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Catching Up With Clive Robertson

Where were you in your life when SUNSET BEACH entered your orbit? “I came over [to the United States from England] with my girlfriend in August of 1996 and it was sometime toward the back end of that month that I auditioned for SUNSET BEACH. I was working in London as a stage actor who did a little bit of television — very little, to be honest — and my girlfriend had some contacts over here because she was an Australian actress. So we came over quite speculatively in August. I think I was 30 years old at the time and I had just finished this little series called LONDON BRIDGE. We came on a whim for a month and I met this manager. He literally looked at me and said, ‘What’s your status here?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m just here on holiday, but I’m going to meet with an immigration attorney.’ So that was going on in the background while I went to Mexico to go deep-sea fishing, which is really what I wanted to do [laughs]. He sent my tape off to NBC, and he was calling me incessantly because they wanted to see me. So as soon as I got back, I ended up at NBC. I met with the head of NBC Daytime, read for her, and she sent me down to [casting executive] Pam Shae over at Spelling. They had been searching for this dark, brooding character who mysteriously may or may not have killed his wife, who they decided was going to be British or South African or Australian, and they couldn’t find anybody, so my timing was perfect. So I went through the process and then I left to sort out the immigration side of things, not knowing, of course, that I would actually get the job. And I came back and screen-tested and I got it. And the rest is history. Gary Tomlin, the executive producer, was there that day, and I had to go in and meet Aaron Spelling [executive producer]. He was wearing black sweats and was completely unassuming. I remember doing my test in front of a whole sea of people. It was like walking into a scene from DYNASTY. It was this enormous office and they were all sitting on these chairs and sofas, maybe 20 of them, and then he piped up and asked me how long I’d been there and I said, ‘Well, about three weeks,’ and they all started laughing. And that was it.”

Did you want the job? “I did want a job! And I was very keen to work over here, because the opportunities to work in television in England at that time were very slim, so I never felt I was going to get that opportunity. The leading men they were casting at that time were very gritty, unorthodox leading men; they weren’t the sort of leading men they were casting [in Los Angeles]. So I was very grateful. When I was offered it, I do remember Pam Shae saying, ‘Do you really want to do this?’ She thought I was perhaps meant for greater things. I said, ‘Oh, yes, absolutely, I’d love to.’ My concern during the whole audition process was not getting the job, it was my ability to work over here. I worked religiously to try to assemble all the various pieces of paper and documents I needed to get this visa, because there were very few British actors working in Hollywood at the time. You could almost count them on one hand. I was worried that that wasn’t going to happen, but as soon as I got offered the job, Aaron Spelling’s lawyer got in touch with my attorney and basically took it over. I remember having a meeting in his office and I said, ‘So, how’s it looking?’ I was a little nervous. And he looked at me and said, ‘You have no problem at all.’ He sort of gave me that knowing look, which basically said, ‘You have nothing to worry about.’ ”

How did your life change when you started working on the show? “Well, I was so happy to be working on a series; as an actor, it’s just very nice to finally get the rubber stamp of approval. It sort of puts you into a different [league of] actor, especially as a major lead on a show. So, that felt very fulfilling, I have to say. But the other great thing, of course, was being in L.A. We found this wonderful house by accident. We had so many great parties at this house and it was very near the studio, 15 minutes from the studio, so it was perfect in all regards. And the sun was shining! You have to understand, coming from England, the sun didn’t shine! I grew up partly in places like Singapore and Cyprus, so I was used to the hot sun all day long, and then I was in England being deprived of that. So, honestly, I was so overjoyed to be basking in this sunshine, going to work. It was just a wonderful, nice experience.”

Were you overwhelmed at all by the workload? “I do recall being shown around the set, which was at Studio 11 on the NBC lot, and being told that it was where they’d shot SANTA BARBARA, and then being shown my living room, my bar, my Internet café, the various things that my character had and I remember looking at my living room thinking, ‘This is serious!’ It was almost unnerving. And Gary Tomlin said, ‘Yeah, you realize that you’re a very prominent character in this. The whole show starts with you and Meg.’ It was mildly daunting, to be honest. The positive thing as a British actor is that we work in theater, so we’re used to scenes that continue from the beginning of the scene to the end of the scene, and doing a soap opera is exactly the same. The difference, of course, is that you had months of rehearsal [doing a play], and here, you had to block it and then shoot it. That was a little unnerving.”

For a stretch, you also played a second role, Ben’s twin, Derek. “I had an interesting time when they decided to introduce my evil twin, Derek. The writers just loved writing for this character and I would break down my scripts,  usually around 7 in the evening, and just learn my lines until bedtime, or until I was done. And I remember, when that began, I would take out the pages that I wasn’t in and still be left with half the show to learn for the next day, and coupled with that, these scenes with myself, Ben and Derek playing opposite each other, it wasn’t just twice as much work, it was almost four times as much work because you had to get to know exactly what the other person would do so that you could react properly. So you had to really know those scenes. That was very daunting. It was a lot of work. And I have to say, I think I went a little mad, a little crazy, doing that. Before I started that second character, I used to have the ability — and I didn’t realize that this was unique to me — but I could remember every single person I’d ever met and every conversation I had with that person. But from the moment I started having to learn all this short-term memory stuff and then just forget it and start again the next day, that was lost forever. I never got it back.”

