Actor Robert Newman, best known to soap opera fans for his 28-year run as Guiding Light leading man Joshua Newman, will be making his debut as The Young and the Restless' Ashland Locke on Wednesday, February 9. His addition to the CBS soap opera happened last minute, when original portrayer Richard Burgi inadvertently broke the show's COVID rules and had to be replaced. The situation was a whirlwind, which Newman recounts in an interview on the Soap Opera Digest podcast.
"It really came out of nothing, absolutely nowhere," Newman says of the surprise call he got on a Friday evening from the powers that be at Y&R. "It was just a real crazy weekend with myself and my agent and with my wife, Britt [Helfer, ex-Lily Slater, Loving]... just a lot of really difficult discussions. At first, they wanted me for this amount of time, and then they wanted me for this amount of time, and then I was like, 'Well, maybe this amount of time?' By the time the weekend was over, we had reached this agreement... So, that was Monday afternoon when we settled everything, and then I was on a plane on Saturday of that week."
Newman admits that even though he's an experienced actor and has a very long history in daytime, it was still a bit intimidating to step back into the soap world over a decade after Guiding Light was canceled.
"It's not as if I'd been sitting around [doing nothing since Guiding Light's cancelation in 2009] -- I've been working through four to five plays a year, almost every year in different parts of the country, I've been doing guest spots, and then, of course, the auditioning," he says. "But [my first day] was a little bit frantic, a little bit terrifying, and very exciting at the same time. Everybody here, honestly, could not have been more gracious and patient and lovely. It was a really astonishing first day and an astonishing first week."
Fortunately, he found that he and Amelia Heinle, who plays Ashland's wife, Victoria, bonded quite quickly. "She's fantastic. Of course, she's fantastic!" he says. "In a way, I thought it might be a little more tricky for her, because she's been working with another person, an entirely other human being, for a period of time who had different rhythms and methods and tics."
The actor shares that the situation reminded him of when Nicole Forester replaced Laura Wright (Carly Corinthos, General Hospital) in the role of Cassie Layne Winslow on Guiding Light.
"It was literally the same day -- we had finished an episode with Laura in a car locked in a garage, and the next episode picked up with Nicole in the car in the garage, and we just went straight forward," he recalls. "Now, that wasn't a love relationship, at least at that time, but still, it was sort of that thing that happens where you've got a different person with different rhythms, different ideas. So, Amelia had to deal with that, too, and it's clear to me why she's won a couple of Emmys; she's just really, really good at what she does."
Newman says that he also bonded with Y&R icon Eric Braeden (Victor Newman) almost immediately, as well.
"We started talking about stage work, we started talking about Shakespeare, we started talking about all sorts of things that really didn't have anything to do with Victor or Ashland," he shares of their initial conversations together. "I just have such tremendous respect for him as an actor, and to be on the same stage with him working through a role like this, I will tell you, without giving the story away, we shot a scene last week that was, on his part, a master class in performance. It was astonishing to see where he went from just quickly reading through things and blocking to the final tape, where he went to ten different levels, and it was fantastic."
A lot of fans have made comparisons between Ashland and Victor, as did Heinle in a recent interview with Soap Central. Newman agrees that the business moguls are quite similar, and he says it's a conversation he's had with Braeden, too.
"We are both very much in agreement that these men are not only equals in stature, but they're cut from the same cloth," he says. "The tables could be turned tomorrow, and these two characters could trade places entirely, and he could be playing the bad guy, and I could be playing the noble guy, the father who's trying to defend his daughter, which I totally understand. So, I think we're just bonding on a level of a couple of old guys on a soap opera doing some nice work together. And they've given us some really good, strong material to play off of each other with, and it's just a joy."
As for some of his other thoughts about Ashland, Newman enthuses that he definitely speaks the character's language.
"He's a businessman through and through, but I think this relationship with Victoria is real, and I think it has changed his world, and he's trying to navigate through something he doesn't perhaps even understand, and that's my sweet spot; I love stuff like that," he reports. "Initially he was doing everything he could to, I guess, save his company, but also to make the best deal he could make to gain more power... and the monkey wrench for him now is Victoria. The unexpected thing that happened in his scheme was to fall truly in love with somebody, and now he's managing his way through this relationship."
Now that he's been filming for a few weeks, Newman says he's grown more confident about playing Ashland, but he will continue to put a lot of work into developing his version of the character in the months ahead. And he hopes that Y&R fans will embrace the work he's doing as they get used to seeing him in Ashland's shoes.
"I know that for some people, this will be a jarring change, and I get that, and I feel your pain, but the business is the business, and things shift and change. I'm hoping that I'll find a version of this character that eventually you'll warm to and appreciate," he says, adding, "I've always had tremendous respect for this show... Y&R has always been crisp and clean and smart and, also, I think, very family driven, as we were on Guiding Light. So, I've always felt like this would be a good fit for me, and so far, it feels like it. We'll see!"
Check out Newman's full interview with Digest here, and let us know what you think about him taking on the role of Y&R's Ashland in our Comments section below.
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