'Young and the Restless' star Peter Bergman on Eric Braeden: 'We all thought he was going to be gone'

On Nov. 27, Peter Bergman will celebrate his 20th year playing Jack Abbott on CBS’s top-rated The Young and The Restless. The veteran soap star (he previously played Dr. Cliff Warner on ABC’s All My Children) talked exclusively to EW.com about what it was like to originally assume the role, how he felt about his character talking to a ghost, and whether he and the cast believed that Eric Braeden would ever really quit the show.

EW: What was it replacing Terry Lester, who had previously played Jack Abbott, 20 years ago?
Peter Bergman: He had burned every bridge he could burn before he left. He had alienated pretty much everybody in the building. Had I showed up as anything less than an axe murderer, I would have been welcomed. That said, every lighting guy, every wardrobe person knew more about Jack Abbott than I did. That took some getting used to. Melody Thomas Scott (Nikki Newman) was very friendly to me but Eric Braeden was a big Terry Lester fan so his wasn’t the warmest welcome.

From the start, Jack was a very angry character.  We didn’t see his compassionate side for a long time.  What was the journey like for you?
The journey was an interesting one.  I actually loved playing a careless, womanizing, and manipulative Jack for as long as I did. But one of the cool things about being on these shows is that characters grow and change.  And I can tell you who the characters were who changed Jack Abbott: Nikki, followed by Phyllis – the least likely person ever to touch Jack’s heart — and then Sharon, who of all people, I think was a disaster on the writers’ part.  It’s almost like they thought, ‘They both are basically in the same predicament. Put them together.’ I can remember the day Sharon Case sat in the dressing room with me and how we decided to make it believable. And I think we did a pretty respectable job. So three women changed this guy so much in these 20 years, so he’s a very different character now.

Let’s talk about one of Jack’s most memorable scenes – sitting at his dying father’s bedside.
It was far and away his most emotional experience. He still hasn’t recovered from that. He is still seeing his father in his office, in his home, in his car. He’s everywhere he goes.

How did you react when the writers said, ‘By the way, you’re going to be seeing your dad’s ghost’?
Oh my God. I’m on the one show that’s based in reality and suddenly I am in charge of the f—ing ghost storyline? Oh, great! But you know what? I was wrong. In the end, it worked. It was Jack’s conscience coming back to him. He had lost his conscience.

You’ve been at this for a long time now.  What do you think is going to happen to daytime dramas?
I have good things to say about that. We are all going to get leaner, tighter, with smaller casts. Fewer sets. Tighter stories.  Better-written stories than you see on the air [now]. And when they minimize the casts, they are going to cut away the bad acting. They are going to keep as many of the good actors as they possibly can. Get rid of the scenes we didn’t need to see, like ‘Well,  let’s follow the maid and what her life is like. Let’s see who her boyfriend is.’ No! Let’s focus on Victor and Nikki and Katherine and Jack and Ashley and Phyllis and Nick and Sharon.

I know you are pretty optimistic but there are a lot of predictions that we’ll see another soap opera die in the next five years.
We will. We’re on the top floor of a sinking ship at Y&R. But I do think that when we are talking about seven, eight daytime dramas, do you have to replace all of them? That’s too much programming.  What the f— are the networks going to do with a giant hole in daytime television?

Eric Braeden has been very vocal about his recent salary negotiations, especially about how he was being told to take a pay cut – or else.  Had you experienced the same type of negotiation?
Everybody on this show was asked to share in some of the burden and Eric was no exception.

Did you really expect that Eric was going to leave?
There were days that we all thought he was going to be gone. In the end it was fighting with a corporation, and the corporation was going to win. It wasn’t whether or not they were going to fold. It was always whether or not Eric was going to agree to come back for a lesser salary.

Are you going to retire as Jack?
I will retire from daytime television as Jack, yes. With All My Children moving to Los Angeles, everyone’s saying, ‘Oh, well, that would be fun. They’d probably love to have you back.’ And I think, ‘No … that’s a different character.’ I get to play one of the truly great characters in daytime television.

Photo Credit: Robert Voets/CBS

Comments (62 total) Add your comment
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  • Mike

    Interesting about Terry Lester. This is the first time I heard that he was – apparently – unpleasant to work with. And I kind of loved how Peter talked about how much of a monster Terry was – and then said Eric was a big fan of his! Their backstage dislike of one another will never go away, will it?

    • Veleka Gray

      I worked with Terry Lester for a year on Y & R when Patty shot Jack, and he was always a gentleman in my presence. He (along with Larry Bryggman) was one of the finest actors I ever worked with in daytime. I still miss him.

  • roundandfun21@hotmail.com

    I think it is in poor taste to talk bad about the dead. Terry Lester is gone. He cant defend himself. Terry Lester basically spoke out about the fact the show had become the “Christine show” and she was the boss/creator/ owner’s daughter. The show started to revolve around her. It was sad.

    • KFed

      So once someone dies you can’t say anything that may be viewed as negative about them? Hitler isn’t here to defend himself either.

      • Jacquie

        It was pretty well known when Terry Lester left that it was not amicable. I don’t think Bergman said anything out of turn. It’s even more well known that Bergman and Braeden don’t get along. When Bergman replaced Lester I thought it was going to be a disaster.

      • Skip

        Hitler??? What a preposterous analogy.

  • sdr

    i haven’t watched this show in a long time but still check in now and again because of great characters like jack and victor. i did not realize they didn’t get along in real life but it sounds that way from this interview!

    • Mike

      Years ago, they apparently had a physical fight on set. Things have been cool between them ever since.

