#TBT - Eric Braeden

Credit: CBS

This interview originally appeared in the September 10, 1991 issue of Soap Opera Digest.

Innate charm, polished style, and abounding savoir faire — that’s what one might expect upon meeting Eric Braeden, the actor who portrays debonair business mogul Victor Newman on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS. One isn’t disappointed. Braeden is all that and then some. He’s more complex than his daytime alter ego — all the best of Victor Newman, plus an array of appealing qualities all on his own.

Braeden is affable, gentlemanly, extremely candid, and has a delightfully dry sense of humor. That humor is obvious when he’s asked to discuss the recent aging of his TV daughter, Victoria, from toddler to teenager after a quick trip to boarding school.

“Well, she went to Switzerland and got some steroid shots,” he says mater-of-factly. “Actually,” he adds, “I attribute it to the yodeling. She did a lot of yodeling, which made her lungs very strong, and subsequently, it had some influence on her growth hormones. She sprouted enormously. Or, perhaps it was the Swiss cheese… maybe a combination of yodeling and Swiss cheese.”

All kidding aside, Braeden does understand the reasons behind his common daytime ploy. “Unfortunately, you can’t have kids around too much, because it costs too much money and takes too much time,” he concedes. Not to mention the fact that teenage children can be more instrumental in a storyline. Braeden is enjoying the dramatic twists for Victor since teenage Victoria’s (actress Heather Tom) emergence onto the scene. Upset that her parents, Victor and Nikki, have divorced and remarried others, the conniving Victoria has made it her goal to sabotage their marriages and get them back together.

“I think it’s a stroke of genius,” boasts Braeden. “It opens up so many avenues in which way to go. That’s why the man (Bill Bell) is head writing the No. 1 show. He comes up with things that never fail to amaze me. [His stories] are fascinating, and we as actors can’t wait to find out what happens next. He’s done it again with this.”

While Braeden is obviously enamored of Y&R, he wasn’t always as taken with the soap opera medium. When he joined the show in 1980 he was hesitant about what he was getting into and only signed a three-month deal.

“I had no intention of staying any longer,” he maintains. “I had a lot of trepidation about daytime, but I began to like the medium… That’s how it evolved. It was a discovery.”

A veteran of film and nighttime TV, Braeden found the grueling pace of soaps just that — grueling! “It was an enormous adjustment,” he says. “Things happen much more quickly on daytime. At first that bothered me a lot, until I finally got used to it and considered it a challenge.

“Yet, it’s a dangerous medium in the sense that it can trap you in your skills,” Braeden adds. “When it does, it can also make you glib. You have to watch out for that. You must always make sure to develop a strong sense of what is real. There are moments when you have to compromise because there’s no time. But you must remind yourself, ‘Well, that wasn’t as good as it could have been.’ You must take what you do seriously and not just get it done. You have to try to view scenes with a sense of reality. A lot of people don’t.”

Obviously, Braeden is one of those who do. He’s been a mainstay on Y&R fro 11 years and has been constantly on front-burner storylines, though modesty prevents Braeden from trying to explain why. “You would have to ask other people,” he says. “It would be very self-serving for me to answer that. I like working and get very antsy if I sit around and don’t do anything, but that has nothing to do, obviously with how much I work.”

The actor will, though, share his thoughts on what makes his character so appealing to the audience. “Number one, he’s from the skids. He’s from absolute stark poverty. He’s an orphan. In that sense, he’s fulfilled the American dream,” Braeden explains. “Yet, what makes him human is the fact that he is obviously subject to emotional frailties and emotional interactions with women and other people. So, I think it’s the combination of the two. On the one hand, he fulfills a fantasy; on the other, he is human.”

Naturally, Braeden can’t condone absolutely every stunt Victor has pulled. “There were times when I personally wasn’t that fond of him,” confides Braeden. “I certainly could only think with tongue-in-cheek of the time he locked his wife’s lover in the basement and fed him dead rats for dinner one evening. And I, personally, would not send my daughter or son to boarding school. I’m very close to my own son (Christian, 21). I think parents ought to be in close proximity to their children, if that’s at all possible. I think sending them to boarding school is a leftover from the Victorian Age.”

Fortunately, Braeden’s memorable moments on the show far outweigh the occasional flies in the ointment. “I enjoyed the scenes between Victor and his mother (played by Dorothy McGuire) enormously,” he notes. “They were too short-lived, but I really enjoyed them. Those are the ones I remember most vividly.” Another highlight for Braeden was an emotionally charged moment he shared with Eileen Davidson, the original Ashley. “It was the scene where Ashley told Victor she had an abortion. We shot that scene in the rain, and we did the whole thing in one take,” he continues. “It was so extraordinary.”

So, too, was Braeden’s whole experience of working opposite Davidson. “I was really upset when she left,” he admits. As a result, Braeden had a difficult time accepting the actress who succeeded her, Brenda Epperson. “The transition was not the easiest for me,” Braeden admits. “I did not behave exceedingly well with her at first. I was not too nice to her. I missed the old Ashley very much. I’m very honest about that.

