"I don't think any actor in this business ever thinks they'll be playing the same role for 40 years," Melody Thomas Scott tells PEOPLE

By Nicole Sands
February 20, 2019 12:30 PM
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Melody Thomas Scott is celebrating 40 years of playing the fabulous Nikki Reed Newman on The Young and the Restless.

“I don’t think any actor in this business ever thinks they’ll be playing the same role for 40 years,” the actress tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue (on stands Friday) about her fan-favorite character, which was first introduced on Feb. 20, 1979. “There are very few people that make it that far, so I feel extremely blessed.”

CBS will air a special episode Wednesday at 12 p.m. ET/PT to mark the milestone, featuring vintage flashbacks from iconic past episodes to pay tribute to Scott’s character on the daytime soap opera. The episode will also focus on Nikki’s current story, as she sits locked up in jail while penning a letter to her grandchildren about the details of her fascinating life and marriage to marriage to Victor (played by Eric Braeden).

Eric Braeden (as Victor Newman) and Melody Thomas Scott (as Nikki Reed Newman)
CBS via Getty

“It’s the kind of thing that straws along and happens — you don’t think about it,” the 62-year-old actress adds. “You’re just busy doing what you love to do and then all of the sudden your production office tells you, ‘oh, your anniversary is coming up,’ and you just think, ‘oh my goodness, I can’t believe it’s been this long.'”

Evolving from “a poor girl from the wrong side of the track” into “the matriarch of Genoa City,” Nikki’s “bad attitude” has come a long way in four decades — but Scott admires her for it.

“Nikki is much more cultured, but, on the other hand, she still leads with her heart instead of her mind,” she says about what she loves most about her character. “She’s never really learned lessons from the debacles that have happened, and I think that makes her still rather endearing to the fans.”

Melody Thomas Scott as Nikki Newman on The Young and the Restless
CBS via Getty

“No matter what heights Nikki reaches, she’s still underneath it all and pretty naïve, even though she’s learned how to use her femininity and her money and her standing in the community to her benefit, but she’s still, underneath it all, pretty lost,” she adds.

Call it fate — or encouragement from an agent who knows best! — but Scott was once a young “frustrated comedian” looking to pick up a quick television role to kickstart her career.

“I remember my talent test and I remember being very nonchalant about the whole thing because the same week I had gotten a sitcom pilot for NBC, and I’m such a frustrated comedian that I, of course, wanted to do that pilot,” she says, while remembering her first year on the show. “My agent [said], ‘oh, come on…it’s only three years…you’ll have a lot of fun,’ and I listened to her because I trusted her, in spite of the fact that I wanted to do the sitcom.”

Melody Thomas Scott, who was secretly pregnant at the time, graces the cover of PEOPLE in 1982

For more on Melody Thomas Scott celebrating 40 years on The Young and the Restless, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

“Well, the moral of that story is always listen to your agent because boy is she right because the sitcom never got past the pilot stage, so it was definitely the right decision,” Scott says with a laugh.

And, boy, was she happy she listened. Although the storyline of Nikki and Victor’s undying love saga “has to be the most precious part of the show for me,” Scott owes it to Y&R for introducing her to her own real-life love: she married executive producer Edward J. Scott in 1985.

Melody Thomas Scott and husband producer Edward Scott
Getty

“Nikki didn’t just change my career, but it changed the course of my entire life in allowing me to meet my future husband, who’s responsible for the children I had,” says the mother of three. “It just really changed my life in a profound way, and I’m also very grateful for that.”

Scott’s long-running role on Y&R has opened doors that led her to places she would have never expected, such as her friendship with the late Aretha Franklin.

“I had been at work all day and I had had a long, hard day, I was tired and cranky,” Scott says of the moment she met the music icon early in her career. “I lived near a pretty expensive newsstand and I’m there looking through magazines, again, not in the best of moods and I kind of notice this woman a few feet away from me also perusing through magazines, and I caught the look she had on her face – after a while you recognize a fan’s shock at seeing you.”

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“I hadn’t yet learned how to be humble with my fans and this story taught me a huge lesson,” she continues about the craziest fan encounter she’s had in 40 years. “The woman comes up behind me, taps me on the shoulder and I kind of spun around very rudely, and she said, ‘excuse me, don’t you play Nikki on The Young and The Restless?’ and I’m like, ‘yes, yes, yes’ – I just was terrible – and she extends her hand out to me for me to shake it and she says, ‘Aretha Franklin, good to meet you.'”

  • For more, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
Art Streiber

“Well! Aretha Franklin! And I had just been so rude to Aretha Franklin! I just wanted to fall into a hole and I started to apologize and I started to carry on about how great I thought she was,” she says. “Well, may I say, the few times we ran into each other for business reasons at award shows or whatever, since then, she never forgot that night at the newsstand. I’m telling you, the last time I saw her before she passed on, she was still reminding me of that. It was a huge, huge lesson – never be rude no matter how tired you are; always be gracious!”

Melody Thomas Scott
Robert Voets/CPT

Aside from traveling, reading and wishing her beloved terrier Reilly would “live forever,” Scott’s “sick actress answer” to what makes her the most happy in her day-to-day life is simple: her career.

“Being on a set, being on a soundstage, breathing in that air, just being there in the center of your joy – that’s it for me and there’s nothing better,” she says.