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‘This is the raw me’: A trip down memory lane with soap opera icon Melody Thomas Scott

As the star of "The Young and the Restless" marks 45 years on the daytime soap opera, she's looking back on her iconic career with TODAY.com.
Three photos of Melody Thomas Scott at various points in her career
Kelsea Petersen / TODAY Illustration
/ Source: TODAY

After starring on daytime television's No. 1 drama for four and a half decades, you'd almost understand if Melody Thomas Scott had let some of her immense success go to her head. But the star is anything but dramatic in her real life. In fact, she's refreshingly authentic.

"You have me on a day off. This is the raw me — no hair, no makeup," the fresh-faced beauty says as we kick off a Zoom call.

It's a special time for Scott, who is celebrating 45 years of playing Nikki Newman on "The Young and the Restless," the wildly popular CBS soap opera that's been on the air for 50 years. And she's the first to acknowledge how unique this achievement is, calling the experience "almost otherworldly."

"I’m so grateful for everything this show has done for me. It’s incredible," she says while taking our interview in her backyard, the California sun shining in the background.

The 67-year-old recently celebrated her impressive career milestone by organizing a volunteer event at Project Angel Food with some of her co-stars, whom she describes as part of her "family."

"I know a lot of people like to say that, but we really are. So many of us have been (on the show) for decades, and I think that’s such a wonderful thing for storytelling," she tells TODAY.com.

Melody Thomas Scott
Melody Thomas Scott stars as Nikki Newman on "The Young and the Restless." Sonja Flemming / CBS

One of those co-stars is Eric Braeden, who plays Scott's on-screen husband, business tycoon Victor Newman. The pair have worked together since 1980, when Braeden joined "The Young and the Restless," and Scott describes him as "brilliant" and "one of a kind."

"We adore each other. We both feel very blessed to have the other as our scene mates for all these years. And, of course, we have that elusive chemistry that nobody can explain. You can’t make it. So it just either is or isn’t," she notes.

From child actor to soap opera legend: Scott's enduring career

Scott got her start as a child actor, so she’s well aware that long careers in Hollywood are never guaranteed.

"For an actor to have a job last 45 years is unheard of," she says.

Raised by her grandmother, Scott was "pushed into the business" at a young age. But she's quick to note that she "did love it."

After starting her career at 3 years old, Scott began to perform in USO shows and book commercials and TV guest spots. She also had a recurring role on “The Waltons.”

When she was 8, the budding actor starred as the younger version of Tippi Hedren's character in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Marnie.” Over time, Scott would work with several acting legends, including Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Kirk Douglas. She also almost scored the role of Marcia Brady in "The Brady Bunch."

"Life takes twists and turns, and I kind of got away from acting for a while. I was into piano. I was supposedly supposed to be a concert pianist. That’s what all my teachers and my grandmother wanted. And I just realized I love my piano, but I don’t love it as much as acting," she explains.

Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman on "The Young and The Restless" in 1981.
Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman on "The Young and the Restless" in 1981.CBS Photo Archive

Following a break from acting, Scott returned to her true passion.

"I was so fortunate to be able to step back into the acting world because that’s a rarity for child actors. It’s usually not going to happen for you. So it was almost fated," she says. "I look back at how I began at 3 years old and how it did eventually save me later on in life."

Landing the role of Nikki Newman

In 1979, Scott scored a role that would change her life forever. She was in her early 20s at the time and decided to step into the shoes of Nikki Newman, whom she describes as a "girl from the wrong side of the tracks (with a) bad attitude.”

These days, her character is well-known as one half of the iconic duo of Nikki and Victor Newman. She's an accomplished businesswoman and a devoted wife and mother of two adult children with Victor: Nick (Joshua Morrow) and Victoria (Amelia Heinle).

Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman and Joseph Taylor (behind Melody, in white suit) on "The Young and the Restless" on 1984.
Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman in 1984.CBS Photo Archive

But early on in her character's story, Nikki was a bit more rough around the edges and worked as a stripper, a storyline that Scott wasn't particularly fond of.

"I did not like that story when we were doing it, but that was just based on my insecurity. I’m not a very good dancer. Of course, they hired choreographers to make me look good. But I always felt kind of like an impostor getting up on that stage," she recalls.

At the time, TV censors required that Scott wear pantyhose while she was stripping, and that wasn't exactly practical.

"I just felt that I didn’t have the fluidity required to dance gracefully up there," she explains.