“I have since learned to love working with her,” he continues. “She’s a joy to work with, a genuinely warm, kind person, and beautiful to look at. I don’t know exactly what the turning point was. Maybe I finally realized I was being an ass in a sense… It’s not that I was nasty with her. It’s just that I held back. I didn’t give of myself in those early scenes. Then, I got used to her. I began to watch her carefully and see a talent in her. I also began [feeling] upset about my being so unprofessional as to hold back. Brenda and I have since talked about it. I have apologized to her. I’m very enamored of Brenda now,” Braeden insists.

No doubt the actor would feel the same way if Melody Thomas Scott ever picked up and left her role of Nikki. “Oh yes, the same thing. I can’t even imagine it,” he says. “Yet, those things happen. It was the same thing when Terry Lester left. It was hard to get used to the new Jack. Peter Bergman is a wonderful actor and certainly a most pleasant person to work with, but it’s always a shock when someone you’ve worked with for years leaves.”

For the time being, Braeden seems to be quite safe in the leading lady department. Both Epperson and Thomas Scott appear to be happily ensconced in Genoa City, which probably means Braeden’s Victor will continue to waver between their two characters indefinitely. While audiences tend to be pulling for a Nikki/Victor reunion, Braeden doesn’t necessarily believe theirs is the ultimate pairing. “[Victor’s] true love line is really with Ashley,” says Braeden. “That is who he was very much in love with. He didn’t have that kind of relationship with Nikki. They have a Pygmalion relationship. Ashley’s a different woman. She’s independent. She’s more on his level. She’s who I think he has always been in love with.”

While Braeden has played out a “variety is the spice of love life” philosophy on-camera, off camera he’s been tried and true to the same woman for 25 years ­— his wife, Dale. “Well, my wife and I are both intensely loyal people,” explains Braeden. “It also had to do with the fact that she goes back to my very early days here in this town. So she was me and met me and experienced me when I had hardly acted yet. I never questioned her motives as to why she should be with me. We talk a lot. Most of it has to do with communication,” he stresses. “It’s not that we haven’t had our bad times. Of course we have. I came here as an immigrant (from Germany), and she was the first emotional support that I had in this country. That means a lot, but that is not the only thing that sustains a marriage. What sustains a marriage is common interests. She has influenced me a great deal, in many ways. She awakened in me a much greater sensitivity about various issues, primarily artistic issues… the way artists see things.”

Dale is not in the business. She is in real estate. “Meaning that she designs home and things like that,” says Braeden. “She completely decorated our home. She also dresses me. I have no patience in boutiques. If it were up to me, I’d shop in sporting goods stores, because as child, I never had any money to buy running shoes, soccer shoes or boxing gloves. I love sporting goods stores. She, of course, is bored to tears with that, and I am equally bored with going to boutiques. She picks out the things I wear… but I have to agree with it.”

Among his wife’s other talents, Braeden notes Dale’s keen sense of the film world. “She has an extraordinary artistic eye, quick vision for what’s real, and has a great knowledge of literature,” he notes. “She should have been a director, but women just didn’t do that back then.”

Ironically, it’s the career path the Braedens’ son, Christian, has chosen to pursue. “He’s in film school,” says Braeden. “He wants to be a director and a writer. I think he’ll be very good at both, if he doesn’t get caught acting. He’s taking acting classes, too. I asked him to do that because if you want to direct, you need to understand actors and the acting process. Very few directors do.”

Perhaps that’s why Braeden has such a strong yearning to tackle directing himself. However, he has absolutely no interest in doing it in daytime. “To direct daytime is very hard work — not that I’m afraid of hard work — but it’s not my idea of directing,” he insists. “I don’t like the three-camera system at all as a director. I’d love to direct films. That’s a dream of mine. I did a 20-minute promo for a film that I was about to do,” he continues. “But it never really got off. I filmed for about five days and had the time of my life. I don’t think I’ve never been as fully absorbed as I was when I directed. I absolutely loved it. But I’m happy with what I’m doing, so it’s academic whether I want to [direct] or not. I’m dealing with what is real. I have to make a living, s that’s why I’m here,” he states, referring to Y&R.

And Braeden will tell you that it is indeed a very nice place to be. He works a lot, which is right up his alley. Plus, he’s paid rather handsomely, which afford him and his family a quite plush lifestyle — something Braeden certainly didn’t have growing up.

“I have strong memories of my childhood,” he says. “I’ve hacked it on my own, financially, since I was 12 or 13 years old. I worked on farms during all my vacations and after school sometimes. It was a tough life after the war. There was little to eat and little to wear. If you had a pair of shoes, they usually lasted you a year. Then, you brought them to the shoemaker to resole. There was no central heating, no running water, and no soft underwear. I remember that vividly, because I had to wear underwear that was just spun out of sheep’s wool. Try wearing that once. I drives you nuts.”

These days, Braeden certainly doesn’t take a morsel of his life for granted. “Every night when I drive home, I look at the whole area that I live in in amazement,” he says. “It’s just beautiful. Growing up in the countryside, you develop such a sense for physical beauty when you see it. So I’m very, very appreciative of it…every bit of it.”