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 shares her experience of being back-burnered on GENERAL HOSPITAL, coping with ageism on the show, and discusses the power of transformation and change in her life.
We Love Soaps: For many years Bobbie was at the center of so many problems, overcoming so many obstacles, inspiring millions of people to get through the obstacles in their own lives. Then at one point...nothing. She kind of faded into the back ground.
Jackie Zeman: Yeah.
We Love Soaps: Tell me what that was like for you.
Jackie Zeman: I guess it just came to an end. I don’t know why. It’s not like anyone ever sat me down and said, “Okay, we’re done with your story.” It happened when Jill Farren Phelps came on as a producer. She wasn’t interested in the character. She wanted to have other characters come on and fill that place and as a producer that is her prerogative. I certainly had a good run as Bobbie. I have nothing to feel bad about or complain about. It was a long, fabulous time.
Since I don't watch the show anymore I don’t know what is there without that element, if the relationships between mature characters are even being pursued on the show. I would tend to say no because from what I hear from others is that they don’t want to go there. I saw the writing on the wall. I remember one day a scene was written, Kin [Shriner] and I were in a scene and it was written we would kiss at the end of the scene. It was a public kiss, we were in a restaurant or somewhere, it wasn’t an in-bed love scene. I remember Jill saying to the director, “Take the camera off them.” She was standing only a few feet away. We asked "why" when it had been written in the script. “Our audience doesn’t want to see old people kissing,” that’s what she said.
We Love Soaps: How did that feel to hear that?
Jackie Zeman: We were in our 40s at the time. That didn’t feel old. It didn’t affect me personally but I felt like, “No you’re wrong, they do.” Just because you turn 40 or 45-years-old doesn’t mean you’re not capable of having a romantic relationship. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of having loving sexual feelings for another person. I felt it was a mistake. I still do. I believe the audience does want to see that because it’s real.
We Love Soaps: How do you not take that personally?
Jackie Zeman: It was the character, it was the story, it was the show. It wasn’t personal to me or to Kin. It’s just not where she wanted to go.
We Love Soaps: Of course the irony of all this is that YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, which has been #1 in the ratings for over 20 years, and is always #1 or #2 in the coveted demographics, featured a front burner story involving two people over 80-years-old kissing. The character of Kay Chancellor [Jeanne Cooper] went off and had amnesia and met a guy and fell in love. It was a very beautifully told love story between two older adults that involved kissing and a lot of affection. And this was hugely popular with fans of all ages.
Jackie Zeman: I think that’s true especially now, as people are living longer, people are living well into their 80s and 90s. You don’t want to think that in your 40s your life is over romantically or sexually. That’s kind of silly. But there are other shows to watch to find that.
We Love Soaps: Certainly BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, which is #2 in the ratings, always has people over 40 kissing and love stories. But I admire the way you can say that hearing that comment, and the diminished airtime for Bobbie, did not feel personal.
Jackie Zeman: I’m a very positive person. I believe that when one door closes another door opens. I know everyone has heard that saying. But the new door doesn’t open if you’re holding on to what you were doing in the past. And so I’ve never lived my life like that. A lot of people associate me with GENERAL HOSPITAL because I’ve been on it so long. But I always feel that what’s happening right now is best. And that what there is in the future is going to be more important than what happened in the past.
You’d like to think of your life as building blocks. We grow, we change, we learn, and you bring all the wisdom and experience from the productive things that you have done from the past, you bring them into the present and the future. I just believe that, I’ve believed that from the time I was little. Scenes come and go, soap operas come and go, storylines change. I can’t let that affect me emotionally as a person or as an actress. It’s not personal. It’s just business and it’s something I have no control over so why would I choose to be unhappy?
We Love Soaps: I love that! But what you can control, as you said, is to open another door when one closes. When you went off contract in 2007, you opened new vistas. Tell me about them.
