Matthew Ashford couldn’t be happier about his most recent DAYS return
It’s going to be an unforgettable New Year’s Eve in Salem when Matthew Ashford resurfaces as Jack Deveraux, six years after his legendary character plummeted to his “demise” in a tragic elevator accident. Enjoying a snowy day from inside his new home in The Berkshires, Ashford discusses how his surprise return came about, reconnecting with Melissa Reeves (Jennifer), and the story turn that knocked his socks off.
Soap Opera Digest: It seemed like a definitive end when Jack died in 2012. Did you perceive it that way?
Matthew Ashford: It’s hard for me to say. I was so aware already of the whole Stefano DiMera thing. The guy died, what, six times? People were saying to me, “Well, how many times did they kill you off?” I kind of tracked it down, and this was the only time they made it definitive. The other times it was a DiMera plot, I was off the show, but had disappeared in a strange mysterious way. All I know is that last time, Josh [Taylor, Roman] said, “He died a hero.” And I think they showed someone carrying a body out, too. Everybody on the crew joked that Jack was about 2-feet tall after the elevator smash.
Digest: How did your return come about? It was out of the blue.
Ashford: Lana [Buss, Ashford’s wife] and I and [children] Henry and Willa had just decided to move back East … to The Berkshires. We’ve got these little kids, and Henry is getting ready to go to kindergarten. So we had to make some plans. Lana decided to go with a school here. It looked great. So we were like, “Let’s just take a chance and go.” At that same time I got the call [from DAYS]. It was a surprise, when it happened. It was suddenly, “What are you doing?” Then, “What are you doing next week?”
Digest: Did you have to think about it or was it an instant yes?
Ashford: [The offer] was too good to say no to. Everything was very positive and forward- moving. I just said, “Let’s try doing both.” So I’ve been commuting, which has its own challenges, but we’ve been making it work. With these shorter work periods — you shoot for two or three weeks and then you’re off for a week — it allows me to be back [in The Berkshires] for a little bit. It’s not as much as I’d like, but it helps.
Digest: Was there any particularly fun backstage reunion at the DAYS studio?
Ashford: I saw Susan [Seaforth Hayes, Julie], and she let out a scream. She was very happy. And we hadn’t even gotten a chance to really do anything together yet. She said that she’s always been a fan of mine and was holding out for me to come back.
Digest: What can you tease about your first appearance on-screen?
Ashford: The doors open to this place called Doug’s Place, and Jack comes walking in. He’s dressed up. He’s been given a suit to wear. He’s been told that it’s New Year’s Eve. He’s coming in to see people that he’s been told he knows, people who knew him. But he finds that when he sees them, he just doesn’t know them.
Digest: How do you like the re-entrance?
Ashford: It’s great. Me, as an actor, I was standing offstage listening to what was going on, and it was really intense. I was getting my first taste of DAYS with this head writer [Ron Carlivati]. It was great. I was thinking, “Wow! It can’t get much more intense than this.”
Digest: So Jack’s the New Year’s Eve homecoming king?
Ashford: Yes. He’s the New Year’s Eve surprise. Auld Lang Syne.
Digest: Fans expect a lot. Do you think they’ll approve?
Ashford: I think they’re going to like it. These writers and the head writer pay a lot of attention to what came before, and what came before a long time ago. They’re really trying to dig back and find all kinds of gems that they can use. There’s a lot of resonance to a lot of things for people who know this and were there.
Digest: Did you share any bonding moments behind the scenes with Missy Reeves, Kate Mansi [Abigail] and Casey Moss [JJ] to connect as the Deveraux
Ashford: Kate wasn’t there when I first came back. Abigail was off with the baby. But Casey, Missy and I got the chance to talk and catch up a little bit. I was just getting to know Casey. What was big for me was finding out how much everyone had been through while I was gone. I had no idea about some of the crazy stuff that had gone on.
Digest: What was the biggest shocker? Learning about Eve and JJ’s affair?
Ashford: I didn’t find that out for a couple of months, and I was like, “What? What!?” I had to sit down off the set with them and say, “What was that like? How dynamic and dramatic was that?” Kassie [DePaiva, Eve] said, “Oh, yeah. She [Missy] leapt in the room and jumped on me in the bed.” I said, “Where was Casey?” She told me he’d rolled. That’s a moment. It’s Greek. It’s not even Shakespearean. That’s intense.
