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Eric Braeden Interview: "The Young and the Restless" Superstar Fires Off on Gun Control: "The More Guns That Are Available, the More Tragedies Will Happen"

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Eric Braeden

Award-winning actor Eric Braeden was born Hans Jorg Gudegast in Bredenbek Germany (near Kiel) and in 1959 immigrated to the United States. He has portrayed ruthless business mogul Victor Newman on the #1 rated CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless for the past 33 years and won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1998 for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. The soap recently lost its matriarch, the legendary Jeanne Cooper (Katherine Chancellor), when she passed away on May 8, 2013.

Braeden’s guest-starring television roles include Mannix, McCloud, Gunsmoke, The Rookies, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Cannon, Kojak, Switch, Charlie’s Angels, Murder She Wrote, Hope & Faith and How I Met Your Mother. He had the starring role as Captain Hans Dietrich in the 1960 classic television series The Rat Patrol.

“My view of guns is very simple. The more guns that are available, the more tragedies will happen. Period. Out. Gone. I know I’m going to hang a lot of people now, but I have to say what I truly believe. I’m very old fashioned that way. If you have disputes, use your fists. Don’t teach kids in school not to fight. That’s all normal. If I were in charge, I’d say to the teacher, ‘When you see a bully beat up a smaller boy, tell the bully that you’ll get another boy for him who’s just as strong.’ Let the two of them fight it out. Don’t let the bully take it out on the smaller guy. That’s not nice.”

Film credits include Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo, Operation Eichmann, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Marituri, 100 Rifles, Titanic and The Man Who Came Back (released on DVD in 2008). Braeden and his wife Dale have a son, Christian Gudegast, who is a screenwriter.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Eric, so great to speak to you today. The scenes on The Young and the Restless featuring Katherine Chancellor’s memorial service were simply art imitating life. Was it strange or more emotional for you during the filming?

Eric Braeden: Yeah. The whole thing obviously was emotional, but the most deeply emotional part had already happened long before in private circles at Jeanne’s house. That was very moving. By the time we did it on stage, there were too many distractions around. Sure, it was moving, but at the same time, you worry about all kinds of technical things, cameras and what have you, and those memorial scenes involved quite a few people. Who it was most difficult for, I think, was Jeanne’s son Corbin Bernsen.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Of course. I really don’t see how he was able to talk without crying. You and Jeanne worked together over 30 years.

Eric Braeden: Yep.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are some of the things you remember most about her?

Eric Braeden: Jeanne and I always laughed. We would get together, and we would just laugh, you know? We tickled each other’s funny bone, I guess. She was very outspoken. So am I (laughs). We had some funny moments together. I loved that woman, and I miss her a lot. I still sometimes think that she will come onto the set any minute. She was a hoot to work with. We enjoyed each other so much.

The memorial at her house … that was a tough one. That was very emotional. I remember when I said a few words and other people obviously did. When Corbin spoke, a dove landed right behind him, right over his back and stayed for the entire ceremony. It’s almost as if her spirit was there. It was just so interesting. As soon as he began to speak, the dove landed and would not fly away for the entirely of the service. It’s interesting, isn’t it?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes, very interesting. Jeanne told me in our last interview (July 23, 2012) that you and she had this running gag going about each of you wanting to have the last word in a scene before a cut away.

Eric Braeden: (laughs) That’s right. It was who was on their feet that day the longest, you know?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Jeanne was one of a kind. Eric, I want to talk to you about what’s happening in the world today. What are your thoughts about Syria and President Obama’s speech Tuesday (September 10, 2013)?

Eric Braeden: I thought it was a very well crafted speech and very good. What can he say really? Things obviously developed very quickly lately with the Russian proposal to help broker some kind of deal whereby the Syrians give up their chemical weapons and all that. How that will work out in detail, I don’t know. The logistics on that are very difficult, but at least it stopped us from having to do something now.

Look, overall the Middle East is a mess. It is a complete mess and has been for a long, long time. There are so many factions in Syria alone. You have the Alawites who are minority Shiites who control the government. They’re a minority. Assad is another Alawite, and then you have the Sunnis and the Christians. You have so many elements in that country vying for power.

