Fans of THE YOUNG & THE RESTLESS would be hard-pressed to imagine Genoa City without Victor Newman — or his portrayer, Eric Braeden, who has spent the last 40 years brilliantly forging a character so unique that he has become an icon in the daytime landscape. Yet Braeden himself tends to brush aside all the accolades and admiration. Having grown up in war-torn Germany and participated in the rough-and-tumble world of sports, the Emmy winner learned quickly the importance of keeping one’s nose to the grindstone. “I don’t rest on what I’ve done in the past. It’s always onward and upward,” he mused thoughtfully. “In that sense, I’m not aware of the passage of time. It’s only moments like these, when we have a show coming up [spotlighting the anniversary], and it suddenly hits you, and you say, ‘Whoa!’”
Of course, if there is one thing that stands out, it is how it could have turned out so differently. Braeden, who cut his teeth in primetime and film, has always been candid about his initial dislike when he landed on Y&R. “The entire setup of daytime was so different, and it really took me a long time to get used to it — to the speed with which things are done and the amount of dialogue to learn. I didn’t like it at all.”
Still, Braeden says he knew he could adapt to the pace of production. What he had no desire to adapt to was playing a one-note bad guy. So he sat down with Y&R’s co-creator, the late William J. Bell, to share his concerns over the role. “He listened when I said, ‘Kindly give Victor a background that I can work with,’” recounted the actor. “Bill had a rare genius. He somehow knew how to touch certain emotions in actors. He came up with Victor having grown up in an orphanage. It was an eye-opening story. I remember the day that Victor told Nikki about his childhood. I keep coming back to that [episode], because that was truly the moment that I decided to stay. Now Victor was a full-fledged character with an extraordinarily interesting past. I have loved playing him ever since, it’s as simple as that.
“Bill gave me a blueprint that has been everlasting,” he added with a smile. “That’s why I’ve stayed with this for so long. Where else would you get a chance to express this many emotions, the conflicts and pain and joy… It’s fabulous!”
That’s not to say that Braeden hasn’t had a storyline here and there that he would rather have done without. “There are moments with Victor that I have never liked to play. Personally, I have a very close relationship with my son and grandchildren. None of Victor’s coldness! I have always disliked that a lot — Victor’s relationship with his kids, although I think it’s getting better. But you have to do it, otherwise you wouldn’t have any conflict. There would be no drama. And you need all of that.
“Ultimately, you are an actor, and you get paid to act,” he continued with his customary forthrightness. “Someone else gets paid to write. I have a deep sense of duty to do the work. You are given a script, and you can ask questions and try to improve upon it. That’s part of the process. Part of the joy of acting is trying to make a scene real. The exciting moments in acting are when something suddenly becomes real and you can just sense it. That drives me. I can’t explain it more simply than that, although it’s very complex on how you arrive at it. I had scenes the other day with Eileen [Davidson, Ashley] where suddenly you strike a chord and boom! Something happens. The moment becomes real. I live for those moments! That’s what makes me happy as an actor. And when you can manage to do it in one or two takes, then it’s doubly satisfying. It’s an interesting process, and I never tire of it. I’ve never phoned in a performance, and if that ever happens, I’ll give up!”
For now, though, fans can rest easy. Even though in recent months, Victor has handed over the reins of Newman to daughter Victoria, Braeden has no intention of stepping aside. A more content Victor is “a nice reprieve from the constant hostilities,” said the soap vet. “I don’t know what [co-executive producer/headwriter] Josh Griffith has in mind, so we’ll see, but I don’t want Victor to just be at home, knitting socks! No, no, no! I’m still full of piss and vinegar!”
And appreciative. “I’m grateful to have been doing this continuously for 40 years, with as rich a character as I was given by Bill Bell,” he said quietly. “Considering how many actors are not working, I am grateful. That’s all there is to it… but you also feel that you want to do so much more!”
For more on Eric Braeden, visit EricBraeden.com and for more from your favorite Y&R stars, keep reading the CBS edition of Soaps In Depth magazine.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine