We Love Soaps: Do you think the networks underestimate the loyalty and intelligence of their audience?
Matthew Ashford: I think they are counting on the loyalty. Do they underestimate the intelligence? That’s too easy. I think they don’t want to hear about the intelligence because the audience can cut them to pieces in a second. Most of the audience watching the show can tell them who the characters are far better than they could, but they want to keep their jobs. What they do count on is the emotional response of the audience, and they don’t want to hear about the intellectual response. I have heard from such intelligent people who use this as mind candy, but they live their lives. I’ve been on Capitol Hill where the whole office watches the show. Congressmen! I’ve been in cowboy bars in Calgary, Canada, where a whole saloon full of 6’5” cowboys have turned around and recognized me as Jack. I’ve had Bobby Brown and his whole entourage come up to me on a plane and say, “You’re in my stories!” You realize that people use these shows to find their break.
We Love Soaps: I think daytime soaps connect with their audience in a way no art form does because it is in people’s living rooms or office every day. We see through Jack Deveraux that redemption and forgiveness is possible, and that has more of an impact than a two hour movie.
Matthew Ashford: We were just trying to have fun. We would get into arguments about really stupid stuff. They would write something and [Jack and Jennifer] would fight about it. We found out later that the characters on MAD ABOUT YOU were watching Jack and Jennifer and arguing about them. So you know the writers had to be watching Jack and Jennifer before they wrote it. That made me happy. I enjoyed that. It was nice to know we were on the right path. Their relationship on MAD ABOUT YOU very much mirrored Jack and Jennifer.
Then SEINFELD was just about things not happening. At a certain point Missy [Reeves] and I realized that that was all we needed. We don’t need things to happen. They weren’t giving us a storyline and I said, “I don’t care, just put us on, we’ll come up with something.” We reached a point where the smaller the life moment, the better. The one thing I was sad about was that we had a daughter who was growing up with us, and there was so much room for the development of the family and the battles between different ideas. They just weren’t ready to write it. It didn’t seem sexy enough. My feeling is, when you are doing a daytime show, you should get into the life moments if your actors can handle it, and we could handle it.
We Love Soaps: From a cause and effect perspective, what was the role of Jennifer in Jack’s evolution?
Matthew Ashford: The fact that she would even stick around him was the effect of some positive cause from the past. Now Jack was not a Buddhist, Jack doesn’t know anything about cause and effect. He just did whatever he did. But I pushed poor Missy so far, so hard. She had to push down so hard as Jennifer and ask, “Why do I even like this guy?” They would write for her, “Jack. Oh Jack. Jack... Jack...” and she was able to string that together in so many wonderful ways. She is a wonderful listener, a reactive actress, and she saved my bacon so many times. As we got into these last couple of years, as bizarre as my character was, he ended up being the one character who loved and stayed true.
They got into some crazy stuff where they had Jennifer sleep with this character [Colin Murphy] to save Jack’s life, that was really weird. I felt very bad for her. She hated that. She really, really hated that a lot. She had a strong idea of being a Horton and what that meant, and they tested her mightily. They ended up making the character of Jack stick around for her. And Jack was never with any other woman, until they had this really weird moment where they had this actress through Stefano do this faceplant and put the face of Jennifer on her and she seduced Jack. He was lost on an island...it was just horrible. She wasn’t really Jennifer, but they slept together, and she pulls her face off or something, it was just weird. Like what was that all about? I can’t answer that, we just had to deal with that. The irony was that Jack was so bizarre, all over the boards, but in the end his core was more connected to Jennifer than anything else. They could not write that he would ever willingly sleep with anybody else.
We Love Soaps: Their wedding in 1991 at Universal Studios is another beloved moment for fans. Do you remember that?
Matthew Ashford: Oh yeah. It was strange. I wasn’t into all the hijinks and craziness. He had this sense of fatalism. And he struggled with saying, “I love you.” He just could not commit. They wrote it so many times, and I found so many ways to skirt the issue.
We Love Soaps: I remember a time when he said “I glove you” to Jennifer instead.
Matthew Ashford: They were so afraid of having this audience not like a character who can’t say he loves the girl, when in fact most guys can’t say it. They are afraid people will switch the channel. I said, no, there is never a moment where there isn’t a level of intensity between these characters. He just couldn’t put a voice to it. I said, “As you do this thing where everyone can say ‘I love you’, all the tension goes out of it.” Suddenly the audience goes, “Next.” And I knew that. So I was in no hurry to get them married and wondered why we were hurrying it. They were pushing, they were so nervous to have this big moment. Even at the wedding Jennifer says all the words. Jack just looks at her and blinks in the sunlight. He lost his voice. He couldn’t say it, but he had been committed to her since the beginning. The audience could see it. He just couldn’t give it voice through his anger and his ego and his stupidity.
We Love Soaps: Yet he said it to Kayla while he was raping her.
Matthew Ashford: That was an adolescent ownership of what he thought of as love. And he said it to Melissa Anderson, Mickey’s daughter. They weren’t sure where that was going, I think they wanted it to be a love story. But I was learning how to play as an actor so that when he said he loved Melissa they could see he didn’t mean a single word he was saying. He had Melissa tagging after him, and he took advantage of her. So they allowed that and had Jack play around for awhile, although he didn’t really play. He got slammed by Mickey and Melissa at the alter. They did that because my ego, Matthew’s ego, could take it.
I was really learning how to have fun. Working with John Clarke, Frances Reid, Suzanne Rogers, I even had scenes with MacDonald Carey where I came in and messed with him. Jack would walk into a room and think, “Who can I take, and who can’t I take?” He looked at Tom Horton and said, “I think I can take him.” It got funny when he started overestimating his own powers of persuasion. He said, “Maggie Horton...got her. Mickey Horton...he’s too smart for his own good, got him.” He figures he knows him. And people do this all the time, every day. I started doing this with every character on the show. So I’m sitting there with Tom Horton and I’m starting to throw my little stuff. And I could tell I got MacDonald Carey mad during the scene. His eyebrows started bristling. Nobody had messed with him in a long time. He was Grandpa Tom! Jack thought, “The hell with you.” I managed to do this and I got him going. It was fun for him as well.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Come back for Part Four Ashford discusses his attention to details in scenes, and his take on James E. Reilly's approach to Jack Deveraux.
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."