This interview originally appeared in the March 17, 1998 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
Ice skating since the age of 3, acting since the age of 5, Rebecca Herbst (Elizabeth) of GENERAL HOSPITAL came to a point in her young life where her dueling “hobbies” became a proposal. “When I was 15, I knew I had to choose one or the other,” Herbst, now 20, recalled. “I was starting high school and I knew how to do all three – play, skate and face high school – would burn me.
But which one to choose? After all, it was her – shall we say – inauspicious introduction to acting that helped keep Herbst from having to put his ice skating on in the first place. “The very first [acting] interview I came out for, I got,” she smiles. “It was for a toilet paper commercial. But the day I filmed it, I caught the flu and my mum’s car was towed away. We had no money, it was our first time in LA and my mom was freaking out [laughs]. Then, on the day of the actual shoot, my mother’s car died. After that, my parents told me: ‘You can’t do that anymore.’ Not after that first job.
Until the first paycheck arrives…. “When the checks started coming in, my parents realized, ‘Becky can keep skating if she pays like that,'” Herbst explains. “Ice skating is a very expensive sport and I come from a middle class family. My parents thought that as long as I wanted to do commercials, I could help pay for my ice skating. I loved doing both, so that’s what I did.
With his mother as his manager, Herbst managed to strike a healthy balance between school, skating, and occasional acting work for the next 10 years. This, until the aforementioned crossroads. “The girls I was competing against in skating were all homeschooled,” the actress sighs. “They were on the ice six hours a day, I was on the ice for two. I kept saying to myself, ‘If I don’t dream of going to the Olympics, where am I going with this?’ I am not a competitive person. I love skate, i hated in competition. And that’s pretty much what skating is.
And play is not it? “With acting, the competitiveness is more within yourself,” says Herbst. “There are so many times when you’re denied a job just because of someone’s opinion. I might not get a job because I don’t have brown eyes. It’s very different from the kind of physical competition you constantly face in skating. Focusing on the game has proven to be a huge relief. I could focus 100% of my attention on it, and I wanted that badly. It was like, ‘Finally, room to breathe.’
A few years later, after graduating from high school, Herbst chose acting again – this time over college. “It was a bit difficult when I first graduated,” she shares. “All my friends started going to college and moving out, and I was the only one left at home. I wasn’t in school, I wasn’t working; audition. I felt like a total loser. I was like, ‘What am I doing with myself? This is ridiculous.'”
Refusing to doubt herself, the naturally hot actress continued to pursue her dream. “I started interviewing for all these sitcoms and shows and stuff,” she recalls. “And it started to pay off.” After landing more commercials (“I did a public service commercial where I had to say, ‘I’m 15 and I have a baby. The guy who said he would love me forever left .””), Herbst’s first regular acting gig put her over the moon… so to speak.
“I got cast on a Nickelodeon show called SPACE CASES,” she smiles. “I played an alien and I had purple, blue, and red stripes in my hair that were permanently dyed. My hair was like that for about four months. I actually started buying clothes to match [laughs].” Next came a seven-episode stint on the now-canceled NBC sitcom BROTHERLY LOVE. “My character was a 15-year-old floozy,” Herbst smiles. “In my first episode, I had to play her drunk. By the seventh episode, however, she did this whole turnaround. I loved doing that.
But not as much as she loved her next job offer: the chance to star intriguing Lizzie on GH. “I was thrilled,” enthused Herbst. “I mean, my mom used to watch GENERAL HOSPITAL when she was nursing me!” Introduced last August as Jeff Webber’s troublesome younger daughter (meaning the bad girl counterpart to his sister Sarah’s good girl), Herbst admits to feeling some trepidation at first. “I felt a bit lost because GH is such a big family,” she says. But everyone was so pleasant. And because of that, I have a whole new circle of friends. jonathan [Jackson, Lucky] is really cool and Jennifer [Sky, Sarah] and I got closer.
And to complete that circle is Ingo Rademacher (Jax), who Herbst started dating shortly after joining GH. Although the two are no longer romantically involved, Herbst is quick to point out that they remain closer than ever. “Technically we’re not ‘dating’ anymore,” she notes, “but he’s more a part of my life now than before. We just figured out that we’re much better friends that way, and our friendship means the world to me. This change in our relationship was totally reciprocated, and we both view it as a positive thing. We appreciate each other; we cherish our time together. We still hang out and date, but that’s as a whole. ‘friends.
However, what little free time Herbst has these days is often spent decompressing his character’s decompression from his character’s harrowing rape story. “I sleep so much,” she smiles. “After recording those first rape scenes, I went home and slept for 14 hours. Part of me wasn’t even sure I could make it because I had never done anything like this. But I feel so honored that [GH] told me this story. As difficult as it is, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a story I can sink my teeth into. It’s real acting.
“I can’t even tell you how much I’m enjoying this experience,” continues Herbst. “GH is the best acting class I could be enrolled in right now. I do what I love and I learn what I love; That’s the whole story. Luckily for me, I understood quite early on what I wanted to do with my life, and I had this opportunity to seize the moment. I have been truly blessed.
As for hitting the ice, Herbst admits he laces up once in a while — for old times sake. “Once in a while I go skating with some of my old friends who I grew up skating with.” Herbst adds with a laugh, “Of course the only difference now is that we’ve all quit the sport!”
JUST THE FACTS
Date of Birth: May 12, 1977
California girl: “I grew up in Encino for the first 14 years of my life, then we moved to near Malibu.”
Yes, sew? : “I bought a sewing machine for my diploma. That was all I wanted, because I love to sew.
Face value: “I have always looked young. When I was 15, I looked 12. When I’m 23, I’ll still be 17.”
Animal magnetism: “I have a pet squirrel. I’ve had her since she was a baby. She lives in a cage with my rabbit.
All wet: “Out there [in California], people don’t know how to react to all the rain we’ve had. We don’t know how to drive in it.
Family matters: “I have a wonderful family. My parents are still together; they’ve been married for 28 years. And my older sister is my best friend in the world.