In Part One of our interview with Matthew Ashford, this legendary daytime actor discussed the coming together of talent for THE BAY, as well as how Buddhism has effected his craft. In Part Two below, Ashford reflects on his unforgettable roles on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and DAYS OF OUR LIVES. From what Broadway musical did he draw inspiration during Jack's reign of terror on DAYS? Find out below!
We Love Soaps: What can you tell me about your time on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW?
Matthew Ashford: That’s when I figured a lot of things out. Cagney was the youngest [McCleary] brother to Jeffrey Meek (Quinn) and David Forsyth (Hogan). My character was the youngest and married a girl named Suzi played by Terri Eoff. We were the only ones married on the show, and thought, “Wait a minute, we’re the ones who are supposed to be having the troubles.” Yet we were stuck being sweet and loving and kind and good.
I knew then we were dead. We were stuck. We were married, that was it. I had to start digging deeper. My character went from being a construction worker to being a cop. And that’s when I started digging deeper. I thought, “Okay, you want me to good, you want to be right? I’m going to be so right that you won’t be able to stand me.”
I began to do character work. A lot of things I didn’t figure out in school started to come to me. My imagination started loosening up. I created this righteous, right-leaning, conservative cop who believed women should be doing this, and men should be doing this, and good is over here, and evil is over there. I suddenly found a way to do the story as written, but to find myself in conflict with all the characters I was opposite, which was really, really fun. I finally was coming into my own. And working with Jeffrey and David was wonderful. And Peter Haskell, who played Lloyd, always had a joy of acting. He had been acting for so many years! That’s when I started to figure it out. When SEARCH FOR TOMORROW went off the air, we were on an upswing, we are on our way to creating a whole new exciting show. But NBC was checking out.
Matthew Ashford: I actually didn’t. I came to Los Angeles for a whole different reason. But they liked me, and I liked them. So I auditioned with Mary Beth Evans and they said, “That’s your wife.” I go to kiss her in the audition and I could tell she didn’t like it. She was really not into it. Then they said, “This is the guy you don’t like,” and Stephen Nichols walked in the room. I could sense the energy between them. I saw there was nothing going on between Jack and Kayla, the married couple, but there was this huge energy between Steve and Kayla. I knew that my character would make the fans crazy because he was considered an interloper.
Then the extra thing I did not know was that Stephen Nichols' character was my brother. The camera obviously picks up on this intense connection between Steve and Kayla, why doesn’t Jack see it? Well, that’s my job as an actor. I began to do my work and chose to act that Jack did see the connection. I saw it in my heart, if not in my mind. And my mind, which is my ego, would not let me see it. They would write the endless lines of, “I love you, Kayla...” But I made sure there was a part of Jack that knew something was very, very wrong, and continued in this sadomasochistic relationship. Jack didn’t know how to resolve this situation. He finally got a situation he could not ignore, which was the photos of them sleeping together. He got slapped in the face. That’s what he wanted because he couldn’t resolve it any other way. If he had a gun he would have killed her, but he performed a different act of violence instead.
We Love Soaps: He not only raped her but he taunted and teased her for months after. How did you rectify that with the character?
Matthew Ashford: I just thought he was in hell. I had to make his hurt so deep that he had to hurt others. When you are that out of touch, it’s just about hurting. At that point I was listening a lot to Sondheim’s "Sweeney Todd." That character was so dark. But because of Sondheim’s artistry he was so dark and lovely, you could see how at one time Sweeney Todd had dreams and hopes and aspirations. I saw that in Jack. I would not for a moment in the darkness forget that there was something else deep inside. I was not about to call him a bad guy. And then, because of my understanding of cause and effect, I knew that every time he made a deep cut to hurt Steve or Kayla, it cut both ways.
We Love Soaps: Eventually we did see that, but it was not initially evident.
Matthew Ashford: Because in their writing, they didn’t know I was capable of that. They write and they do watch. You have to show them you can do that. The initial rape scene was written as, “You are mine, woman, you will be mine!” It was gross. We got ready to do the scene. They didn’t want to do it twice, and we sure didn’t want to do it twice. And as I pushed her down I kept saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you...” I said it over and over. That is what he wanted. A lot of guys say that right before they kill their girlfriends, and themselves. It’s a terrible, terrible thing.
We didn’t need nasty cliché words. It created potential in the situation for people to look at both sides, to see it was tragedy all the way around. As an actor I try to bring my character’s side of the story. Fortunately, the writers and producers eventually saw that, as were the other actors in the scene.
We Love Soaps: We did eventually see how the hurt cut both ways. By the time Jennifer came into his world, he considered himself damaged goods.
Matthew Ashford: It was such a blessing in so many ways for him to come into this character at this time. He had been so sullied in so many ways. I ended up as a pariah in so many ways. All he had were his political ambitions, and then those disappeared. They let him off [for raping Kayla] on a technicality. They robbed the audience of the sweet revenge. Yet his career was over as a political figure. He was never able to get that back.
So he went into the newspaper business. Jack bought out the newspaper from Genie Francis (Diana) which was a fun moment for me. Because he had been such a pariah, they couldn’t put him with anybody. Yet they knew they wanted me and they knew there was something going on. They tried to figure out what to do with this rancid bad guy. They took Melissa Reeves, who was coming out of having done all the kids stories, and introduced her as a young cub reporter. Her only continuing story of merit was that she was a virgin. My story was that I was a rapist.
Now all of a sudden there was this thing. The great part of it was that they could not put us together. People would never understand that. They had to just allow us to exist on a day by day basis and start to give us storylines about other things. I chose to go with the glory of work where my character was seeking redemption. It rings of Russian plays like Ibsen and Chekov where they say, “We must work, work...” and that is your salvation. I started to find that, and everything about Jack became about work. Of course, Jennifer wanted to save the whales, save the kitty cats, save the beaver, whatever it is she wanted to save. We got into this whole bleeding heart liberal versus cold-hearted conservative bent that I was pushing. I got into teaching her about the hard rules of business and journalism, as if I knew them. So that is what we played. Meanwhile, the audience read what they read. That for me was the most fun.
We Love Soaps: As a viewer it was such a treat. To see these two opposites slowly find their way into each other’s lives. Knowing each had something important to offer to the other made it fascinating viewing. Telling a story like that is so rare now on daytime.
Matthew Ashford: A show that lasts five years, seven years, eleven years, is such a rare thing. To play the full scope of that character’s lives is rare. Melissa had that, and on the other end Frances Reid had that. It means something. It’s unfortunate that the networks are so short-sided and they are walking away from a gold mine. There are people for whom these are the most in-depth relationships they have, and they share it culturally through generations. When people say it’s a family show they don’t mean the content is family fair, because it’s really not. They mean that our family has watched this. They remember their grandmother, their great aunts, their uncles. People want to tell me about their lives, about who they watched with. They tell me that when they watch me now. It’s like having all those people back with them. It’s really magical. I’m shaking my head that there aren’t any network people who really understand that. Maybe now is the time that we can pull that together in something like THE BAY and bring those characters back.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Three in which Ashford discusses how the Buddhist law of cause and effect impacted Matthew's portrayal of Jack Deveraux, as well as recollections of the 1991 wedding between Jack and Jennifer.
Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City at Mental Health Counseling & Marriage And Family Therapy Of New York. He is also the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve."