On Digest’s Podcast, Dishing With Digest, Y&R’s Eric Braeden (Victor) Reflected On His Years In Genoa City — And His Plans To Continue His Legendary Run.
Soap Opera Digest: As a lot of fans know from reading your incredible memoirs, I’ll Be Damned, you never really had ambitions to be an actor and kind of fell into the profession by accident. So, for people who don’t know how that happened, can you share the story of how your career as an actor began?
Eric Braeden: What you said in the preface is true and untrue. There was no conscious desire to be an actor although I sort of flirted with the idea after seeing some films. My mother watched Gone with the Wind 13 times and Clark Gable sort of looked like my father and I thought, “Hmmm….” I became more and more interested…. I did a river trip in Idaho on The River of No Return [and] we made a documentary film and with that we came to California, to Los Angeles. [I] came on a Greyhound bus from Montana all the way down to Los Angeles and two days later we took a boat to Catalina Island for a press conference and we showed the film. [A casting director] who cast all the big films for Warner Brothers saw the film and said, “You should think about becoming an actor.” I had no idea what he meant, what this entailed. And then I worked parking cars later on and then afterwards, worked for Beacon’s moving furniture. Another young guy said, “Hey, you know, they need a lot of young actors for these films about the Second World War. They make good money.” I said, “Oh? Huh.” So I went to an agency, pretended to have acted before in Germany, which I had not, and they hired me, sent me out to my first interview in a dreadful film called Operation Eichmann … I got the part and I kept on getting parts after that, because I would never take no for an answer!
Digest: What do you remember about getting the job on Y&R?
Braeden: My agency approached me and said, “They’re interested in seeing you for a role on a soap called THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.” I said, “I don’t know what a f—–g soap is! I’ve never heard of it, I don’t watch daytime television. Have no clue — they watch TV during the day?” “Oh, yeah.” I said, “Well, hmmm.” So I played tennis with Dabney [Coleman, an alum of BRIGHT PROMISE] that afternoon. I said, “What do you think?” He said, “Do it! You’ll love it.” He knew because he had done it. Upon that recommendation did I even show up to Casting down here at CBS! I’d never have gone otherwise, never! And the rest is 41-year-old history.
Digest: Tell us what comes to mind when you think about the great William J. Bell and Lee Phillip Bell (Y&R’s co-creators).
Braeden: Bill Bell was a genius and his wife was by his side and suggested a lot of things. A wonderful lady. A lady; if I ever met someone who I would designate as a lady, Lee Phillip Bell was that, and she had enormous input on storylines. She would insist on contemporary social issues that we discussed on Y&R long before it was discussed in the media, really. So, Bill and I had, initially, sort of a wait-and-see attitude towards the other until I wanted to leave the show after about a year and I said, “Bill, I’ve played bad guys for so long. I have nothing more to give. I’m tired. I don’t want to do it anymore. So, thank you very much, but I’m going to leave.” He says, “Well, what can we do?” I said, “If you were to ascribe a background to this character that humanizes him, then let’s see.” Shortly thereafter, Melody [Thomas Scott] and I, Nikki, did a scene in which I talk about my childhood for the first time; I’d been a mystery until then. And once I did that scene, I knew I would stay because it opened a whole plethora of storylines and it was so touching and so deep-seated and I identified with a lot of it because I’d lost my father very young, had seen too many people after the war who had become orphans, etc., so it touched a nerve in me. And again, I’m still drawing from that well. Victor has never trusted anyone, really, because of it. He wants to love, wants to be loved, but in the end, he doesn’t trust. He learned early on to defend himself, as I did in my life…. You become your own father — much too early, by the way.
Digest: There are very few love stories in daytime that have endured the way that Victor and Nikki have. Do you think they would have worked so well if someone other than Melody was playing Nikki and someone other than Eric was playing Victor?
Braeden: That’s a very good question and to be honest with you, I love working with her. She gets me. She gets me, okay? I’m not always the easiest guy to work with but she gets me, and I am from a man’s world. I grew up with guys and sports and all that and she understands that…. We just get each other, you know? [We] both have vulnerabilities because [of] both of our respective backgrounds and we get each other. There’s not more to say about that. I’m very grateful to have a partner like that for all these years. And someone else I’m grateful to, because I think he and I are some of the bed-rock of this show, and that is Peter Bergman, who plays Jack Abbott. Without the enmity between Victor and Jack, who knows where this show would be? It’s the driving force [and] used to give it the strength and the power that only comes about when you have an amalgam of actors that something works. It’s hard to say what it is, but something works, you know?
Digest: You marked your 40th anniversary as Victor in 2020 with a marvelous show that celebrated your anniversary via a celebration of the anniversary of Newman Enterprises…. What stands out to you now when you look back at that day and what it meant to you?
