Daytime television audiences have been watching Melody Thomas Scott portray the formidable Nikki Newman on “The Young and the Restless” for more than four decades, but now, for the first time, they will truly be able to get to know the woman behind the beloved soap icon. Scott’s memoir, entitled “Always Young & Restless: My Life on and Off off America’s #1 Daytime Drama,” (out Aug. 18 from Diversion Books), that details her favorite and other most memorable moments for her on the long-running gig — and dives deeply into her upbringing, in which she discusses being raised by her mentally ill grandmother and being molested as a child.
What made you feel ready to open your life story up now?
It actually was a 10-year process. My family, my literary agent of course were like, “OK you have a great book in you,” and I said, “I’ve always known that I have a book in me — because it’s so unusual.” But when I first sat down to start it, for some reason my brain wanted to write the dark chapters first. I don’t know if I just wanted to get them out of the way, but that was, strategically, probably not a good idea because after just a few chapters I started getting panic attacks and agoraphobic attacks — all that old stuff just came right back. So I took several pauses in the writing of it. My husband was very, “Oh you’re going to write a book? Come on, let’s do it, let’s do it!” And I just said, “Look, I’m not ready.” We were in a holding pattern, and then one day I woke up and sat up in bed and said, “I’m ready.”
Did the #MeToo movement and the movement to believe survivors help you feel ready?
It is certainly good timing [now]. #MeToo didn’t even exist when I first began writing it. As things progressed, it [proved] our time has come as women, and I’m so grateful that they are being believed now. Because there is no reason to make it up. I wasn’t really concerned about the dreadful things that I revealed in there because that was really the whole point of the book. I was not interested in writing a little fluffy, “Oh I’m an actress; I’m on this show” [piece]. That didn’t interest me. It had to be the personal side, and that’s what I hope will make it different from most.
You write a lot about wanting to find something “normal” — and then finding that feeling on film sets. How were you defining the word and what made you feel you found it in Hollywood?
Let me preface this with: the title is fine, but I always wanted the name of this book to be “Looking for Normal” because that really resonated with me. The publisher had their own ideas and that’s fine, but I think that unlike most child actors who can have a grand time when they’re kids and then they grow out of being cute or grow out of being bankable and can take a very bad turn, which we all know, for me it was in reverse. As a small child I knew very early on that I was not living in a normal household; I was not living the life of a normal little girl at all. But because I was a working kid, I could get hired and go to a studio and play the part of a normal little girl. And all the crew and the cast, they were more normal than my grandmother and the environment I had in my house. That was everything to me — that they would play with me and treat me with kindness and respect. That was something I was so desperate for, in addition to a sense of community as well. I really had nothing. I was in a hoarding household, I wasn’t allowed to have friends over — it just affected every aspect of my life so much.
Yet the abuse you describe in the book was at the hands of Hollywood players such as Cosmo Morgan, founder of the Hollywood Children’s Theater.
All of the nonsense that I went through as a child, that happened not really with legitimate producers, legitimate drama coaches. I found it was always these losers on the fringe of Hollywood. They had their own bulls— that they had created to try and have children around them, but they weren’t the real deal. Never, ever as an adult did I deal with the casting couch. [I had] an agent sending me out on legitimate interviews. I find the more illegitimate they are, the more likely it is to find that type of thing. And these poor mothers — these moms who have never been in the business: they’re probably from out of town and they know nothing about show business but they want to get their kid in — they’re too naive to look for those kind of the things. And then my grandmother went beyond that and thought that anything was fair game if it could possibly get me ahead.
You do write about non-abusive experiences with big names in old Hollywood, from John Wayne and John Landis to Alfred Hitchcock and Brian de Palma. What kind of balance were you trying to strike when peeling back the layers of your experience working in the business as a young performer?
I didn’t have that thought in my head. I was simply laying it out the way it occurred. And a few other people have mentioned that you kind of get the flare of old Hollywood, and that is the Hollywood that I grew up in, so I’m happy they did glean that. It was not intentional on my part [though]; I just wrote it how it was.
What was the recall process for writing? How much of it was pure memory, versus looking at your old diaries or photos, versus getting points of view from those in your life at the time of events you were recounting?
I didn’t need to refer to any other person. I mention very early on [in the book] that I have a very freakish early childhood memory — and I’ve only met one other person who also has this — but I can remember everything, and my childhood diaries were very interesting. I guess I’m a bit of a pack rat myself in that I didn’t get rid of any of them —I have all of my diaries from the time I was 7-years-old on, and then as an adult I have all of my datebooks and I can tell you what date I did an interview with so-and-so and talked about whatever. So having all of that was great for references of what years everything occurred. But I can remember everything, and that was probably part of my problem: When I started writing these dark things my mind took me right back there and I was in the room, and that is a blessing and a curse.
