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Eric Braeden is best known for performing the role of Victor Newman on The Young and the Restless since 1980, but that's only one small part of who he is as a person and an actor. He's also guest starred in numerous hit television shows including: Gunsmoke, Mary Tyler Moore, and How I Met Your Mother, among others. He was also part of the biggest film ever made when he starred in James Cameron's Titanic.
Among his numerous acting accomplishments, he won a Daytime Emmy in 1998, which was the same year he also won the People's Choice Award, and in 2007 received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Aside from acting, he also was part of the soccer team that won the 1972 U.S. Championship.
TH: Every successful career has a catalyst that sets it in motion, for you what was it that first attracted you to the world of acting?
EB: That's a complex question. I would say concretely, the idea of making money. That was the concrete moment, when I did my first job in 1962. Prior to that, I must say, I had been sitting in theatres and sort of imitating in my mind how I would play a certain part and reasoning how I would do that, be it Hamlet or Richard the 3rd, whatever it was. As a kid I was somewhat drawn to it, I think in order to escape certain realities. The social reality, the economic reality of what I grew up in after the war was very bitter and led to a lot of daydreaming when you had time between the hard work. I think, in a sense, it was kind of an escape. I was drawn to it because of its emotional context, meaning that you had a chance to express so many conflictual feelings one grew up with. I grew up during the war, where we were bombed every day and night, and at the end I grew up in total destruction and then afterwards, after my father died, in abject poverty. So you have a vicissitude of feelings and you get pissed off about a lot of things.
I was drawn to music as well, although I have absolutely no background in it. It's all a way to express emotions, to express anger, to express conflict, and I have a feeling that a lot of artists go into their fields for that reason.
TH: So you would say that you had sort of a natural interest in it?
EB: Kind of natural, I must say. And through sports I always reached the emotional heights that you only reach in sports, and acting comes sort of close to it in a way. I hesitate to give a succinct answer, but it's all that put together I think.
TH: You talked briefly right there about your sports accomplishments, and obviously you've had a lot of success both in sports and in acting. Which one do you feel a little bit more accomplishment in? Like the 1972 U.S. soccer championship...
EB: Yeah, I would say that was arguably one of the happiest moments of my life. It's a kind of euphoria that it's difficult to duplicate in anything else. That's why I think that former athletes have a difficult time to leave the stage. And when I won in track and field in Discus, Javelin, and Shot Put in Germany as a youth. That too, obviously, I still remember every moment of it.
That's a very good question, it had meant a great deal to me and I still think about it. It is somewhat similar, but also very different from acting. I love doing sports uncritically. Hence the feeling of accomplishment was so much greater. I've always been critical of this profession in many ways. I've always been inclined to be somewhat cynical about it and yet it has given me so much. What I've always liked in sports is the directness of it. There's no bullshit. You do it or you don't do it. I've always liked that.
TH: So obviously with sports there's a little more structure and with Hollywood there's a lot more, I guess, politics that go into play with that?
EB: It's not necessarily politics, I wouldn't necessarily say that. I think that's a myth about Hollywood. I think Hollywood is very goal-oriented in that sense. I remember early in my career there were people that said, "Why weren't you at this or that party?" I said, "Why the hell would I be at this or that party? To blow smoke up someone's ass? I won't do it, I'm too arrogant for that." Because in the end, what people want when they cast you is they're trying to figure out who would be best for that role. And it doesn't make a difference who you know. In fact, there's an old adage in this business: familiarity breeds contempt.
It has never interested me anyway. If I had my druthers I'd watch and read mostly: politics, history, and sports. And then every so often I go into a film and I'm blown away by the power of it. But I've always looked at it somewhat askance, somewhat critically. There are so few films where you say, "Whoa, that's a fantastic film." I just saw a film recently called The Help, and I thought it was damn good. It was about a subject that I know somewhat about because I came to America during that time, in 1959, and drove through the south during that time.
I think one of the basic needs of artists is to share one's emotions and feelings with others. I think that is a lot of the psychological component of artists. You express yourself in order to find an echo somewhere out there.
TH: You were mentioning that you have a love for history, and you appeared in the best grossing film of all time, Titanic, which is a very historic film. When you were filming it did you have a sense for how big the film would be when it came out?
EB: Only at the end of the film when I had already finished my work on it. My wife, my son, his girlfriend, and I went down to visit the set because they wanted to see it. And [James] Cameron, who was always extremely courteous and very polite, stopped and said "Come here" and he took us into his trailer. I think we were probably among the first who ever saw some of the scenes, and the first time we heard the music I got goosebumps. I said "This is going to be very successful." When I was interviewed by Army Archerd, who wrote for the Variety, while we were filming I said "This is going to be a very successful film." I could sense it.
A lot of people were doomsayers in Hollywood because it reminded them of the fate of 20th Century Fox when Cleopatra was done and it broke the studio practically. Both 20th and Paramount were afraid the same thing would happen with this film. I think I was one of the few that said, "No, this is larger than life, this is extraordinary. It's a soap opera, it's a very expensive soap opera."
TH: And obviously you've had a lot of success with soap operas...
EB: Obviously I know how universally successful they are.
TH: Speaking of soap operas, do you ever come across fans that blur reality and see you as Victor from the show?
EB: Yeah, they do, of course. And they call you that because they only know you as that. People don't give audiences enough credit, audiences are very bright and very capable of discerning very quickly. I think audiences are much brighter than a lot of people in Washington, D.C. or Hollywood think they are. They're much more discerning, much more critical.
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