There is something about tall, dark, and handsome with big blue eyes that melts me. At 6'3"J. Eddie Peck (ex Cole, Y&R) is no exception. Along with those gorgeous great looks, he is soft-spoken with a down home, down-to-earth charm that makes him irresistible. He is a sweetheart of a heartthrob.
Refreshing, since Peck's career was handed to him, or so it would seem. Who was it that said: "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans?" For Peck, whose first love is music, drama/acting was something he always admired and enjoyed, but never saw as a career.
"I wanted to be a DJ from about age 13," he says. After hosting a country/western radio show in his college town of Joplin, Missouri, he ventured to LA to get voice over work. Confident in his talent, but lacking in finances, he crashed an audition for a television commercial.
"It was my second day in town," Peck recalls. "I had no money. The audition was for callbacks. An advertising executive from J. Walter Thompson said ‘I want that guy over there,' meaning me!" Peck says with a laugh. "The casting director said ‘He's not invited. He crashed this audition,' and was about to throw me out!" But the ad exec was adamant and wanted to see Peck on camera. "I got it," Peck bellows. "Just like that!" It was a commercial for Sansui stereos and it got Peck his first agent. "I did that spot, and within a week, they sent me out on another. A 4-commercial campaign for Timex watches."
The agency was looking to cast a good-looking guy against a supermodel for the Timex campaign. Peck thought, "Gosh, I don't have a shot at this." (He really did say "gosh!" :o). "I was at the agency looking at all the headshots of all these handsome people, and it just wasn't me," Peck says. "I wasn't polished like that. But, I needed to make a living, and they were determined to send me out on the audition, so I asked who the super model was."
It turned out to be Rene Russo. Peck was not familiar with her at the time. "I only knew Cheryl Tiegs and Christy Brinkley, so I asked to see Rene's picture. I thought whoa! She's way too old for me. They are never going to cast me opposite her. She was much more mature than I."
"How long ago was this," I asked. "That's not important," he giggled. "You want the story, or you want dates?"
"The story!" I replied with a laugh.
At the time of this interview, Peck and I were sitting in his dressing room on the set of Young & the Restless. He greeted me with a warm handshake and a huge smile. As I work with a tape recorder, he escorted me inside and closed the door so the tape would not pick up outside noise.
His dressing room was large for CBS Television City cast accommodations, with two comfy sofas, a television monitor, a phone. Wardrobe for his next scene was hanging nearby. He had just gotten his script for an episode scheduled to tape a week later.
"I ended up going on that audition, and I got hired," Peck continued. That Timex campaign launched his commercial career. He did print work as well. In his first two-and-a-half years in the business, Peck did 25 national commercials.
"Then I went to Europe for a couple of years," Peck says. "Came back and went to school for an MBA. Did one semester. But people kept pushing me toward acting. Acting, acting, acting."
At this point, Peck had yet to study acting. "I was very interested in acting, and I loved it," he said. "I really thought I could do it. I had all the confidence in the world because I always felt I had the heart for it, the sensitivity, the strength."
Yet, he was uncomfortable. He didn't feel he knew what he was doing. "I wasn't an actor," Peck admits, "and did not like being in a situation where I wasn't good at something." But it didn't stop him from getting hired. "I got roles and I don't even know why they cast me, but they did." Peck believes it was due, in large part, to his personality. "They hired me because they liked me," he says. Regardless of his getting work in a variety of roles (villains, boys next door, surfers, New Yorkers, southerners), he enrolled in acting classes to develop the craft. "I got into theater groups, and continued studying for seven years."
Peck went on to star in both features and primetime television. Young & the Restless was his 6th television series. With Y&R for seven years, he maintains that his forte is not the 3-camera, fast-paced format of daytime television.
"There are many on Y&R whose work translates very well to daytime. I think they do a better job here, with daytime's pace and 3-camera technique, than they would in another medium. I commend them so much because the ones who can do that are wonderful. It's a very hard thing to do. For me? I am a single-camera, need more time, kind of guy. I get better and better the more I do (daytime). I can sit (in my dressing room) and work it, work it, work it. Rehearsing for me is like night and day in my potential.
