The impending loss of The Bold and the Beautiful's Stephanie Forrester (Susan Flannery), who will die of cancer early next month, is resulting in some mighty profound and surprisingly uplifting TV. And a good share of the credit for that must go to John McCook, the beloved suds vet who plays Stephanie's stalwart hubby and soulmate, Eric. TV Guide Magazine spoke with McCook to get his take on this sad saga and found out he's amazingly happy about it!
TV Guide Magazine: This is just as much Eric's story as it is Stephanie's, don't you think?
McCook: It is! When I first heard Susan was retiring [from the role], I went to [exec producer] Brad Bell and said, "What will we do? How do we handle this? What's going to happen to me?" [Laughs] Because, as an actor, it's all about me, of course! But Brad is using this great loss to refocus B&B in a new, really exciting direction. Of course, right now everyone is watching how Stephanie deals with this as the days tick down but in time it very much becomes Eric's story and I'm really excited to have it. This is a huge change for our show and for me, personally. Eric has kind of been in Stephanie's shadow in recent years, even in business. [Laughs] Even in mourning! She won't even let him grieve the way he wants to grieve. She's running everything from the catbird seat, telling everyone how to be sad! But, yeah, Eric will be getting his power back.
TV Guide Magazine: Meaning what? He'll take command of Forrester Creations?
McCook: Well, he's definitely cracking the whip! He'll be pushed forward to be a mentor and disciplinarian to these young people who are creative and good at what they do but don't have the gravitas to handle an international business. They're too busy trying to get laid on Eric's desk! So he's going to start showing them how to run a corporation and that's been really fun to shoot. I've pulled up my bootstraps and am so engaged working with these young actors! It's funny. One of the foreign journalists who covers B&B asked me, "Is the loss of Susan Flannery the beginning of the end for your show?" I said, "You stop right there! This is the end of the first 25 years. This is only the end of the beginning. And now there's a new beginning." But for now the energy and focus has been put on Susan and her wonderful persona. We are so glad to honor and salute who she is. [Laughs] The whole CBS building is resplendent in Susan Flannery glory! This is such a big loss for me. You can't get your mind around it. Two or three months from now, I'll still be showing up at work going, "Where the f--k is Susan?"
TV Guide Magazine: Eric will throw Stephanie a blowout goodbye party [airing Nov. 9 and 12-13]. What's in store?
McCook: It's a wild, crazy Irish celebration of her life. Eric goes out and hires the group Celtic Woman to entertain and we have these sweet Irish dancers who get us all up on our feet doing the Riverdance thing. It's fantastic! I don't think soaps, as a rule, do the death of characters well enough, or even when a big character is taken off the canvas, like with Ridge. There's a tendency to sweep it under the rug and talk about it later. But, in Stephanie's case, we are doing it right! The audience mourns for the loss of their characters and, unless the show mourns too, it's a lost opportunity. This show has always had a matriarch and patriarch and now our matriarch will be gone. I hope we'll handle that realistically and be mourning the loss for years.
TV Guide Magazine: Your ex-wife, actress Juliet Prowse — with whom you shared a son — also died of cancer. Does it feel like you're replaying scenes from your own life?
McCook: It's very odd. That hadn't occurred to me until you mention it now. Juliet's death was a long time ago. We were together eight years and divorced four years or so before she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. But we remained very close and, as things were getting worse, I was going to see her all the time — me and our son together. I wanted her to know her family would remain together, loving one another, and it brought her great comfort. Juliet was like Stephanie in so many ways. Near the end, she turned down another round of medical treatments and said, "No, I want to be home and be with the people I love." She was a strong lady — as a dancer she could do two shows a night on a hamstring that was killing her — and she was very matter-of-fact about fatal disease. "Okay, everybody calm down. Let's make some plans. Let's be realistic about this." Again, just like Stephanie! A lot of people are not that way. They freak out and are afraid to die, or they don't talk things through honestly and openly with their loved ones. I think our audience will learn a lot from watching Stephanie's death process.
TV Guide Magazine: How was it to film your final scenes with Susan?
McCook: She's been my TV wife for 25 years, almost as long as I've been married to my real wife [actress Laurette Spang], so we couldn't help but go to a really emotional place. After all, we're not only losing each other as characters but as actors, too, and we indulged all those feelings. As usual, Susan was a titan. It was huge thing to play. It was dramatic. It was beautiful. Eric and Stephanie are just so wonderfully amused with each other because they've survived as a couple. They've hurt each other, offended each other, stepped in shit together all along the way, but somehow they've managed to build a wonderful life and create a marvelous family. And their love endures, stronger than ever. It's such a dark and awful thing to have Stephanie die but we're bringing the light to every scene. Usually on soaps, you're pulling up a chair at the hospital bed. This is so much better than that. There will be no deathbed for this exit!
TV Guide Magazine: You're a born-in-a-trunk kind of showman. Can you ever imagine retiring from B&B?
McCook: Oh, hell no! [Laughs] I always tell Laurette, "One day they'll call you from B&B and say, 'He's dead. Come get him!'" I want to be the really old guy on our show. I want to be Macdonald Carey. I don't want to quit. There's no reason for an actor to quit! I think Susan's gonna miss this like crazy, the camaraderie on the set, all the bullshitting with the crew, the excitement of a job well done. For God's sake, I want to keep showing up no matter what's wrong with me. A severe limp? Gastric problems? Puh-leeze. I'm going to act until I can't!
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