ICYMI Peter Bergman & Susan Walters Interview

Soap Opera Digest: During Susan’s first stint on the show, Diane was laser-focused on splitting up Jack and Phyllis. What stands out to you most about that era?

Peter Bergman: It was a lot of fun.

Susan Walters: Yeah, there was a lot of funny stuff that went on.

Bergman: We had a lot of laughs, it was crazy.

Walters: I just remember there was a lot of laughter behind the scenes, but now we seem to be moving at such a pace all the time that we don’t get to laugh a lot. Peter, do you remember when Diane finally seduces Jack, but I have this cast on my leg from having put myself behind Phyllis’s car, so I had to have crutches and a cast in a negligée? I remember thinking, “This is just hell,” and we laughed so hard.

Bergman: This is as bad as it got, exactly: “Aren’t I sexy bringing my crutches to bed with me?” They were crazy, fun times. They really were. Here’s something I remember, we had one of those many celebrations that [Co-Creator/Former-Head Writer] Bill Bell threw at the Bel-Air Bay Club, and at one point, Susan and [her husband] Linden [Ashby, ex-Cameron et al], Michelle Stafford [Phyllis] and maybe Christian [J. LeBlanc, Michael] were at the table and I think Michelle said, “Oh, we got the best table in the whole place!” and I actually felt that to my core, that I was at the most fun table.

Walters: The “cool kids” table. I have no recollection of that night. I have no idea what was I wearing?

Bergman: I don’t know.

Walters: It was probably black. I’m looking forward to the 50th anniversary, black-tie event because we can have you and [your wife] Mariellen and Michelle and Christian and me and Linden at a table again. I mean that’s what’s so fun about this.

Digest: What stands out to you about that first day of working together again?

Bergman: The first day I worked with Susan, I called home and told Mariellen….

Walters: “She’s still a crazy person!”

Bergman: “I am just so happy.”

Walters: Aww. It’s a really nice place to work. Everybody on the show is so good, but I feel especially lucky with our little pod.

Bergman: Yeah, it’s a good pod.

Digest: When it was explained to you, what did you think of the story that Diane was re-entering the land of the living to reconnect with Kyle?

Walters: I didn’t have a problem with it because, first of all, I never played that Diane who died. And secondly, for Susan, I was thrilled to have this job, so yeah, this all makes sense. And then I have to say, I know these things are a stretch, you have to suspend a little disbelief, but I think [the writers] did a really good job with it.

Bergman: I think they did a really fine job, too. What was important is not, “Oh, come on, she couldn’t possibly be alive.” What was important to the audience was, “Oh, my God, how’s Nikki going to react? Oh, my God, how’s Ashley going to react?” That was more important than, “Wait, that couldn’t happen.” Everyone in town was in disbelief, but more than that, they were just furious. In this work, we suspend disbelief to bring in a new person to play a character and we didn’t have that with Susan because the audience was immediately familiar with her as Diane.

Walters: What else is great is the characters that Diane interacted with were like, “What are you talking about that you faked your death? You were bludgeoned, I had to go to jail,” so it was meant to be crazy but we were able to still explain that. Diane wasn’t righteous about how she did it, she was like, “This is crazy.” It worked for me, I didn’t have a problem with it at all.

Digest: How would you describe the off-camera dynamic between you and Michael Mealor (Kyle)?

Walters: Obviously, Susan and Michael don’t have the same relationship that Kyle and Diane have, but I love Michael. He’s fantastic. He had to jump in to do things with me that were huge, and we had never even laid eyes on each other but once in the hallway. Our first scene together, we were first up in the morning, and you can say, “Oh, it lends itself having not seen each other for all these years,” but as actors, you want to know the person. But he’s great. I love Michael.

Bergman: It’s so impressive to watch Susan build relationships with everyone in our little pod. She and Michael get together and laugh about the text they sent each other yesterday.

Walters: That poor kid.

Bergman: It’s really lovely watching her take the time to build relationships and friendships.

Walters: Well, that’s really nice to hear. Like I mentioned before, our days go by fast, so there’s not a lot of hang time.

Digest: When Diane first came back, Phyllis was more of a prominent figure in the storyline. What dynamic does Michelle bring to these characters?

Walters: She brings the fire!

Bergman: Phyllis is very flammable and any second could go off, and either way. What that does to Diane’s very careful plan and Jack’s thoughtful positioning and understanding of the situation, Phyllis walks in and all of that goes out the window and off we go. Michelle is fantastic and she’s very good at what she does.