You and Susan Ward were intended to be the “it” couple of the show and the audience did respond very well to the pairing. What stands out to you about the Ben/Meg relationship and working with Susan? “I have to be honest with you; I don’t think either one of us truly had any real chemistry for each other. I think she would say the same thing. I don’t think we had off-camera chemistry, but she had this ability to turn it on when the cameras were rolling and I thought she was a fantastic actress, I have to say; I thought she was terrific. And I really played off her. We both brought our own unique qualities to the characters and for whatever reason, it worked. It doesn’t always work but it certainly did in this case. She was very simple and professional, Susan. I was probably the trickier one of the two because I was always trying to make scenes more interesting than they were. I’m sure the directors were pulling their hair out dealing with me because I was saying, ‘No, no, I think I should drink here and move over there and do all of this,’ and Susan, for her, it was more water off a duck’s back; she didn’t care. We had very different acting styles. I learned my lines as I did on the stage and nuanced every line and knew exactly what I was going to say, all of that stuff, and she told me her technique was that she never looked at my lines; she never even read my lines, she just looked at her blocks of lines and she used a pink highlighter pen, so she saw her little lines as pink elephants, I think she told me once. So she just did her thing, and it worked! We had two very different styles of acting, but it seemed to work.”

What was the cancellation of the show like for you? “Well, this was the first series I’d ever done, so it was a new experience. I don’t recall being upset about it, whereas I remember some of the actors were upset; I think they were worried about the prospect of them never working again, which is an actor’s nightmare. You’re working and everything is great and then suddenly you’re not working and you don’t know when the next job is going to be. I didn’t feel that was going to be that way for me, so I wasn’t necessarily as concerned about it as others. To me, it had been a really fun experience. And we did have a lot of fun on that show, we really did. There was a campiness to it that we started exploiting; the show started turning a little bit and becoming a little more tongue-in-cheek as it progressed. Obviously, there was a lot of seriousness to it as well.”

But there were also mummies and tsunamis! “Yes, exactly, and it became more fun. So, we had a lot of fun on that show, I must say. It was a nice, happy time for me. The house we were living in was wonderful, it was sort of a hive of activity; every weekend we’d have people over for swimming. It was idyllic; when you look back on things they usually are.”

In recent years, you’ve pivoted to doing some incredible things on the real estate front. “I didn’t make that change immediately. I started creating shows after SUNSET BEACH and I sold a few shows, and I got cast in another series called STARHUNTER, which was shot in Toronto. I did a season of that and I did another series with Tatum O’Neill [WICKED WICKED GAMES]. But I’ve always been interested in architecture, in beautiful houses, ever since I was a young boy. I’m not trained at all in architecture or design; in fact, I’m a complete hack. But I’ve always had a good eye for space, and I could walk into a house and see what I could do differently and what would make it work and all that, so I ventured into that area in between these series. When I finished the series with Tatum, I decided to go full into it. I decided to take a break from acting. It wasn’t like I was over it, but I wanted to have a bit more control over my life and what I was doing professionally. You get to a certain age and it’s very hard having your life in the hands of an agent or manager who you don’t necessarily trust 100 percent. It didn’t sit very well with me, at least. I felt that I wanted to do something creative that I enjoyed just as much, so I started doing that and I worked on some low-end houses for many years and I started doing more and more expensive houses, and now I do these really super-high-end luxury homes. It takes me at least three or four years to do one. They’re real labors of love for me and I take a lot of pride in it. They say you’re not supposed to get emotional as a developer, but I’m not really a typical developer. I’m not ruthless enough. I’m just not made that way. But I do like to create really beautiful things. That’s what fulfills me.”

What does it mean to you that the show is still embraced by fans? “It means a great deal to me, but I don’t know how to sort of give back or whatever. If there was ever any reunion or something of that nature, I’d always be game to be involved and to meet any of these [fans]. I used to get letters from all over the world; I think the show was in 140 countries or something. We were very big in Sweden, we were very big in France and in the UK, and then we were big in countries that you wouldn’t expect — Trinidad and Tobago, Ghana, Zimbabwe. I always felt that I wanted to go to these countries, but I never did and that saddens me a bit. I don’t think [resurrecting the show] is in the cards, but you never know. I think there are a few people out there who would love to! But it was kind of perfect, in some ways, that it had a beginning, a middle and an end, because a lot of the soaps don’t have that. Maybe it was right that it just lasted for as long as it did.”