Ahead of her new documentary, the ’90s star opens up to PEOPLE about overcoming her insecurities
The former actress, who played Summer Quinn, spent most of her time on the show scantily clad and running along the beach with her hair flying in the wind.
She thought she had found her dream role, but Eggert wasn’t ready for the scrutiny that came with it. “I needed to get away from it,” says the actress, now 52, during a wide-ranging exclusive interview with PEOPLE at a Los Angeles diner. (Days prior, she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer, which she shared publicly with fans earlier this month.)
She felt the series exploited her body and looks, and she was already feeling emotionally fragile. Six years ago, Eggert alleged she was molested by her former Charles in Charge costar Scott Baio — who has repeatedly denied her claims — starting at age 14.
On set of Baywatch, filming began at five in the morning during the winter months, she recalls, and each day grew more tiresome. The repetitive, sexy slow-mo shots of her sporting a leggy, cherry-red one-piece were uncomfortable and awkward for her to shoot.
During her first day of shooting in 1992, Eggert was shocked. “Oh my God, we’re going to be in a bathing suit all day every day?” she remembers thinking.
Then it hit her. “I was like, ‘Oh, s---,'" she says, recalling her discomfort. Eggert believed she had auditioned for a spin-off series about kids at a Malibu high school.
She says now she hadn't been aware she was going to be a Baywatch lifeguard: “All the girls worked out and were super tiny and fit and I was like ‘Whoops.’ And the one-piece bathing suits were not flattering. I didn’t want to wear it at all.”
“It just wasn’t what I signed up for. It was a totally different show and ballgame and not where I wanted to be,” she says, adding that she chose to leave Baywatch after two seasons.
While Eggert grew up on the beaches of Southern California and was one of the strongest swimmers in the cast, she felt insecure about her appearance and sexuality.
While on a break from filming, Eggert decided to have breast implants at age 18. “I regret it now, of course,” she says.
“I look at all these younger girls doing it and think, ‘God, leave your bodies alone!’ But when you have to put on that one-piece and it's like you're so flat that it's like pleating — you got pleats across the front...” she continues. “You're like, ‘What is this?’ Nothing you can do. You can't stuff it with anything. You can't do anything.”
As she matured, she began to question the motivations behind her choice and the impact it had on her body image. “It was a stupid 18 year old decision,” she says, reflecting on going under the knife.
Since then she has had multiple breast augmentation surgeries, and in 2015 she appeared on E! reality show Botched to have her breast size reduced.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in July 2016, Baywatch‘s original producers, Michael Berk and Douglas Schwartz opened up about the show, which was later adapted into a 2017 film starring Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron.
“[Nicole Eggert] felt a little competitive with Pam,” Berk told the publication. “There was a holiday weekend, and for a couple of days she called in sick afterward. Then she showed up back on the set having gotten a boob job.”
Now, Eggert disputes Berk's claims. She insists she never felt competitive with Anderson, and she didn’t call out sick. “Those guys — they really like to make stuff up," she says. "It was on downtime from the show, and they knew [about my surgery]."
As far as Anderson, Eggert says she always admired her natural beauty. “I always knew Pamela was prettier and more natural. I kind of wondered why she always did so much makeup. But it was her thing and the look she was going for. It was the image she wanted to portray, so it worked for her," she says. "And I always just feel like, however you feel comfortable, whatever makes you feel good, do it. And for her, it was wearing a lot of makeup. For me, it was like, makeup at the beach? ‘Oh, this is disgusting,’ You know what I mean?”
At the height of its popularity, Baywatch — which ran for 11 seasons — brought in 1.1 billion worldwide weekly views, ultimately winning a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most-watched TV show of all time.
Over 30 years later, Eggert is now ready to share her ups and downs in a new documentary detailing her experiences on the beach series.
With the help of filmmaker Matthew Felker, Eggert produced and stars in the upcoming doc, Baywatch: The American Dream, which dives deeper into the pop culture phenomenon and features the top-billed cast members, who also open about their personal struggles and thoughts on the long-standing syndicated show.
Now a single mom raising two daughters, Keegan, 12, and Dilyn, 25, Eggert — who has never married (Keegan's father is Eggert's ex, actor Justin Herwick; she has never publicly confirmed who Dilyn's father is) — says she's made peace with her past and is focusing on her future as she faces her cancer diagnosis.
“I think that experience definitely hindered me a bit and my mental health and my self-awareness and how I felt about myself,” she says of her allegations against Baio. “I think it was damaging and made me very insecure and just not comfortable in my own skin."
"That, on top of being young and being in the public eye and people always watching me, it made me insecure all the time,” she continues. “But I’m happy the truth is out there now. I'm proud of myself."
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