In Part One of my interview with longtime GENERAL HOSPITAL star Jacklyn Zeman, the actress shared reflections on her early career and Bobbie Spencer’s backstory before coming to Port Charles. In Part Two, she looked back on two groundbreaking storylines, how Bobbie Spencer helped women [and men], and her process of portraying grief after B.J.’s death. In Part Three, Zeman shared her experience of being back-burnered on GENERAL HOSPITAL, coping with ageism on the show, and the power of transformation and change in her life.
In Part Four, the actress discusses changes on screen and off screen. Plus, what she would have done differently knowing what she knows now.
We Love Soaps: One of the transformative things we are seeing in soaps is the move to the internet. The reason we are so excited is that it puts the creative power back in the hands of the writers. Tristan Rogers, Crystal Chappell and Martha Byrne are spearheading their own soaps now. Would you ever think about working on an internet soap?
Jacklyn Zeman: Yeah, that’s why I’m doing [an internet radio show]. There’s a lot of opportunity there to go edgy, to go a little over the line, to be a leader, to be creative, to introduce something that will be exciting for people. I am all for that. Technology has changed at such a fast pace. And the audience is so savvy now, people really get it. When soaps changed to this plot-based thing, it went kind of stale. It’s very challenging to a writer to have to write story for a character that has been gone on 40 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. It’s harder. You’ve got to dig deeper, you’ve got to come up with new ideas. A lot of people don’t want to put that much into it. It’s easier to hire someone new and say, “Okay, we’re going to repeat that storyline that we did a few years ago with someone else.”
Soap operas have been like this machine that have been running for so many years. Certain things are tried and proven. The writers are under a lot of pressure these days. They’ve got to deliver ratings, and the ratings are going down, down, down. A lot of them are feeling the pressure of that. There is a lot of dictation from the network of what is allowed, and focus groups. Writers don’t have the same ability, or most don’t. You can see what’s happening on TV, but they don’t. And then one show gets an idea and everybody is copying it. So the idea of going to the internet, where you’ve got the [writer] saying, “I don’t want to repeat myself, let’s do something new.” That’s awesome.
We Love Soaps: I want to get your take on something. Recently the news broke that James Franco will be appearing on GENERAL HOSPITAL in a short term role. Jill Farren Phelps [GH’s Executive Producer] is quoted as saying, “It is an honor that an actor of Franco's caliber would choose to spend some of his valuable time in Port Charles." I know I had a reaction to hearing that . Do you?
Jacklyn Zeman: I would not even begin to want to comment on that. [Laughs] That is what it is.
We Love Soaps: When I think of actors of your caliber, or Lynn Herring or Stuart Damon’s, and see what I perceive as your talents being squandered, for me this is offensive.
Jacklyn Zeman: A lot of her choices over the years have been confusing to me. I’ll leave it at that.
We Love Soaps: If you could go back thirty years and give Jackie Zeman some advice, what would that be?
Jacklyn Zeman: I have to tell you, I have no regrets. That’s not to say I don’t think I haven’t made mistakes. We all make mistakes. But everything I’ve ever done in my life has been done with good intentions. I have never deliberately done something with a negative agenda, ever. I like that about myself. It’s not something I’ve had to learn, it’s just who I am. It’s how I was raised. It’s what I’ve taught my children from the time they were little. I don’t know if I would change anything.
With regards to advice... [Pause] I would probably do everything pretty much the same. It’s all been really good. There are always little things. [Laughs] This is going to seem silly, but this is my natural hair color, dark hair. People say, “Oh you changed your hair!” No, actually I changed it when I became Bobbie. I was Lana McClain [on ONE LIFE TO LIVE] with this hair, and became Bobbie and did it red. I thought I’d sign a two year contract. Little did I know thirty three years later I’d still be playing that part. So I had to die my hair red every three weeks for thirty years. It wasn’t gray hairs, I had to do it for the part. So some advice would have been not to have done that all those years, I could have saved myself a lot of time and energy! [Laughs] It sounds silly, but a gal has to be practical. How important was it to have red hair? I don’t know.
But at the time, we as actors didn’t question what was easier or what was appropriate. We didn’t ask for storyline, we didn’t pitch storylines. It never would have occurred to me to go in and ask, “Would you mind if I changed the color of my hair?” We just did our jobs. And we would never call in sick. You would never call in and say, “Hi, I have a headache and I’m not coming in today. “ It’s changed now. There are different rules now. Those of us that have worked for a long time, you know, the Tony Geary’s, the Leslie’s [Charleston], the Stuart’s [Damon], and the Connie Towers, those that have been on for a long time, we didn’t think of that. You go on in, you hit your mark, you’re not high maintenance. You go in and do your thing. And you know what? That’s why we were happy! That’s how we survived all those years in the business. People wanted to work with us. When you bring something of value for many years, which we all have, you are considered a valuable asset. So my advice would be to continue to honor that. And I plan to.
We Love Soaps: You mentioned some mistakes you’ve made. What would you not do over?
Jacklyn Zeman: There are little things. Over the years, they would come to me and say, “Would you mind not taking your vacation? We need you in the story.” And I would agree not to take my vacation, and just work. For many years we didn’t go dark. Now they do around the holidays. So a couple of times I had a vacation booked and the head of daytime would come to me and ask, “Would you mind?” And I would always defer to them because I was happy to have the job and I understood it wasn’t about me and I wanted to be a team player.
Now, looking back, I realize I didn’t have to do that. There were times that was easy for me to do, there were times that it cost me a lot to do it. I would be more respectful of those boundaries with regard to what would be good for me and my family. But I feel it’s all balanced out. When my kids were young I had the upside because I was always professional and had been there a long time, as had Lynn [Herring] and Kristina [Wagner]. They allowed us to get out of there on time to go have dinner with our kids, pick up our kids from school, let me have their birthdays off. So you give up some stuff on the front end, but in return for that it’s given back to you on the back end.
That was when Wendy Riche was there. God love her, I think she was an awesome producer. I would like to go on record as saying that when Wendy Riche was producing GENERAL HOSPITAL it had heart, and soul, and storylines that will resonate for the rest of my life. I just think she has so much to offer. That woman is amazing.
Stay tuned for the final part of my interview with Jacklyn Zeman where she looks back at her favorite and least favorite stories, and shares what she really thinks of the ret-con called Carly.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." He blogs regularly at www.shouldless.com.