Doug Davidson opens up about his time away from Y&R — and his very happy return
Doug Davidson, who originated the role of Paul in 1978 and is the No. 1 show’s longest-running cast member, was quietly taken off contract in January 2018 and had been appearing on a recurring basis. After fans tweeted Davidson wondering why his screen time had diminished, the actor revealed his status change in September 2018. Viewers were outraged, as was Eric Braeden (Victor), who regularly used Twitter to complain about Davidson’s absence, as well as the direction of the show. Now, Davidson is back in Genoa City as Paul and talks to Digest about the ups and downs of the past year.
Soap Opera Digest: How does it feel to be back on the set?
Doug Davidson: After 41 years, it’s so normal. Having four months away from it, to come back, it was like a time warp. Nothing had changed, and that was kind of surreal. The people are awesome. The fact that I had that break, and coupled with the tragedy [of Kristoff St. John’s, ex-Neil, passing] in between, made everything a deeper color.
Digest: What was your first day like?
Davidson: It was strange in the fact that nothing had changed. From my perspective in that period, I let everything go and decided to move on with my life and do other things, so it was a growth period for me. And then when I got into the building it was like, “Oh, wow, nothing’s changed here.” It was strange in that way.
Digest: Everyone working that day must’ve been thrilled to see you.
Davidson: It was pretty subtle that way. I had spoken to most of the people that were in contact with me beforehand, so of course the crew and the cast that I haven’t seen for four months, it was a great reunion. On the personal side, it was like returning home. I’m happy to be back and excited for new story and we’ll go from here. Not only the show, but the soap opera community from Genie Francis [Laura, GH] to anybody, their welcome back has been heartfelt.
Digest: What did you miss most about Y&R?
Davidson: It’s pretty simple. My entire identity was tied up in the show. It was first position, even above family in the moment-to-moment thing. So the fact that it was cut off after 40 years was shocking to my spirit. I’ve been there longer than anywhere I’ve been in my entire life. Any of my homes or positions or anything. I think they would be hard-pressed to find someone that was more loyal and dedicated to the show because the show had given me so much. [Returning] was difficult for me to get my footing back. And then once I did, the atmosphere changed and they welcomed me back. It was interesting, let me put it that way, that I personally had to re-adjust everything — and then walking back into the building after the invitation to come back was, like I said, the juxtaposition of me moving on and growing beyond that and then everything in the building was the same.
Digest: When you were off for those four months, what did you do?
Davidson: It started before I stopped working. The writing was on the wall and my 40th anniversary was when I was working one or two days a month. It was a lot of missteps for me. I was trying to see who I was and what the future was. I mean, if you look at it, I was 63, so too early to take retirement. My entire adult life was tied up in this show, so it was a major emotional adjustment. It was going, “Who am I? What’s next? Is there a future? What is the future?” It was an incredible growing experience and I don’t regret it, but it was a big deal. At that point, I was going, “Do you even remember what you like to do?” because being on a daytime show is incredibly intense. There’s no time to breathe. It’s high-stress. For me, I’ve had a commute, at least two hours. There are a lot of 4 o’clock in the mornings where you have to get up. I was like, “Where are my priorities?” So, I readjusted them and then I went, “Okay, I’m getting the message that the show is no longer in first position.” I think in that transition period I went, “Me and my family are now in the first position.” That was my adjustment. It was not a vacation. It was not time off. I mean, I was 21, 22 when this [job] started, right?
Digest: How did you feel about the support Eric Braeden showed you on social media?
Davidson: Anything I would say would be less than grateful. I can’t explain how much it meant to me that he would step up for no reason. It was because he cares for me and he cares for the show. That’s incredible. I mean, how many other actors on the show would take that stance? Not too many. I will be forever grateful to Mr. Braeden and his devotion. He is one of a kind.
Digest: One of Paul’s first duties was to yell at Rey and take away his badge. That certainly seemed like a declaration of, “He’s back and he’s in charge!”
Davidson: Well, you gotta give that up to Josh [Griffith, head writer] and Tony [Morina, executive producer]. They have been welcoming and kind and warm. The thing is that it would be incredibly joyful if it weren’t for the continuing tragedy of Kristoff’s departure.
Digest: You’ve known Kristoff ever since he arrived in 1991. His unexpected death must have been devastating to you.
