INTERVIEW :: It’s hard to believe that German-born Eric Braeden, 75, has now been playing complex, egomaniacal, nine-times-married Victor Newman on The Young & The Restless for almost half his life.
As Victor himself would say: “I’ll be damned.”
The TV billionaire’s catchphrase is also the clever title of Braden’s candid memoir new memoir, a vivid, frequently vulnerable chronicling of the drama of Braeden’s self-made real life, which began in a hospital basement as World War II bombs thundered, and saw him grow up impoverished he’d gather bits of wool left on barbed wire fences after sheep had grazed up against them – from which his mother would then make him underwear (to this day he refuses to wear the scratchy fabric against his bare skin.)
Of course, Braden also writes on his passion of politics, a still misunderstood Germany, social equality, and the highs and lows of playing one of longest running, globally renowned characters in TV history. I spoke with him recently about his remarkable life.
Shaun Proulx: Why do we pay so much attention to problems, injustices, and mistakes than we do people in places like your home country, Germany, as they continue to right societal wrongs.
Eric Braeden: The offence to humanity during the 12 year period was so horrendous; it takes you a long time to really put your head around that. Look, there’s racism everywhere, there’s anti-Semitism everywhere, there’s anti-this and anti-that everywhere. But it reached it’s apex, arguably, between 1933 and 1945. No two ways of getting around it. I think that for some time there has been a re-doubled effort on the part of the German people to rectify something that cannot be rectified but at least they are attempting to do so, and they’ve done so openly and have stood by all the horrible revelations about that, and have promised to never let it happen again. And part of that never letting it happen again is to be very open about it. To talk about it. And no country in the world, certainly not America with its, you know; it took until a few months ago to open a museum for African Americans. That’s horrendous, considering, the total discrimination for 3 to 400 years. But none of it was as an egregious affront to humanity as what happened in the Holocaust. Period.
Shaun Proulx: Your book comes out, I think, at a key time. A lot of people think we are living in scarier times. When they think about the state of the world today, we’ve got Donald Trump in power, his immigration ban, globalization, terrorism… are we humans ever destined to learn from our past?
Eric Braeden: The thing with Trump, first of all he is a rather humorous figure and not to be taken seriously. I don’t think he believes a damn thing that he does. It is the Steve Bannons of this world and the Steve Millers of this world who stand behind him and whisper bullshit into his ear. Those are the ones who are dangerous; he is just… a nassisistic whore. Who wants to have people talk about him. The guy, I don’t think, believe one word he says. Because he is more sensible than that. So is his daughter, I’m sure, so is his wife, I’m sure. He said years ago: If I run for political office, I run on the right. Because it’s easier. And he has, because it fulfills his enormous need for attention. But I think the silver lining in all of this is that the opposition is galvanizing and will really be an opposition.
Shaun Proulx: On that note, I’ve been pointing out from my different platforms that someone like him has caused millions of people to reach a little deeper into our personal wells of empathy, of kindness, and to act up – the women, millions around the world, marching. Call it spin, but there’s a lot of positives that come out when you have a “narcissistic whore” in power. You described your arrival in America as “arriving in a strange land, with no sense of direction and no idea” what you wanted to do with your life, and as a high school drop out myself, who has never taken a course or had training in anything he’s doing now, I want to ask you: Do you think this kind of beginning can make for a good recipe for the kind of success and happiness the likes of which you’ve found?
Eric Braeden: Let me put it this way: I would not want to romanticize poverty or deprivation. I am the last one to romanticize that. You either go under, cynical and bitter, or hopeless, or you find the strength somehow to go against it. But to be frank with you, I envy kids who got to go to school. I was always intellectually very curious, and never had enough money to sustain years of study. I just never did. I regret that enormously. I think often one tends to romanticize the few examples of people who make it out of poverty, because most people do not. Are those examples encouraging? Yes. But you’re fighting enormous odds. One needs to then examine more closely what makes someone successful.
Shaun Proulx: In no way should we romanticize humble beginnings, difficult beginnings, tragic beginnings, and how difficult it is to overcome, but I understood a lot of your points of view. Like you, my father passed away when I was very young. You were twelve, mine passed in front of me when was around 17. And I can now look back at this trauma – you called your father’s death “the defining emotional traumatic event of your life.” Ditto. It made me. It changed me forever. I also understood what you meant when you said you have no patience and can get quite filled with rage when someone doesn’t respect you, or others, especially if the disrespectful person has no credibility to back them up. That is a very specific trait you have but you describe something very specific to me, too, and I have never known anyone who said they felt that way too, and that began when my dad died. We had different relationships with our fathers, but those kinds of experiences, they do make or break you. And that’s not romanticizing, I do believe they form the measure of a man, they can make the man.
