Interviews Soaps

Jackie Zeman Talks Life at ‘General Hospital,’ ‘The Bay’s Sofia and Passion for the Soap Genre

Jackie Zeman

Soap legend Jackie Zeman recently spoke with TVSource Magazine about her role on The Bay as Sophia Madison, life at General Hospital, working in a faster paced environment and life as a soap star.

The Bay, the critically acclaimed popular online soap opera from the mind of Gregori J. Martin, boasts an impressive lineup of soap opera heavyweights that puts some of the current network dramas to shame. One of those stars is daytime veteran Jackie Zeman, who plays southern belle Sophia Madison, the fashionable wife of Bay City mayor Jack Madison (played by Santa Barbara alum Nicolas Coster). For Zeman, her role on The Bay is a unique departure from the characters she typically plays.

Zeman began her soap career in 1976, appearing on the New York production-based soaps,  The Edge of Night and One Life to Live. She would land her most iconic and defining role as Bobbie Spencer on ABC’s General Hospital in 1977. Her work outside of daytime includes feature films, primetime television and theater. Zeman is also known for her generous support and work with many charities.

It was a great honor and privilege to interview one of daytime’s most famous stars.

TVSource Magazine: You’ve done work outside of soaps such as theater and primetime but it seems that working in the soap genre is where your passion lies. Was being a soap star something you’ve always wanted to do?
Jackie Zeman: Yes! I just love it because of several reasons. It’s very exciting. It’s very fly by the seat of your pants. There are always new scenes, new dialog…I guess I was originally attracted to that. But you know when I was very young I watched soap operas like a zillion years ago with my mom and I had an emotional connection to them.

People that love soap operas, they’ll say it’s a very kind of family thing. They’ll say that’s my show. Those are my people. You know what I mean? Because of the longevity that we have. We’re on the air and in people’s minds five hours a week and years progress. That becomes a very strong bond. So yes I loved it and got involved.

I was living in New York and I was doing stuff there, Edge of Night and then One Life to Live, and then I came out to California and at the time I had a two year contract and I thought, “Oh I’ll go out to California and it will be really fun.” Here we are 30 some odd years later and General Hospital worked out and the people bonded to the character [Bobbie Spencer]. I got married and I had children so this is our life now. So here I stayed and it’s worked out very well for me. As I was raising my children, I didn’t want to travel. I didn’t what to go to Canada and shot something. I didn’t want to be over in Europe making a film. I wanted to be a hands on mom. I wanted to come home every night and have dinner with my kids and be with my family and take my kids to birthday parties. So I got to have it all. I’m just so blessed. I feel thankful for that.

TVSource Magazine: I love your character on The Bay! Sophia is the classic debutant wife, complete with Southern accent. How did you prepare for the role?
Zeman: The Southern accent was kind of decided ahead of time and I was so thrill! When Gregori Martin first called me to be on The Bay as Sophia he said I think she’s going to be Southern belle are you okay with the accent? And I said “Oh my gosh it’s so perfect!” Because when I was young, we had family who lived in New Jersey, my aunt and uncle and my cousins in Cliffside Park and all of a sudden they moved to Maryville, TN which was right outside of Knoxville. So every summer we would go down. My mom, my dad, myself, my sisters and my beagle dog would drive down there. So I grew up going down there for a few weeks every summer, being around a Southern accent, so it was kind of in me. So when Gregori said, “Oh would you be comfortable,” I said “Yeah I don’t even need a coach. I can just do it!”

I loved after all the years of playing…you know obviously Bobbie on General Hospital for hours and hours and episodes and also my TV movies…and thing is I played very upscale kind of waspy totally different characters…but I never had an opportunity to play a Southerner. So playing her and playing Sophia as an event planner and such a social butterfly and liking her life, married to the mayor and enjoying him and his sexuality and his power…I mean it’s just all kinds of things I didn’t get to play before. So I’m having a ball with it!

TVSource Magazine: Does Sophia really love Jack or does she love the lifestyle he provides?
Zeman: I think she loves the whole package you know what I mean? I think that the fact that he is the mayor…which I think for some women is very true. They are attracted to a man because of his lifestyle, because of his power, because of his confidence. If he didn’t have all of that, he would be a different man. So yes I think she loves him and I think she’s very protective of him.

But also since I think it is second marriage for both and they’re not kids anymore, she is a very smart woman…a very clever girl…and she knows that as much as he has to offer her in regards to security and a wonderful lifestyle and having a certain social standing in the community, she also has to contribute. She has to step up because he could have anybody he wants. So he kind of keeps her on her toes which I think it makes it exciting for her because every day she has to get up and contribute something to the relationship, something to the town, something to the community and that gives her a purpose. I think she feels good about that and it makes her happy. So I think they are a wonderful combination.

So yes I do think there is absolute love there and respect and admiration and I think they both really love their lives together. Which is why I think the thing with his affair, with his dalliance, it’s very unsettling for her. She’s not foolish enough to the think that he’s never going to be attract to somebody else but I think she is extremely threatened by it and I think she will do whatever she needs to do to stay married. She loves her husband.

TVSource Magazine: One of my favorite story lines in Chapter 12 was the one with Jack, Sophia, and Orchid. Do you think Sophia knows more than she is letting on? How do you think she’ll react when she finds out about Orchid (If she does)?
Zeman: I think she suspects. I think there’s no proof but I think she suspects. You know she has point bank said “Jack what’s going on?” But he keeps skirting the issue and I think she knows him well enough not to push and bring it to a head because once you do that there is no going back. So I don’t presume that I know what Gregori is going to write or produce for future story line but, just from a character stand point, I think she is very leery right now. She’s walking on eggshells and she’s really got her antenna up.

