Since I was talking about recasts last time, I thought it would be interesting to delve into one particular character who has been recast multiple times. When Jack Deveraux was first introduced, he played a pivotal role in the plot, as an obstacle for Steve and Kayla. He was played by three different actors in the space of six months. Let’s take a peek at what each of these actors brought to the role, and how that in turn affected the story.
Some background: on the eve of Jack’s appearance, Steve and Kayla have been on a roller coaster of a supercouple love story for almost a year. Steve continues to push Kayla away because he feels he doesn’t deserve her, but Kayla continues to press him. One night, Kayla goes out on a limb and, for the first time, tells Steve she loves him. Steve sends her away, but then has a change of heart and rushes over to her apartment to declare his love in return. Instead of Kayla, though, the door is opened by this guy:
Jack’s appearance is perfectly timed. The show has just gotten to the point where Kayla’s constant chasing of Steve, and his repeated waffling rejections of her, are negatively affecting the balance of power. One thing Steve has told Kayla over and over again is how much wants her to meet someone else, someone better. When Jack appears, it seems that he’s gotten his wish—and Steve finds out how little he likes the idea. Suddenly the shoe is on the other foot.
Here is Jack #1, and Jealous!Steve, in action (Jack comes in at about 1:07):
Steve meets Jack
This is likely an unpopular opinion, but I really like the first Jack (Joseph Adams). He has a nice low-key chemistry with Mary Beth Evans, which is very important for establishing him as a credible threat. Unlike Matt Ashford’s version, there is nothing supercilious about this Jack. In the clip above, there’s a terribly awkward moment when Steve asks Jack about Kayla’s bikini line (Jack and Kayla met in Hawaii.) Jack is taken aback but smooths over the moment by saying that Kayla looks good in a bikini, but “she looks good in anything.”
Steve’s attempts to dismiss Jack as a snob are repeatedly shown to be unfair. They end up working together on a low-income housing project, and Jack treats him as an equal. When Steve finally admits that Jack is “more than just a senator’s son,” Jack is flattered and pleased. He cares what Steve thinks of him.
As we all know, Jack later is revealed to be Steve’s brother, so it’s a bonus that Joseph Adams bears a strong resemblance to Stephen Nichols. Right after Jack joined the show back in 1987, a friend of mine guessed, based on that resemblance (and her knowledge of soap logic), that Jack was going to turn out to be Steve’s long lost brother. I was delighted with this idea, and I think it’s part of the reason I love Joseph Adams and this storyline so much. I originally spent this whole period eagerly looking forward to the reveal (in a soapy, masochistic way, of course). Imagine my disappointment and disgust when, not long before it happened, Joseph Adams was replaced with this bozo:
… which completely took the wind out of my sails. Oh, I’m still bitter! It was bad enough having to deal with the angst of the Steve and Kayla breakup, but I also had to deal with the letdown of my much-anticipated plot twist falling so flat. So why did they get rid of a perfectly good Jack and replace him with such a horrendous one? I think they were planning the rape by this time, and they worried Jack #1 would not be credible as a rapist. He was too nice and easygoing.
So, we move on to Jack #2. Here’s James Acheson’s first appearance as Jack, in all his wooden glory (he comes in about 4:30):
You might think it’s unfair to judge an actor so harshly based on his first day, but I can say with authority that he never, ever gets any better. Never, ever, ever, ever. I’ll be fair, though: it’s a thankless role. Jack as written went from being all around good guy, interested in Kayla but not high pressure about it, to a guy who always turned up at the wrong moment, blathering about how much he loved Kayla and how bad Steve was for her. Jack has to retain the delusion that he will win Kayla over even after she has reunited with Steve. This leads to a lot of condescending “I know what Kayla needs better than she does” scenes like the one above.
Moving on, Steve is on the verge of proposing to Kayla when he finds out that 1) Jack is his long-lost brother and 2) he is dying. This leads Steve to break up with Kayla in the hope that she will give his brother a reason to live (in that time-honored manner typical of soaps).
Jack lays it on thick, basically blackmailing Kayla into marrying him:
“Oh, I feel better already, just looking at your pretty face. If I knew we had a future together, it would give me the strength to beat this thing.”
Gag. So yeah, it’s a thankless role. But there are moments that another actor could have done more with. There’s a scene where Jack teases Kayla about whether she would find him attractive if he lost all his hair (from the chemotherapy). There are scenes where Jack sees how much Kayla is hurting from the breakup and tries to offer her a shelter from the storm of her pain. But Wooden Jack brings nothing to these scenes. My last time through the clips I imagined Joseph Adams in the role instead, and I think his natural likability, and his friendly chemistry with Mary Beth Evans, would have made the whole storyline work better. (Doubtless I would have hated the character anyway, but I wouldn’t know how good I had it!)
Because the real trouble is that Wooden Jack is a void at the heart of the story. Jack is a plot device, but he is the linchpin upon which everything else turns. Steve’s joy at finding his brother again, his sacrifice on his brother’s behalf, Kayla’s willingness to marry Jack to save his life—these actions and motivations would feel more real if Jack felt more real. Don’t get me wrong, Stephen Nichols and Mary Beth Evans knock it out of the park. But James Acheson’s Jack is so bad that he can’t even fulfill his basic function, which is to be human enough that we care whether he lives or dies.
So Kayla and Jack marry. Plot shenanigans ensue, culminating in Steve having to rescue Kayla from the Deveraux mansion. Kayla and Steve reunite. By this time, we are onto our third Jack, Matt Ashford:
Unlike the first two Jacks, Matt could play Jack’s dark side, and he did it beautifully, starting the night of the rape. Here’s a couple of clips:
But, backing up a little, Matt also did very well when Jack was still mostly a generic obstacle. Here he is, finding his wife in a bedroom with another man (comes in at 1:48):
As it’s written, we’re not far from Wooden Jack “I love you Kayla/ Steve is bad for you” territory. But Matt Ashford brings so much more to the role. First of all, his clothing and body language more clearly mark a class difference between Steve and Jack. And I love how Matt perfectly conveys Jack’s dilemma: Jack is torn between his jealousy and desire to confront Steve, and his desire to take Kayla back. If he confronts Steve, he has to acknowledge what is going on; if he does that, his pride won’t let him take her back. So he refrains. You can see that Stephen and Mary Beth have so much more to play off of in Matt then they did in James Acheson. I think TPTB very quickly recognized his potential, and were already gearing up to spin him off into his own story.
Sigh. Those were the days.