In the advent of the rebellion against them, all kinds of sundry groups from Nusra and who the hell knows where they all come from want to have a piece of Syria and want to establish a kind of religious dictatorship. That’s the last thing we need in that area. However, Assad obviously governs so brutally that many people began to rebel against him, so how any president can distinguish between the various groups in Syria is beyond me. I think it’s extremely difficult, and I think Obama did a very good thing, a very smart thing by buying some time now.

The threat is still there, our warships are still off the coast of Syria and Lebanon and ready to attack if we need to. I think that’s a good idea. It’s different than it was years and years ago. Nowadays anything that happens on the battlefield becomes news practically instantaneously, and we cannot allow the use of chemical weapons in any kind of revolution. If we allow that, then all kinds of dictatorial governments and groups that are not interested in civil contact and have access to those kinds of weapons may use them. That’s going to be very bad.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Russia’s interest is not purely altruistic, correct?

Eric Braeden: Russia is interested in controlling these chemical weapons, although they probably are the ones that delivered them to Syria in the first place. But they’re interested in controlling them because they’re afraid they might get into the hands of fundamentalist Islamic groups who actually are the underbelly of Russia now. In other words, they formally belong to the Soviet Union … all the “stan” countries on the southern belt of Russia. They’re mostly muslim led, and of course if violent groups get a hold of the chemical weapons in those areas, that would not be in the interest of Russia. So Russia has interest in controlling these chemical weapons as well.

It is a very difficult situation. I think anyone who predicts an outcome should go to Las Vegas. There’s no certainty. Now you obviously have the question of the surrounding countries – Jordan that is hanging on by a thread I’m sure, friendly to our side, Israel obviously friendly to our side, Saudi Arabia, the Sunnis generally speaking friendly to our side and Iraq.

We unfortunately removed Saddam Hussein who was an archenemy of Iran, and this is now a huge power game in the Middle East where Iran, if Syria should prevail, will obviously give an even greater uplift to Iran. So a lot of other Arab countries don’t like Iran to become more powerful. It’s a very dicey game, and there’s a long history to it that people unfortunately, including newsmakers, keep on forgetting what all led up to that stuff. That goes way, way back to the First World War.

In the middle of the First World War, the French and the Brits got together and signed the Sykes-Picot treaty in 1915, three years before the end of the war, and they said, “If we win it against Germany and Turkey, then we will divvy up the Middle East.” France will get Syria and Lebanon and those areas, and Britain will get what is Iraq now, etc. That’s when it started. We are now reaping the fruits of all that involvement in the Middle East.

In 1953, the CIA and British Intelligence got together and removed democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mosaddegh. He was democratically elected in Iran proving that democracy and Islam are not necessarily contradictory. But we saw to it because we wanted unimpeded access to oil. So we said, “Let’s get rid of Mosaddegh and put the Shah in power in Iran.” The Shah was not too gentle of a leader in Iran. His secret service was brutal, so you started tormenting an opposition within Iran against the Shah, and that shit hit the fan in 1978/79, and you had the Iranian revolution. Those nutcases came in who are those fundamentalists.

One has to always go back to what caused all that, and we had our fingers in that. Anyway, it’s a very, very difficult situation, and I hope it ends somewhat peacefully. But I understand Obama for saying to Assad, “If you use chemical weapons, you cross a red line.” I understand now he has to make good on that threat. I think the threat produced the now diplomatic effort to solve it that way.

The Russians knew that Obama was serious. I have a feeling that when Obama was in Russia, he probably told Putin, “I am serious. I will order a strike if this doesn’t stop.” But Assad has made many promises in the past and has kept practically none, so can he be trusted? No, of course not. Obama is perfectly aware of that, I’m sure, so it’ll be interesting to see what will happen.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Very interesting to say the least.

Eric Braeden: It will all be solved on The Young and the Restless (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Between the power players of Newman and Jabot no doubt (laughs). Has CNN or MSNBC offered you a regular position as political consultant?

