, there was something holding me back. In New York, for the Emmy® Awards, I had just won the award for the second year in a row. The next morning Mariellen and I were heading to the upper west side to have breakfast with our friends at Sarabeth's Kitchen. En route to Sarabeth's Kitchen from our hotel, we passed 67th and Columbus, where All My Children was shot the entire time I was there, and it was a pile of bricks. I stood on the ramp overlooking the job site, and cried like a baby. I thought, 'What is wrong with you? Do they have to spray paint it on the wall for you? IT'S OVER! You just won your second award for this show. Go embrace it!' It was a powerful moment for me, a powerful moment. The day after I had won a second Emmy®, I still didn't feel like I owned the role of Jack Abbott. After breakfast, Mariellen was going to go shopping, and I was going to meet up with James Mitchell [Palmer, All My Children], so we went our separate ways. When I got back to the hotel room, Mariellen gave me this [he held up a brick from the old studio ruins, with tears in his eyes]. It is a reminder to be HERE now. DO this! Embrace where you are now."
It sounds like you were restless, no pun intended, at the time, and channeled that feeling into your character…
"Right! Peter was very restless, at the time. Ungrounded, not feeling quite right, and struggling to hold on it, just as Jack was at the time. Jack was struggling to get Jabot back at that time. Nikki was struggling with her alcohol addiction. Victor and I were at war with each other, all at the same time that Peter Bergman's life was very unsettled."
What was the fan reaction like at the time? Jack being so different from Cliff…
"Cliff Warner was one of the few roles that I had been given who was a nice guy. I played more cads, more smart-a**, silver-spooned, self-important, pompous characters in my acting career than nice guys. I just didn't get cast as nice guys. People thought casting me as Jack was a bad idea, but I said, 'no this is a good idea, I can play the bad guy.' I always did."
I read an article the other day that stated that it was Cliff and Nina that set the tone for super couples on daytime…
"I don't know about that, because that was around the same time as Luke and Laura over at General Hospital were very popular, but they really stuck with it. Cliff married Nina four times over a ten-year period. They were a genuinely star-crossed couple. The fans could not stand to see those characters with anyone else."
"I think that The Young and the Restless assumed that Peter would be bringing All My Children fans with him. There was also the problem of Terry Lester fans accepting someone else in that role. Strangely enough, about ninety percent of the Terry Lester fans were won over in the first six months. I don't want to say that I won them over, but the storylines were great at that time, I think that is what helped fans warm up to Jack. I think they really started caring about the character, not so much the actor, but definitely to my benefit. The All My Children fans were the hardest ones to win over because Cliff was such a nice character."
Now you have a character that can't stay in a relationship…
"It is quite the contrast, the guy who found his one true love, followed by the most unlucky-in-love guy out there, someone who can't seem to hold on to it. Love is just out of his grasp."
Do you feel that Jack has already had a great love of his life or is that someone still out there?
"This is my 20th Anniversary, and I have been asked by a number of people how Jack has changed over the years. The markers, the big changes that have happened, are because of three women. Jack, a reckless, selfish, uncaring cad, meets Nikki. He decides to team up with her to get Jabot back, get her to fall in love with him, and then go to Victor and say, 'you want Nikki? Then give me Jabot back!' That was the plan. Jack stuck with the plan until the very last minute, and then he fell in love with Nikki. He fell face first for Nikki, Jack at his most vulnerable. There's Mom issues here. Lots of stuff to play. Jack's mother walked out on him when he was thirteen. That was a bad time, and a few women have paid the price for that, but Nikki finds out what a cad he was, and forgives him that. They had a stillborn child together, and Jack learned empathy for the first time in his life. Jack, the all-knowing, all-powerful, could not save Nikki from herself. He couldn't fix her alcohol addiction, if anything, he made it worse. It just killed him, but it CHANGED him. So that was the first. He is still a cad, but not as bad as before."