Jackie Zeman: Life is good. I’m still living in Malibu. I moved into a new home after Cassidy and Lacey’s dad and I got divorced two and a half years ago. I got involved with designing jewelry which I love. It’s creative, it’s interesting, I enjoy it. I do some radio shows. I do an internet radio show now called “Sex Drive” with Dr. Ava Cadell. It’s really Ava’s show, I’m the co-host. It’s so fun!
We Love Soaps: I have to say, I checked it out last night. I think it’s wonderful, but I was surprised how much you were willing to share of yourself and your thoughts and fantasies.
Jackie Zeman: And last night was pretty tame. I’m also getting my certification as a Life Coach. All of the information is really interesting to me. It’s not work to read it, I’m like a sponge when I’m learning things. When I got divorced from Cassidy and Lacey’s dad I immediately started reading books and going to workshops and seminars and learning about relationships. Now having had my children, the goals and priorities are changed in regard to what I’m looking for in a relationship. So I needed to learn what that is, what that means, and to learn how to do it because I didn’t know! [Laughs] It’s been a journey. I feel happy.
We Love Soaps: You look happy, you look at peace.
Jackie Zeman: Yes. And it’s not to say that things are perfect. There’s always stuff. But I like my life. I like the fact that there are choices I have now that are different from the choices I had ten or fifteen years ago. That’s where growth comes. It’s pretty darn good right now. I stay busy, I get offers here and there to do acting projects, which keeps my foot in the door, which I like. I like to be busy. People say, “How much do you work?” I work everyday. I’m toying with the idea of writing a book. But I’m busy designing [jewelry] or prepping for the show. I’ve always been someone who wants to keep busy and stay active. I still work a lot with The Gabriel Project, where we bring kids over from Tanzania to America for life saving heart surgery.
We Love Soaps: I spoke with Tina Sloan recently [ex-Lillian on GUIDING LIGHT]. She had a role that was diminished after the 1980s, essentially being reduced to hanging Christmas decorations and taking people’s temperatures in hospital scenes. She told me about her one woman show, “Changing Shoes,” and how she may never have been propelled to create that if she had not had setbacks as an actress.
Jackie Zeman: That makes so much sense to me. Because the key to a happy productive life is transformation. The ultimate goal is transformation. You’ve got to have clarity and get in touch with what it is that you are interested in, and move toward it. If you can’t identify your needs and your desires then you’ll never get there. As you know from your business, a lot of people never take the time to sit down to think about what they want, much less ask for it. Sometimes you need to say, “I need to have to courage to go in that direction that is unexplored.” That’s where life becomes an adventure. That’s where you learn the most.
I told my daughter the other night at the dinner table, "There will always be people who want to lead, to try something new, the entrepreneurs. Then there’s the person who follows directions but has lots of power, like a CEO. Then there’s the person who goes to work for a company, and they don’t want to be out changing and planning but they want to have a job and go to work. They want to do a good job and then go home at night and turn it off." Those are three different ways of moving through life, with three different responsibilities.
We Love Soaps: Which one of these do you see yourself as?
Jackie Zeman: Now, in the last ten years, I’ve become the one who wants to try something new. When I was raising my children, and one of the reasons I stayed on GENERAL HOSPITAL for as long as I did, was because I was in the middle. I liked the predictability of it. I liked the security of it. It’s a great mom job. I never called in sick, I always knew my lines, I was never late for the set ever, not in the 35 years I was on that network. I’m proud of that. But I wasn’t looking to go out and shake it up. I had enough creative fulfillment with my children and my personal life. Now Lacey is graduating high school in June, Cassidy is already in college. I can now, in the next nine or ten months, make decisions about my life, my income, my future, my sexuality, my romantic life, my friends, where I want to live, based on what I want to do, not what I need to deliver to be a good mother to my children, or to be a good wife to my former husband. I said, “Okay, I’m that person now. Now I have all this ability and all this power, what am I going to do with it?” It’s a great time.
Please come back for Part Four of our interview in which zeman discusses the future of soaps, using the internet for creative projects, and life lessons learned. Plus, what is her response to the James Franco question?
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.