In 1977, Jacklyn Zeman began her run as scheming nurse Bobbie, the first Spencer to hit the Port Charles scene. In 2007, she was taken off contract, and Bobbie was a scarce commodity through 2010, when she stopped appearing altogether — that is, until 2013, when Zeman returned in conjunction with the show’s 50th anniversary. Now, though, she’s a key player in a front-burning tale, the saga of Nelle’s vendetta against Bobbie’s firstborn, Carly. The actress dished with Digest about her storyline resurgence.
Soap Opera Digest: It’s a great time to be a Bobbie fan, wouldn’t you say?
Jacklyn Zeman: Aw, thank you! It has been great, this story. The writers, Jean [Passanante] and Shelly [Altman], came up with a good one!
Digest: Bobbie is one of the only veteran characters who returned for the 50th anniversary who has been fully integrated back into the show. Did you expect, four years ago, that your return would be permanent?
Zeman: I had no idea. The thing is, over the years, GH became my family. Bobbie Spencer and me, we are so melded together with so many beautiful memories over the years. Here’s an example: I was shooting the day of Maxie’s wedding and Donna [Messina], who was doing my makeup, goes, “Oh, we have a wedding today.” I go, “Oh, who’s getting married?” We don’t get the whole scripts anymore, we only get our own scenes, so you don’t know who’s doing what unless you’re in that day and you see it on the monitor. She tells me and I go, “Maxie?! Why am I not invited to that? She’s walking around with B.J.’s heart! Felicia’s my best friend, we’re sisters-in-law, we have so many years of history, and I’m not invited to the wedding?!” I mean, I took it personally, like my best friend didn’t invite me to her real-life daughter’s wedding [laughs]!
Digest: We’re right there with you — we put “Where the heck was Bobbie?” in as a Picky, Picky! But if it makes you feel any better, apparently the guests were invited by text, so maybe Bobbie just didn’t check her phone.
Zeman: Okay, that’s what I’ll say [laughs]! But anyway, that’s just an example of the history that I feel. Bobbie has a relationship with everyone on the show, pretty much, or at least the characters who have been there for more than a decade. I was wanting, for a long time, to have a storyline come up, because I wanted to be more involved. So, I am so glad that our writers felt that way, too, and found a way to use the history. They have to be smart nowadays; they have to figure out how to make it character-driven and plot-driven at the same time, and make it work for contractual guarantees and history and all the rest of it. I don’t know how they do it! It’s, like, a scary job. And boy, I love that the fans get so emotionally involved, but when they don’t like something, they’re not shy about it!
Digest: I think fans have responded to Bobbie’s role in this story so positively in part because of how it echoes how Carly first came to town, hell-bent on destroying Bobbie.
Zeman: Yeah, I have the same feeling about it. The brilliance of the storyline is that Bobbie has been through it all, which is why she was able to sniff out Nelle right away. She’s been around that vibe and that energy and the total, like, anger and disdain that she feels for Nelle, it’s almost like it’s so close to her heart and her family that she totally relates to it. Chloe [Lanier, Nelle] has done an amazing job coming on as such a bad girl. She’s a smart girl, she’s a great actress and she’s good people, and I’ve gotten so many nice comments from people about how much they’re loving the storyline. And, of course, I just like the fact that I get to work in this group with Laura [Wright, Carly], who I adore.She’s like, total energy, balls-out, kick-ass, every scene — and that’s how Bobbie is, or how Bobbie was, more so when she was younger. Bobbie’s pulled it back a notch as she’s matured, as we all do; we calm down a little bit in later life, but I see Laura doing that with the Carly character and it’s so much fun.
Digest: Did you get any sort of heads-up from the show, like, “Hey, you’re about to be working a lot”?
