In June 1997, the year after original GH cast member John Beradino (ex-Steve) passed away, the show brought Steve’s granddaughter, Sarah, onto the canvas. Rebecca Herbst had auditioned and didn’t get the job (Jennifer Sky did), but on August 1, at the age of 20, she debuted in the role of Elizabeth, Sarah’s sister, which was created for her. Though Sarah was gone by 1998, Liz was just getting started. As she marks her 20th anniversary in Port Charles, Herbst reflects back on the job she’s now held for half her life.
Soap Opera Digest: Could the Rebecca Herbst of 1997 have imagined staying at GH for 20 years?
Rebecca Herbst: Never! My original contract was for three years and I remember thinking, “Oh, my gosh, three years, that’s forever!” I thought for sure that if I was lucky, it would last two years, and if I was on for three years, that would be incredible — never mind 20 years!
Digest: How many times had you auditioned for GH before being cast?
Herbst: I think I had gone in only once before, to play a friend of Robin’s. Then [Casting Director Mark Teschner] brought me back a couple of years later for the role of Sarah and I ended up screen-testing with, like, five blonde girls. I remember thinking, “What am I doing here? This is so weird!” They called and said, “You didn’t get the role,” and then about a month later they called back and said, “We would like to write you a part to play, Sarah’s sister.” And that’s how I ended up being Elizabeth.
Digest: Was it a job you really wanted, or was GH just one of many auditions at that point in your career?
Herbst: I had been acting since I was 6, and it was kind of just like any other audition. I hadn’t auditioned a lot for soaps, nor did I watch them growing up. My only exposure to them was that my grandpa watched ONE LIFE TO LIVE; he would say, “Everybody be quiet, Viki is on!” But I had just finished doing a Nickelodeon show [SPACE CASES] in Montreal and I had been there for almost four months. I wanted to be near my family, so I was aiming toward being on a show that taped in Los Angeles. I just didn’t necessarily think it would be a soap.
Digest: Who were your early mentors at the show?
Herbst: Funny enough, I really looked at Jonathan Jackson [ex-Lucky] as a mentor. He was so kind and totally showed me the ropes. He had been on the show for several years and is such a professional, even at the young age of 15, when I first met him. I got a lot of guidance, also, from Genie Francis [Laura] and Jackie Zeman [Bobbie], who I worked with a lot in those first couple of years.
Digest: The first significant story you carried was Elizabeth’s rape. What do you remember about the response it got?
Herbst: I was completely naive to the impact that that story would have; I was still new enough that I just really didn’t understand how large our audience is and how many people it would touch. It was really powerful when I became aware of it, when I would open up my fan mail and read their stories, their opinions, their feelings about what she was going through.
Digest: Lucky was Liz’s first love and your first major pairing. What stands out to you about that relationship and working with Jonathan?
Herbst: The two characters were so innocent and the writers really coddled their innocence and wrote for them beautifully. They didn’t make these two kids grow up too fast, in spite of what had happened to Elizabeth. It helped that Jonathan and I really liked each other; there was an incredible amount of trust between the two of us. I was definitely spoiled by working with Jonathan and Genie and Tony [Geary, ex-Luke] right off the bat. It wasn’t until later on that I realized, “Oh, okay, some pairings and some storylines are not as magical as the one I was first dropped into.” I am so grateful that I had that start, which gave me a great foundation on the show, and that I got to know Jonathan and Tony and Genie. They are wonderful people and Jonathan will always have a special place in my heart.
Digest: When he left in 1999, “Liason” started, with Liz keeping company with Jason. Were you surprised when you were first paired with Steve Burton?
Herbst: He was such a leading man, even back when I first started working with him, that I thought, “I don’t know why I’m in scenes with this guy. He’s Jason Morgan! He’s part of Sonny’s world and I’m the kid on the show!” But it just turned into this really sweet friendship that people enjoyed watching and the next thing you know, it’s like, years and years down the road and Liz and Jason have had this beautiful friendship and they’ve fallen in love and there have been all these different obstacles. It’s exciting to see Steve return and possibly have all of those emotions brought back up.
Digest: In the mid-2000s, Liz was twice married to Ric. How would you sum up the “Liric” relationship?
Herbst: The relationship with Ric was Elizabeth’s first adult relationship; she was still more of a kid when she was first put with Jason. I just adore Rick [Hearst, ex-Ric]. We worked really well together and had a great rapport, on and off camera.
Digest: Liz hooked up with Nikolas in 2009 — and there are “Niz” diehards to this day.