Digest: A lot has also changed in your personal life. You have two new children. What’s fatherhood been like the second time around?
Ashford: It’s reminded me of how little I know. I know nothing that I thought I knew. Then, having a boy, it just all goes out the window. Boys just do different things. Boys move with no prior warning and very little words. That’s been Henry. He’s blossoming now. He’s loving it up here. He gets to be out in the mud and the snow and the rain. It’s like, “Great, do it. Go have a good time. Get muddy. Make a mess.” And Willa is just a beautiful little girl. People say children keep you young. I guess that’s the story I’m going with. They’re keeping me young, but there’s a lot of carrying and holding and everything like that.
Digest: You’ve also remarried. How did you and Lana meet? Is she in the business?
Ashford: Yes. She actually has a masters in theater. She’s a good actor. She’s done a lot of Shakespearean acting and improvisation. She ran an improv school for nine or 10 years with a partner in Los Angeles called Hothouse Improvisation. It was a really great school that was doing things, many years ago, that other schools are now just starting to do. Lana was working as an actor and we met doing a show, Antony and Cleopatra. We were the leads.
Digest: And faster than you can say “Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton,” you were a couple?
Ashford: Yes, as a matter of fact. The head of her masters class, Jared Sakren, asked Lana to come out and do the show. He was also my teacher way back when at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He also asked me if I would like to do this Shakespeare play and I said okay. I jumped into it, and that’s where we met. It was the Southwest Shakespeare [Company] in Mesa, AZ.
Digest: A romance bloomed and now you have two children and are married.
Ashford: Kind of in that order, too. We actually just celebrated our second wedding anniversary. We have pictures of getting married, and I have a baby strapped onto me. Henry was in the little garden next door, running around and making noise. We had to remind him he was there, too.
Digest: How are your older daughters, Emma and Grace, doing?
Ashford: Emma is in her junior year at University of Michigan studying musical theater. It’s a really great program. She’s also acting and working as a co-producer on three different projects. And Grace graduated from Vassar and got a masters degree in investigative reporting from Columbia University, and is now writing for The New York Times. One of the first things she worked on was doing research for the Harvey Weinstein story — the one the two main reporters got the Pulitzer Prize for.
Digest: So things are good on the home front and the work front?
Ashford: I couldn’t be prouder. And I am over-the-moon pleased and happy to be back at DAYS. It’s so much better than it has been for years and years. I really look forward to fans getting a chance to see it. Everything I’ve been hearing for years about the old Jack and how they miss that, just wait and you’ll see it. This writer, Ron, is amazing. I am very pleased and proud to be part of this team and family again in a very alive way.
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: January 29
Hails From: Davenport, IA
This Is Us: Married to wife Lana Buss; they have two children: Henry, 5, and Willa, 3. Ashford has two older daughters, Grace, 26, and Emma, 21, from a previous marriage.
Around The Dial: Ashford began his soap career as Drew Ralston on ONE LIFE TO LIVE from 1982-83. He moved on to portray Cagney McCleary on SEARCH FOR TOMOR-ROW from 1984-86. He then joined DAYS in 1987 and has played the role of Jack on and off since then. In between Salem stints, he landed on GH as Tom Hardy from 1995-97. He returned to OLTL as Stephen Haver from 2003-04.
Ashford’s on-screen kids are thrilled that he’s back on the scene. “It’s been great!” enthuses Casey Moss (JJ). “I love that guy! He’s a blast and he cares so much, which I really appreciate. He’s just there to do it, and he’s always prepared and always trying to work extra hard and find something new with it. But he’s there and he’s committed. It’s good to be a nervous wreck before your scenes and I feel like I kind of am with him. I’m super-glad that he came back. It went in a completely different direction than you think what’s going to happen but it’s been really good and we’ve had some good juicy material.” Adds Kate Mansi (Abigail), “I was so shocked that Jack was alive! It came as a shock for me and for Abigail. I’m extremely close to my dad, so I’ve always had a real soft spot for that storyline. There’s a lot of history that is complicated because Abigail’s more like her father than she likes to admit and they’re very, very close. And Matt and Missy [Reeves] as actors have such great chemistry together and are such wonderful people and work together so well.”