I think she feels something was going on but she doesn’t know if it was just a quick nothing or if it was a relationship that could be a threat to their marriage and to their wellbeing as a couple. So that’s where I think she is right now. I think she’s just in her heart wishing and hoping and praying “What do I do to stay in the marriage?” She doesn’t want to push him and put him on the spot but at the same time she wants to know what is going on. So it’s kind of a game of cat and mouse right now. I’m curious to see when the next batch of scripts comes out what Gregori is going to write for us.

TVSource Magazine: Let’s talk a little about General Hospital. A lot has changed on GH in recent years, with a new creative and executive team coming in prior to your return to the show in 2013. How would you describe the atmosphere on the set now?
Zeman: Oh good! You know they’re not so new anymore. They’ve been there a few years now. I think they are doing a great job [Laughs]. The whole genre of soaps has changed. It’s faster paced right now.

And with reality TV, a lot of them are soap operas. Audiences are getting use to some of the story lines [that] are like watching a train about to crash. You watch but it shows you the goodness in people about how they can be very forgiving. You watch even real life people who can have questionable behavior and yet you forgive them and continue to watch because you can’t take your eyes off of it! I think that some of that has translated to the scripted versions as well.

You are getting characters out there on TV that you can do a lot more with right now. I mean General Hospital moves fast now! Boom, boom, boom! And the way they seem to write is they concentrate on one story line and then they jump to another story line and back to another. They’re all over the place so it’s exciting and compelling when you turn on because you never actually know what’s going to happen and I think that is a good thing because everything changes.

I admit I prefer stories that are character driven. I always have because that’s what I was used to and what I was raised on with soap operas. Nowadays some of it has to do with plot just because you got to come up with story. People get bored and with social media people do three things at a time now. They’re on their phone, they’re watching a webisode; you know nobody does just one thing anymore or if they do it’s extremely rare. So you got to grasp them. You got to get their attention and I think Mr. Carlivati and Mr. Valentini have done a great job with that on General Hospital. So hopefully they continue to do so and the show stays on the air. I hope it stays on for another 50 years.

TVSource Magazine: I love the storyline you have with Kin Shriner (Scotty) and Lynn Herring (Lucy). The catfight between Lucy and Bobbie was so fun to watch! Can fans expect to see more of this trio?
Zeman: Yeah a little bit. We shot the last few days. We did some really fun stuff so there is some good stuff coming up just the three of us. [Laughs] I hope the audience will like it.

Our writer Ron Carlivati is back East. He’s not in California so a lot of times when we shoot something, he’s not in the building and it’s not like he’s watching it on the monitors. He has to wait until he sees them on the TV set. So certain things I think he’ll see them and respond, however he responds to something and if he likes it he picks it up and writes more so hopefully he’ll likes what he sees. [Laughs]

TVSource Magazine: GH has a good ensemble lineup right now. Is there anyone you would like to work with who you haven’t yet? Any story you would like to see for your character?
Zeman: That’s a good question. There is always people I would like to work with. I wish they would write something with Julian Jerome. You know, [William deVry] because I just feel that is kind of a natural way to go since he is Lucas’s dad. That might be fun. I think there is opportunity there to come up with some good things. So who knows? I don’t know if it would happen but I think it would be fun.

I would like to get back involved in the hospital. Bobbie is in Port Charles right now and used to be the Chief Surgical Nurse and right now I’m there but they haven’t said if I am or not but I would like if that happened. Because I always liked the fact that she’s not only shown in the romantic story line, which I’m thrilled to have, but that she shown in the professional world working and contributing something and seeing how her maternal instincts come out. But I’m really loving where they have gone with the romance between Scott and Lucy and the potential there.

You know I don’t have a clue. They used to sometimes tell us years ago a little bit about where we were going but now nothing. So we don’t know much about it until two to three weeks before the audience sees it. So it’s always a surprise. It’s kind of fun like that! [Laughs] It’s like in real life you don’t know what’s next.

TVSource Magazine: I know giving back is something near and dear to you. Can you share with us some details about your recent charity work?
Zeman: I have so many things that are close to my heart. Just recently, I was back east and leukemia research has been very close to my heart because my dad was diagnosed with leukemia at 53 and at 54 he had passed. Those days there wasn’t really much you could do about it at that time. Now, they have made great advancements and I continue to work on that with my friend Jane Elisa.

We have an event coming up in New York at the Marriott Marquis in Time Square. It’s an incredible event. It’s on November 17th. It’s always daytime meets Broadway. The Broadway stars come and perform so that’s why we have it on a Monday night. It’s so amazing! You see the biggest stars on Broadway performing and cocktails and buffet and just meeting people. I’ll be there and a lot of the daytime people come. They have been so wonderful over the years.

Information about Jackie Zeman’s upcoming event is available at http://www.janeelissa.com/charity-events.html 

About the author

Jenn Bishop

Jenn Bishop is TVSource Magazine's Soap Editor. She's a thirty-something fan girl of soapy television and anything involving Joss Whedon. She began sharing her views on daytime soaps in 2012 with her blog Save Our Suds. A former philosophy major, she loves discussing different view points with fellow TV addicts and aficionados. When not watching television, she enjoys art, live music, exploring the Midwest food scene, and drinking too many lattes. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceJenn.

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