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Getting To Know Peter Bergman Of Y&R

The Young and the Restless' Peter Bergman on 30 years as Jack Abbott, the hidden hobby he's most proud of, and what still thrills him after all this time.
Posted on Dec 23, 2019 | 11:00am
By Malcolm Venable

Jack Abbott is fleeing Genoa City in a white luxury sedan, desperate to get away. And who can blame him? From having a doppelgänger to several bad romances, Jack's had a lot on his plate over the years. Coping with Dina's return into his life has been taxing enough, but his mother's worsening Alzheimer's adds even more layers of grief, all of it visible on Jack's face.

"I just need some fresh air," he tells his sister Traci via cell phone, but then ...

"Cut!"

The make-believe ride down a Television City green screen highway ends, and Peter Bergman smoothly slides out of the sedan. His furrowed brow gives way to a confident smile and warm handshake, and as he welcomes Watch! into his stately dressing room overlooking The Young and the Restless' set, it's clear that Bergman's charm, charisma, and gentlemanly values make him nothing like the cad and daytime legend he's played for 30 remarkable years.


Jacket by Sandro. Sweater by AllSaints. Watch by Omega.

Bergman might share some external traits with Jack Abbott; both are polished men of good taste, and you'll never see Bergman on Instagram having a beer in flip-flops. But as the father of two who's been married for more than three decades, Bergman reveals during a candid talk that he couldn't be more unlike the womanizing, enemy-destroying, and chair-hurling Jack Abbott if he tried.

Off-screen, Bergman enjoys a drama-free life that prioritizes physical fitness, family gatherings, and, of course, preparation for The Young and the Restless, for which three Daytime Emmy wins and an unmatched 21 nominations solidify him as one of the best of all time. Anniversaries often prompt people to reflect on memories that have been sanded down by time. For Bergman, October 1989 is never far from his mind, since his first days at The Young and the Restless coincided with monumental life changes that inform the gratitude and discipline with which he approaches every moment on set, and at home. "Every day I have been here," he says, choking up a bit, "I have given them my all. I go for broke every single time."


Coat by Baracuta. Sweater by Sandro. Jeans by Levi's. Shoes by Gola. Socks by Hugo Boss. Scarf by The Tie Bar. Sunglasses by Ray-Ban.

You're going into your 30th year as Jack Abbott. What's on your mind as you approach that milestone?

I've been very fortunate. It's an extraordinary tale of how it happened. When [the role as Dr. Cliff Warner on] All My Children came to a sudden end in 1989, it was pretty bleak. My wife was seven months pregnant with our second child. We had just bought the apartment next door and blended the two. I was heartsick. My agent said, "The Young and the Restless wants to know how tall you are. Should we call them?" I said, "Do they have something to offer me?" They called again and said, "We'd love to have him come [to Los Angeles] and audition for a character." I said, "What character?" They wouldn't say. I blew them off again. But my wife's pregnant. I've now been unemployed for just long enough. So they sent me the script and it was two scenes: Jack with his father, and Jack and Jill. It was great.


Shirt by Theory. Pants by Billy Reid. Bella and socks by Hugo Boss. Shoes by To Boot New York. Bracelet by Jonas Studio.

At the time, I was on the cover of every magazine: "Peter Bergman gets fired." Melody Thomas Scott was traveling in Canada with her husband, Edward J. Scott, the executive producer of [The Young and the Restless], and she had a magazine in her bag. She turned to Ed and said, "That's Jack Abbott." So that's how it started. Was he tall enough? Isn't that wild?

How do you become Jack?

People make a little fun of me in the morning. We come in at 7 in the morning, and your job in that first half hour is to get in makeup. I go down there fully dressed. I'm already halfway Jack ad then I wrap myself in it. It's not a switch. It's a gradual exercise.

What do you do before you get to work? What's your pre-work routine?

Before I get here, I have already broken a sweat. I get up very early. I start the morning with some yogurt, a banana, and I get my exercise ... [maybe] a spinning class.

You're in great shape.

I was a runner for 28 years. I ran the New York City Marathon in 1983, and I didn't stop running until my knees gave out a couple of years ago. Some, I crawled over finish lines, but I survived them. Running was a great calming influence for me; it slowed me down. I'm not going to be best remembered for my relaxation skills!

I tend to be a busy person, and I have chores and things and lists I want to get accomplished. You can't get anything accomplished when you're out running. I was not one to listen to music while I ran, so my brain would just turn off.


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Speaking of music, we know you're a gifted pianist ...

I definitely wouldn't call me gifted. No one here knows I play, but it's one of the great joys of my life. I started when I was 20 years old. I was in New York at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and there were rehearsal rooms upstairs with pianos in them, and I sat down at the piano and started fiddling around with it. I've always been a musical person; I like getting lost in it. I had sung in countless choirs before and played the clarinet as a kid until junior high school. I had been in rock bands.

I learned at a pretty critical age that discipline comes naturally to no one; discipline is something you learn. People develop discipline. So in my 20s, I started disciplining myself to sit at a piano and play those scales to get where I wanted to get. I practice probably four days a week. At Christmas, with my extended family, at some point I play and we all sing Christmas carols.

That is so cool. Which ones do you play?

Oh, you know, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The First Noel," "Jingle Bells." I play all the standards pretty well.


