Soap Opera Digest: You’re back in Connecticut! Are you happy to be home?
Robert Newman: Oh, God, yes. It’s really good to be home. Six months in L.A. was about all I could stand, and the added thing of being away from my family for that amount of time just really took its toll. I thought it would be easier, because I travel so much for theater now, but that’s anywhere from six weeks to 12 weeks, which I think is the longest that I’ve been away to do stage work. Six months was past my expiration date for how long I could be away from my family.
Digest: Which has a new member since we last spoke!
Newman: Yes, we now have [second grandson] Rocky Joseph, who was born about three months ago. When I left L.A. two weeks ago, I flew directly to Hilton Head, SC, where we all met — [grandson] Leo, Rocky, their parents, [son] Connor and Caroline, our daughter, Kendal, and Britt [Newman, his wife, ex-Lily, LOVING] and I. We spent a week by the beach and in the pool in Hilton Head, which was just fantastic.
Digest: You told me when you first joined Y&R that it was for a certain amount of time with the possibility that it might go on further. At what point did it become clear to you that extending your stay wasn’t in the cards?
Newman: I don’t know that I really thought of it that way; it was really more when the producer told me that they had decided to stick with the original plan, which was to kill off the character. I know that the minute he told me that, I felt a sense of relief, because even to extend for the second six-month cycle of the contract, which we’d put in as a possibility kind of thing … Another six months in L.A., I think, would have really, really taken its toll on me. So I almost immediately breathed a sigh of relief because I don’t even know that I realized what a toll [being separated from my family] was taking on me. And then shortly after that, Kendal came out to L.A. for a week; right after she left, I just felt a deep sense of … I just went down, you know? I think depression is too harsh to say, but I just sort of felt my whole self start to fall down. I just don’t think I realized how much it meant to me to have her there for the week, so once I wrapped my brain around leaving the show, which was one thing, leaving L.A. was a whole other thing. There are two bottom-line truths about L.A. One is that I don’t live there; I live 3,000 miles away. And the other is — and this is maybe going to offend people who live there — I don’t want to live there! I just don’t. I was born and raised there, I spent the first 22 years of my life there. When I left there to join GUIDING LIGHT and moved to New York City, I’ve never looked back. I’ve never thought to myself, “Gee, I really want to go back and live in L.A. again.” The six months there really cemented that for me and for Britt. So, if there was a soap here in New York, I think it would be a no-brainer for me, but the added caveat of having to be so far away from my family and live in a city that I don’t care for … There was a lot going on there.
Digest: What was it like to dismantle the L.A. digs you’d set up for yourself?
Newman: It had to happen very fast and those last few days were frantic. I got Covid about a month before I was ready to finish [at Y&R], and suddenly I was not able to go to the studio for 10 days, which meant that there were episodes building up that I wasn’t shooting and we were going to have to jam them all into the last few days before I left for Hilton Head, because the goal was for me to not have to come back after Hilton Head to then shoot three or four scenes from something that didn’t get shot. So my last several days at Y&R, all of them were multiple-episode days. I think I shot four episodes on the first day I came back. So, all of that had to happen in addition to getting all the furniture out of the apartment and getting my car shipped back and all of that. That last week was just frantic, frantic, frantic. I finished shooting on a Thursday around 4 p.m. and then finished all the tasks I had to complete before getting on the plane [back to the East Coast] at 6 a.m. the next morning. My whole body just collapsed, basically, because there was such a big list of things to get through in that last week, including memorizing probably 100 pages of dialogue. But it all got done.
Digest: Did knowing you’d soon be back home make it easier to get through that last, intense stretch?
Newman: Well, that got interrupted by Covid. It would have, if suddenly I wasn’t shoved into this place where I had to shoot so much in such a short period of time. But I had a lot of faith in Josh [Griffith, head writer/co-executive producer] and his team that they were really going to come up with a good closing act for this piece and this guy, and they lived up to the task, you know? There was some really fantastic material and they gave me such freedom to just interpret it in my own way. It’s always better when your character really has something to focus on, rather than just the day-to-day lives of Josh and Reva [the GUIDING LIGHT supercouple he was part of], or the day-to- day lives of Ashland and Victoria. When you really have that focal thing that’s happened, that’s completely upended his world in this case, it’s nice to have that material, and they really did some nice things in the last few weeks that I think are difficult, tragic, even sympathetic in certain moments, in his last few days in this town — this town that hates him so much [laughs]!
