Melody Thomas Scott is a soap opera icon who has played Nikki on ‘Y&R’ for over 40 years. She spoke EXCLUSIVELY with HL about her book, what she still wants to explore with Nikki, and more.
Melody Thomas Scott has spent the majority of her career on the hit daytime soap The Young and the Restless, and she wouldn’t have it any other way. She has starred as Nikki on Y&R, which will air its 12,000th on Dec. 1, since 1979. She reflects on her Y&R journey, opens up about childhood, and more in her memoir Always Young and Restless, which is available now.
HollywoodLife talked EXCLUSIVELY with Melody about why she decided to write a book now and how she recalled so many memories to include in her memoir. The actress revealed she feels so “lucky” to have taken the role of Nikki all those years ago because it changed her life in so many ways. She also admitted she has no plans to leave the show and has ideas about what she’d like to see Nikki experience in the future.Melody Thomas Scott on the ‘Y&R’ set. (CBS)
Was there a specific moment in time when you decided that you wanted to write this memoir?
Melody Thomas Scott: I have always known that there was a book in me simply because of my very unique upbringing and the different adversities I had to deal with and conquer eventually. Really, only my family and close friends were even aware of all the craziness that I had to endure. They always said, oh, now you have to write a book. I knew they were right. I just had to wait for the right time because, even though you’ve overcome all of that, it’s still inside you. It’s still in your brain. It’s still in your heart. There were a couple of false starts where I sat down and started and, for some reason, my brain felt like writing the darker chapters first. And then sure enough, I would start getting panic attacks and all of that all over again. And I’d think, okay, I’m not ready. Years went by and my husband kept badgering me. He’d say, “So what about this book? What’s going on?” And I just said, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” More time passed and I thought about it a lot. One day, I woke up and sat up in bed and turned to Edward and said, “I’m ready.” And that time I was. So it was at least 10 years of attempting and then not emotionally being able to keep going. It took a while, but I knew that it would be of interest to many people. The only reason I wrote it is to help others who might be suffering with other adversities of their own. I felt that if they could read that there is light on the other side of the tunnel, they could get some hope. If I just helped one person, that would be worth it all. Now, there’s a lot of Y&R stuff in there, and that’s for the fans. I certainly would never have decided to write a book just on Y&R. I mean, that’s cute and fluffy, but that is not what drove me to write it. I wrote it to write about my personal experiences.
In addition to the Y&R chapters, you write about your childhood and the beginnings of your career. How did you go through all those memories? Did you keep a journal?
Melody Thomas Scott: I do have a very bizarre memory that I did mention briefly in the book. I’ve only ever met one other person who has this where it’s like with early childhood memory, I can remember things that happened when I was in my crib and that have been verified by family members. So it’s just a very bizarre memory, and that kept going through my early acting and everything. I have a very keen memory for the past, not so much for the present. Ask me what scene we did last week, I probably couldn’t tell you, but any of that stuff from early childhood on I could. I also did keep all of my diaries. I kept all of my daybooks and still do. They really serve served as a diary for me when I was writing the book as far as knowing what happened when, in the right order, and how I felt. That was very helpful. Just keeping a calendar on the wall, which I did for many years before we had cell phones to keep all that for us. I kept all of those so I could look at a gauge and tell you what time my appointment was for an interview for a show. More information than I needed, but I’ve got it.
I loved your chapter about how the O.J. Simpson trial changed daytime television at the time. It was so spot-on.
Melody Thomas Scott: We had no idea at the time. We were naive in that, and that really was the turning point, I believe, for the industry to start looking at reality shows. He was the first big reality show. We didn’t know yet. It affected our rating so badly, and not just our show, but every daytime program lost tremendous ratings. It was very difficult to get them back and none of us have gotten back to what it was. But knock on wood, we are so blessed Y&R is still number one. We’ve been number one for over 35 years, so I can’t complain about that. Certainly, I wish the numbers were what they were, but they’re never going to return to that now that there are so many other options. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of channels now available to people that they can turn to. Back then, there were only three networks, CBS, NBC, ABC, and then your random other local shows. The landscape has certainly changed.
For over 40 years, you’ve played Nikki Newman, one of the most iconic soap opera characters. When you first started on the show, did you foresee this role being such an important and pivotal part of your life?
Melody Thomas Scott: Oh no, of course not. I was only 22, and I didn’t even want the job. There’s a little part in the book about that. I had just gotten a sitcom pilot with NBC that same weekend. I wanted to do it because it was a comedy and I love comedy. Lucille Ball is one of my greatest icons, and I was so excited about that. And then I got Y&R. My agent is the one who talked me into doing Y&R. I was so sad to let that pilot go. But you know what? Always listen to your agent because that pilot never even sold, so that would have gone nowhere. And here I am still on this most incredible show. Not only did it give me a terrific part to play on an iconic show, but because of Y&R, I met my husband, I have my children. So much was attributed in my personal life to taking that part, more so than any other actor on our show, I think because it really affected my personal life. It gave me stability that I really needed, obviously. I was just so lucky to have made that decision.
