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ICYMI Peter Bergman Interview

Peter Bergman (Jack, Y&R) offers insight into his/her alter ego

What do you like most about playing your character? “That Jack has been allowed to change and grow. The Jack I originally played on Y&R was a manipulative cad, and over the years, through many life experiences and transactional relationships with most people in his life, Jack has evolved — and he had to. I like that it’s been slow and rather deliberate, which the writers get all of the credit for each step of the way. For a long time, Jack dreamed of being the man his father was and failed miserably because he tripped over himself for many years trying to accomplish that. Over the 34 years that I’ve played this character, he has actually succeeded in being the man he thinks his father wanted him to be and that’s a giant thing for Jack. It’s made it very easy for him to be the head of the family, and also a helpful ear to lots of friends. If you get on the wrong side of Jack, he can be downright ugly, but in general, Jack is finally the man he spent most of his life wanting to be.”

What has been your favorite storyline? “I have two favorites. When I first came on the show, Jack was determined to get back Jabot from Victor. He decided the best way to do that would be to get Nikki to fall for him and then go to Victor and say, ‘You want Nikki back? Give me Jabot.’ It was a well-crafted story that went on for a year and a half and it went exactly according to Jack’s plan — until it was time to make the bargain and he realized he fell in love with her. I had a lot of fun working with Melody [Thomas Scott, Nikki]. My next favorite was Jack and Phyllis’s love story. They could not be more different, and somehow there was something just magical about it. She really challenged him, especially at the beginning when all of the odds were against them, but Jack realized, ‘This is who I’ve been looking for.’ It was great fun to play and Michelle [Stafford, Phyllis] was downright brilliant. I read somewhere that one can only have one’s heart broken, really broken, just once and that is what Phyllis represents to Jack. Although he’s very happy with Diane, Phyllis will always occupy a special place in his heart.”

What do you consider Jack’s strengths? “He is fiercely loyal to those he’s related to and those he loves. If you need somebody on your team, Jack is the kind of guy you want on your team.”

What are his weaknesses? “Jack’s temper gets the best of him all too often. He’s still a little hot-headed and also has a hair-trigger sometimes with his emotions. I’ve always said Jack Abbott falls in love face-first. He goes from zero to 60 so fast and his romantic relationships have been his undoing many times. That’s why he’s really determined that his relationship with Diane has some legs.”
What do you and your character have in common? “An abiding love for family and all things family traditions. Those mean a lot to Jack and to me. Also, we have a very low tolerance for bullies.”

What do you and Jack have least in common? “The real difference in us is that Jack has more ambition than I have. It’s enough for me to be reliable and a good example to others, but Jack needs to be in the top of his field. I have less of that in me.”

Which family member is closest to Jack? “That’s a really hard one because he and Ashley and Traci grew up together, and from the day their mother left, these three raised each other. Their father was a wonderful but very busy man who was trying to build a company. Jack is close to his sisters for different reasons and in different ways. He can get lost in Traci’s remarkable ability to love. It just astounds him. And Jack has always felt close to Ashley because they’re so much alike and yet different. Jack, being the oldest, protected the girls but he’s been a little too earnest about it and doesn’t know when to quit. That’s gotten in the way with Ashley because she doesn’t need a big brother anymore and that’s all he knows how to be with her. I’m so grateful for Eileen [Davidson, Ashley] and Beth [Maitland, Traci].”

What was your most out-of-the-blue story? “That Jack had served in Vietnam and in that time he had met this woman and unknowingly had a child by her. That came from far left field and smacked me alongside the head. It’s worth saying Jack is younger than I am, so Peter Bergman could have gone to Vietnam at the very end of things there, but it was a stretch that Jack had served.”

Which one of Jack’s storylines was the most challenging for you to play? “The doppelgänger/Marco thing because it wasn’t strongly based in anything. It was one writer deciding there’s a guy in a prison down in South America who looks and sounds exactly like Jack, that the woman in his life wouldn’t recognize the difference. It was so hard to do and I was just dying every day trying to make it work. I felt I was failing at playing somebody whose native language is not English and is faking being Jack. It was just a daunting task and I don’t think I did very well at it.”

What is Jack’s greatest fear? “Something happening to his family and he’s not there to protect them. I’m sure he wakes up in the middle of the night with that fear very often.”

How do you think Jack spends his downtime? “It used to be playing a lot of tennis but I think he spends a lot of his downtime reading. He previously didn’t have the ability to stop everything and just relax. Now he has it. He’s content with just sitting around at home with Diane and just staring at her.”

What does it mean to you to be part of one of the most famous rivalries in soaps, which is, of course, Jack and Victor? “Eric [Braeden, Victor] and I have worked together for a very long time and both of us value, admire and respect this ongoing enmity that has become one of the most memorable rivalries in all of television, and that includes daytime and nighttime.”

What is Jack’s preferred way to dress? “Jack has always been comfortable in a jacket and tie. Everyone thinks, ‘Why is he getting so dressed up?’ but to him it’s just getting dressed.”

What is the most common comment you hear from fans? “A lot of them now say, ‘Watch out for that Diane. She is trouble.’ I assure them that Diane loves Jack and she loves Kyle and she’s not going to do anything to mess that up, but they’ll say, ‘Well, we’ll see.’ ”

When was Jack the happiest? “Again, I have to go back to the Phyllis thing. It caught Jack by storm, even though it was doomed from the start. But before their two worlds collided, Jack was very happy. Everyone had questions about Phyllis, but Jack didn’t have a question anywhere in his mind. To him, this was the girl but that all eventually fell apart.”

What was the biggest turning point in Jack’s life? “I can tell you very easily that it was two things: Mom and Dad. When John Abbott died and Jack realized he was now the head of the family, it changed him unalterably. And for most of his life, Jack had been carrying around the Dina problem. When she deserted the family, deep down, Jack believed every woman would leave him, so he did a lot of self-sabotage in his relationships. Things fell apart because they were supposed to fall apart. Jack finally had the chance to let Dina know that but it coincided with her failing mental health, so he never got any real answers.”

Which one of Jack’s weddings is your favorite? “When he first married Phyllis [in 2001] because Jack had to talk her back to the altar. She almost walked away from all of it and he had to convince her to get out of her own way. That was fun. Jack’s never had a giant wedding. They’ve all been small with family and in a house. The ceremony with Phyllis was out in the garden and she lost her nerve, so Jack had to find her and bring her back to marry him.”

Are you satisfied with Jack and Kyle’s father/son relationship? “Very. At first, Jack wasn’t sure he could ever be a good father but he had a great example set for him by John Abbott. And it’s easy to play the closeness between Jack and Kyle because Michael [Mealor, Kyle] and I have become such good friends. He’s a giant of a guy. He’s bright, curious and interested. When he asks questions, he listens to the answers. He’s just a lovely human being.”

What has been a highlight for you in the Jack and Diane story? “Susan Walters [Diane] because she makes me laugh. I also appreciate that she’s a very hard-working actress who takes this job very seriously and comes to work always prepared. And the fact that she makes me laugh every day is a bonus, which brings me a lot of joy.”