Melissa Reeves is considered by many to be one of the nicest and most down-to-earth actresses working in daytime today. After a four-year absence, she is now back as Jennifer Rose Horton Deveraux and about to find herself in a whole lot of trouble in Salem. But how did this aspiring dancer from New Jersey end up moving to Los Angeles, Nashville, and back again? And what does she think about the stories that she has played out on screen and off camera for the past 26 years? Please join us for this very special multi-part interview to learn more about the actress, the rebel, the mother, the survivor.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Melissa, it is wonderful to speak with you. You grew up about an hour outside of New York City?
Melissa Reeves: Yes, I grew up in Red Bank, New Jersey. When I was about 13 years old I started taking the bus and the train daily for dance lessons in New York. I wanted to be a dancer on Broadway. My parents couldn’t afford lessons every day so I started doing commercials in order to pay for my dance classes. Then the interview for SANTA BARBARA came up in New York, oddly enough, and I ended up going to California.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was it like to be running around New York City as a teenager?
Melissa Reeves: It was so great. My parents were wonderful. And this was the time before cell phones! If I needed to call my parents I would have to stop at a pay phone to call them. Their one criteria was that I had to keep my grades up. If I didn’t then I couldn’t do it anymore. That was how badly I wanted to be a dancer. But that didn’t quite work out, my plans were not good.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: But you got hired on SANTA BARBARA instead!
Melissa Reeves: Absolutely. I said, “Okay, God, you have better plans than I could imagine.” Scott [Reeves] and I always say that the minute we make a plan we might as well throw it in the trash because it is going to end up different.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Your bio recently started listing you as having been on ANOTHER WORLD before SANTA BARBARA.
Melissa Reeves: I was an extra on there once. It was really short-lived. I mean really short-lived. I don’t remember much about it. I wasn’t watching soaps at the time. It was just about getting enough money together so I could pay for the crazy dance classes.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember your promotion for the beginning of SANTA BARBARA with that huge hair.
Melissa Reeves: That was straight out of Jersey. Literally. I was 17 years old, I had just gotten my driver’s license two months before, and moved to Los Angeles with my big hair. I remember my first day on SANTA BARBARA was when “valley girl talk” was really popular. Being from New Jersey, we didn’t know what that was. One of my first lines was “gnarly.” I pronounced it, “g-narly” because I had no idea what it was or what it meant or anything like that. And I had this intense Jersey accent I had to get rid of.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I don’t remember ever hearing your accent.
Melissa Reeves: I had to work so hard to get rid of it. Scott can still hear it sometimes. He’ll even joke about it, “Uh oh, here comes the Jersey girl, she’s popping out!” It’s only when I get really passionate about something that it comes out.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were there at the beginning on the first episode of SANTA BARBARA. What was that like?
Melissa Reeves: It was so fun. It was my first job ever so I didn’t have anything to compare it to. We were working these ridiculous hours, like 20 hours a day. But to me that was so fun! I was only 17. I could stay up to all hours, no one would tell me what time to go to bed. That was my senior year of high school which I did not go to. I ended up taking the GED and being emancipated. That meant I was an adult so they could legally make me work whenever they wanted. So for me it was an incredible amount of fun but for the veterans it was hard.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you say you were legally emancipated?
Melissa Reeves: Yes, because my parents were still living in New Jersey. The only way I could even have a credit card out here was if I was 18. Plus, they wanted to work me regular hours like everyone else. So they talked to my mom about emancipating me. I was only eight months away from turning 18. But I still had to go to court, get interviewed by a judge, they had to deem me able to be eighteen.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did your parents feel about that?
Melissa Reeves: I was from Jersey, and was really scrappy, really feisty. They just knew I was going to do this. I think they said, “What are we going to do, we can’t stop her. We’d rather let her go.” Now I have a daughter the same age and I say to my parents, “Were you guys crazy? I would never let my daughter do that!” [Laughs] I think it shows that I was a little bit of a rough teenager.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You were very independent and headstrong.
Melissa Reeves: Very. I knew at age thirteen that I wanted to be in New York and taking dance lessons. I was going to do whatever that took.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Where do you think that determination and focus comes from?