Eric Braeden: No they haven’t, and what I can’t stand right now is all the pundits who are going after him for one reason or another. Listen, I wouldn’t want to be in Obama’s shoes now. That’s a very tough situation right now with enormous potential consequences for the whole area. You could truly be damned if you do and damned if you don’t. So my prayers are with him, I’m telling you. I hope that this will all work out.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The country is so divisive. Many democrats and republicans share an anti-war stance. Some Republicans are shying away from the Tea Party and becoming more moderate.

Eric Braeden: What obviously has happened in Congress, I think, is the increasing rigidity, the ideological rigidity, of the Tea Party people among others. Whenever you have ideological rigidity on either the left or the right, you’re in trouble. It used to be that democrats and republicans came to compromise on solutions. That’s what we need more badly than anything. I disagree with a lot of the stands.

I personally think we need public money to rebuild America’s infrastructure. We’d put many people to work. They will pay taxes, buy things, increase consumption in the country, and I think that economically we’d be good. Listen to the American Society of Civil Engineers. They say that our infrastructure is in dire need of repair. For that we need public money. It’s our money, and if it’s put to that good use, that’s good use as far as I’m concerned.

I proudly pay taxes in this country and have ever since I’ve been here, and I continue to do so. That is our responsibility as citizens of a united country. But we need to know where the taxes are going. That I agree with completely. I’m for oversight committees or citizens who take close looks at where tax money goes, no question about that. In that regard, I think the Tea Party is right. But to simply say, “No new taxes,” I think is too simplistic. We need to rebuild America’s infrastructure, and that means bridges, roads, airports, rail lines, harbors, the list goes on and on. That has nothing to do with being right or left. That is simply common sense.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Eric, your opinion on guns?

Eric Braeden: Look, I grew up in Germany. As a kid, we had those air rifles, those BB guns. We had four boys at home. We went around with a BB gun shooting birds. Nowadays I couldn’t do that, but then we did. I remember I had angered my second brother. He was about to shoot a bird in the cherry tree, and I took a rock and threw it in the tree so that the bird would take off, not to save the bird but just to tick off my brother. Well, he got so ticked off that he turned around and shot me in the back of my heel. We had rather thick, crepe soles. Remember those on shoes? The bullet lodged in that crepe sole. Needless to say, once he got rid of that gun, we went at it with our fists.

My view of guns is very simple. The more guns that are available, the more tragedies will happen. Period. Out. Gone. I know I’m going to hang a lot of people now, but I have to say what I truly believe. I’m very old fashioned that way. If you have disputes, use your fists. Don’t teach kids in school not to fight. That’s all normal. If I were in charge, I’d say to the teacher, “When you see a bully beat up a smaller boy, tell the bully that you’ll get another boy for him who’s just as strong.” Let the two of them fight it out. Don’t let the bully take it out on the smaller guy. That’s not nice.

This entire notion of violence being expressed through the barrel of a gun is so unmanly. It is so cowardly, I think. It is just unmanly, and America is a tough country. I don’t understand where that bullshit comes from! It is so unmanly to say, “Yeah. Make my day,” when you’ve got a .45 in your hand. What’s the big deal? It is unmanly. It is cowardly as far as I’m concerned.

On the other hand, I understand that women or people living alone need to have a weapon for protection. I will go that far. But do I understand they need an automatic weapon in the house? No. Do I think they need machine guns in the house? That’s insanity! Where do these people live? I don’t get it.

Of course, I understand why a licensed hunter has guns. But to give every Tom, Dick and Harry guns with no background checks? It’s just insane! I don’t understand the logic of that. I know I am going to enrage a lot of people, and I don’t care right now because it needs to be said. If you need to defend yourself because you are a single woman or elderly and you have a gun, I understand. But 30,000 people die from gunshots every day in America. That’s just nuts. I’m sorry.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): An eight-year-old child recently shot and tragically killed his grandmother.

Eric Braeden: I have a friend who has developed a safety device whereby only the person that owns the gun can use it. You could have a gun in your house, and kids could not use it if they’re not authorized. But the NRA is so bad that they are against anything. I mean, they’re against any kind of restrictions. How can you be against background checks? Does that make any sense? It’s staggering. What are they afraid of?

I have always felt that underlying all this from years and years ago is a racist thing. I always thought it stemmed from way back. Many of them were afraid that blacks would rise up from the ghettoes and say, “Let’s go after them!” I mean, I don’t understand where the paranoia comes from in this country except from that.