Digest: Jack getting back together with Diane has stirred up a certain degree of controversy among fans; some viewers feel like the Jack Abbott they know would never give this woman another chance. Do you understand where those viewers are coming from?

Bergman: We did ask the viewers to come a long way and it was a challenge we both knew we had, but we needed to sell this to half of the audience, not the whole audience, to get on board with this romance. And I think along the way, the audience sees a man trying to put a family back together and they see a woman who knows she’s done wrong trying to redeem herself, and they see an entire town go after this poor woman whose major thrust is reuniting with her son. And all of these mothers and grandmothers are teaming up against her and I think the audience says, “Give her a chance.”

Walters: If you’ve done something wrong and the other person does something just as wrong or even more wrong, it kind of helps your case a little bit.

Digest: What do you see as the rooting value for this couple?

Bergman: It’s simple and clear: They’re rebuilding a family. Every couple that has kids and divorces, the biggest central problem is the focus of, how do we do this for the children? And this is something that Jack has lived with, and that she’s lived with, but in finding their way back to each other, they are reuniting a family.

Walters: Diane may be controlling with all these other people in her life, but she appreciates Jack and lets him take the reins with a lot of things and I think there’s something he might like about that.

Bergman: You can’t learn forgiveness and then unlearn forgiveness. You can’t do that. And so he feels this genuine love for this person who needs to be forgiven. There’s something really powerful about it.

Digest: Susan, what are you enjoying about playing this kinder, gentler version of Diane?

Walters: Well, I don’t think she’s all of a sudden become the sitting-in-the-parlor matriarch sort of person, so I still think the experiences that the old Diane had made her the new Diane. So obviously, after that much time and what she’s been through, she has a lot more depth and still has a backbone. It doesn’t feel like they gave the character a lobotomy or anything. It’s kind of like maybe how it would track in reality. I totally appreciate that Diane has age and experience.

Bergman: I, too, am very grateful, but the same Diane who is tender and loving with Jack cannot be left alone in a room with Phyllis.

Walters: And I like we get to see that other part of her with Tucker. At this point, it’s multidimensional, and for an actor, how great is that?

Bergman: And you have done incredible work. A lot of actors would be completely incapable of playing all of the nuances and elements with these different kinds of relationships. And with Susan, the writers are just in heaven right now.

Walters: Oh, you’re being nice. Peter’s our leader and he has set the bar very, very high. I’ve tried to get him to misbehave sometimes and it really doesn’t work. He’s so professional that it’s annoying. I’ll tell you, my husband runs lines with me and he’s always triply impressed by Peter because he watches the show and he’ll text, “Damn, I didn’t read it that well. What was I missing?”

Digest: What did you each think of Jack stealing Nikki’s necklace to help Diane get out from under Jeremy Stark’s thumb?
[They both start laughing.]

Bergman: I love how quickly Jack got in over his head. Oh, man, this is not what he does.

Walters: Okay, let’s admit we laughed a lot.

Bergman: We did laugh a lot.

Walters: The funniest part is Peter and I are sitting there cracking up and being so silly doing these scenes and there’s Michael and Allison [Lanier, Summer] being very professional, as ever. And then Allison says, “You stole Grandma’s necklace?” and we lost it.

Bergman: We had these two younger actors looking at us like, “Hey, pull it together.”

Walters: Honest to God, I couldn’t even look up and make eye contact with them in that scene.

Bergman: “You stole Grandma’s necklace?” [They laugh.]

Digest: What would you like to see happen with Jack and Diane in 2023?

Bergman: What I don’t want to see happen is [for them to] be the happiest couple on the planet.

Walters: That won’t happen.

Bergman: What I want to see happen is when we make choices, they come with all kinds of baggage. There is a lot still to uncover in all of this. They’ve been in different worlds and they found each other but there’s a ton of stuff Diane doesn’t know about Jack and he doesn’t know about her.

Walters: And look, Diane’s no fool. I don’t think that every one of Jack’s other relationships are over at this point. I don’t really think about the long-term story because there’s so much right in front of me, so I’m not worried. I have a feeling it’ll be interesting and fun.

Bergman: My thoughts exactly.

Walters: Obviously, it’s a great story for Diane, but it’s been a great year for Susan getting to work with Peter. Really, honestly. Peter, you know I feel that way.

Bergman: We have that mutual admiration and I’m very grateful for it.