Eric Braeden: Yes, if you have a tendency to reflect upon yourself and your life, yes it can. Many people though become so enveloped in whatever religion or ideology they follow that they put blinders on. When I talked about Democrats galvanizing to the Trumpian – or the Bannonian – kind of philosophy… we have a tendency to starkly divide. I respect women, for example, who are against abortion. But I also respect women who want a choice. Life is not as stark or divisive as these effing political parties make it out to be.
Shaun Proulx: We say it is black and white and there is no room for grey.
Eric Braeden: Yes, and it is that black and white version of the world that gets us into huge problems. The world is far more nebulous, you have to make decisions on an ad hoc basis and come with strict moral guidelines and I say Whoa whoa whoa, slow down a minute. I understand women who don’t want abortion and I understand women who do and it’s not your right as a man to determine. Do I understand the notion that the child forms in the womb? I understand that, I honour that, but I also honour the vision a woman who says what will this child be born into. A world of suffering, a world of poverty? Should I do that, is it responsible or not. ?
Shaun Proulx: There is less right and wrong than we say there is. You can’t put yourself in other people’s shoes. You can’t know another person’s perspective, bearing in mind that each one of us have perspectives on issues that are 100% unique to us based on how we have interpreted or are interpreting the world around us.
Eric Braeden: ** I always as the very fundamental question that none of us ever really ask: Have you or I chosen our parents? No. Think about that.
Shaun Proulx: That is my favourite part of your book.
Eric Braeden: Who has chosen his parents? Her parents? You know? When you ask that fundamental question, you just can’t possibly be prejudiced any more. You can only respect all people. All colours, all ethnic backgrounds, all religions, and you disrespect those who are assholes. And there are some amongst (all groups of people.) Period. I don’t want romanticize that either. But as long as you ask yourself that fundamental question, and the of course if you somehow as long as you abide by the dictates that all religions have in common, that is, the notion of universality, then you are okay.
Shaun Proulx: I’m not going to get away with interviewing you without of course talking about your main claim to fame: playing Victor Newman for over 35 years on The Young & The Restless. We’ve been talking about the Presidency of the United States – what kind of President would Victor Newman make?
Eric Braeden: Oh boy.
Shaun Proulx: Oh boy. (Pause.) Ain’t gonna happen!
Eric Braeden: Chuckles. Well… Chuckles. That is a very good question. Look. Campaigns, unfortunately, lead to an oversimplification of very difficult problems, and they lead to promises they simply can’t keep. When you come for example here in America into the White House you suddenly realize and say Holy Shit there is congress, there the judiciary, there is public opinion and there is the free press, etc etc and they simply will not go along with you as those who voted for you. And it’s a shocking realization most Presidents face. Would I want that? No. On the other hand there are moments when I say “Yeah, I’d be a pretty damn fair person, I think.” My leanings basically I would say are liberal, and I would obviously maintain the social system. And by that I mean social security, medicare medicaid. I certainly would spend a lot of money rebuilding America’s infrastructure which would go back into the economy. I have never understood, I have never really understood the Republican notion that public money spent is misspent and should be stopped. Why? That money goes right back into the economy. The poorer, the poorer amongst us will spend that money on consumption, immediately. This “trickle down” bullshit, it doesn’t trickle down, it goes to bank accounts in Panama and the Caymen Islands, do you understand? It’s nonsense. You can only buy so many goodies and that is how much goes back into the economy. Where as welfare and all that, that goes right back into the economy.
Shaun Proulx: There is a lack of respect for the intelligence of people. And their dignity. And when you afront someone’s dignity and intelligence, that causes a lot of the energetic catastrophe that is springing out from all of this, as well. Do Victor and Eric ever merge? You are one of those rare actors who has played a character for over three decades – do you mix the two people up?
Eric Braeden: Very good question, I would say, no. Well, yes and no. Ones emotional proclivities, one’s proclivity to react to certain things, that stays with you. Would I chose to make a lot of enemies within my family? No. Would I want to pit one child against another? No. Am I as interested in business as Victor Newman is? No. It’s so hard to say. There’s certain things I certain things I wouldn’t do (begins laughing) I wouldn’t go and marry the same woman five times, or whatever it’s been.
Shaun Proulx: Learn the lesson! She’s not for you!
Eric Braeden: Oh I love working with Melody. I love working with her, and we fight well together.
Shaun Proulx: Well you’re both Aries.
Eric Braeden: Say what?
Shaun Proulx: You’re both Aries.
Eric Braeden: I guess she is, isn’t she.
Shaun Proulx: Yes. I looked that up decades ago because the chemistry between you two is so strong I wanted to know what your signs were to lock horns as you do. Now you know.
Eric Braeden: How interesting.
Shaun Proulx: I’m that kind of freak. Thank you very much for your time and for all the years of entertainment you’ve given us. I wish you nothing but more joy.
Eric Braeden: This interview I enjoyed very much, Shaun. Job well done. I wish the same good things for you.
Shaun Proulx hosts The Shaun Proulx Show on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167. He is the publisher of TheGayGuideNetwork.com and leads a #ThoughtRevolution about busting through limits on ShaunProulx.com.