Tuesday, September 7, 2010

THE BAY The Series Interviews: Matthew Ashford, Part Five

In Parts One, Two, and Three and Four of our interview with Matthew Ashford, this outspoken and fascinating actor shared memories of his soap career, the Buddhist perspectives that helped mold his portrayal of Jack Deveraux on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, as well as reflections and insights into his acting style, Jack's quirks, and his relationship with James E. Reilly.  In the final part below, Ashford reflects on his post DAYS roles.  What went wrong on GH? Did he know Jack was coming to life on DAYS? And is he coming back now? These and more answers below.

We Love Soaps: Melissa Reeves is coming back to DAYS.
Matthew Ashford: That is great.  We have talked a few times about that.  I know Gary Tomlin, he is a great guy and a great writer.  I know that if he comes up with something for the character of Jack, and if he wants me to play it, it’s going to be good. 

We Love Soaps: I think the current writing team is more willing to look at complexities in characters than previous teams.
Matthew Ashford: Gary told me a long time ago that they had only so many people on the screen.  And they do.  He was very honest. 

We Love Soaps: Would you go back to DAYS?
Matthew Ashford: Absolutely. If Gary has something written, I am sure it would be good.  I would consider it very closely.  But I understand the way these things go.  Give the writer a chance to create.  I have already been on shows where people wanted me, but had nothing to write for me.  That’s pretty painful.

We Love Soaps: That leads me to ask about Tom Hardy on GENERAL HOSPITAL.  The show was quite good in the '90s.  I loved Claire Labine’s writing, and I loved your acting, but something didn’t mesh.
Matthew Ashford: So I’m a seasoned actor, working with a lot of wonderful people.  The one thing I didn’t want to be was “Tom Hardy: The Good Boy.” Coming into it I was told that would not be the case.  As we went through it, it became more and more apparent that there was no room for myself to be something other than the good guy.  They had this 9 1/2 Weeks storyline where we apparently did things that nobody else had done before.  For one week we were highly scandalous.  For years on DAYS I wouldn’t take off anything.  Then Kristina Wagner and I were pushing the limits.  For one week it was a big deal, the next week it was ho-hum ho-hum.  I could have totally predicted that.

Back when I was on DAYS, in one magazine they would have these voting things.  In one week [Jack and Jennifer] were voted, “Worst Kisser,” “Best Love story,” “Best Relationship.” What does that mean? Obviously I chose to kiss the way I chose.  They said I was uncomfortable and painful, but you can bet that kiss was something that no one would forget.  There was never anything easy about anything Jack ever did.  It came at great cost.  So going into GENERAL HOSPITAL, they didn’t want so many obstacles. I was used to working with a high level of obstacles that I am willing to bring.  That was a bit of a challenge.  So at the end of two years I needed more time, more care as a character.  They were not ready to give it.

Also, let’s be really honest.  This was a terrible time for the show.  I was brought on to be opposite of John Bernadino.  John Bernadino died of cancer.  They promised him a big acting storyline.  By the time we finally got around to it John was so sick and had lost so much weight.  We were supposed to have these scenes with me beating up on him, and he just couldn’t deliver, he didn't have the voice anymore.  So they were cutting all that short, and I had to end up tying all of it up with a six page monologue at his grave.  To this day, I think of it as painful.  Then Rosalind Cash, on the other side of my storyline, as Mary Mae.  She didn’t tell anyone she was sick.  She went into the hospital on a Friday, and she was dead Monday morning.  Claire Labine just checked out after that.  That was so painful for her.  That character was such a part of her story.  So to my right and to my left, the pillars of my story disappeared.  I can’t even really blame anyone.  It was the wrong time and circumstance.  All sorts of characters departed after that, not just me.  It was a very tough time.  I really enjoyed working with all those people - Tony Geary, Vanessa Marcil, Kristina Wagner - and we had a great time. 

We Love Soaps: It was my understanding that the actors who were “killed” during the Salem Serial Killer story in 2003-2004 were not told they would be coming back alive.
Matthew Ashford: No, they didn’t. No one knew that.  That’s why I went looking for new work.  I didn’t know that I would end up going back to DAYS. 

