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Holding "Sessions": The Robert Newman Interview, Part 1

Robert Newman spent most of the past 28 years portraying Joshua Lewis on GUIDING LIGHT, where he more than proved his ability to channel a romantic strong leading hero.  But who knew he could sing and dance as well?  New York theater audiences sure know this, especially in his latest show, "Sessions." This show is highly recommended for fans of GUIDING LIGHT as well as anyone who has ever been interested in the psychotherapy field.  Please enjoy this interview with the multi-talented Robert Newman, who will share insights as far as acting on GUIDING LIGHT, the role of theater in his life, and coping with the death of your favorite daytime show. 

We Love Soaps: As a therapist myself, I really enjoyed this play. 
Robert Newman: Do your clients break out in song and dance in the middle of your sessions?

We Love Soaps: When I’m lucky they do.  How has it been doing this show for you?
Robert Newman: It’s been five months now.  It’s been great.  I love being on stage, I love being in theater.  The people that I’m working with are wonderful on stage and off.  I hate to say it, I don’t miss doing television.

We Love Soaps: Why do you hate to say that?
Robert Newman: I guess I’m entitled to not miss it.  After 28 years I’m entitled to take a break for awhile.  I think I’m more surprised by it.  I thought I’d have a yearning for it or a sense that I’m just on a break and they’ll be calling tomorrow to play Josh some more.  But I don’t feel that at all.  I don’t really feel any sense of great loss toward the work.  I feel sadness for the fans.  But people have asked me about missing playing Josh.  No, I don’t.  It was nice for awhile, now it’s done, and I’m fine with that. 

We Love Soaps: You said you feel surprised you don’t miss Josh.
Robert Newman: I really didn’t know what I would think.  And when we talked before I didn’t know what I was going to think, I didn’t know what I was going to feel.  I have had a couple of rollercoastery emotional days that I hadn’t anticipated either.  I felt very settled by all of it, because I did have ["Sessions"] going on.  This served a great purpose while I was doing both.  I was exhausted beyond belief because this is a pretty exhausting show.  And trying to balance the two scheduling wise just about killed me.  But it also kept me so busy, so focused in so many areas, I don’t feel I went through the same process that some of the other people connected to the show went through.  I didn’t have time.  And then we had our last day at CBS, our last day in Peapack, we had the Emmy’s, there were all these different goodbyes.  Then it was done.  I felt very stable about it.  Then I’ve had a few days where I’ve gone, “Wow, I feel really down and depressed today, I wonder what that’s about."  It’s mourning something I did for 28 years.  My therapist compared it to those four or five things that really change your life.  There’s divorce, death, moving, and she was saying how my experience with GUIDING LIGHT encompasses all of that.  It is experiencing a death in a way, a divorce in a way.

We Love Soaps: At the same time, a loss like that can be freeing.
Robert Newman: And that’s the part I’ve been focused on.  A lot of that has been here.  This [stage] is where I feel at home.  When I’m on stage in front of people I feel at home.  The audience is very responsive to Sessions.  I always like that agreement that you sign with audience that, “We’re going to do this, and you’re going to respond to it.”  There’s something so alive about working on stage because if something goes wrong you need to deal with it [snaps] right in that second.  It’s stuff the audience isn’t even aware of, but we’re aware.  And also the job is making it fresh every single time.  As you can see [as Dr. Peterson] I do a lot of listening in this show.  I need to hear those stories fresh every single time otherwise it doesn’t work for me.  

We Love Soaps: What else would you like to do with his new freedom?
Robert Newman: I think I’ll stay on stage for awhile.  This runs until until January 3rd.  I’ll be working toward other possibilities.  But I feel I need to stay on stage for awhile and just have that.  For the last five or six years I’ve been taking time away from GUIDING LIGHT every summer for 4-6 weeks to do theater.  That’s been very beneficial for me.  It’s my home. 

