Eric Braeden Interview: The "Young and the Restless" Icon Channels His Inner Victor Newman
Award-winning actor Eric Braeden was born Hans Jorg Gudegast in Bredenbek Germany (near Kiel) and in 1959 immigrated to the United States. He is best known for his portrayal of Victor Newman, the rich and ruthless business mogul on television’s #1 rated daytime drama series The Young and the Restless.
The actor’s guest-starring roles in television include How I Met Your Mother, Hope & Faith, The Nanny, Murder She Wrote, Airwolf, Charlie’s Angels, Chips, Switch, Kojak, Cannon, Mary Tyler Moore, The Rookies, Marcus Welby, M. D., Gunsmoke, McCloud, and Mannix. He had the starring role as Captain Hans Dietrich in the 1960 classic television series, The Rat Patrol.
“What people forget, for example, is that one of the most important pieces of legislation was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and that came out in 1990, I think. It prevented America from being run by a few families; the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and the J. P. Morgans. In other words, it prevented the conglomeration of more and more economic power in fewer and fewer hands.”
Braeden’s movie credits include The Titanic, 100 Rifles, Marituri, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Operation Eichmann, The Ultimate Chase, The Ultimate Thrill, and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. This year he is celebrating his 49th anniversary in film and television.
Braeden is currently starring in the feature film, The Man Who Came Back. Also the film’s Executive Producer, Braeden stars alongside Billy Zane, Armand Assante, George Kennedy, Sean Young, Carol Alt, Jennifer O’Dell, Peter Jason, and James Patrick Stuart. He plays a no-nonsense Confederate war veteran and plantation overseer whose defense of black workers in the post-Civil War south has deadly consequences.
The film tells the story of racism and revenge, of murder and conspiracy, and is based on one of the bloodiest labor strikes in U. S. history. The movie was released on DVD December 9, 2008.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why do you feel the story of The Man Who Came Back needed to be told?
Eric Braeden: Well, it initially was a revenge story and was brought to me by the original writer, Chuck Walker.I said, “There is something that intrigues me about it.” But I like films with an historical context, you know?
And so, I wanted to research that time a little bit. Then obviously one talked about reconstruction and I came upon a book called Without Sanctuary … an interesting book.
It’s a compilation of documentary photos that came out about five years ago. Some of the darker side of the history down south is discussed in that book. Then while researching, we found out about the second bloodiest labor strike in American labor history which occurred in Thibodeaux, Louisiana in 1887. The plantation workers were nominally free, but they had formed a union along with the railroad workers. And within no time there were 10,000 members. What they wanted, obviously, was some better living conditions on the plantations.
They had a militia come from New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport and they mowed down 300 of the strikers one night That was the end of strikes for a long time. So, I thought, well that’s a hell of an interesting background so I asked the writers to put that into the script. Just another generic revenge story didn’t interest me. So, there you are. That’s how it came about. The writer Glen Pitre did a hell of a job imbuing the story with that historic context. Glen was the director as well. He’s from Louisiana.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why was Texas chosen for the location shots?
Eric Braeden: Because Chuck Walker, the original screenwriter and one of the producers, an old friend of mine, (he was on the U. S. Boxing Team) was the only white guy on the black team. He experienced prejudice the other way around which was interesting. They didn’t want any white fighters on that team.
He is from Conroe, Texas near Houston and they had done a series of smaller films and he had approached me many years ago. They found the money down there to make the film and they had the production company …I t was already existing, and that’s how it came about.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I had read that it took you nine years to bring it to the screen.
Eric Braeden: You know, it takes a while to get the money together, to get the cash together, and all that is a lot of work, I tell you. When you see the finished product, you say, oh well … but a lot of stuff goes into it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you choose the cast for the movie yourself?
Eric Braeden: Yes. Armand Assante was brought by the director but everyone else I more or less chose and …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I thought George Kennedy was great as Judge Duke.
Eric Braeden: He was fantastic.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): He played your father on The Young and the Restless.
Eric Braeden: Yes, I absolutely loved working with him and I told him about it when we worked on The Young and the Restless. I said, “Listen, I have something in mind. Would you do it?” He said anytime, anyplace.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, he’s such a great actor.
Eric Braeden: Wonderful actor and what a gentleman, what a nice man. He’s 83 years old, about six foot four, weighs about 300 pounds and the man just never complains one bit.
He’s just wonderful and so is Billy Zane, Armand Assante, Sean Young and Peter Jason. I mean, they were all just so helpful, so cooperative, it was wonderful. I had a great time, I must say.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I couldn’t help but compare Reese Paxton to Victor Newman in terms of men seeking revenge.
Eric Braeden: Sure, exactly.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you find the two characters similar?
