© Herald photo by Perry Bergson
Jean Chiakowski of Prince Albert reaches out to touch Eric Braeden’s shoulder as they pose for a photo during a meeting and greet at the Northern Lights Casino on Thursday. Braeden, who has played Victor Newman on The Young And Restless since 1980, drew a big crowd of appreciative fans.
For Eric Braeden, it’s easy keeping the material fresh.
The 72-year-old German-born actor has played Victor Newman on The Young And Restless since 1980, earning an Emmy as outstanding lead actor in a drama series in 1998.
He says the key to the job for him is the chance to bring alive the written word.
“I don’t know why but I still enjoy making something that someone else wrote real,” Braeden says. “That’s what we get paid for as actors. Why that doesn’t bore me yet, I don’t know. It is still fascinating to me, the whole process is still fascinating, why some scenes seem more real than others. I can’t put my finger on it.”
He was in Prince Albert at the Northern Lights Casino for a meet and greet with a large room of appreciative fans on Thursday. Known for wearing black in character, the veteran actor met his public in a black T-shirt and blazer with blue jeans.
He enjoys the chance to get out and meet with fans.
“It’s always stunning to realize just how powerful the medium of television is,” he says. “You can go to the far reaches of Canada or America or Europe or Africa or Australia or New Zealand and encounter some very warm reactions from people.”
Braeden, born Hans Gudegast in Kiel, Germany in 1941, moved to the United States after graduating from high school, working a number of jobs and then returning to school. He eventually moved to Los Angeles, and after hearing that German-American actors were in demand, decided to give that a try.
After some film and stage work, he landed the career-changing role as Captain Dietrich in the World War Two action TV series The Rat Patrol from 1966-68.
He changed his name -- on the studio’s advice -- after landing his first major film role in Colussus: The Forbin Project in 1970.
Like many character actors in the 1970s, he appeared on a wide range of TV series including Hawaii Five-O, The Six Million Dollar Man, Wonder Woman, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Kojak, CHiPs and Gunsmoke.
He also played John Jacob Astor IV in Titanic, the wildly popular 1997 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet that has earned more than $2 billion.
Unlike a movie actor who might star in a film or two a year, Braeden ends up in living rooms around the world five days a week, every week.
“It’s a different kind of fame and it evokes a kind of almost familiar response,” he says. “They think they know you, and in some sense they do.”
The Young And The Restless began as a half-hour show in 1972, expanding to an hour in 1980. After debuting in 15th place in American daytime TV, the show steadily rose in the ratings and has now been on top since 1987-88, a remarkable span.
The show, produced by CBS in the United States, airs on weekdays on Global.
When asked if the lack of turnover in the major roles has helped keep the show on top, Braeden isn’t shy to wade in. He nearly left the show in 2009 after a widely publicized contract dispute.
He signed another deal in 2012.
“The main players they have not touched,” Braeden says. “Trust me, they were tempted to, as all new studio heads are tempted to do. They want to experiment with things. They’re wrong, very wrong, and they’re beginning to realize that and that’s why the modern media is so wonderful. They hear it immediately on Twitter if they don’t like something or like something.”
One of the more noteworthy aspects of acting in daytime television is the sheer volume of the work. The show records for most of the year, doing about 80 pages of dialogue per day. Most TV shows would average 10-15, he says, with a movie maybe shooting a page or two.
That puts a premium on learning lines quickly.
“You either have a facility for it or you don’t,” he says. “And if you don’t, that’s troublesome. You won’t last that long. Fortunately, I learn very quickly. So does Melody (Thomas Scott), who plays Nikki. She learns very quickly. Where that comes from, I don’t know. I’m blessed with it.”
He’s had some interesting lines to memorize over the years.
Braeden’s character Victor Newman apparently lives a rich and full life. While ruling roost over a massive business empire, the character has been married 13 times to nine women, fathered six children, hospitalized numerous times, jailed, left for dead and suffered from amnesia.
He’s even had his sperm stolen from a sperm bank. Twice.
“It’s such an interesting process, I’ve never tired of it,” he says of daytime television. “Does it interest me intellectually? No. Does it interest me passionately in that sense? I can’t say that. I’m far more interested in politics and sports and history. But it’s a hell of a good way to make a living and I enjoy acting.”