Now that you have put all of these memories down in print, so many of them filled with trauma, do you have a feeling of letting go of some of the pain?
No, it will remain as it was forever. I thought that I had worked through it all, with all of the years of therapy and medication and everything, but as I learned very quickly when I first sat down, “Mmm no.” It never really leaves you; it’s always going to live inside of you — inside your heart and your head — and you have to find ways to deal with that.
You write about moving out of your grandmother’s house and knowing she was dying, but not of confronting her about the abuse you write that she watched and allowed to happen. Did you ever talk with her about it?
From the first time that things started occurring literally in front of her eyes — I was 4-years-old when it first began — I inherently knew that this was wrong. She was sitting probably five feet away from us and I remember looking at her with eyes that said, “Do you see what’s happening? Are you going to do something about it?” And of course she didn’t, and I guess I just knew from that first instance that she was never going to talk about it. There was no point in me ever bringing it up. Had she not been so afraid of doctors and had she gotten a diagnosis, I’m quite sure it would have been borderline personality, along with some other things. The whole house was afraid of her. We walked on eggshells because she could just go off and scream for hours and of course we couldn’t really do anything about it. It was a terrifying environment when you have somebody who’s completely irrational.
How did you determine what pieces of your time on “The Young and the Restless” warranted a deeper dive in the book?
It was so hard. The “Y&R” portion was the most difficult for me because for some reason that wasn’t mapped out in a logical way in my brain like my childhood was. And when you’ve been on a show for so long — I’ve been there 41 years — everything does kind of blend into the next thing. Fans will often say, “Tell us some funny moments from the set” and there’s so many swirling in your mind you can’t even think.
Did you tell your co-stars in advance if you were writing about them?
The only actor that had an idea that I would be writing about him was Peter Bergman — and that was only because I had written the wrong year in my datebook when I heard he had been let go from “All My Children” and I got him on this show and I wanted to make sure I got the correct date. So I called him and I said, “Listen, I’m writing about you in my book,” and he said, “What? You’re kidding,” and I said, “Don’t get a big head!” Nobody else. When they get their book, I’m sure they’re not going to expect to be mentioned because there’s so many of us and so many through the years — hundreds — that we have worked with. I wanted to include my Newman family; they are so dear to me. And I wanted to have pictures, and hopefully they are pictures that no one has ever seen before — because fans collect pictures for years and I didn’t want them to be bored, saying, “I’ve seen that.”
Were they all from your personal collection?
Most of them are, and then a few I perused through the show’s catalogue.
The Newman family has represented power for so long, and now we’re at a point in society where we are looking closer at such structures and dynasties, so do you feel there’s a different responsibility in portraying these characters today?
We don’t have the choice in that because we are so beholden to the writers. We have to do what’s on that page, whether we agree with it or not. We have to find a way to make it believable — make it organic — and most of the time it’s easy, but every now and then it’s like, “Oh man, how am I going to make these scenes work? This doesn’t sound right.” But that’s part of the job.
Given your longevity with the show, though, do you speak out in those moments?
As a matter of fact I just did that. There was a scene written where they had me saying things that I did not feel were true from her point of view and I’ve played the part for so long that I know her better than anybody — I know how she will respond. And they certainly respect that and nine times out of 10 they’ll let me change it. We do have a responsibility to the fans to not just play a scene completely wrong and get the fans upset because they’ve been with us all these years and they know how these different characters should respond as well. So we need to be true to that.
How does it feel to be back on set now, in the middle of a pandemic?
It’s extremely different. We all walk around saying we feel like we’re in “The Twilight Zone.” We can’t touch each other, we can’t hug each other — and we haven’t seen each other in 4 1/2 months and all we want to do is hug, and we can’t. We can’t even walk out onto the stage by ourselves; we have to be escorted by stage managers. They’re very, very careful and I do appreciate how diligent they’re being with us in this return. And I’m afraid it’s going to be a very long time, if ever, before we get back to what it used to be.
What made you comfortable enough to say you would return now?
They let us know the safeguards that they were going to have in place, from testing several times a week to the dressing rooms and sets and everything prepped for you. After you’re not there anymore, they prep it again for the next day. It’s just so very structured now and the actors are considered to be in the most vulnerable group, what they call Zone A, I think. So everybody else just kind of parts like the Red Sea when they see an actor coming. On the first day I said, “Hey this is great, where’s this been all my life?” But of course it’s not so great.
Things you didn’t know about Melody Thomas Scott:
Hometown: Los Angeles, Calif.
Cause she cares about: RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)
Currently reading: “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most
Dangerous Man” by Mary L. Trump
On her commute she listens to: Howard Stern
Currently binge-watching: “The Sopranos”