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Let's talk about Jack Abbott. He's so complicated. Do you consider him a good guy or bad guy, and what parts of Jack have you incorporated into yourself?

I think he's a conflicted guy who wants to be a good guy. His mom walked out on him at a very critical time--he was a 15-year-old guy with two little sisters, and it changed his life. Just went crazy. He got very selfish. He broke his father's heart more than once being a cad, being thoughtless, being a real prick. Jack learned something from all the women he was with too: Nikki was something he could not ultimately have, and she was with the man Jack has just pure loathing for. He's everything Jack doesn't like: he's a bully, he's new money. Jack learned empathy, patience, and kindness from that marriage. Phyllis—from the other side of the tracks—is a grifter, a manipulator, a tough cookie. Phyllis was the next giant, giant chapter for Jack because it was delightful to see somebody who was exactly who they said they were, unapologetically herself, and that was intoxicating to Jack, who never had that absolute assurance of who he was. Sharon was a brief marriage.

But each of these women brought more depth to Jack. Underneath, there is still a guy screaming at the stars for his unfortunate luck. He's never been lucky in love; he's a damaged man because of his mother. Now she is back in his life and he can't scream at her, he can't tell her what she did to him. He has to look out for her. Talk about a complex! I spent a lot of my life thinking or feeling, "Is this jealousy? Am I still carrying around anger?" I ask all these questions of myself. "What am I feeling right now?" Jack doesn't have that problem. Jack knows exactly what he's feeling and he acts on it. He's gotten in a lot of trouble, but I've learned that from Jack, and I tried to take on more of that in my own personal life. You know what you're feeling; trust it. You know what this is: You're pissed off at this, so say you're pissed off. Jack's good at that, and I'm growing to be better at it.


Blazer by John Varvatos. Shirt by Theory. Pants by J.Crew. Shoes by To Boot New York. Tie by The Tie Bar. Bracelet and tie bar by Jonas Studio. Watch by Omega. Sunglasses by RayBan. Pocket square by Drake's.

You're a man of classic tastes and traditional values. I couldn't find any social media profile for you. Why's that?

I have no social media presence. I was too old for it when it happened, and a guy my age suddenly going on Twitter to sell myself just sends out all the wrong messages. My son is 33, my daughter is 30. So I ran all this stuff by her. She said, "Yeah, it gets a little creepy."

I was so determined that my kids were not going to be in this business that I didn't bring them around for the glamour moments, because if that's all you see, why wouldn't you be an actor? They didn't get to [hear] my friends crying on the phone, friends with incredible résumés who can't get an audition for something they know about. My kids wouldn't see that; they'd see just the glamour, so I didn't introduce them to this. So I've never done any of that.

I also have held very strongly to what I owe CBS, and that is a great performance. I come in and I pick [scripts] up as soon as I get in the room. I can't wait to find out what happened to Jack. I don't ask the writers to tell me what's going to happen. In fact, I asked them not to tell me what's going to happen so that when I open these things, I find out. I love doing this. My job is to make [the material] as good as I can make it and go home and have a completely separate life. I have a life at home with my wife and stay in touch with my family, and that's important to me. Those are two different things.


Jacket by Brooks Brothers. Turtleneck by Sandro. Watch by Movado.

What do you think shaped you to be the man you are professionally? Did you have models for how you saw yourself as an actor?

I had extraordinary role models. James Mitchell [on All My Children]. What a terrific man. He had considerable success as a dancer, as a Broadway actor, as a film actor. He knew jobs don't grow on trees. He knew that you don't come to work unprepared. David Canary ... it was just stunning the work he did. When I got to play Jack Abbott, who was a bit of a cad, a bit of a jerk, I had David Canary in my back pocket. Those were my real examples that shaped my career.

You're in the Daytime Emmy history books. Do you want another one?

I would love to have another one. I'm always very flattered to be welcomed to the party. I have three and I've been nominated a bit. Each was significant in its own way. They share a shelf on a bookcase at home. I don't sit and hold one or something like that. They're pretty mementos from fun chapters in my life.

You've been in one of the longest TV rivalries of all time. How have you maintained that?

My rivalry with Victor [Eric Braeden] is the greatest gift in the world. We've learned to respect the fact that we have the longest standing rivalry in television daytime—or nighttime! We are both very proud and very grateful for the longevity of that and the ease with which we work with each other.


Blazer by John Varvatos. Shirt by Theory. Pants by J.Crew. Shoes by To Boot New York. Tie by The Tie Bar. Bracelet and tie bar by Jonas Studio. Watch by Omega. Sunglasses by RayBan. Pocket square by Drake's.

How are you planning to celebrate your 30th anniversary on The Young and the Restless?

I will absolutely celebrate it with my wife, pop some champagne, and say, "Wow!"

What still thrills you about your job?

Unlike any other acting job, I do scenes with people I've worked with for 25, 30 years. There is so much stuff underneath that girds your performance. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

SEE MORE PHOTOS: Peter Bergman Celebrates 30 Years On Y&R With A Fabulous Photo Shoot

Originally published in Watch! Magazine, November-December 2019.

Photography by F. Scott Schafer. Styled by Christina Pacelli. Grooming by Melissa Walsh.

Watch The Young and the Restless Weekdays on CBS and CBS All Access.