Ironically, Nikki was never even supposed to be a stripper. Instead, she was originally destined to be a mud wrestler.

"So I got called into the executive producer’s office. I thought, 'Oh, my gosh. Oh, my gosh. I guess I’m being fired.' Because why else does anybody get called in? And he said, 'What would you think about Nikki being a mud wrestler?' And I was so relieved that I wasn’t being fired. I was like, 'Great, cool,'" she recalls.

To prepare for the storyline, Scott and several of her friends practiced mud wrestling, but the show shifted course and made Nikki a stripper instead.

"I think I would have been more comfortable slinging mud around than taking my clothes off. But whatever. You see, that was my fate," she says.

Four and a half decades of daring storylines

Nikki has come a long way from her early stripping days, and Scott has also tackled many other audacious storylines since then. One she has always enjoyed? Nikki's battle with alcoholism.

It's a storyline that "The Young and the Restless" has recently revisited with Nikki's enemy Jordan (Colleen Zenk) jeopardizing her sobriety by giving her an IV filled with alcohol. Ever since then, Nikki has once again struggled with her old demons.

"Back in the day when Nikki first was playing (an alcoholic), I loved it. It was so much fun. So to have it come back all these years later and have it not be Nikki’s fault, that was really the thing that made it so interesting," she says.

"The Young and the Restless" actress Melody Thomas Scott with cast members (L-R) Eric Braeden, Jeanne Cooper and Doug Davidson
Scott celebrates her 25th anniversary on "The Young and the Restless" in 2004. Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

While confronting her alcoholism over the years, Nikki has appeared in several scenes that required Scott to look more raw on screen. And it's something she hasn't shied away from.

"I mean, you see me on camera looking beyond my worst," she says. "I just think that to be playing a story like that where, you know, if you show up drunk and in a gutter, but your hair and makeup are perfect, that’s not reality. And especially this storyline with Jordan, you saw me tied to the bed and just a total mess."

Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman on "The Young and The Restless."
Scott's character Nikki Newman struggling with her alcoholism.Sonja Flemming / CBS

Many actors might be nervous about appearing on screen without the help of their glam squad, but Scott is a natural beauty who is quite comfortable in her own skin.

"A lot of people are like, 'Oh, look at her. Oh, we thought she was so pretty.' But no, I don’t care about that. I don’t know why for an actress I utterly lack vanity," she says.

I don’t know why for an actress I utterly lack vanity.

melody thomas scott

Offscreen, Scott has been married to husband Edward Scott since 1985, and the couple share three daughters. She had the opportunity on "The Young and the Restless" to have her two real-life pregnancies written into the series. Her first pregnancy was even turned into a storyline that was quite daring for the ‘80s, prompting viewers to debate who the father of Nikki’s baby was. The way her pregnancy came to be in real life was also considered nontraditional for the time, as she and her partner, Carlos Yeaggy — who was also her makeup artist, were not married (she had previously been married twice before this relationship). Scott wrote in her memoir about how the “Y&R” team supported her after learning of her baby news and wrote that the fans “ate” up the iconic baby storyline.

“The pregnancy, and the question of whose it was, became a huge moment in the show and pop culture in general,” Scott wrote.

Eric Braeden as Victor and Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman as they renew their wedding vows on "The Young and The Restless."
Eric Braeden as Victor Newman and Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman.Sonja Flemming / CBS

While reflecting on the storyline with us, Scott says, "I was not really savvy enough in the daytime world to even appreciate all the attention we got. Now, I look back and I think, 'Wow, what a heady time that was.' I was just grateful that I didn’t have to walk around the set hiding my pregnancy with a big plant or something."

A few years later, when Scott married her current husband, they each brought one daughter from previous relationships to their new family. The couple eventually tried to have a child of their own, and when Scott got pregnant, "The Young and the Restless" once again wrote it into the show’s storyline.

"The roles of Victoria and Nicholas were really created by my real-life children," she muses.

Nikki and Victor Newman: A love story for the ages

On "The Young and the Restless," Victor and Nikki have been married and divorced several times, and the couple will soon celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first wedding. It’s a dynamic that neither Scott nor Braeden could have predicted when they first started working together.

The Young and the Restless cast members Eric Braeden as Victor Newman and Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki on April 4, 1984.
Braeden and Scott on screen in 1984.CBS Photo Archive

"I started when I was 22 and Eric and I both remember when we got scripts for the following week that had us working together and we thought, 'Why would we be working together?'" she says. "We are the most unlikely pair. He’s the Howard Hughes of Genoa City, and Nikki’s this girl from the wrong side of the tracks (with a) bad attitude."

