In 1981, the course of life for recent college graduate Robert Newman changed abruptly when he traveled from Michigan, where he was running summer errands to earn his Equity card, to New York for what was supposed to be a week of casual get-togethers, eventually landing the long-term contract role of Josh from GUIDING LIGHT, a character he would play occasionally (mostly) until the show’s cancellation in 2009. An equally shocking sea change came 41 years later, when in January the actor – whose professional focus in recent years has been on acting and prime-time guest spots – received an unexpected call from Y&R to take over the role of Ashland from outgoing Richard Burgi.
As with his GL hire, saying yes to Y&R required a sudden move across the country – but this time he had to leave behind a growing family (wife Britt, adult children Connor and Kendal, pregnant stepdaughter Caroline and grandson Leo). It was a shock to his system, of course, and for the first few weeks, “I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water, that kind of thing that pedals as fast as it can,” he said. “Now I’ve settled into routine here at YOUNG AND RESTLESS and into my own routines at home, even though I miss my family terribly.” Still, he acknowledges, “In times when I feel tense or frustrated, especially about something series-related, I have to step back and think about ‘How much does this have to do with that particular line of dialogue or that particular scene, and how much does that really have to do with how out of full left field, without notice, I picked up and came 3,000 miles away? ”
While Y&R is a new environment for him – and Ashland a new character to inhabit – Newman had decades of daytime experience to draw upon to reacclimate to the demands of the genre. “Everything came back pretty quickly, including the terror that you can feel at any time! But my memorization technique is the same as when I memorize a play or the lyrics to a musical, so all those muscles have worked a lot over the past 12 years. The toolbox I need to do the day job is still intact – thank goodness! And it helps me get through these days one at a time.
One thing that didn’t need much tweaking, after spending so many years playing the (mostly) heroic Josh, is playing against type as the (mostly) villainous Ashland. “I see the joy of playing a villain,” he smiles. “Everyone I’ve known, whether you talk about Chris Bernau [ex-Alan, GL] or Ron Raines [ex-Alan, GL] or Michael Zaslow [ex-Roger, GL], liked to play a villain. It’s really a lot of fun. I still communicate a little with Josh [Griffith, head writer/co-executive producer]; when I meet a new character that I haven’t worked with before, I go to them to get the context of the relationship and usually my question is, “Why does this person hate me so much?” ”
He’s had plenty of juicy material to play since taking on the role, with Ashland being arrested for faking cancer and struggling to keep his marriage to Victoria intact. “I walk a very fine line with this character,” Newman notes. “I try to keep it interesting and multi-layered, multi-faceted and even, in some cases, charming. I want to give Josh credit for that, because we had long conversations where he continually walks me through it, to through the mind of Ashland Locke. I think for me a go-to has always been to play everything as real and heartfelt and true, and I think Ashland tries to play everything as all of those things. I think that his driving force is his love for Victoria and I think he’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her in his world. I think he’s created an alternate reality that exists in his head that gives him less the impression that he is manipulating Victoria and more that he is trying to save their love and their relationship with each other.
Plus, Newman points out, Victoria’s family of origin doesn’t exactly have closets without a skeleton. “We had a few scenes where Victoria arbitrarily tells me things that Adam has done in the past, and during rehearsal I’m like, ‘Wait. She just told me this horrible and despicable information! Am I letting this pass? How can I even answer that? And then Victor, of course, did terrible things — they all did terrible things! And maybe the idea of lying about a disease like cancer is slightly worse than those terrible things, but it’s just an array of terrible things! It’s not like I work in a world of saints and I’m the bad guy. We are all bad guys! It’s just the degree of badness, you know?
The actor says he couldn’t ask for a better stage partner to harness his on-screen marital dynamic with than Amelia Heinle (Victoria). “I’m 100% impressed with her as a person and with her work,” he says. “She really turns it on and makes it work. I think it can be a little tricky for the good guy, because when you’re the good guy, you feel like you’re being duped too blatantly by the bad guy, you’re like, ‘Why would my character be so dumb? ‘ or something like that. But now she’s turned the tables on Ashland and I think she’s killing him, really.
Whatever the writers have in store for Ashland, there’s nothing they can script that the actor, whose alter ego GL cloned his presumed dead wife, wouldn’t be game to tackle. “I’ve always said, ever since the clone script, that I can justify anything thrown at me during the day!” says Newman. “I mean, I was able to justify cloning my dead wife and growing her from birth to 40 in six weeks with a rapid growth formula, so all of the following is [a breeze]!”
All in all, he thinks Ashland was the perfect return ticket to strike. “I just saw Josh on set and said, ‘If I was going to sit down and build a character that would be fun to play, going back to daytime for the first time in 100 years, I wouldn’t have could have built a better character for me, at this point in my life and where I am as an actor, than the character of Ashland Locke.”
Newman cherishes his real-life role as grandfather to his son Connor’s granddaughters, Leo, 2, and Rocky, born April 1. “I didn’t know what to expect,” he says of his close relationship with his eldest grandson. “When you become a parent, you really don’t know what to expect. I remember the minute Connor was put in my hands. Britt had to have an emergency caesarean and they wouldn’t let me in the room so they just put me in a waiting room while Britt had her caesarean and the nurse came in and handed me something and walked away, and I looked down and it was my son. The moment I looked at him and he more or less looked at me, as much as a newborn can do, the bond was instantaneous. It happened just this second and has only grown and grown over the years. With Leo, it was very similar, from my first contact with him. He’s a really fun kid. We have a whole bunch of inside jokes that we make with each other and I make all kinds of crazy noises and faces and sometimes he does them directly to me, which is wonderful. It was a very pleasant surprise to be so connected to this child, and I couldn’t be more proud of Connor and his wife, Caroline. I knew they would be great parents and all you really need to do is spend some time with this child and you can tell he is loved, cared for, cared for. he is safe.
Did you know?
• He earned his membership in the actors union by dubbing Tom Wopat in a production of Carousel.
• Newman proposed to marry Britt while suffering from walking pneumonia, whom he caught filming on location for SANTA BARBARA.
Just the facts:
Anniversary: June 27
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Story of the day: Joshua Lewis, GUIDING LIGHT, 1981-84, 1986-91, 1993-2009; Prescott Harrell, GH, 1985; Kirk Cranston, SANTA BARBARA, 1986.
At Newman: The actor married Britt Helfer (ex-Lily, LOVING) on September 27, 1986, and they have two children, son Connor, born April 3, 1989, and daughter Kendal, born May 13, 1992.
Screen time: “I’m watching PICARD and 1883, the prequel to YELLOWSTONE.”
The piece is the thing: Among his favorite stage roles are George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (“especially doing it in the face of Kim [Zimmer, ex-Reva, GL], with all of our personal history and all of our on-screen history together”), Don Quixote and Sweeney Todd. He also enjoyed playing Tevye in fiddler on the roof, that he expects it to be a one-time thing. “I don’t know if anyone will throw a Norwegian Tevye again!”
Follow the LIGHT: Since arriving in Los Angeles, he has met a few other GL alumni. “I saw Laura Wright [ex-Cassie; Carly, GH] at a rally recently, and Frank Dicopoulos [ex-Frank] was there too. And Kim and AC [Weary, her husband] and I had dinner about a month ago at their son’s.
Limited series: Her first post-Covid gig was “about a minute of screen time” in Netflix’s INVENTING ANNA.