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Robert Newman On Joining Y&R

Robert Newman, best known to soap fans for playing Josh Lewis on GUIDING LIGHT on and off between 1981 and 2009, makes his Y&R debut as Ashland on February 9.

When the show first reached out about him assuming the role created by Richard Burgi, Newman was floored. “I had no thought of anything like that, honestly. It was just not at all on our radar — by ‘our’ I mean myself and Britt [Newman, ex-Lily, LOVING, his wife]. We’re a team; we make these kinds of decisions together.” Over the course of a weekend, “Britt and I really went back and forth on it quite a bit, but we decided that the role was really intriguing and it was worth going ahead and getting it started, and then we’ll reconsider things down the road and see how much further we want to go. At the same time, the show will be looking at me and going, ‘Well, maybe it’s time to let go of this character,’ or, ‘Maybe it’s time to move forward with this character.’ So, we’ll see what happens.”

Once he agreed to sign on Y&R’s dotted line, a cross-country whirlwind ensued for the East Coast-based Newman. “I had to do a thousand different things before I got on the plane Saturday morning,” he says. “In the meantime, they sent me five scripts to shoot on three different days my first week, like, ‘Hey, here’s a nice, easy starting week! Here you go, here’s five episodes, one on Tuesday, two on Thursday and two on Friday! Welcome to the show!’ So at the same time as I’m getting these thousand things done, I’m also tearing apart these scripts. My brain has not been sitting dormant for 12 years; I’ve been doing four-to-six plays or musicals every year that also require extensive memorization and work and preparation, but I haven’t wrapped my brain around a soap opera script in a really long time.”

To prepare to take over as Ashland, “I had a really nice Zoom meeting with Josh [Griffith, co-executive producer/head writer] and Tony [Morina, executive producer], and we talked really extensively about the character,” Newman says. “I wanted to focus on really specific aspects of him, particularly with his relationship with Victoria, because for me, it’s always about those relationships.” One thing he opted not to do was watch Burgi’s take on Ashland. “During our Zoom meeting, I said, ‘Hey, you guys have the right to veto this and I will respect what you guys want me to do, but I would prefer not to watch another actor play the role. I just think I need to figure this guy out in my body and my voice and my countenance.’ ”

Before he arrived in L.A., Y&R announced his casting. “My daughter told me, ‘Dad, social media is, like, blowing up about this. This is kind of a big thing.’ I was like, ‘Really?’ I got an astonishing number of messages from people on Facebook and texts and phone calls and emails from friends I haven’t heard from in the longest time, and I’m thinking, ‘It’s just another job! I don’t know what the big deal is!’ But it’s adorable. It’s lovely and it makes me feel really loved and it’s nice.”

Though he had his fair share of nerves on his first day on the job, the actor reports, “There was a very strong sense of the familiar as I worked, because they shoot in a system that is much closer to the way we shot before we went through the big transition in the last few years of GUIDING LIGHT [which leaned heavily on location shooting and handheld cameras]. So that feels really comfortable to me; I’m like, ‘Oh, I know how to do this. This works for me.’ I just started doing the same work and using the same technique that I’ve used my entire career to get all this material worked out, and it’s all been really lovely. Everybody’s been fantastic and patient and I feel like I’m really getting an idea of who this character is.”

Newman clicked with his on-screen wife, Amelia Heinle (Victoria), right away. “I already adore her,” he smiles. “She’s really terrific and she’s a professional through and through and she’s been very generous and patient and we are finding all sorts of really surprising connections between these two characters already.”

The actor is pleased with his first batch of shows. “I think there was a lot of good stuff that came out of these first five episodes,” he nods. “There’s a lot of talent on this show. I have total respect for what they’re bringing to the table and I think that they sense that from me, and I sense their respect for me, as well, and it’s all kind of jelling together in a beautiful way so far.

“I know recasts can be really difficult for fans,” he continues. “I’m anticipating that there will be some level of disappointment for some people. I’ve watched other actors who are recasts go through difficult times with fans, and I hope it doesn’t quite work that way for me, but we’ll see. It’s not my job to decide what anybody who watches the show likes and what they don’t like. My job is to interpret the material I’m given to the best of my ability. I’m just trying to honor the character and the writers’ intent to the best of my ability. It might be different and it might be a little rocky for the first period of time. I’m just a guy trying to do my best here and to fans, I would just say, ‘Be gentle! Whatever break you can give me, give me, at least for the first few episodes. And then, if you want to start tearing into me, feel free [laughs]!’ ”