Melissa Reeves: I was raised with a really strong work ethic. Both my parents have always worked and that is one of the things they instilled in my brother and myself. Laziness is unacceptable. But on the other side of that is that you can be way too driven and that’s no good either. We were always taught that hard work and perseverance pays off, but family comes before any of that. Actually our faith come first, then our family, then the rest of it. But when you’re younger you don’t think about all that. I just wanted to start life. I see that with my daughter now, she is a freshman in college. There are so many parts of her that are so ready to start life.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Jade Perkins was also driven to be a star and she also wanted to be loved.
Melissa Reeves: She wanted it all. Now when you say that I realize that really correlated with my life at the time, but I didn’t see it then. I forgot about that character.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Unfortunately she was sidelined after a year.
Melissa Reeves: Our whole little Perkins family didn’t survive.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What happened?
Melissa Reeves: The Capwells were the beautiful and rich family and that’s what people wanted to watch. They didn’t want to watch the family that was like theirs. I think the Perkins were more like your everyday family. Sometimes television is an escape. People didn’t want to watch their own lives, and the Capwells were much more fascinating. They had beautiful clothes, big houses, and all the antics that went with it. It is so different now. But for SANTA BARBARA that was the theme of the show. The Perkins family didn’t quite take off. And I was ready to go to back to Jersey. I thought, “Okay, great, I’m going to go back to New York and start dancing again. I’ll have my dancing dream.” A month later the audition for DAYS OF OUR LIVES came up. I said, “I’ll go but I’m not going to get on it. I won’t even worry about it.”
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you remember your audition for DAYS?
Melissa Reeves: Yes. I was reading for Doris Sabbagh. It was a scene with Mike Horton, played by Michael T. Weiss. I got to test with him, though I had the maddest crush on him. I was 18 years old and saying, “Who is this guy? I am in love with Michael Weiss! He’s going to be my brother, I’m so excited!” After I tested he said to me, “You’re going to get it, you were great.” I found I got the part two days later. I was so excited, and I got to work with Michael every day and just stare at him. It was so funny. We had so much chemistry and they even said to us, “We should have not made you brother and sister.” I said, “Okay, I’ll stop staring at him.”
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: I remember one of your first scenes was with the two of you having lunch together, and Ivy Solejko mistaking Jennifer for his girlfriend.
Melissa Reeves: That’s right! I forgot about that! That was so fun.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: For that first year Jennifer was kind of in the background.
Melissa Reeves: She was the troubled teenage girl who had the grandma and grandpa who took her in, helped her get back on her feet, go to school, and be a candy striper at the hospital. Then she got Glenn, her first boyfriend.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Glenn was played by Rob Estes who went on to do SILK STOCKINGS, MELROSE PLACE, and more recently 90210. What was he like to work with back then?
Melissa Reeves: Rob was so great. He is a really funny guy. We had a great time. It would be funny to see him now and talk about the old days.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: The big story then was Glenn pressuring Jennifer to have sex.
Melissa Reeves: That was so big. And then that became the big thing with Frankie [Billy Warlock] too. She was a really good girl who wouldn’t do it. At the time I remember thinking, “This is so dumb, there are no girls like this, I can’t believe I have to do this storyline.” I was such a rebel at that age. I thought it was so unrealistic. And now I have this amazing daughter who is that girl. I always tell Emily, “That was the character I played, I thought it was so hokey and dumb.” Now I have this angel of a daughter who says she’s not going to date until she gets married. She won’t sleep with a man until he’s her husband. I’m like, “Wow, this is my daughter. I played a part like that!”
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you get many responses from teenage girls?
Melissa Reeves: The show got an award for that story, and yes, I got tons of letters from young women. But I was so not in their mindset, I didn’t understand it. I just thought, “Oh, great for you that you’re not doing that.” I’m telling you, wisdom comes with age. I wish I had the wisdom then to commend those girls and encourage them. God has an amazing sense of humor by giving us this daughter who is so firm in her beliefs and her morals. There are girls like that. I wish I was one of them. I was total rebel Jersey girl, and loved that. I was never mean, I was just headstrong.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Two when Reeves discusses working with Frances Reid, MacDonald Carey, as well as how Jennifer and Frankie saved the world. Plus, Reeves recounts the beginning of the Jennifer & Jack phenomenon and why viewers connected to that couple.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City. He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at Amazon.com. For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at Shouldless@gmail.com.