Braeden: It meant a great deal. A great deal. You know, when you do this on a daily basis, it’s kind of a grind. But then to suddenly step back and be recognized by everyone is a wonderful feeling. It’s a fantastic one. And then the most important thing is to have had my son there, and my eldest granddaughter — the others couldn’t be there because they live back East. It was wonderful. Dabney Coleman was there, people I’d done [other projects with like] Billy Zane, and people from BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL and GENERAL HOSPITAL, Maurice Benard [Sonny, GH].
Digest: Can you tell us your thoughts about the idea of retiring?
Braeden: The word retirement is not in my vocabulary. It really is not. I am not just saying it blithely; I mean it…. Do you know how many people I’ve worked with, huge names, in the past, who are no longer with us? Now, admittedly, some of them were older, but some of them were not, and some of them were younger. And they all thought, without them, the show would not last! That’s one of the greatest delusions you can have. It’ll go on. Maybe not as successfully, but it’ll go on. You have no idea how many actors I’ve met in the course of my career who thought that without them, a certain series wouldn’t last. My ass! So it’s a combination of being proud of what you do, fiercely protective of what you do, but also modest in the sense that you know they can ax you. Audience may not like it, but they’ll get used to it! “Oh, who’s replacing him?” I’ve been very lucky, very fortunate.
Digest: Are you touched by how much interest there is in the subject and how much of a relief it is to fans that you intend to keep playing Victor?
Braeden: I am not saying this falsely modestly — it surprises me. Makes me very happy, though, to know it!
Digest: We would love to hear your thoughts about [your on-screen offspring]. What do have to say about working with Joshua Morrow (Nick)?
Braeden: Joshua Morrow has a dangerous sense of humor…. Today, for example, we did a scene where we barely got by without laughing, you see? He’s a wonderful character [and] he’s very bright; I know that by how quickly he learns lines…. Almost never misses a beat…. So, wonderful character, great family man, good father. He’s a good man and very important to our show, very.
Digest: What about Amelia Heinle, who plays Victoria?
Braeden: I adore Amelia. She is a very good actress [and] they did a very good job when they cast her. Again, great sense of humor.
Digest: What about Melissa Ordway (Abby)?
Braeden: I adore her! She has a great sense of humor; she laughs all the time. Very charming…. What can I tell you? I’m lucky, very lucky, to have all my children be actors that I really love working with. She’s very good, as well, very natural, and so is Joshua, and so is Amelia. Very real actors. I love them.
Digest: Y&R has a special episode planned that will focus on the relationship of Adam and Victor. [What] is it you enjoy about playing out the different dimensions of that relationship?
Braeden: Obviously, it’s a very fraught relationship, but it creates interesting conflict, interesting drama. Almost all the actors who have played the role have been damn good. That includes Michael Muhney, who is very good. Mark Grossman, when he came onto the show, they burdened him with so much damn dialogue that I read the script and I said, “How the hell can they do that to someone who comes on new to the show?” And he did a fantastic job, fantastic job. He handled it, every day, like an absolute pro, which [he is]. He is very good. He has an edge to him. Again, very lucky to have him. [That episode] is one of those things you need to see when it’s completed to appreciate it.
Digest: Before we let you go, is there anything you would like to say directly to the Y&R viewers?
Braeden: I’m grateful to every viewer. I am genuinely grateful because of a very simple fact: Our ratings assure us that we have a job. I’m very grateful to all the expressions of, well, of love, that come from a lot of people, lots of corners of this world, every nook and cranny of America, of Canada…. I’m deeply grateful and will not leave you.
Eric Braeden has been embraced all over the world for his iconic portrayal of Victor Newman — and that’s an honor he doesn’t take lightly. “One of the great traps you fall into in Hollywood when you become famous is you become cynical. You say, ‘What am I getting paid all this money for? To do what?’ ” He got his answer the first time he did a public appearance, at a mall in Toronto alongside Doug Davidson (Paul), which was attended by thousands of enthusiastic fans. “What it taught me is not to be cynical about our profession. It’s about a very simple thing. It’s not about the socially and politically valuable statement that can happen, it’s about entertaining people. That’s what we actors do, and that made me reconcile [that] the basic tenet of this business is to entertain, and nowhere do you realize that faster than in a soap, nowhere. So I’ve been eternally grateful [for] that ever since and that is, other than the money, other than the joy of working, is the raison d’être for being in this. I can go anywhere in the world, be it in Paris, be it in Tel Aviv, be it in Istanbul, [and I hear], ‘Hello, Victor!’… You gain respect for what we do and you gain a sense of responsibility to do what we do well, as well as you can.”