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ICYMI Robert Newman Interview

In 1981, the course of recent college grad Robert Newman’s life shifted abruptly when he traveled from Michigan, where he was doing summer stock to earn his Equity card, to New York for what was supposed to be a week of casual meetings, only to unexpectedly land the long-term contract role of GUIDING LIGHT’s Josh, a character he would play on and off (mostly on) until the show’s cancellation in 2009. An equally jarring sea change occurred 41 years later, when in January, the actor — whose professional focus in recent years has been theater and prime-time guest spots — got an out-of-the-blue call from Y&R to take over the role of Ashland from the exiting Richard Burgi.

As with his GL hiring, saying yes to Y&R required a sudden move across the country — but this time around, he had to leave behind a growing family (wife Britt, adult children Connor and Kendal, pregnant daughter-in-law Caroline and grandson Leo). It was a shock to his system, to be sure, and for the first few weeks, “I had that sense of just barely keeping my head above water, that pedaling-as-fast-as-I-can kind of a thing,” he says. “Now, I’ve settled into the routine here at YOUNG AND RESTLESS and my own routines at home, though I miss my family terribly.” Still, he acknowledges, “In moments when I’m feeling tense or frustrated, particularly over something related to the show, I have to step back and think about, ‘How much of this has to do with this particular line of dialogue or this particular scene, and how much of it is really more to do with how out of complete left field, with no advance notice, I picked up and came 3,000 miles away?’ ”

While Y&R is a new environment for him — and Ashland a new character to inhabit — Newman did have decades of daytime experience to draw upon as he re-acclimated to the demands of the genre. “Everything has come back pretty quickly, including the terror that you can feel at any given moment! But my technique for memorization is the same as it would be for when I’m memorizing a play or lyrics for a musical, so all of those muscles have been working quite a bit over the last 12 years. The toolbox that I need to do daytime work is still intact — thank God! And it’s helping me to get through these days one at a time.”

One thing that hasn’t required much adjustment, after spending so many years playing the (mostly) heroic Josh, is playing against type as the (mostly) villainous Ashland. “I see the joy in playing a bad guy,” he grins. “Everyone I’ve ever known, whether you’re talking about Chris Bernau [ex-Alan, GL] or Ron Raines [ex-Alan, GL] or Michael Zaslow [ex-Roger, GL], loved playing a bad guy. It really is a lot of fun. I’m still communicating quite a bit with Josh [Griffith, head writer/co-executive producer]; when I encounter a new character I haven’t worked with yet, I go to him to get the background on the relationship and usually my question is, ‘Why does this person hate me so much?’ ”

There has been plenty of juicy material for him to play since assuming the role, what with Ashland being busted for faking his cancer and scrambling to keep his marriage to Victoria intact. “I’m walking a very fine line with this character,” Newman notes. “I’m trying to keep him interesting and multilayered, multifaceted and even, in some cases, charming. I want to give credit to Josh on this, because we have had some long conversations where he is continually guiding me through this, through the mind of Ashland Locke. I think that for me, a go-to has always been to play everything as real and sincere and true, and I think that Ashland is trying to play everything as all of those things. I think his driving force is his love for Victoria and I think he is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her in his world. I think he’s created an alternate reality that exists up in his head that makes him feel less like he’s manipulating Victoria and more like he’s trying to salvage their love and their relationship with each other.”

Plus, Newman points out, Victoria’s family of origin doesn’t exactly have skeleton-free closets. “We’ve had a couple of scenes where Victoria sort of arbitrarily tells me about things Adam has done in the past, and in rehearsal, I’m like, ‘Hold on. She’s just told me this piece of information that’s horrible and despicable! Do I just let that go by? How do I even respond to that?’ And then Victor, of course, has done terrible things — they’ve all done terrible things! And maybe the idea of lying about having a disease like cancer is marginally worse than those terrible things, but it’s just an array of terrible things! It’s not like I’m working in a world of saints and I’m the bad guy. We’re all bad guys! It’s just the degree of bad guy, you know?”

