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Exclusive: J. Eddie Peck On His YOUNG AND RESTLESS Comeback!

Not too long ago, J. Eddie Peck was actively squelching unsubstantiated rumors that he would be returning to Y&R to play Cole Howard, who hasn’t been seen in Genoa City since 1999. “There was a breaking news thing that hit the Internet one day about 3:00 in the afternoon and my phone lit up and so did my social media,” recalls the actor. “I’m like, ‘What is this?’ And it was about me coming back to Y&R. I responded to everyone, ‘Hey, there’s no truth to this. Thank you so much for your support, but I’m not in any talks with the show right now. It’s just a rumor.’ ”

That is, until it wasn’t. “Eight, nine days later, I was having coffee on the patio with my wife and my phone rings,” Peck recounts. “I looked down at the number and I’m like, ‘Wait a minute. That’s the Y&R office.’ I answered the phone and it’s Matt from cCasting and he says, ‘J. Eddie, have you checked your email? Because we sent you an email yesterday and you didn’t respond.’ So I looked in my spam [folder] and there was the email that said, ‘Hey J. Eddie, we’re interested in knowing if you would like to reprise your role of Cole Howard.’ I turned to my wife and I was laughing and crying at the same time. The irony was just so funny. Here I had been discounting the rumors and now I was being asked to come back!”

Peck accepted the offer despite receiving scant information about the show’s plans for Cole. “I didn’t know any story details and for how many episodes, but I was just elated, “ he enthuses. “I love the daytime medium. I’ve worked in film and episodics but I’ve always loved soaps because of the family atmosphere, not only with your cast and crew, but also with the audience as well. Even though I’ve been gone for all of these years, I still watch the show just to see my old friends working and thriving, whether they’re actors or directors, writers, producers or cameramen. I’m just so happy that they’ve been able to have these long careers in the best medium there is. I’m just thrilled to get an invitation to come back.”

The prospect of having to memorize heavy loads of dialogue wasn’t a deterrent for Peck. “To be honest, my wife said, ‘Are you sure you’re gonna wrestle down those lines?’ and I told her, ‘I think so,’ ” he says. “I was a corporate executive in my 50s and I have no doubt that my brain is sharper now than it’s ever been in my life, even my college years, because I created a company that had a lot of moving parts and you just really have to be on your game mentally. As a matter of fact, I think that I’m a more well-rounded person in my later years. I really feel like I can bring so much more to my work as an actor than I ever could when I was in my 20s, 30s and 40s.”

J Eddie Peck

Sonja Flemming/CBS

You Can Go Home Again: Cole is back on familiar ground.

Even before he reported to work, Peck earned the show two new viewers. “I was in daytime for 13 years when you also include the time I was on ALL MY CHILDREN [as Jake Martin from 2000-03], but my two sons never saw what I did because we never let them watch the shows,” he explains. “Now Austin is 33 and Dalton is 29, so they’re really excited to see what I do. In fact, I’m a little surprised how excited they are.”

Peck’s first day at Y&R garnered an extreme reaction from a past co-star. “I’m still laughing at the reaction that I got from Eric [Braeden, Victor],” he chuckles. “He comes out on the Newman living room set and I’m standing off to the side while he sits in his favorite chair. We start the rehearsal and he gets to a line that so surprises him that he can’t say it.  He looks up, sees me, his mouth drops open and his head cocks to the side. I’m not going to say exactly what he said but his reaction was beautiful. He just kept repeating it, something along the lines of, ‘Holy —-! Hey, J. Eddie, it’s you!’ He just could not believe his eyes. I had not seen him in a long time, so his reaction meant a lot to me. And Mel [Thomas Scott, Nikki] has always been such a wonderful, warm-hearted person and friend to me.”

The actor also reunited with Amelia Heinle (Victoria), even though they never previously appeared on Y&R at the same time. “Amelia and I were on ALL MY CHILDREN together [where she played Mia] and our characters worked their way up to being engaged at one point,” he notes. “We had an instant chemistry and friendship. I really look forward to working with Amelia again.”

Although Cole has an Oxford professor for all of these years away, “He’s just the same as he always was,” Peck affirms. “He’s still a good guy with a very soft spot for the people who he cares about in his life. I have not been given a lot of backstory [about his time away from Genoa City], but in my mind I’ve given him a lot of backstory and how I saw his life seems to be in line with what I’m discovering and being told as we go. But generally speaking, Cole is a very deep, sensitive sort of person, but with a lot of backbone. [Co-Creator/Former Head Writer] Bill Bell told me, ‘I see Cole as a salt-of the earth guy,’ and that’s how I still see him, too. Wherever they take Cole, I am ready for the ride. I guarantee I’m having more fun than probably anyone else.”

J. Eddie Peck, Amelia Heinle

Virginia Sherwood/NBC

In A Past Life: When they worked together on ALL MY CHILDREN, Peck’s Jake was engaged to Amelia Heinle’s (Victoria) Mia.