You mentioned in the book that there was another actress playing Nikki before you. Have you ever thought about what would have happened if she had stayed on the show? Or if you took the comedy pilot?
Melody Thomas Scott: You know, I tend to not go back and regret anything or think about how things would have been had I not done something. I’m very much a fatalist. And I was even back then. So I don’t really look back, I just look forward. I mean, what other direction can you look in really? Just move on to other adventures. That’s always been my attitude.
You’ve played Nikki Newman for 4 decades now. How long do you see yourself playing this character? Is she someone you’d like to continue playing?
Melody Thomas Scott: I’ve always said, as long as I’m happy there, that there is no reason to leave. So I hope that continues. I love being part of a company. I love the community of it because I grew up with no family community of any kind, so that’s a very comfortable thing that I kind of stumbled onto. Now all these years later, I have lifelong friends. We are very much a family. I know a lot of shows like to say that, but we really are. We see a lot of those people more than we see our real-life family in some ways. We are definitely tethered to each other’s hearts and souls. It’s a strong bond. I can’t imagine breaking it. I’d have to be very unhappy to walk away from that, and I can’t even imagine what that would be.
Nikki has been through her fair share of events over the years. Looking ahead, is there anything you would ever want to explore with her that maybe you haven’t yet?
Melody Thomas Scott: There are two things that… it’ll be 42 years for me in February, and I cannot believe neither one of these has happened yet. One would be a dual role. Oddly enough, I have never gotten to play my evil twin or any kind of twin, and I would love to do that. Secondly, I would love for Nikki to just have a psychotic break and go completely stark, raving mad. That’s just the selfish thing on my acting. Actors always want to have a nice, meaty role like that to play. I’ve never done that yet. I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I work so hard to make her legitimate, the lady of the manor, I don’t know. But I still hold out hope.
Nikki and Victor Newman remain one of daytime’s most beloved couples. What do you think it is about their relationship that keeps fans so in love with your characters as a couple?
Melody Thomas Scott: In the beginning, we were certainly the most unlikely coupling to happen. She was the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks who has a bad attitude — and she was a stripper. He was the Howard Hughes of Genoa City. We just couldn’t understand why Bill Bell put us together, but he was always pretty psychic about things like this. He must have seen something in both of us and felt we would have good chemistry together. It didn’t take long for us to recognize that as well. I think it’s that you can’t define it, you can’t see it, but you can feel it. I’ve been asked this question for so many years and never had a good answer. But at Eric’s 40th anniversary a couple of years ago, I spoke and said, “When we are working together, we can be having a pleasant scene, we can be fighting, or we can not even be saying anything at all, but our souls are dancing together. Our souls want to dance together.” That elusive chemistry is very hard to predict, but Bill was able to do it. I think that is what really captured people’s hearts and made them start rooting for them in such a strong way. And it has endured all these years. We are so grateful for it. Of course, we love working together. That kind of pairing would not have worked if we hadn’t liked each other so much. We’re both Aries, so we’re both very stubborn. After all these years, we know our characters better than even the writers. Sometimes we’ll change the dialogue, or we’ll just change everything, and the directors will go with it. Because when that happens, they usually notice it’s going to work out even better than what was on paper. That’s always fun for us.
I think what’s so special about soaps is that for actors like you and Eric, you’ve been on the show for so long. You have this history both onscreen and offscreen. You’ve grown, gotten married, had children, and had life experiences off camera. Your real-life history and bond are almost subconsciously felt onscreen as well.
Melody Thomas Scott: Nobody has ever said that to me before. I like that.
There’s so much TV out there, and most shows don’t make it 10 seasons. If they do, most of the time, you don’t get people to stay on the same show for as long as people do on Y&R and other soaps.
Melody Thomas Scott: You touch on a good point there. We are so lucky that most of our longtime actors have been there for decades. There’s a history there. You can’t recreate that if you change out actors.
Another chapter in your book that I thought was so important was the one about aging and how there is a double standard about men and women aging onscreen. What’s that experience been like for you and seeing it from one generation to the next how people view aging onscreen?
Melody Thomas Scott: I always thought, I am the least vain person you will ever meet. I mean, the actors are in the mirror more than I am. I don’t care if I’m not wearing makeup for scenes that don’t warrant it or no hair. I’ve been on camera with no hair and makeup many, many, many times of the year. That does not bother me. I just assumed I’ll grow older, I’ll start playing the grandma, and age gracefully. It doesn’t bother me, and I always thought that to be true until the last couple of years when I would see particularly profile file shots of me on the show. All of a sudden, I’m like, where did these three chins come from? What’s gobble-gobble neck thing going on? It just bothered me so much. Not because I want to be the vixen again. Not because I want to look young again. I think that’s ridiculous. But the chin thing really bothered me. I thought, you know what, this is not anything the show asked me to do. I made the decision. I went to the show. I told them what I was doing, and I need four weeks off to do it. They said it was fine. I wish I had done it sooner. I’m so happy with the results. I don’t look like I’ve taken 30 years off or anything, it just makes me feel better.