I grew up in war. I was bombed every day and every night. The city I grew up in was 96% destroyed and 500,000 bombs were dropped over it. I don’t want to see any of that stuff again. I think if you’re going to raise healthy human beings, you need to have wrestling in your schools, not boxing. Boxing is not good for the brain. But have wrestling in schools, self-defense in schools, enable young people. Don’t take all of that away and say, “Yeah. You can carry a gun.” That’s bullshit! I don’t get it. You’ll be raising a bunch of cowards who hide behind huge guns.

This is a tough country. It just goes against man’s sense of who he is when he has to reach for a gun to shoot someone. It’s just so unmanly. I don’t understand the mindset. Never have. If you want to go hunting, that’s a totally different story. If you’re a licensed hunter, damn well you should. That has been the case for years and years, and that’s okay. But this proliferation of guns where every Tom, Dick and Harry has one? Give me a break. Pure insanity!

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it true that you are working on your memoir?

Eric Braeden: That’s just a rumor right now. Well, yes and no. I kind of started to do that, but I keep asking, “Why?”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think your life’s story would make a great read.

Eric Braeden: We’ll see what happens.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I enjoy the photos of Kaiser on Twitter. He’s a beautiful dog. Perhaps the next pup for Victor?

Eric Braeden: (laughs) We’ve got to train him a little bit more before he can do that. They have to do things on command on the set. But I always say that if people want protection, get a dog. Get a good dog. How’s the weather in Alabama?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Hot, but not as humid as August.

Eric Braeden: Alabama borders Mississippi?

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The state is between Mississippi and Georgia.

Eric Braeden: There was an old lady I visited in Birmingham, Alabama. She was our neighbor in California. When my son was little, he would run over to her, and she’d tell him stories. She was a southern lady and originally from Birmingham, Alabama. We went to Alabama to visit her when she was on her deathbed, and she died of cancer.

I remember driving through the South from New York by greyhound bus when I came to America. I was 18. I took the greyhound bus from New York and drove through the entire South to Galveston, Texas. I was 18 years old, had 50 bucks in my pocket and went all the way from New York throughout all the southern states.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How long did the 50 bucks last?

Eric Braeden: Well, I got a job as soon as I got to Galveston. I had a cousin, and she was a doctor at the John Sealy Hospital, so I started a job the day after I arrived there. From there I took another greyhound bus to Montana about 3 months later. I became a cowboy in Missoula, Montana. I was a cowboy on a ranch. Then I went to the University of Montana on a track and field scholarship.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You see, Eric, the book would be fascinating and filled with all of your adventures. You probably don’t remember the last time we spoke.

Eric Braeden: Yeah, but I do.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The accent is hard to forget (laughs).

Eric Braeden: No, but I like it. I like the accent because I like southern speech. It’s very descriptive and beautiful. It reminds me of people sitting on their porches at night on their rocking chairs and telling each other stories. Many good writers have come from the South. I think it’s a great tradition.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): We talked a few years ago about The Man Who Came Back.

Eric Braeden: Oh yeah. That was a wonderful experience while doing it, and then it was a dreadful experience with the distributors. They were crooks. Most of them are crooks.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Really?

Eric Braeden: Oh yeah. Absolutely. You bet. But that’s too long to go into.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Save it for the book.

Eric Braeden: (laughs) But the making of the film was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I loved working with George Kennedy, Armand Assante, Billy Zane, Sean Young, Peter Jason, Ken Norton. I just had a hell of a time doing it. I loved it.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And your performance was excellent. Any interest in other films?

Eric Braeden: Thank you. No. The difficult thing is to find a good story, and if there isn’t a script, you have to have it written, have it financed and get a cast. All of that is really not that difficult, but it’s very labor intensive. Not that I mind that. What I mind is that I’ve not really found something I want to do. My son is a brilliant screenwriter, and I’m much more interested in his stuff.

They just called, and I have to get ready to do more scenes this afternoon with Nikki (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell her hello for me.

Eric Braeden: I will do that. Nice talking to you again. Don’t lose your southern accent. Have a nice day.

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