Eric Braeden: Somewhat similar, but I think the revenge impulse in men … I think, probably in women as well is deep seated and one identifies with that, so yes I’ve always been attracted to that, no question about it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I was so touched during the scene where you were in the cage and you had to watch as your family was being killed. How in the world do you prepare for something like that as an actor?
Eric Braeden: It’s too horrible to envision, to be honest with you, but it doesn’t take very long to, as an actor, to imagine what that would be like, you know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That was certainly one of the best acting scenes I have ever seen in a movie and you were gagged so there was no dialogue.
Eric Braeden: Well, thank you very much. It was just, whoa, the rage you feel … the pain you feel … the rage, the pain, everything.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, so intense.
Eric Braeden: Yep, it is. I don’t want to even imagine what that would be like. And yet it has happened … and does happen. When we think of that little girl right now in Florida – I mean you hear stories that just make you say, you can’t be serious. It can’t be true but it is. The depravity of man is endless sometimes.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I enjoyed Ken Norton who played “Grandpa.” Have you every been in the ring with him?
Eric Braeden: Ken is an old friend. No, we have never … and I wouldn’t want to get in the ring with him (laughs). No, that’s the real deal. My God, what a powerful man!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You do appear to be in great physical shape. You box, don’t you?
Eric Braeden: Yes I do. I used to box in the ghettos of LA here. I just have an enormous respect for fighters. I work out twice a day. I do Olympic lifting.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you perform some of your own stunts in the film?
Eric Braeden: Oh, you bet, all of them…every single one of them. I would not do it without that. But, I work out twice a day, and as I say, I do Olympic lifting, which is different from bodybuilding. Olympic lifting is what athletes do – it’s the kind of lifting you see at the Olympic Games.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’ve also played semi-professional soccer.
Eric Braeden: Well, I won the U. S. Championship in 1973-1973.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): For Los Angeles, right?
Eric Braeden: The Maccabees, right. We won the U. S. Championship and then I won the German Youth Championship in discus, javelin and shotput.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you think about professional athletes using performance enhancing drugs?
Eric Braeden: As far as I’m concerned, either you accept it for what it is or you say we turn back all records established in all the Olympic games since 1968 because that’s when it started. It started here in America as well. I know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): They’re talking about not putting a baseball player in the Hall of Fame because of steroids.
Eric Braeden: I think it is nonsense. Athletes have always tried it because there is too much at stake. If they really did extensive studies on it I’d guarantee you it starts in high school in many cases. I personally think we should do scientific studies about the ill effects of it or the positive effects of it. Wouldn’t you say give me a shot in the rear end and I’ll perform much better?
The fact that Michael Phelps smoked a joint…big deal! I can’t stand the hypocrisy to be honest with you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Would you be interested in working with your son, Christian, on any future projects?
Eric Braeden: Yes, he helped me with The Man Who Came Back. He helped me with getting some post-production people, among those Clint Eastwood’s editor, Joel Cox, who worked on the show and who was fantastic.
I respect him enormously for never wanting a helping hand from his father. So, once he becomes firmly established as a director which in the next two or three years he’ll be a very good one, then maybe we can talk about something but not until then. He wouldn’t want anyone to think that he got that because of me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How would you feel if your grandchildren entered show business?
Eric Braeden: Ah (laughs) … well, that’s a good question. I would encourage it if they wanted to. They offered my son to play my son on Y&R.
He turned it down the day before he was supposed to make up his mind and he said, “Dad, you’ve always told me to follow my dream and my dream is to write and direct films.” I said, “I respect that.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Joshua Morrow probably said a “thank you.” for that.
Eric Braeden: Yeah, that’s right (laughs), but what a good actor he is.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Speaking of The Young and the Restless, I was kind of disappointed that I haven’t seen much of Zapato lately and was hoping he wasn’t relegated to recurring status.
Eric Braeden: Yeah (laughs). Well, hopefully he didn’t suddenly age by ten years (laughs). In a dog’s life that’s not too cool.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you feel like working with an animal is easier than working with an infant?
Eric Braeden: Yes, absolutely. Usually Zapato lies around on the couch and ah, sweet dog … what a beautiful dog.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Victor Newman has come a long way since he arrived in Genoa City in 1980. Where do you see him in ten years down the road?
Eric Braeden: Oh, my God, he’s been busy. That’s a very good question. Maybe you see him walking down the country road with Zapato (laughs) … with flashbacks. Who knows … he goes back to Hope. Oh, Hope passed away, didn’t she?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The fans are clamoring for a Victor/Nikki reunion.
Eric Braeden: Oh boy…are they?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yep, surely they will get back together as they always do.
Eric Braeden: Uh oh, as has happened so many times. They’ll have a wedding in some motel … who knows?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It was sad to see Don Diamont leaving the show.
Eric Braeden: Yeah, I don’t understand why, but it was.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think the Soaps are starting to downsize because of the economy, like the businesses are?