  • Lexie

    Even in the E! True Hollywood story that aired years before Terry passing talked about the problems he had on the set with others. How could he say that Y&R the highest rated drama on daytime is at the top of the sinking ship. I thought the show could survive without Victor, but I see now the whole show was written around his character thus they need him.

    • bernice

      I think he’s speaking more about the status of daytime soaps. Y&R is the number 1 soap but soaps are going downhill thus the quote about being at the top of a sinking ship.

  • Eric S

    I didn’t know that about Terry Lester either. I used to watch this soap. Bergman was never as good as Lester IMO. Lester was great. There was a Jill that I liked as well and they replaced her too.

    • Nikki

      You have bad taste.

      • Skip

        Bad taste? Because his opinion differs from you? You’re the one with poor taste, and you’re childish, too.

    • T

      The original Jack and Jill (who apparently was very difficult too) were much better. It’s all opinion, no one has bad taste.

      • AcaseofGeo

        Good point T, its not bad taste. I think Peter is GREAT as Jack, however, Terry Lester had this “quality”, this devious impishness that was awesome. I still remember the great scene where someone was after Jill and he said “Someone wants you dead, and it aint me, babe”. BTW…does EW report on any of the other soaps or do only GH and Y&R exist in their world???

    • Anonymous

      Bergman and Lester both gave top acting performances. The Jill that you are probably thinking of was Deborah Adair who left Y&R to be on Dynasty and later went Melrose Place.
      Braeden might be more believable if he was given believable storylines.

  • Buzz

    love the comment relating to “The maid” Esther/Kate Linder..who I’m sure a wonderful volunteer(etc.)and flight attendant but as an actress??? uh ..spend less time in the air , more time in acting classes!!

    • Buzz

      and btw the way , a maid’s life COULD be interesting to follow – if someone other than Linder had the role,,,

    • Kaley

      I think he was just being hypothetical, I don’t think he was speaking directly about Esther. Besides, she actually has some family connections (Chloe & Delia) now, so I think she serves more of a purpose on Y&R than she did before.

      • PinkSwan

        As did her crazy boyfriend (Joe Izuzu).

      • tonya j

        I agree. I was over that stupid boyfriend/husband storyline, however.

  • Yolanda

    I agree with Peter about the shows needing to tighten things up in order to keep viewers and stay on the air. They also need to stop casting bad actors (Darius Mccrary, Clementine Ford, the girl that plays Abby) in pivotal roles.

    • tonya j

      thank you! but I do like Clemntine Ford better…

  • KFed

    I wish primetime stars were so honest in their interviews.

  • talkin’

    Congrats, Pete/Jack.
    (I had totally forgotten about Terry Lester…had to google his image, and then ah! yes! Very different cat.)
    Though I have not been following it for some times, I know Peter has been a good Jack Abott, especially with rakish long-in-front hair cut he used to sport.
    Glad to hear the show will focus on the Main characters, not the extraneous ones.

    • Bama

      The problem with focusing only on the “main” characters is that there are differing opinions on who the “main” characters are or should be. I vote for Jack/Ashley/Sharon/Nick/Katherine/Kevin/Lauren/Michael/Jill. Those are who watch for.

  • davidsask

    What bitchy responses, I love it! I have to wonder How Terry died, since so secretive. Was he indeed gay in the closet and perhaps died of HIV?

  • sarah

    Terry was only 53 when he died. =( According to Wikipedia, he died of multiple heart attacks. He was an excellent actor as is Peter.

  • Heat

    I loved Terry Lester in the role of Jack, and also when he was a recast for the role of Mason on Santa Barbara. It is interesting to hear about the backstage antics at Y&R even though I haven’t watched it in years!

  • Kaley

    Wow I gained a lot of insight about Y&R from this interview. I had no idea that Peter & Eric dislike each other in real life, or that Peter & Sharon did not think that Jack & Sharon were a believable couple (I totally agree with them btw). I also think that soaps should have smaller casts & focus on the important characters and demote some of the unnecessary ones to recurring or fire them. Unfortunately, the core cast members he mentioned (Eric Braeden, Melody Thomas Scott, Jeanne Cooper, etc.) are getting older and will probably retire or leave the show in a few years, so I think the writers at Y&R are trying to set up frontburner storylines for the next generation of characters. Unfortunately, most of those characters (Kevin, Jana, Daniel, Amber, Noah, Eden, Abby, etc.) are unbelievably annoying and are nowhere near as compelling as their predecessors.

  • Tom

    The only drama surrounding Lester was that he resented the fact that Bill Bell’s daughter, Lauralee Bell (Cricket/Christine) was getting front-burner stories, and Lester felt other characters, including Jack, were getting shafted. I’m not sure what other “bridges” Lester burned. I, too, was a bit put off by Bergman’s accounts of Lester’s woes with Y&R. Perhaps he felt that after 20 years, he could be more honest about the situation, but he made it sound like Lester was a real jerk.

    I enjoy Bergman’s portrayal of Jack, but reading him in recent interviews, I find him somewhat cocky and arrogant. I realize he and Eric Braeden do not get along, but he seems to continually take digs at him and it’s becoming a bit childish. I’m sure Braeden can be difficult to work with, but I’ve never read Braeden make disparaging comments about co-stars in interviews.

    • talkin’

      yeah, you’re right

    • Mirgt

      I have had the pleasure of hearing EB speak of PB and he speaks of him with tremendous respect. I also saw photos of the two embracing at a function. They were both quite young when this happened.

  • Brad

    Love the way Bergman’s Jack refers to Victor as ‘The Black Knight’. It just add juice to an already fiery rival between the two.

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