"Do you get much of an opportunity to rehearse on Y&R?" I asked.
"Not as much as I'd like. Not nearly as much as I can!" he replied with a laugh.
Peck explained that Y&R (as with most soaps) is not a show that rehearses much. "Because of the pace in which we work. We get one rehearsal, one camera rehearsal, and that's it, you do it! There's no time in between. You get your camera rehearsal (snaps fingers!), then you roll! But those who come in, and grab it and do it, and get better at it all the time! I commend them so much," he said. "There are those who come from the other mediums, and they were wonderful there, but they get here and not everyone translates. Not everyone can adapt and deliver the level of work they are accustomed to because of the pace required for daytime."
Did Peck ever get an opportunity to rehearse one-on-one with his scene partner? "It had to be in between the time they drive into the parking lot, finish their personal business, get in and out of the make-up chair, to the time they get called to the set! It is sometimes very hard to find that time in between," Peck says.
Peck believes his style is geared more toward other mediums, and prefers the pacing of primetime and features to that of daytime. "I shine better in the other mediums because of the luxury of time. It's just something I have always felt better about. My work, and me working a camera. Maybe because I worked to a single camera for so many years, that pacing works well for me."
Yet, after seven years on the show, he felt at home with his co-stars. "There is a comfort level that you can get when you're working with someone. You get used to their way of working, moving, mannerisms, their level of expectations. Your level of expectation in acting a scene," says Peck. "I am very adaptable. I am not one to push or lead an actor in a love scene or physical scene beyond where I know they want to go, or what they want to do. I put my co-star first and foremost -- over performance, over direction. I think of them first. I want them to be comfortable." Peck goes on to explain that a certain level of trust develops between actors who work together on a regular basis. "I want them to have that trust with me," he says. "Anyone who's ever worked with me will tell you that. I am easy to work with. You can feel comfortable with me. Y&R has that level of trust."
But just how did Peck get the role of Cole Howard in the first place? "I was on Dallas, another CBS show. Bill Bell may, or may not have known me from there, but I was also on Days of Our Lives, and Bill did know me from that show. He was familiar with me and my work. There were a few calls made on my behalf, insofar as expressing an interest to get me over to Y&R." Peck was still required to read for Bill Bell, and do a screen test. He got the part. "I think I had a bit of an advantage over some of the younger people. A lot of them come from nowhere. They didn't work before they came in here. I'd worked a lot. Casting people around town knew me. I had worked at CBS, so they knew me. In a way, I think that was an advantage."
Peck originated the role of Cole, and tells an interesting story. "Cole was initially going to be Victor Newman's son," says Peck. "Heather Tom (Victoria) was to be my half-sister. The audience all knew that. I knew it. But, I never played it like she was my sister. They (TPTB) liked the chemistry between Cole and Victoria, and ran with it for a long time -- maybe about a year. And they decided NOT to make us brother and sister, so we could be together, and that was great! I was really happy about that. That's what my intention was all along. Not that I didn't want to be Victor's son, but I really wanted to work with Heather."
The producers and writers created storyline around what was happening on screen between the two actors. Interesting! "When they see something that works," says Peck, "or something that doesn't work, or even seeing the potential of something working between two people, they usually give it a try."
Peck credits the writers, producers and the casting department of Y&R with doing an amazing job. "They really have it down," he says. "I see so many other shows that don't have it down. They spend money. They try things. They do things. It doesn't work. They abandon things. I see them make a lot of feeble attempts. Y&R understands how to do it. I really commend them."
Peck believes they take fan demands into account, but not as much as other shows might. "Bill Bell and headwriter Kay Alden trust their experience and intuition on direction for the characters," says Peck. Which is a successful strategy, as the show has held the number one spot for over ten years. "They can take people who have never worked before, they were as raw as can be, and they put them in this fast-paced environment of shooting a soap, and I have watched these people grow to where I wish I only dream that I could grow as fast. Some took a little longer than others. Some jumped right into it. They have a good eye upstairs for finding people who are interesting, exciting, intelligent, and trainable. They have a great eye for casting. They really do!"
I asked Peck if there was an open dialogue between the producers, writers and the actors. If he, or the other cast members, were permitted to make changes to the script.
"Every actor at Y&R is a creative person," Peck replied. "We all have ideas. Our ideas are not welcome. And rightfully so. They need to control. They need a consistency. They also have a direction that we are not always aware of. And obviously, if you have actors going up on the 3rd floor making suggestions to storylines, we would have chaos here and the ship would fold within six months. We have very capable people in charge of writing the show."
"And you trust it," I commented.
"Whether you trust it or not, it is your job. It's your job to say the words as written. A lot of times I read things and I have an idea, but the wonderful thing that I really like is that I don't have (the responsibility) as far as the direction of the story and the character. That gives me peace of mind. There is a little comfort for me in not knowing (the direction), and not having to do another job besides coming in, getting in hair and make up and acting. They do a great job upstairs; they know what they are doing. It's our job to carry it out."
Peck explained that if he was given the opportunity to make changes, he'd make them all the time. "I would. I would," he laughed. "That's my nature. To try and have more control. But ah! What a nice piece of mind that I can't affect it! They're in charge of steering the boat down the river and I'm in the back paddling my way, trying to keep up. That's really the way I enjoy it, and it's exciting to me." He grabbed his new script and said: "I can't wait to dig into it and see where they're sending me. I like that. I like the fact that they're in control, and I have the challenge to try and make it something they're happy with. And I'm happy with. For me, that's an ongoing challenge. I walk out to the part every day going I could and should, or if I did this or that…. It's never boring for me. It's never mundane. It's always a challenge."
Does Peck continue to study acting? "I don't really have the time. I work on other projects on my own, on the side. And this year has been an extremely busy year for me. But it's funny, because just today I was starting to give a lot of thought to going back to classes."
He went on to explain that he was taught a technique years ago, one he wholeheartedly believes in. "It works. I know how to utilize it. It takes my time, my preparation, my concentration. My focus. Everything to use a technique I already know! But that's what Y&R allows. It gives me enough color, enough depth within the character, and I get to exercise my technique in a wide variety of ways whether it is emotional, physical, whatever, because, like I said, it's always challenging, and I worked at it every day. So, for me to be in a class, to pay to work at it, to take me away from the very little time that I have with my two children – it's a tough decision to make. There would be a benefit from it, and I think about it a lot, but I think I'd rather concentrate and focus on other things."
In Peck's 6th year on Y&R he worked as many as 4 days a week, and traveled the country doing personal appearances every weekend except four in a seven month period. Many back east. "That plays havoc with you too, because of the time difference, jet lag and all. Every Sunday night at about 10 PM, I'm at LAX flying in from a personal appearance somewhere," he said back then. And he'd have to be at the studio 6:30 AM the next morning, ready to work. Quite a demanding schedule.
During year seven, Cole's storyline fell off dramatically. When he signed a new contract in May 1999 he expected some exciting new developments for Cole, but nothing much of anything ensued for the character. With his roster of other projects beckoning, he chose to leave the show and pursue other interests. His company, Sierra Vista Productions, is now shopping a half-hour special interest show on horses that Peck hosts and produces to cable networks, and he is developing other projects.
"It was J. Eddie's decision to leave the show," said the publicist for Y&R. "He is welcome back. The door is always open for him to return."
J. Eddie Peck lives on a ranch outside Los Angeles with his wife, Sonya and two sons, Austin and Dalton. ( LMS 1/4/00)
Editors Note: J. Eddie Peck now resides in NYC and stars as Jake Martin on All My Children.
- Young & the Restless @ Soapdom
- All My Children @ Soapdom
- J. Eddie Peck Bio
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