We Love Soaps: You returned to ONE LIFE TO LIVE in 2003 as Steven after starting as Drew in 1982.
Matthew Ashford: It was fun working with all those wonderful actresses.  The people on ONE LIFE are great and it was such a pleasure to work with Bob Woods again. The sad irony is that I was killing off all these wonderful actresses.  I wish I had had a chance to play off of them.  Most had been killed by the time I showed up.  That was the rub.  I had just been “killed” off of my own show and now I go to another show and kill off people from that show [laughs].  It was sad, but then you just say, “I guess I’m just an actor for hire.”

We Love Soaps: Is that hard to do? You seem so invested in the characters you play?
Matthew Ashford: I was invested in that character too.  But to realize that’s the way the wheel turns.  You just say this is what is here, and this is what is next.  I still have a family, I still have to pay my bills.  It was a good job, it was four months of good work, and I appreciated it.  It was just ironic that I was doing the very thing that brought about the demise of Jack and so many others.

We Love Soaps: It always shocks me given your career and your talent that you have never been nominated for an Emmy.  How is that possible?
Matthew Ashford: It depends on the show.  If the show doesn’t garner that much respect then people don’t look at it that way.  They don’t look at what you are doing.  They don’t see that sometimes what you are doing is taking something that really wasn’t so great and turning it into something.  Whether I ever got an award or not, I got something from our musical director at DAYS.  He told me one time, that he would come in every day at 5 a.m. and started plugging in the songs and the musical cues for the scenes.  He said, “I can tell every scene where it’s going.  What is going to be up what’s going to be down, we have song cues for all of you. I can do this every time for every character until I came to the scenes with you and Missy (Jennifer).  I had to sit there and actually watch the scene.  The scene was written to be sad, but you guys make it funny.  When the scene is written to be funny, you guys find some sad painful moment.  I had to sit there and watch the whole scene.” 

We Love Soaps: What a compliment!
Matthew Ashford: That was a compliment because it was from one peer to the other.  Many times, the people who don’t receive shiny emblems are people who their peers remember.  I’ve had actors who have come up to me and said, “I went to my writer and said, 'I want to do what Matt and Missy are doing!'” That was nice.  You don’t forget those things.  They propel you to continue and fight the good fight. 

We Love Soaps: Back in 1984, you gave an interview where you were asked about getting older.  Your answer was: “I want to have a growing awareness of others and their needs and of myself."
Matthew Ashford: That’s the year I started chanting.  Learning to connectedness of all things, that is Buddhism.  You develop your Buddha nature, which is inside all of us already, but needs to be brought out.  I don’t know when I did that interview if I was chanting or not but it may have been what I was seeking, and then what I found.  It has enriched my life and I hope it enhances the lives of others. 

As you recall, Jack for awhile was just a mess, always suffering and angry and messed up.  One day I got a letter from this young man who said, “My mother watched you a lot.  I was in school and my mother got very sick.  I came home to nurse her, and we sat there and watched DAYS OF OUR LIVES because she was a fan of yours.  She got sicker and sicker and I nursed her to her death.  After her death I didn’t want to do anything.  I gave up, I quit school, I stopped going.  I sat there and watched TV, including your show.  As I watched your show, I watched your character, who had so many problems, so much suffering, so much anger, so much revilement of himself.  Yet I looked inside and saw you, Matthew having the time of your life, enjoying what you are doing, enjoying your life.  I realized at that moment that I needed to enjoy my life.  I’m writing to let you know I have graduated from college with honors, I am moving on with my life, and I want to thank you for that encouragement.”

That is really the essence of Buddhism.  That your practice is your life is your work.  And your work is your practice and your faith, and encourages other people.  I don’t need to tell somebody else about "Nam-myoho-renge-kyo."  In my action I could show them to win where you are is the key.  I may never get an amazing award for this or that.  But that one letter stands out to me as the kind of life and the kind of work I want to be able to do.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Thank you for reading our feature with Matthew Ashford.  If you can't wait for THE BAY to premiere, then watch the "confessions" of the Garrett family here.  To learn more about the school of Buddhism that Matthew describes in this interview go to the Soka Gakkai International website.

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."

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