Soap Star, Austin Peck - Using His Soap Box

Soap star Austin Peck’s good looks have won him female fans around the world, but this model-turned-actor tells Lynelle Lawrence, he would rather be known for the way God’s love is changing who he is on the inside.

by Lynelle Lawrence

Days of Our Lives character "Austin Reed" cradles his TV wife in his strong arms, romancing her with candlelight and kisses. Later for a scene at the gym, his body glistens with sweat as he finishes a boxing workout, then wipes his handsome face with a towel. Soap star Austin Peck, who plays the good-hearted boxer-turned-executive on NBC’s No. 1 day-time drama, is well aware of his female fans’ reaction to scenes like these. Twice named to YM magazine’s "50 Most Beautiful Guys in the World" list, Peck receives so much national and international fan-mail every month (nearly 2,000 pieces), he’s employed someone to manage it.

But Peck is not entirely comfortable with all the attention to his appearance. "The whole hunk thing?" he says shaking his head. "I don’t want that to be the focal point."

At 27 Austin Peck is much happier being known for his nearly one-year-old faith in Christ. "I’ll confess Jesus anywhere," he says enthusiastically, sitting at a sidewalk table outside an eatery in Santa Monica, California.

After traveling the world as a high-fashion model, appearing in dozens of spreads for Esquire, GQ, Vogue Hommes and British Vogue, he admits: "I’m in a position where people are curious about what I have to say. If I can confess Jesus with all my heart that might mean something to somebody."

As if on cue a young mother seated at the next table overhears Peck’s comments and leans over to interject above the street noise, "Praise the Lord!"

Peck’s face breaks into a grin. "See," he says, "just like that."

He chats with the woman, who confides that she’s new to California and struggling to find friends who share her faith. Peck is quick to recommend several Bible-based churches in the area and even invites her to attend his own.

It’s not until after he leaves that she finds out who he is. "A soap actor? Really? She looks surprised, then shrugs, "I guess it’s his job," she says, adding that hearing him speak so openly about Jesus greatly encouraged her.

Encouraging others is one of Peck’s greatest joys these days. Now an avid church-goer, he also hosts a weekly fellowship night at his home, what he calls a "strengthening time" for Christian friends in the entertainment industry–a time to relax, talk, pray, laugh, eat, open up about personal struggles and "get to know each other really well in the Lord."

At Days of Our Lives, Peck is pleased with the Austin Reed character he plays–a married man loyal to his wife, morally strong and forgiving. "He’s not (a Christian), but he strives to be the best he can be, in his understanding of it," Peck muses. "He has a lot of Christian traits in a sense."

Even viewers think Reed’s good. "I feel your character is a great guy," Nina from Houston wrote during one of Peck’s popular online chats for NBC’s TV Central Web site. "But sometimes he can be too nice."

So what if the script someday calls for someone not so nice?

Peck, under a Days of Our Lives contract for two years admits he’s not looking to play only wholesome 7th Heaven characters. "You can play a bad guy as long as it doesn’t glorify what he’s doing." he explains, pointing to examples in Shakespearean drama. "All (Shakespeare’s) characters reap what they sow."

Applying this to the world of soap operas, Peck tells about anoter character on his show, Sami Brady, a bad girl. "She’s always miserable, he says. "She reaps all the time. Some people love her and think she’s great." A wicked smile crosses his face, "You know, those people love their sin."

Exactly the criticism from some Hollywood-boycotting Christians. "I would love there to be more of a presence of God, of His laws and His commandments," Peck responds. But he believes that change won’t come through "finger pointing and judging. I think what Hollywood needs more than anything is prayer–understanding and prayer."

The power of prayer is something this man knows a bit about. He tells of a series of introductions to Jesus: the years his Catholic grandmother read him Bible stories, the time he met people passing out Christian tracts on the street, the day someone gave him a tiny New Testament Bible that captivated his attention.

But it wasn’t until his early 20s, while living in New York City and studying acting, that Peck began to put it all together. It was at about that time he started to struggle with rage, pent up anger and frustration that he attributes in part to feeling lost after his parents’ divorce when he was four years old. At first Peck felt that his anger gave him power. "Then I’d find myself being abusive verbally," he says quietly, "and almost sometimes physically."

His older sister, who had become a Christian, urged Peck to ask God for help–pray. He remembers one prayer in particular, "I was walking up 10th street and I said, ‘God my life is Yours. I give my life to You.’" He knew he’d said something very serious, and that he meant every word, but today laughs at his lack of understanding. "(God) was like, ‘OK, Austin, but you have no idea who I am. You don’t know my Son. See, before you can come to Me, you’ve got to get to know My Son.’"

That would come later. First Peck landed the role of Days of Our Lives. Moving to Los Angeles, where the show is taped, brought him geographically closer to his sister, whom he credits with continually challenging him about his commitment to God.

"People may not think I’m smart," he says laughing, "but I was a tough nut to crack. I tested the Word of God for three years (before becoming a Christian)."

One such test: He was talked into appearing on the cover of Playgirl magazine in September 1996, shirtless, wearing suspenders and a mischievous grin. "From Days of Our Lives To The Nights Of Our Dreams" the blurb printed over his left shoulder teased. No nude photos accompanied the article inside, but Peck deeply regrets the incident and vows he’d never do it again. "They say the closer you come to the Lord the harder the devil fights for you," he reflects. "I think that’s what happened to me."

Someone else was fighting for him too.

One day Peck’s sister asked him, "What’s the most important thing in your life?"

"Myself," Peck answered, thinking it was some sort of trick question. ("I figured if you love yourself, then you could love others.")

"Why isn’t it God?" his sister prodded him. "God says, ‘You’re either for Me or you’re against Me. You either serve Me or you’re a slave of the devil.’ " That said, she left her brother alone.

"She was praying," Peck says, giving him time to think. Her words resonated with something inside him. "I had this person that I wanted to be and I had really gone so far from that kind of person," he says. "I had no strength to be that person."

He wanted peace, freedom from his anger, and he couldn’t get the Gospel message out of his head. He chose Jesus.

Today Peck says he’s learning to "walk by faith not by feeling." asking himself what Jesus would do when confronted with difficult situations.

He admits this new faith has not come without a price. As he speaks of lost friendships, and the end of a four-and-a-half year relationship with his longtime girlfriend, there is obvious sadness.

Though his now "single and looking" status may elicit cheers from female fans, Peck says he’s looking a different way than he ever has before: "She’s got to love Jesus," he says emphatically. "She’s got to love God."

These days Peck is seeing many things with new eyes. He cites a verse from the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 2:15 ("For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing"), and says he sees his soul as a priceless Ming vase, unique and beautiful, but not truly complete unless used for its intended purpose.

Once he filled that vase with sewer water and rotting, day-old grocery store flowers, "the ones you just know are going to die," he says, shaking his head. "But they look great when you see them (in the store), so you buy them anyway."

When he accepted Christ, Peck says, God dumped out the rot and filth, and rinsed the vase clean, filling it with holy water and fresh flowers that will never die. "We put ourselves in sinful situations," he says. "God has the mercy and grace and love to save us–and turn it into good."

Lynelle Lawrence is a freelance writer and author based in Los Angeles, California.