Peter Bergman talks Jack Abbott, shares memories

Posted Wednesday, April 03, 2013 1:30:15 AM
Peter Bergman talks Jack Abbott, shares memories

Peter Bergman has been part of the soap opera community for 34 years. As The Young and the Restless marks its 40th year on television, Bergman sits down to reflect on his time in daytime in a refreshingly candid interview.

For years Peter Bergman (Jack Abbott) on The Young and the Restless played a super hero on All My Children. When he took over the role of smiling Jack Abbott, he was anything but. He likes playing the bad boy, explaining, "I was the good guy for years. I love playing Jack, especially when he is up to no good."

Bergman had a daunting job taking over the role from fan favorite Terry Lester. Lester's job was lost when he made a statement in the press complaining "that all the young actors who can not act are taking time from those who can act." He singled out Cricket, now know as Christine.

Big mistake. Laruralee Bell, who plays Christine, was the daughter of the show creator and executive producer, Bill Bell.

"I think," says Bergman "Bill Bell was bound and determined to give Jack great story to get even with the actor who previously played Jack."

Bergman understands that Jack will always be a seesaw character -- one day good, the next day bad.

Jack will be eating caviar one day and dirt the next. The one thing that can be irksome to Bergman is that, like the Road Runner vs. Wile E, Coyote, Victor Newman is always dropping the anvil on him. Not so with Jack's latest tumble. "I liked that this time, Jack ruined things on his own," Bergman states

Bergman does remember a storyline that still makes him cringe. They decided Jack had served in Viet Nam, sired a child he did not know about, and his now-grown son, Keemo, came to town. "Whenever I am displeased with a storyline, all I have to do is think 'Keemo,' and I realize how bad things could get," Bergman explains.

His recent storyline, which had him battling drug addition, was a storyline he liked. He gives credit to Michelle Stafford (Phyllis): "She was essential to making the detox scenes work." Stafford says, "He did all the heavy lifting." He likes that Jack continues to be tempted by painkillers. "It could not be okay, Jack detoxed, now everything is fine. Jack is still tempted by the painkillers," Bergman says.

Bergman has little use for drugs. Many years ago, Bergman admitted he had tried pot. He revealed why he quit. "I was skiing. It was literally on the most beautiful mountain, the air was crisp, the sun made everything fabulous. I was about to take out some marijuana. I thought, this is perfect. Why do I think I can make it more beautiful, when it can't be? I got rid of the pot. That was it for me."

In his 23 years as Jack, Bergman has won three Outstanding Lead Actor Emmys and is nominated this year. In all, he has had 17 Daytime Emmy nominations.

Bergman feared looking at all the nominated submissions this year. "There were all these three-minute tapes. Any actor should be able to find at least one three-minute scene that is okay. I was impressed at the quality of work. It was very hard to choose who should go on to the next round."

Bergman is very open but never wants to hurt anyone. Commenting on a fellow actor, he says, "He is great as a backburner character, but when they bring him to the forefront, I don't think his work is that good. Please don't say who I am talking about."

He still considers the late James Mitchell (Palmer Cortlandt, All My Children) a friend and a mentor. "James was an amazing person and an amazing actor. He did not like actors who were pretentious or who wanted to dictate storyline. My job is to bring Jack to life with any storyline I am given. My job is not to write. It is to act. James taught me that."

Thinking of Mitchell, Bergman remembers that when he started on All My Children, his son Connor was just crawling. Connor and his sister Clare are out and about in the world and have no interest in acting. "If they had chosen to act, that would have been fine. I am not unhappy they have chosen other careers... I have been lucky to have had almost 40 years of steady work. That is so rare."

I have interviewed Bergman over the years, and his unabashed love of his wife, Maryellen, is always evident. On the many video interviews I have done with him, you can see his palpable love. Many times there have been tears in his eyes when he talked about Maryellen and how much she means to him.

Bergman is an open the door, pull out your seat kind of gentleman, but even he has his limits. Years ago, Bergman, Ruth Warrick (Phoebe, All My Children), and I were doing a personal appearance in New Orleans. Ruth, who could talk anybody into anything, got someone to take us on the bayou after dark. She always wore a wig. It was a blustery night. Bergman looked at her and said, "Ruth, if that wig flies off, I am not going overboard to get it."

As for the future of daytime, Bergman is excited about the reboot of All My Children and One Life to Live. "The more soaps that are produced, the better it is for the industry."

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