Herbst: When they put Nikolas and Elizabeth together, Tyler [Christopher, ex-Nikolas] and I both had a moment, like, “Oh, yeah! Why didn’t this happen sooner?” It’s crazy that we had worked together for so many years, so closely, and the two characters were never in a relationship. When it finally happened, we were excited for the story. I know it rubbed people the wrong way because of Liz’s choices; there was a little crossover there with Lucky, and she did that behind his back. That was not Elizabeth’s best decision, but Nikolas is somebody that she will always love and I’m heartbroken that Tyler is not here. Having him leave was really hard on me, and on a lot of people here. We all just love him.
Digest: Last year, you were paired up with Roger Howarth (Franco), and “Friz” was a surprise hit.
Herbst: Sometimes when ONE LIFE TO LIVE was on during my lunch break, I would watch, and I just loved Roger’s scenes. I would think, “He is such a great actor because you don’t want to look away. You never know what he’s going to do.” When he came to GH, I thought, “I would love to work with him,” but I thought I never would, because he had his own pairings and was totally not in Elizabeth’s world. Then, well over a year ago when we went to the Nutcracker Gala together, it was like, “Wow, this is fun!” He is so different from the people I’ve worked with in the past. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way that [Co-Head Writers] Jean [Passanante] and Shelly [Altman] wrote this couple. Elizabeth has finally figured out who she is and what she wants out of life; her boys are first and now she’s found a man who wants to put her boys first and it just works. I’m so happy to be working with him.
Digest: Navigating one character through different regimes of writers and producers, are you the kind of person who just rolls with the punches, or are there times when you feel like you need to fight for Elizabeth with the powers-that-be?
Herbst: I think it’s apparent when a writer is on your character’s side versus when they have no connection to your character — the fans see it, you feel it. When the writer doesn’t have that connection, it is a little tricky. But for me, I feel like it’s hard for me to go to the writer and say, “Hey, can you connect with me? Can you start writing good material?” I kind of just roll with the punches and I take it as, if I’m not working as much or my storyline isn’t that great, then I’m so grateful for my time at home with my family. This time around, with Jean and Shelly, they have taken care of Elizabeth like no other head writer has. They’ve brought Elizabeth back to being human and an adult, a single mom with three kids and a real relationship, and I applaud them.
Digest: Liz fans are a passionate bunch. What do you think it is about the character that enables the audience to connect so deeply with her?
Herbst: I think the first thing that really helped my character is that she is connected to the Hardy family, and the Hardys, along with the Quartermaines, are the founding families of GH. When you come to a show with ties to its history, it’s a plus for you. The other thing is that she was young. The character was supposed to be 15, I think, when she came to Port Charles, and people were able to grow and mature with her. It’s not like a fully formed adult came to Port Charles and got thrown into different storylines. We actually watched Elizabeth grow up and get older and go through the challenges of life and have all these situations happen to her. There were a lot of firsts for her on the show and I think people connected with that.
Digest: You were fired in 2011, but the fan outcry was so vociferous, you were pretty promptly unfired.
Herbst: Yeah, I 100 percent attribute my rehiring to the fans speaking out. I still can’t believe that it happened the way it did, but I’m obviously grateful for what they said and what they did for me. I owe my career to them; without their support, I don’t have a job. All I can say is, “Thank you.”
Digest: You met your husband of 16 years, Michael Saucedo (ex-Juan), at work, and now have three children. Your whole adult life has been wrapped up in things that happened to you as a result of saying, “Okay, I’ll sign this first contract.”
Herbst: I don’t even know how to put my feelings about that into words! I don’t know quite how to express the gratitude and the love I have for GH and to think back and go, “Had I not taken this job, maybe I wouldn’t have met Michael.” I can’t even imagine my life without him or my children, so I definitely know that I made the right decision! It worked out for me!
Digest: What does it mean to you to be celebrating your 20th year as Liz?
Herbst: I feel incredibly blessed to be able to have a job for this amount of time. I worked really hard to be here and I’ve worked really hard to stay here. At times, I have fought to be here. I’ve been through the ups and downs of no storyline or bad pairings and being fired. I’m so surprised that I’m in this wonderful place and that I still really, truly enjoy being there. I’ve also been really lucky to have been paired with awesome partners. Honestly, maybe there have been one or two people along the way that she was momentarily with that are sort of, “Eh, whatever, I could have done without that,” but for all of my major pairings, I feel so close to each one of those people. And on top of the actors, the crew and everybody that makes the show run, they’re like my family.
Digest: After 20 years as Liz, do you ever feel a pull to do other things, play other roles?
Herbst: I never get bored or tired of doing what I do. There are times over the past 20 years where I’ve thought maybe it would be fun to do something else, but the schedule at GH facilitates me being a full-time mom and that is the most important thing to me. I do have a passion for doing sitcoms; I’ve done them before and I’d love to do them again, so who knows, maybe in 10 years. But I’m excited to see what happens with Elizabeth and excited to see where the writers are going to take her next. For right now, I’m as happy as could be.