"He goes on. He runs smack into Phyllis [Michelle Stafford]. This is one of his least likely pairings, whatever is the opposite of star-crossed. These two people should have never been left in the same room together! They were perfectly wrong for each other, and yet both came out of the relationship as better people. Here's a situation where two people, who are truly, deeply in love with each other and can't make it work. Jack is changed again, in a big way. Now we are looking at a Jack that is much more complex."
"The third woman, Sharon. We had Nick and Phyllis, going at it hot and heavy, and the writers were probably going, 'Now what do we do with Jack and Sharon? Why don't we put them together?' It probably wasn't that thought out. And Sharon Case, the actress, and I sat in my dressing room, and she said, 'Why don't we make it work for them?' We didn't like being an afterthought. We sat in this room, and ran lines together like crazy. This wasn't something she normally did. This was a concerted effort to turn this relationship into something, and by God, we got three and a half years of storyline out of it. Jack found in Sharon a simple honesty. She accepted him, and all she asked for was honesty, and he couldn't do it. He could not do it. She was his grasp at having a solid family atmosphere in the Abbott Mansion, everything in place. Jack just couldn't pull it off. He went through the loss of his father with Sharon. He went through the loss of his niece with Sharon. These were giant moments in his life."
"Your original question was there one true love. There are three. Each of these three women were the loves of his life, and he is never completely comfortable if he is standing in a room with any one of them."
Do you have a favorite acting partner on Y&R?
"Michelle Stafford and I had a lot of fun with the banter, back and forth, that the writers gave us. Looking back, Michelle is a comedian and storyteller, and so is Susan Walters [Diane]. When Phyllis and Diane were fighting for Jack's affections, Jack was loyal to Phyllis, but was drawn to Diane, and that was a fun time to be on the set of The Young and the Restless. Wonderful energy! Both were great comedians. I would come to work, and they would make me laugh like crazy."
"Billy Miller came in, and he owned that role of Billy Abbott. He is fantastic! Someone asked me if it was threatening to me, that there is a new Abbott, and he is so much like Jack used to be. I said, 'No! This is gold. If I am playing chess, I want my partner to be phenomenal!' If he's amazing, it only makes my job more fun. He is sensational."
Do you have a favorite Jack storyline?
"No, I don't have one favorite. There have been a few that I didn't like. I do love the fact that he has changed and grown. There is a complexity to him. There was one that surprised the hell out of me. When the writers said they were going to bring Jerry Douglas back as a ghost, I thought, 'Crap! I'm on The Young and the Restless, the show that doesn't do the supernatural, and I get stuck with the ghost storyline?' Boy, was I wrong. It has been wonderful. It's Hamlet. Jack conscience is back. John is the one person who Jack can be honest with, in the middle of being so dishonest with everybody else. Now I say bring it on! I love it."
How has Jack Abbott changed Peter Bergman?
"Jack has changed Peter Bergman with his passion. I learned that if I really believed in things, I could really make a difference. That has changed me. I think I used to stand on the outside looking in more, and now I jump in. That is not just confidence, that is a belief if I believe others will."
Do you have a wish for Jack Abbott?
"When I first started on All My Children, I was being shown around the studio, and in the hair and makeup room there was a woman who played grandmother Martin, an older lady who was getting her hair done. I was introduced to her. She said, 'You must be the new fellow. May you have a long and troubled life here.' That is my wish for Jack, may he have a long and troubled life."
At this point in his life, what is Jack thankful for?
"Jack is, above all, thankful for family. Family is everything to him. It is who he is. Family has shaped Jack Abbott. The new Jack Abbott, in the last year, has realized that he is now the head of the family, and he has just started understanding what is required of the job. He is messing up, here and there, but he is learning the job of being the head of the Abbott family. I would like to have a year of Jack pitted against Victor and winning. I think the audience would like that too. It's David and Goliath. And it is always, David lost again. I would like to see David win."
What is coming up for Jack?
"Trouble, nothing but trouble! He has found a new love in his life and all the signs say this is not going to go well. That is the one thing about this new Jack, he has been able to really see how the old Jack contributed to Patty's illness. He has compassion now, but all signs point to trouble ahead."
Thank you, Peter!
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