Digest: When you look back at the now-completed run, what were the highlights for you?
Newman: I really liked playing the character. I worked really hard to keep him from being a one-trick pony bad guy, you know? When I approach a character, I am looking for the human being inside that character; whether it’s a good guy or a bad guy, I’m looking for the guy who is dealing with the same things that you deal with and I deal with every day, with hopes and fears and strengths and weaknesses. I do think that good people are capable of doing bad things and with Ashland Locke, I was really fascinated with the story of a man who’s done these terrible things in his life and is now trying to reform himself and seek redemption. I was very interested in that story. The problem in Genoa City is, even if Locke finds his redemption and turns himself around, why would you stay in a town where everybody hates you so much, you know? Even I could see that as a problem for the character. He’s not really connected to any family there — he’s not a Newman or an Abbott, except through Victoria, and by the time we finish with Victoria, he’s done with her, he’s been conned twice by her. I just didn’t see any reason for him to exist any further in that town. But I really liked playing the character and I want to shout-out the directors — and the writers, too — because they gave me a lot of freedom to really try to find the nuances of this man’s personality and what made him tick. And I also would do a shout-out to the crew. They are just top-notch. Soap opera, by its nature, is just flat-out too much work and not enough time, and sometimes not enough money, and they really work hard to keep that schedule going a thousand miles an hour. And of course, I worked with some fine actors, as well. I felt very well-supported by everybody on both sides of the camera.
Digest: You got to play out quite a journey with Amelia Heinle (Victoria) over the course of your time there.
Newman: Yes. She’s very gifted, very good at what she does. There’s a little sense of sadness in that I think we were really starting to hit our own stride with each other. I just thought it must have been so difficult for her to have an entirely different human being show up one day [when he took over for Ashland’s original portrayer, Richard Burgi] that is different from the guy she’d worked with for the last however many months. That must have been a really difficult transition for her and she handled it really well. Those first few weeks or even months that you’re working with someone that close, particularly with brand-new material every single day, is where you’re also trying to figure out what the relationship is — what your relationship is off camera, and what their relationship is on camera. I feel like we were really starting to hit our stride, finally, in the last couple of months or so, so that’s unfortunate, that it had to be nipped in the bud, but it would have been anyway; this couple’s been doomed from, I think, the very beginning. I didn’t see it as like, “This is going to turn into a long-term love story,” like a Josh and Reva thing. It was doomed from before I even came on the show. But I think we counted on each other and we trusted each other in rehearsals and when the red light was on, and there’s a lot to be said for that.
Digest: I think for fans who mostly knew you as Josh, it was fun to see you play a character who was so dramatically
Newman: Soap opera is a fairly small community, comparatively speaking, and I know people can be very protective of their own show, so even though I came from the same network, there is still a sense that, “Oh, this guy is coming in from another show; are we going to like him or not like him?” I had a sense that fans of GUIDING LIGHT were glad to have me there, but for some of them I think it was difficult to see me play this kind of character. For Y&R fans, here comes this guy that they really don’t know anything about if they didn’t watch GUIDING LIGHT, and what’s he doing coming into our territory and taking over the place? But almost everything I happened upon seemed to be positive, for the most part. I think I may have won over some of those Y&R fans during the course of my time there, I don’t know.
Digest: What’s next on the docket for you?
Newman: I’m going to be doing Rock of Ages at the Barn Theatre in Michigan [from August 9-21]. That’ll be fun. And my agents are already [keeping me busy]. Right now, I’m being considered for Wicked, to play the Wizard for both Broadway and the national tour. That would certainly be a great get. He’s submitting me for all kinds of stuff — I just submitted a tape for THE GILDED AGE, which is a beautiful show. There’s just so much great stuff out there right now and there are a lot of other things I want to do.