Zeman: Well, here’s the interesting thing. I guess this storyline, the one we’re doing now, they had wanted to do for a while, because Frank [Valentini, executive producer] had told me that this was going to start a year ago. We were supposed to be in the throes of it last January, but they couldn’t find the [right] girl. I wasn’t working very much at that point, which is probably the only reason he told me. Normally they don’t tell you storylines ahead [of time], but he might have thought that I might make other plans or take another job and he wanted to see if I was going to be available. He said, “Oh, you’re going to have a storyline coming up, you’re going to be working a lot,” so I kind of rearranged my life a little bit to be available — and then there were no shows booked. And then there were still no shows booked. I waited like two months; I wait longer than most people would wait because I’m a pretty patient person. I called up again and go, “Uh, Frank, you know, the storyline that you told me about? That was like two months ago….” And he said, “We have the story, but we can’t find the girl!” It took a long time, but finally, he was like, “We got her! We found her!” And when I heard that it was Chloe, I was like, “Oh, wow! Awesome!” She had done such a fabulous job as Young Pat [on the 2015 anniversary episode].
Digest: I think the storyline is so much richer with Bobbie as pivotal part of it, not just window dressing. It’s exciting to see her really driving the action.
Zeman: Any actor will tell you this: It’s nicer to come in, especially when you have the emotional history with a show and mutual memories with the audience, and be in a storyline where you’re a proactive person and not just a reactive character — “Oh, let’s just put Bobbie on for a few days because she’s been on for a long time and the audience likes to see her once in awhile.” The audience who knows and loves the show knows what the writers are doing [when that happens]. Of course, everyone has their favorites, and they try to sprinkle people in, particularly the vets, but I think the audience is much happier [when they’re given something substantial to do], particularly a character like Bobbie that’s always been so proactive.
Digest: Because we’re seeing Bobbie not just with Carly and Nelle, but with Michael, with Josslyn, it feels like she’s really in the family in a way that was missing for a while.
Zeman: Yeah, because over the years, particularly [with] the former [writing and producing] regime, Bobbie was kind of just left out of all the family stuff. So I’m really happy that Bobbie’s back in with the people that she should be working with, you know what I mean? I think it’s good for the show and keeps the authenticity. Not every viewer has been watching for 40 years, but a lot of them have been watching for more than 10, and I think for those people, it makes them happy — and it makes me happy because it’s the right thing. I really like that our writers can write the emotional, can write the sentimental, heartwarming stuff. You’ve got to do the hard-hitting plots and all that stuff, but there’s a mix. Bobbie’s always been part of the heartwarming stories. Bobbie’s never really been a plot character, even years ago when we were doing all the “Luke and Laura on the run” and the WSB and all that. Bobbie always had the counterpoint, the anchor, the hospital, the children, all of that. I think they’ve done a brilliant job in utilizing that.
Digest: To that point, Bobbie was also put back on staff at the hospital. Were you pleased about that?
Zeman: I was thrilled, yes! I didn’t have a job for so long, and I didn’t have a set, I didn’t have a place to live. I still don’t know where Bobbie lives!
Digest: Or who she’s dating, if anyone!
Zeman: Yes, Bobbie and Scott were all of a sudden dating, and then all of a sudden he’s back with Lucy, and we never had a scene to say what happened. I said [to Frank], “By the way, who am I dating? I was dating Scott and then all of a sudden that sort of disappeared and he’s in bed with Lynn Herring [Lucy], whom I adore, so I don’t have a problem with that, but what happened there?” “Oh, I don’t know, I’m going to get you somebody better.” Well, nobody’s better than Kin Shriner [Scott] for me; we’ve known each other since we were 24 years old! But okay, get me somebody! At this point I’m not going to be so picky [laughs]. I think there are a lot of women who want to feel that just because you’re in the over-50 category doesn’t mean that you’re not still a woman who has relationships! I’m not suggesting they have to do a whole storyline on it, but I’m hoping that this [trend of story for Bobbie] continues and I can keep doing what I’m doing, because I really like GENERAL HOSPITAL — and I’d rather be working on GENERAL HOSPITAL than go on another show.
Digest: Who do you wish that Bobbie got to intersect with a little more?
Zeman: Well, I always like working with Kin and Lynn and Genie [Francis, Laura], and Felicia and Monica. My people that I’m used to, people that I have a past with.
Digest: We’re fast approaching the 40th anniversary of you first walking onto the show as Bobbie. What does that mean to you?
Zeman: It’s pretty amazing to me. One, to say you’ve done anything as a grown-up for 40 years, you go, “Oh, God, that’s a long time!” It is emotional to me, and to the audience. It makes me happy. It’s like, “Wow.” That’s as good as it gets.