Looking back, Scott says the show’s writer, producer and co-creator Bill Bell was right in following his instincts.

"It didn’t take us long of working together before we thought, 'My gosh, he was right,' because we started feeling the sparks and the chemistry," she says.

Scott also credits Lee Bell, Bill Bell’s wife and co-creator of the show, with helping create TV magic with Nikki and Victor.

"God bless Bill Bell and Lee Bell. I mean, they really hit gold in putting us together, and we never would have expected that," she says.

The cast of "The Young and the Restless."
The cast of "The Young and the Restless."Paramount

Scott says she and Braeden have become "very close" over the years and describes him as "brilliant and wise" and "one of a kind." But she's quick to note that they are very different from their characters.

"We’re not Nikki and Victor in our real lives. We’re just Eric and Mel. And we have a lot of fun. He is very funny. A lot of people don’t realize that we spend a lot of time on the set laughing," she says.

When asked if she's like her character in any way, Scott says she really isn't.

"Of course, I’m much thinner and taller than she is," she teases.

Jeanne Cooper and Melody Thomas Scott play Katherine Chancellor and Nikki Newman on "The Young And The Restless."
Jeanne Cooper (aka Katherine Chancellor) and Scott on "The Young and the Restless." Monty Brinton / CBS via Getty Images

All joking aside, Scott says her character isn’t someone whose personality she would gravitate toward in real life.

"I’ve always said that I would never want to be Nikki’s friend because I don’t think she’s a very good friend," she says, adding that she "wouldn't trust her as a girlfriend."

Always young and restless: Sharing her story in a memoir

In 2020, Scott published her memoir, "Always Young and Restless: My Life On and Off America’s #1 Daytime Drama."

While writing about her difficult childhood, the actor gave her fans an honest look at the challenges she faced on her road to success. She also opened up about her experience with anxiety, panic disorders and agoraphobia, which all stem from childhood trauma.

"I did have a lot of adversity in my childhood, and when it’s in your childhood, it’s really tough to overcome. So I thought if I can give people hope, that was my only goal," she explains while reflecting on the book.

Nikki and Victor Newman joyfully reunite on the 10,000th episode of "The Young and The Restless."
Nikki and Victor Newman on the 10,000th episode of "The Young and the Restless."Sonja Flemming / CBS

On screen, Scott has also had the opportunity to raise awareness about other important health issues, like with Nikki’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. Though, she’s quick to give credit where credit is due.

"Well I can’t take credit for that. I don’t write it, although a lot of people think we do write it," she teases. "I have been fortunate to have stories like that that are educational, not just entertaining."

An enduring daytime legend

Over the years, Scott has heard from many fans of "The Young and the Restless" about their love for the show. She even ran into one very famous viewer, Bette Davis, in the '80s at an industry event.

"I was a presenter and the presenter who was going to appear after me, they were bringing her into the wings to be ready to make her entrance and I turn around and it’s Bette Davis. And I’m thinking, 'Oh, my God, Bette Davis,'" she recalls.

After being introduced to the acting legend, Scott discovered that Davis was a fan of "The Young and the Restless."

"She said, 'I know who you are, dear. I watch you every day.' And I thought, 'Oh, my goodness, Bette Davis watches 'The Young and the Restless,'" she says.

Joshua Morrow as Nick Newman, Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman, Eric Braeden as Victor Newman, and Amelia Heinle as Victoria Newman on ""The Young and The Restless."
Joshua Morrow as Nick Newman, Scott, Braeden and Amelia Heinle as Victoria Newman on "The Young and the Restless."Sonja Flemming / CBS

Years later, Scott saw a TV special about Davis and her rival Joan Crawford. Despite their very public feud, the two stars could agree on one thing, apparently: their love for soap operas.

"There are many scenes with Bette and Joan discussing what they thought of the latest episode of 'The Young and the Restless,'" Scott says.

While watching the special, Scott says she couldn't help but recall that chance encounter with Davis all those years ago.

"So now that’s pretty much well known that they compared notes daily even though they were supposed to be enemies. That was their one thing that they could agree on and talk about every day," she says.

It's stories like these that truly remind Scott of the power soap operas have to connect people.

"It’s such an honor to be part of this. It’s incredible," she says.