Eric Braeden: Oh, definitely, oh yeah, absolutely. That was the reason. I think they made a mistake doing it but …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Right. Well, let me change the subject to politics. Do you think President Obama’s stimulus package will be successful?
Eric Braeden: Well, I certainly hope so. I respect him for coming up with it. But, obviously if he does something for the infrastructure, if he does something for public works … that will hopefully generate jobs. When I think about Obama, what I like about him is that he does not seem to be ideologically driven.
What people forget, for example, is that one of the most important pieces of legislation was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and that came out in 1990, I think. It prevented America from being run by a few families; the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and the J. P. Morgans. In other words, it prevented the conglomeration of more and more economic power in fewer and fewer hands.
That is what will happen if it is left to its own devices. You need regulation in the banking industry. Without regulation we wouldn’t have safety in the workplace, we wouldn’t have pensions, we wouldn’t have any of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What issues would you like the president to address during this first three months in office?
Eric Braeden: Well, obviously, the economic issue is the most important. I have to tell you that I personally would say that we need to dictate to the banks that if they get public money they need to lend it to those most in need. Then I personally think that there ought to be an upper limit to mortgages. In other words, it would be easy to find out how many people could continue on paying the mortgage that they paid initially when they got into the loan, right?
Then the banks should be absolutely forbidden for a while. There should be a moratorium on their ability to raise interest rates, suddenly double them or something. You know that some banks actually lure people into borrowing money and they say, you know we can afford that now … we can still pay the mortgage if it stays like this, but not if it doubles all of a sudden.
So, there ought to be a law for a while that says you cannot raise interest rates, period, across the board. Put a moratorium on it, so that people don’t lose their homes. I mean, what a frightening thing to lose your home. That’s scary stuff.
In other words, the money that is given to the banks has to be loaned but I think there needs to be restrictions and we know what the restrictions should be. And, so am I for more regulation? You bet. Because we have undone so much of that so wastefully in the last eight years that we need to tighten the screws again. Otherwise this will lead to the same kind of havoc that we have now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): During his campaign he said that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Palestine.
Eric Braeden: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Some people have interpreted that as agreeing with Bush’s Middle East policies.
Eric Braeden: No, I don’t think so. I think you deal with it by being very even handed as even handed as you can be in negotiating a settlement between the two. I have enormous respect for Jimmy Carter.
Enormous respect. My personal idea has always been to create a military security belt around Israel where you station European troops, United Nations troops, whatever they are, with real fire power. You keep the two apart for ten to fifteen years. You then allow moderate elements of both countries to come to the forum and you deal with it along political lines, not along religious lines. That has to stop. That’s got to stop. That leads nowhere.
So, we need to abide by international law. Then I think we need to ensure Israel’s safety and the safety of the Palestinians. We have done everything in our power to continue the existence of dictatorial governments in those areas. That’s the truth. So, I just wish the news media would really know something about history … the people who write newspapers would know something about history.
They need to do their homework and realize that we, for example, are the ones who armed Iraq against Iran in an 80-year-old war. I mean, how quickly do we forget? It goes on and on so we need some honesty and some transparency in what we do and we need an understanding of history.
Arabia had promised the Arabs who fought with them to drive out the Turks and that if successful, Arabia will be yours. Well, 1918 comes, the Armistice comes, and the Arabs celebrate jubilantly because they were successful in driving out the Turks. They celebrated in Damascus and suddenly there were some delegations of Britain and France saying hold it a minute, not so fast. This is what the Middle East will look like. That’s the truth. So, they felt shafted then. People forget all of this.
The point is that we need to understand that. We need to understand that to criticize our President when he does foreign policy, we need to know what the hell we’re talking about.
But, I have confidence in this president. I have confidence in this Administration so far. Obviously, it’s a very hard road to hoe, no question about that. But, I think he is tenacious. It is a tough job. He is bright, not ideological, I think. His wife is bright. It’s a very wholesome family and I think he just makes a lot of sense. They need to stop that partisan BS.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, he wants everyone to come together.
Eric Braeden: Yeah, but it won’t happen. It won’t happen. That’s the nature of politics.
Melissa, remember one thing, the great thing about America is it always reinvents itself. There is such an underlying pulse and strength in this country.
We will always come back … always reinvent ourselves. Then we should not forget (laughs) when these morons who, when the French didn’t want to go along with the Iraqi war, said they wanted to change French fries to liberty fries! You idiots, you morons, you don’t know your own history! Without the French financial support, we probably would not have beaten the Brits!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We have pride in our country every time we see the Statue of Liberty.
Eric Braeden: Every time you do that and every time you read … I just finished reading about John Adams and Jefferson and all that. My God, what a group of incredible men, you know?
Just remember, America will prevail. It will because the basic underlying strength in this country comes from all of those immigrants who came here and said, “I’m not going to lose, I’m going to make it.” I know because I’m one of them.
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