Davidson: He died on February 3, and [at the time of this interview] we’re still dealing with the memorial show and the death of Neil. For me personally, with someone that was that close to me, it’s hard to just kick the can down the road and say, “Okay, we’ll talk about it now.” We need to put it behind us and go from here. To continue the mourning and his departure is incredibly painful and it carries a bigger weight than you might guess. It’s a subtle and latent pain that you drag on. And when we did the tribute show, everything bubbled up again. You relive the pain over and over. I think for us it’s time to move on and remember him for the great guy he was.
Digest: What will you miss most about Kristoff?
Davidson: Well the truth is, he was a loving human being, and that’s what I will miss more than anything. You could trust him to the ends of the earth. He was always concerned more about you than himself and he was always giving. He would take a stormy day and turn it into sunlight. Even more poignant is the fact that he was going through so much internal pain. I was going through my text messages today and I was looking for a number that I couldn’t find and then I found his [conversation] thread and I read it and I was just overcome with such a sense of loss. The warm human being on this plane I would never see again.
Digest: You had a couple of scenes with Jordi Vilasuso [Rey] before you left. How do you like working with him now?
Davidson: Oh, he’s fabulous. I think it was the second or third day back, I took a picture with him and Sasha [Calle, Lola] because we’re all part of this entity. We are just showing up and giving the best we can for each episode. Whatever goes on above us really has nothing to do with the relationships that the actors have among one another. I wanted to put a public face on the fact that we’re friends and whatever they decide to do story-wise is really beyond us.
Digest: Do you think Paul and Rey would make a good team?
Davidson: Oh, absolutely. I was even petitioning to get Greg Rikaart [ex-Kevin; ex-Leo, DAYS OF OUR LIVES] back because when they let him go I said, “You’ve got four male leads, you’ve got six younger male leads, but you’ve got one Kevin. Why get rid of the Kevin?” But if I was king, he’d be the last guy I’d get rid of. He was quirky, funny, different, engaging. There’s a comedic quality to him that hasn’t been replicated. Victor years ago had Douglas Austin. That’s kind of how I see Paul and Kevin.
Digest: Would you like to see more romantic scenes with you and your TV wife, Lauralee Bell (Christine)?
Davidson: Yes, but there’s romance and then there’s sex scenes, and I think that even with characters that are older than you want to see in bed, you can still have the romance. There’s room for sex scenes, but there’s also room for romance. I think that’s kind of our niche. It’s a relationship, it’s a bonding between human beings that supersedes lust, and I think that’s what the romance of a soap opera should entail. I think you can see it in the relationship with Victor and Nikki in particular. It’s so incredibly wonderful to see that relationship go from where it was in the ’80s to where it is now. I think that’s what our audience relates to. There was a scene in Melody’s [Thomas Scott, Nikki] show where she just wanted Victor to kiss her. It was so beautifully written and so full of color and depth that it wasn’t just one-dimensional. It was a dance, it was a symphony, and it was daytime.
Digest: What you would like to see happen with Paul and Christine?
Davidson: Lauralee said something and it was an eye-opener to me. She goes, “I don’t mind being a hardass in court, but it would be nice to come home and have Chris break down in tears going, ‘I know it’s my job, but it just doesn’t feel right.’ ” She stopped me cold in that and I went, “Yes. She’s absolutely right.”
Digest: Instead, it looked like she had a vendetta against the Newmans.
Davidson: That juxtaposition of her being the DA vs. that’s her job, it brings the humanity back into the character. You can do that across the board. Paul doesn’t hate Victor. I mean, Paul got his first job from him. I think it was interim writers that made Victor manipulate Patty. She was never a nutcase until one of the writers down the line made her a nutcase. She was abused by Jack Abbott and was emotionally scarred by him. That’s not a nutcase, it’s human.
Digest: When you look back on the last year, what is your biggest takeaway from everything that happened?
Davidson: I think it would go into a spiritual realm, where everything is going to be fine. It’s so easy to get tied up in the world that is right around you. You overlook the beauty and the love that supersedes any of this fluff. It’s not what you wear, it’s not the car that you drive or the house that you live in, it’s the person you are. It has made me a better person in that I approach everyone or try to approach everyone with love and understanding, like Kristoff did. It’s hard to pinpoint which of these experiences in the last 14 months have shaken my world [the most]. And it’s probably longer than that. It probably goes from the aging of my parents to illnesses in my family and losses within my family. But you go, “This is the day God has made. Rejoice and be glad in it.” That’s it.