Hearing Eric Braeden’s voice on the phone is enough to make you giddy.
This is the man, after all, who has played the iconic Victor Newman – The Mustache as his nemesis Jack Abbott calls him – the bazillionaire anti-hero on “The Young and the Restless” for more than 30 years.
It’s that voice; the elegant German accent that’s both lilting and masculine and that makes saying stuff like “I’m Victor Newman and I do as I damn well please. I always have and I always will” sound pretty fabulous.
So you can imagine the glee when the first thing he says on the phone during a break from a “Restless” shoot is, “Can you believe it? Yesterday, I was at a pig pickin’ in Bath and today I’m working in Los Angeles.”
Why am I not taping this?
Seems Braeden was in the Tar Heel state recently screening “The Man Who Came Back,” a film he starred in and produced in 2008. “You live in a beautiful state,” he says. “The people could have not been more hospitable.”
He’s being genuine, too, waxing on about the flavors of Eastern North Carolina barbecue (“wonderful”), the beauty of the Outer Banks where he did some swimming (“It looks like Northern Germany.”), and he even gives praise to RDU airport.
And he tells a story he heard from an artist he met whose father was a preacher. “There’s a tradition in the church there, maybe you know it, where you raise your hand to pray for someone,” he begins.
Seems one woman in the congregation kept asking them to pray for a man they thought was a member. Each week, she’d ask for his prayer; the man had amnesia. He’d been divorced and married several times. He had problems with his children. The prayer requests kept coming and the congregation prayed but they couldn’t figure out who this member was.
“Finally, it slipped out that the person was very rich,” says Braeden. “And no one in that parish is rich. They asked her and found out she was praying for Victor Newman!
“I love that story!” Braeden says, laughing uproariously. “It’s touching, it’s sweet, it’s humorous.”
It’s a little odd hearing this much levity and kindness from the voice that as Victor Newman is typically domineering, manipulative, arrogant, romantic and more. Braeden says shaking off his character is second nature now. “I’m only reminded of it when I’m outside of L.A.,” he says. “When my day is over, I forget about him.”
Yet he still enjoys the work. “Trying to make something real still interests me. That has never failed me.”
It’s no secret that soap operas have had a tough time lately. “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” have been canceled. (“General Hospital” was recently renewed after the failure of “The Revolution.”) Braeden says it’s been good to work with some of the actors who’ve crossed over from other shows, like Genie Francis and Steve Nichols. (“I didn’t watch too many of the other shows.”)
“I feel very badly that people lost their jobs. There are 150,000 actors in Hollywood and only 1 percent make a living at it. I count my blessings.”
OK, but what if the end does come? How would he like Victor Newman’s story to end?
“I’ve never contemplated that. I think I have always been reluctant to foresee. There’s so many changes. People say the show can’t go on without them and then the show goes on.
“I still feel so young and restless,” says the 71-year-old actor, who by the way, has aged beyond gracefully. “I’m not someone who contemplates his end.”
And then he backpedals a bit. “Maybe he ends up racing with Nicki in his wheelchair. You should pray for Victor Newman.”
When it’s suggested that Victor Newman – who recently paid someone to sleep with his daughter’s husband because he doesn’t like their marriage, who fired his attorney for not ignoring his jailed wife when he should have been manipulating the Securities Exchange Commission for Victor, who is currently dating his son’s ex-wife – might just have a god complex and might actually think one should pray TO him instead of FOR him, Braeden agrees.
And then, in that voice, he says, “Yes! Bow to me, Jack Abbott!”
There goes that giddy feeling again.
Johnson Martin: 919-829-4751; twitter.com/amajomartin