The actor says he couldn’t ask for a better scene partner with whom to mine his on-screen marital dynamics than Amelia Heinle (Victoria). “I am 100 percent impressed with her as a person and with her work,” he declares. “She is really turning it on and making it work. I think it can be a little tricky for the good guy, because when you’re the good guy, you feel like you’re getting duped too openly by the bad guy, you feel like, ‘Why would my character be so stupid?’ or something like that. But now she’s turned the tables on Ashland and I think she’s just killing it, I really do.”

Whatever the writers have in store for Ashland, there’s nothing they could script that the actor, whose GL alter ego cloned his presumed-dead wife, wouldn’t be game to tackle. “I’ve always said, ever since the clone storyline, I can justify anything that’s thrown at me in daytime!” Newman says. “I mean, I was able to justify cloning my dead wife and growing her from birth to 40 in six weeks with a rapid growth formula, so everything after that is [a breeze]!”

All in all, he feels that Ashland was the perfect return-to-daytime ticket to punch. “I just saw Josh on the set and I told him, ‘If I were to sit down and construct a character that would be fun to go and play, going back to daytime for the first time in 100 years, I couldn’t have constructed a better character for me, at this point in my life and where I am as an actor, than the character of Ashland Locke.’ ”

Leo Rising

Newman cherishes his real-life role as grandfather to son Connor’s little boys, Leo, 2, and Rocky, born on April 1. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he says of his close relationship with his older grandson. “When you become a parent in the first place, you really don’t know what to expect. I remember the minute Connor was put in my hands. Britt had to have an emergency C-section and they wouldn’t allow me into the room, so I was just put in a waiting room while Britt went through her C-section and the nurse came in and handed me something and left, and I looked down and it was my son. The moment I looked at him and he more or less looked back at me, as much as a newborn can, the bonding was instantaneous. It happened right in that second and only grew and grew over the years. With Leo, it was very similar, from my first contact with him. He’s a really fun kid. We have a whole bunch of inside jokes that we do with each other and I make all kinds of crazy noises and faces and sometimes he does them straight back at me, which is wonderful. It’s been a really pleasant surprise to be so bonded to this child, and I couldn’t be prouder of Connor and his wife, Caroline. I knew that they would be great parents and all you really need to do is spend a little time with that kid and you can tell he’s loved, he’s cared for, he’s secure.”

Did You Know?

He earned his membership into the actors’ union by understudying Tom Wopat in a production of Carousel.

Newman proposed to wife Britt while suffering from walking pneumonia, which he caught shooting on location for SANTA BARBARA.

Just The Facts:

Birthday: June 27

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Daytime History: Joshua Lewis, GUIDING LIGHT, 1981-84, 1986-91, 1993-2009; Prescott Harrell, GH, 1985; Kirk Cranston, SANTA BARBARA, 1986.

Newman’s Own: The actor married Britt Helfer (ex-Lily, LOVING) on September 27, 1986, and they have two children, son Connor, born April 3, 1989 and daughter Kendal, born May 13, 1992.

Screen Time: “I’m watching PICARD and 1883, the YELLOWSTONE prequel.”

The Play’s The Thing: Among his favorite stage roles are George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (“especially doing it opposite Kim [Zimmer, ex-Reva, GL], with all of our personal history and all of our on-screen history together”), Don Quixote and Sweeney Todd. He also enjoyed playing Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, which he expects to be a one-time thing. “I don’t know that anybody will cast a Norwegian Tevye ever again!”

Follow The LIGHT: Since arriving in L.A., he’s caught up with a few fellow GL alums. “I saw Laura Wright [ex-Cassie; Carly, GH] at a gathering recently, and Frank Dicopoulos [ex-Frank] was there as well. And Kim and A.C. [Weary, her husband] and I had dinner about a month ago at their son’s house.”

Limited Run: His first gig post-Covid was “about a minute of screen time” in Netflix’s INVENTING ANNA.