This interview originally appeared in the October 12, 1999 issue of Soap Opera Digest
Peter Bergman Celebrates 10 Years On Y&R — Including His Bizarre First Impressions
Before joining YOUNG AND RESTLESS in 1989, Peter Bergman thought he had a job for life as ALL MY CHILDREN’s Cliff. But in the midst of renegotiations, the show suddenly withdrew its offer and Bergman found himself out of work with a pregnant wife and 3-year-old son to support. He didn’t stay unemployed long — 10 years later, he’s winning more raves than ever as Y&R’s Jack.
Digest: Can you still remember the exact date you auditioned for Jack?
Peter Bergman: It was September 7, 1989.
Digest: Is it true that you initially turned down the role?
Bergman: Yes. I was still at AMC, and my agent phoned to say that Y&R chad called to ask how tall I was. I told him, “Don’t even call them back.” Another call came: They wanted to know if I was interested in auditioning to play Jack Abbott. I told my agent, “You know what, I’m not even finished with AMC. I’m not ready to think about moving West.” It wasn’t that I felt ungrateful, I felt it was bad timing.
Digest: But when Y&R called a third time, you had a change of heart. Why?
Bergman: It was a confluence of things. At the time, my wife, Mariellen, was pregnant and I said to myself, “You can’t afford to be turning down an opportunity to work.” That day, I was working with Debbi Morgan [ex-Angie, AMC; ex-Ellen, PORT CHARLES], and she asked me, “So, do you have an plans beyond AMC?” I answered, “Strangely enough, I got a call from YOUNG AND RESTLESS.” Debbi figured out that it was to play Jack Abbott and she told me, “Peter, it’s one of the ultimate roles in daytime. Run, don’t walk, to audition for that part!”
Digest: How soon after you left AMC did you audition for Y&R?
Bergman: My last day on AMC was a Wednesday. They called Mariellen down to the studio, where they threw a champagne sendoff for me with a cake and well wishes. It was very emotional and powerful for me. I was essentially saying good-bye to 10 years of my life. Mariellen and I walked hand-in-hand, our eyes red, knowing that I was leaving the next morning to audition in Los Angeles for a role on Y&R.
Digest: What were your audition scenes?
Bergman: I had three. Two were with Jill, and one was with John. The scenes with Jill were very snitty; they were lighting into each other. The one with John was along the lines of, “Dad, I let you down. Do you have any idea how much respect I have for you?”
Digest: What was your reaction?
Bergman: Honestly, I thought, “I don’t know if I would cast me in this.” Jack was the kind of guy who could look you in the eye and say perfectly horrible things, whereas Cliff was this very noble doctor.
Digest: Did you have any misgivings about coming to L.A.?
Bergman: I hated L.A. From the moment I got off the plane, I thought, “This is wrong!” Meanwhile, my wife was back East about to have a baby any minute. I met my new agents for lunch the next day, and they trashed daytime television right before I was about to audition for a daytime show. The receptionist at the agency ran into the restaurant and said my audition had been moved up 90 minutes before because an actor on the show was ill, and they weren’t going to tape his scenes. I immediately went to Television City and Jess Walton [Jill] was already upstairs reeking of cigarette smoke, God bless her. She was talking to [Coordinating Producer] Nancy Wiard about a new exercise: You lay on a table and it excercises you. I thought, “Only in L.A.” Then, we went downstairs to a rehearsal hall. The man who was directing me said five times that I would take some files off a desk before I cross and the door opens. I seriously began looking for hidden cameras because I was positive that I was on CANDID CAMERA. Meanwhile, I hadn’t been able to reach Mariellen at hone. For all I knew, she was already in the hospital, and I really wanted to talk to her. Suddenly, the door blows open. In walks Jerry Douglas [John], who immediately says, “Don’t even put the camera on me. Keep it on him. It’s his audition — and don’t give us a lot of blocking.” I thought, “This is like theater. This guy’s a character!” At that point, I got my sense of humor back and my audition, I say as humbly as I can, went quite well.
Digest: When did you learn that you got the part?
Bergman: They were supposed to let me know within two weeks. I auditioned on a Friday and that Monday, [I got a message that said], “This is F. Scott in Los Angeles from YOUNG AND RESTLESS. Give me a call at this number. I thought, “The pomposity of this man; he calls himself F. Scott!” Well, it was [Executive Producer] Ed Scott, who couldn’t have been nicer. He said, “Listen, my wife’s been pregnant before, and I know what kind of pressure it puts you under. You’re not supposed to hear this from me. You’re supposed to hear it from your agent, but you got the job.” I started October 30th. The last day that ALL MY CHILDREN had to pay me was October 22nd. So I was literally unemployed for eight days.
Digest: How would you describe your first few months on Y&R?
Bergman: My first six months were the loneliest six months I’ve ever spent as an actor. Everyone was an expert on Jack Abbot. Every prop person, every hair person. Even though it wasn’t meant in a mean way, people were constantly making the mistake of calling me Terry [Lester, who originated the role]. I was used to people being in the green room where everybody joked and laughed. But at Y&R, everyone was in their dressing rooms. The only time you saw actors, other than the ones you worked with, was in hair and makeup. The first three months I was on the show, Doug Davidson [Paul] had a storyline that was on fire: the Cassandra Rawlins mystery. He worked every day that I worked, but I never saw him once for the first three months. Slowly but surely, through all of it, I found that Debbi Morgan was right: Jack Abbott is truly one of the great characters of daytime television. I know it, and I’m very grateful for it.
Digest: Is Jack still exciting to play?
Bergman: It’s a great time to be Jack Abbott! Jerry and Veronica Redd [Mamie] have come back. Eileen [Davidson, Ashley] is here. Billy brings a wonderful texture to the family. And the Abbotts have Jabot again. Meanwhile, Jack is on the loose, again, checking out women left and right. I’ve taken this wild journey on Y&R and have ended up with this fantastic storyline. Yes, there have been times when I’ve felt like it was a job, and there have also been times when I’ve been disappointed with where Jack’s stories were going. But the story I have now feels like a 10-year thank you present from the writers, and I am enjoying the hell out of it!