Corbin Bernsen: How ‘L.A. Law’ Taught Him Lessons For Successful 34-Year Marriage to Amanda Pays
Corbin Bernsen, best known for his Emmy-nominated portrayal of divorce attorney Arnie Becker on L.A. Law, had an epiphany on a recent visit to Hawaii. “We hear on the news such differences of opinions and this antagonism toward one another,” he tells Closer. “I was looking at the sunset. I just thought, ‘I wish all these people who are so bitter toward one another could just look at this and go, ‘Why? What are we doing?’ Because God has created this extraordinary gift — this planet — and it’s just amazing.”
As Corbin, 68, has evolved as a performer, director and writer, he’s begun to explore more of life’s big questions. His latest project, a six-part docuseries streaming on Pure Flix, is called Journey of Faith. It centers on a period of his life when a difficult movie filmed in an isolated location with limited resources helped strengthen his relationship with the divine.
So how did Journey of Faith come about?
“In 2010, I made a movie called Rust. Journey of Faith is about the making of that film and me reestablishing, reaffirming, reconnecting with my faith. We filmed in the little town of Kipling, Saskatchewan, Canada. We had the good sense to film it all. Now, 10-odd years later, we put all that together for Journey of Faith.”
So, this really is a very personal project?
“Yes. Sharing this tale of how I reestablished my faith after my father passed, it is a personal thing. But I’m not one of these actors who considers himself a Christian and will only do certain kinds of movies. I do everything. I believe that whatever path I am on is for a purpose.”
Was acting always your passion?
“No. My mother, Jeanne Cooper, was a wonderful actress on The Young and the Restless for 40 years. My dad was a producer and an agent. So, I grew up in the business. Then, as a child, I went and saw the play Oliver in New York and I wanted to be Oliver — it’s still one of my favorite little musicals.”
So, what changed?
“In my teens, I saw more of the financial instability, and then my parents went through a nasty separation. That made me think I wanted nothing to do with the business. But at 19, it resurfaced again. I went to UCLA and got my master’s degree in playwriting.”
Was your family supportive?
“My father always embraced it. My mother said, ‘You can do whatever you want, but if you want my blessing, you’re going to go and train yourself.’ She was a dedicated actress who had studied and trained.”
Sounds like she was looking out for you.
“Yes. She was telling me that it’s a hard up-and-down business. You don’t slowly move up the corporate ladder. Even if you get something huge like L.A. Law, 10 years later you can be looking for a job and selling the house you bought from your big show. At 68, I am still trying to find an even keel. We’ve been very blessed, but the bumps in the road were big. That’s why my mother said study, because you have to love it.”
Of course, ‘L.A. Law’ was huge for you. What do you remember most fondly about those days?
“My favorite memory is how it was such a big breakout for all of us. It was this great family with such camaraderie. We had fun for eight years as all our careers grew. It was like, ‘I’m getting a car! I’m doing a house now.’ All our careers launched at the same time.”
Who were you closest with?
“I worked very closely with Susan Ruttan, who played my secretary. I always thought that she was the key to Arnie’s success. He looked like the wealthy guy who got all the girls, but when he was alone with her, he realized how unhappy and how miserable he was. She was also miserable in her own way, so together as friends, they made each other feel better. I think that so often happens in life where this unsuspecting relationship is so meaningful and powerful, and the ones that you think are meaningful and powerful aren’t really.”
How did fame change you?
“It gives you some money and to some degree freedom to explore. Also, freedom from the fear of where’s the next dime coming from. I think it also gave me some perspective on the world and opened it up a bit to me.”
You married Amanda Pays way back in 1988. What is your secret for happiness?
“Maybe L.A. Law taught me this, but I could go out and date this woman or that, but one to the next wasn’t going to make me any happier. I trust and put faith in the path I have with my wife — for better or worse. You stick to it, that’s the secret. And the real secret is that if you stick on that path long enough, you get to Oz.”
You have four adult sons. Do you have any grandchildren yet?
“No, but my oldest son just got married this summer, so we’ll see. It’s the piece that I would like to fall into place more than anything. But I am very happy with what I have now, too.”
You and Amanda don’t live in Los Angeles anymore. What made you move east?
“Well, after L.A. Law, we moved to England for four years because my wife is English. Today, two of my kids are on the East Coast and two are in L.A. And I can work from wherever. So, we discovered this wonderful little paradise in the Hudson Valley of New York. We decided to get off the big wheel, take some time to make sure we recognized each other, and have a little bit of nature around us. L.A. can be a lot of concrete, so instead I am waking up to deer, trees, birds and bees.”
Is it true that you’re a carpenter?
“I’m what I call a rough carpenter. I don’t make beautiful, handcrafted furniture. I’m not sure I have the patience for that. I love building decks, fences and framing houses.”
Is there anything else you’d like to accomplish in your career?
“I’m writing a lot now. I just wrote a series called Woodstock. It’s about two guys who went to Woodstock and never left and the failed dream of the 1960s. I thought that it’d be fun to portray two old hippies living in today’s time. Oddly, coming back after COVID, the whole notion of growing your own garden sounds pretty appealing.”