We Love Soaps: Your character Dr. Peterson has a public persona.  His clients see him as suave, debonair, and sexy.  The audience is privy to seeing he struggles with such inner torment.  Was that appealing to you in this role?
Robert Newman: Oh yes, that’s what appealing to me in all roles, including Joshua.  Those were the parts of Joshua I embraced the most.  I always fought against playing him as a hero, though that’s what he is perceived as.  But to me, he’s always been a very flawed individual.  And I think over the years we saw that come out with him.  Very often, in the effort of trying to do the right thing, he would actually do the wrong thing.  He was always trying to help people, but somehow he would trip up along the way and make mistakes.  I’m still taking flack from the fans about the whole Josh/Cassie [relationship].  I’m still like, “You know, that’s who he was at that time.”

We Love Soaps: When Josh started on the show he had so many shades of grey.  He was quite a hothead.
Robert Newman: He was a bad guy the first year, when Douglas [Marland] wrote him.

We Love Soaps: Then he became a pillar of the community and ascended to becoming a religious figure!
Robert Newman: I always battled that with them.  I always fought that with producers and writers.  I challenged them, “Please don’t put him in a box.”  Don’t create this box that is Josh Lewis, and is all those virtues you’re describing.  I need him to be a man.  And even when we approached that minister story line.  Ellen's [Wheeler] initial concept of that was about a guy who is flawed and has this religious epiphany.  How does that affect his relationship with his wife and his family and his friends? How does he remain a human being?  All this does tie into "Sessions." Al Tapper [the writer of "Sessions"] and I talked about this at length.  There are certain professions that people put you on this pedestal.  And then they have this expectation of you that you have it all.  I think ministers, shrinks are one...

We Love Soaps: Actors?
Robert Newman: Yes, and I never understood that.  I don’t know why people put actors on a pedestal.  Or this thing with Tiger Woods.  He’s a sports figure!  We don’t have moral expectations from him.  He’s a guy who is good at hitting a golf ball, yet we’re surprised when something happens.  With politicians it’s fair.  But I’ve known a few politicians in my day, and I think it’s their nature to screw up too.  The point of this play is, the people we put on a pedestals are still human beings, they are still flawed.  They still struggle, they still second guess themselves.  They take a path they shouldn’t take.  I’ve so much related to that in my own life through the years. 

We Love Soaps: How so?
Robert Newman: I think I’m extremely flawed.  “How so” is a difficult question to respond to.  But I think we all have our stuff.  I was just saying to somebody that I had seen recently in Vegas.  They asked if I gambled, and I said, “No, I don’t gamble at all.”  I don’t know why I don’t gamble at all.  But I have plenty of other issues that I deal with so I’m glad I don’t gamble on top of that.  Some of them are simple things such as pride or jealousy, and others are more concrete.  I think everyone struggles in their own personal private ways.  And then when we find out about that it becomes a big surprise, and it shouldn’t be .

We Love Soaps: Many therapies encourage that sort of idealization in the therapy room, so the eventual disappointment and hurt when the pedestal falls can be processed.  In the public sphere, with Tiger Woods as an example, we love to build people then we love to watch them fall.  In truth, those are really parts of ourselves that we are projecting and dichotomizing.  The great thing about Sessions is that we can see within one man there was the parts of himself that is quite true.  When we see shades of grey in Dr. Peterson it makes it easier to see them in ourselves.
Robert Newman: I think people relate to that.  Maybe there are some people who don’t want to relate to that.  I have gone golfing with the minister of the church I belong to.  You learn everything about a person on the golf course.  He is about as human as they come.  I take great comfort in that.  He’s not a perfect person up there, I don’t think I could relate a person who thinks that about themselves.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  Click here for your tickets to see "Sessions." Act fast, the show is only running until January 3, 2010!!   Then come back Monday for Part Two, in which Robert Newman discusses his own personal insights,  why GUIDING LIGHT'S clone story became a personal turning point, as well as lessons learned from Larry Gates.

Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is blogging about surviving the holidays at www.shouldless.com.

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