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 looks back on two groundbreaking storylines, how Bobbie Spencer helped women [and men], and her process of portraying grief after B.J.’s death.
We Love Soaps: Bobbie got involved in a marriage in which she was being abused [to D.L. Brock].
Jacklyn Zeman: Yes, without even realizing that was how it would go. But she stopped. She was able to say, “No, I will not [stay].” But she paid the ultimate price for that. He was played by David Groh. I love him. He was so awesome. He had been on RHODA, and they cast him in this part because he had done a sitcom, and they thought it was so interesting to have this dark, dark character. He pushed Bobbie down the stairs one day and she had to have a hysterectomy, and then she could never have children. That was the whole story that we got into later with the surrogate mother thing, and wanting to have children so much. But she made that decision that she would not stay with him. So many, so many people would write to me that they had that experience or had been abused, but seeing how it was written in the show, it gave them the courage to say, “There is a choice here.”
We Love Soaps: You have actually contributed to possibly saving some people’s lives.
Jacklyn Zeman: I don’t know if I did, but I think the fact that the issue was addressed in the way it was, helped. We didn’t candy-coat it. The scenes were there. But Bobbie overcame it and moved on. She became an example that just because you have circumstances in your life, you still have the power, you still have a choice.
We Love Soaps: That must have been in large part because of what you brought to that role, that women could see that in you. Yes, there was what was written on the page, but there was also what you brought to it, and how women could relate to you.
Jacklyn Zeman: That’s what I would like to believe. Even with that first storyline we did years ago where Bobbie was in love with Scotty Baldwin. [She was] so in love, so attracted to him, not only physically and sexuality, but attracted to the fact that he had a family who cared about him. When Bobbie was ultimately rejected by Scotty, she felt the pain, the emotional and spiritual pain of rejection and the issue of self-esteem and confidence. She felt, “Am I good enough, will I ever be good enough? Is there anything I could have done so he would see me as worthy?”
There is so much stuff that a lot of young women go through. They have to deal with a lot of this emotional turmoil. A lot of them saw Bobbie go through this. And they saw that as hard and hurtful as that relationship was, she ended up okay. It took a long time to play out that story. That went on for three years. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast but I think women got it. They got it and were able to say, “Okay, it’s not the worst thing in the world to have love go wrong.”
We Love Soaps: That is such a hopeful message that soaps convey, or at least used to convey, for women, and for men like myself too. So Bobbie worked very hard to have a stable marriage, to win custody of Lucas, and then the worst thing that could happen to a mother happens. [Bobbie’s daughter B.J. died after a school bus crash in 1994] This is the story the fans continue to cry about, to rave about, the story that still touches them to this day. What was that like for you to portray that?
Jacklyn Zeman: That was the most intense emotional material that I had ever been given to play as an actress. The subconscious doesn’t differentiate between what you are doing when you are acting in a scene, and what you are doing when you are having a real life interaction with the person. It’s all real to the subconscious. As an actor, when you are playing those scenes, it affects your spirit as reality.
When I first started working with Brighton Hereford [B.J.] she was a little girl. I worked with her before I ever had my own kids, for two years before I ever had Cassidy [Jacklyn’s oldest daughter]. I wasn’t a real life mother yet, I didn’t really know a lot about little kids. She would come in my room and color me pictures. She called me “Mommy.” They taught her to call me “Mommy” so she wouldn’t make a mistake on set. I was her Other Mommy. She didn’t know when she was really little that my name was Jackie. And, of course, how can you not love it when a little kid comes up to you and hugs you around the legs and brings you coloring book pictures? I would scotch tape them up on the mirrors in my dressing room. These were treasures to me, some of which I have to admit I still have with pictures drawn by my own kids. I remember one day we were shooting a scene in which Bobbie had to say, “Okay, you do this, and then we’re going to go for ice cream.” That was the scene, and cut. And it was in the old brownstone and we go out after the scene, they say, “Okay, moving on.” And she says to me, “What kind of ice cream are we having?” I remember going to props and saying, “Do you guys have any ice cream, anything in the freezer? The kid is five, we told her ice cream in the scene, and now she’s asking me. If we want her to trust me in scenes in the future, we need to come up with some ice cream!” Because in her mind, in her subconscious, that’s what she was promised.
So that’s the same way how it relates to me when you asked what it was like to play that storyline. As a grown up, we know intellectually that it’s a part. But the thought of it, the pain, the agonizing grief a person goes through when that happens in real life...when you are chosen to portray that you want to do it justice, to really show what it is so the people who have been through that can see it as real. I wanted to do a good job, and the writers did, we all did. I would like to think that we accomplished that. I’m told that it touched people’s hearts.
We Love Soaps: Do you still hear from fans about that story?
Jacklyn Zeman: Yes. Very often. I do. And even Brighton Hereford, who is now married, [does].
We Love Soaps: I’ve had actresses tell me, “I know what’s happening in real life but my body doesn’t.” The body goes through what the character is going through, and you can’t just shut it off after a hard day of crying or being the recipient of domestic violence. As an artist that can be hard to go through day after day.
Jacklyn Zeman: It was exciting, but soap opera is the only form where it goes on for so many years. You can do a movie or a nighttime show and then you’re done and you move on. So the connection is broken, and all the neurons in your brain are repolled into another position. In a soap opera, particularly when you’re on the show five days a week or doing 30 to 50 pages a day for year after year after year, you look for the good to balance out the hard stuff. You hope it all mixes up and turns out okay.
Please come back on Monday for Part Three of our interview when Zeman discusses Bobbie’s life on the sidelines, and coping with ageism.
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.