Award-winning actor Eric Braeden was born Hans Jorg Gudegast in Bredenbek Germany (near Kiel) and in 1959 immigrated to the United States. He is best known for his portrayal of Victor Newman, the rich and ruthless business mogul on television’s #1 rated daytime drama series The Young and the Restless.
Eric is only the second German-born actor to receive one (the first was Marlene Dietrich). Braeden’s guest-starring roles in television include How I Met Your Mother, Hope & Faith, The Nanny, Murder She Wrote, Airwolf, Charlie’s Angels, Chips, Switch, Kojak, Cannon, Mary Tyler Moore, The Rookies, Marcus Welby, M. D., Gunsmoke, McCloud, and Mannix.
Eric had the starring role as Captain Hans Dietrich in the 1960 classic television series, The Rat Patrol. Braeden’s movie credits include The Titanic, 100 Rifles, Marituri, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Operation Eichmann, The Ultimate Chase, The Ultimate Thrill, and Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo. This year he is celebrating his 49th anniversary in film and television.
Eric is currently starring in the feature film, The Man Who Came Back. Also the film’s Executive Producer, Braeden stars alongside Billy Zane, Armand Assante, George Kennedy, Sean Young, Carol Alt, Jennifer O’Dell, Peter Jason, and James Patrick Stuart. Eric plays a no-nonsense Confederate war veteran and plantation overseer whose defense of black workers in the post-Civil War south has deadly consequences. The film tells the story of racism and revenge, of murder and conspiracy, and is based on one of the bloodiest labor strikes in U. S. history. The movie was released on dvd from Lionsgate on December 9, 2008.
Our Prattville Publisher spoke on the telephone with Eric on February 16 :
Melissa, this is Eric Braeden.
Hi Mr. Braeden, how are you today?
How are you?
I’m doing fine.
I sure do appreciate you granting us this interview.
And you’re down in Alabama?
I’m in Prattville, Alabama – it’s about 8 miles outside of the capital city of Montgomery. Have you ever been to Montgomery?
Wait a minute, I’m trying to think. Umm, give me another town in Alabama.
Yes, I’ve been to Birmingham.
If you ever have the chance, I’d suggest visiting and seeing the sights.
I’d just like to ask you a few questions about The Man Who Came Back. Can you tell us why you thought the story needed to be told.
Well, it initially was a revenge story and it was brought to me by the original writer, Chuck Walker and I said, yeah, there is something that intrigues me about it but I need, I like films with an historical context, you know?
And so, I said, let’s research that time a little bit and then obviously one talked about reconstruction and then I came upon a book called Without Sanctuary…an interesting book, I don’t know whether you’ve heard of it or not.
I have not, no.
It’s a compilation of documentary photos that came out about five years ago, Without Sanctuary. And, some of the darker side of the history down there is discussed in that book, then while researching we found out about the second bloodiest labor strike in American labor history which occurred in Thibodeaux, Louisiana in 1887 and they were nominally free, the plantation workers, but they had formed a union along with the railroad workers. And within no time there are 10,000 members…what they wanted obviously was some better living conditions on the plantations. They had a militia come from New Orleans, Lafayette and Shreveport and they mowed down 300 of the strikers one night and that was the end of strikes for a long time. So, I thought, well that’s a hell of an interesting background so I asked the writers to put that into the script. Just another generic revenge story didn’t interest me. So, there you are. That’s how it came about. The writer Glen Pitre did a hell of a job imbuing the story with that historic context.
He was also the director, correct?
He’s the director as well. He’s from the south, from Louisiana. So, that’s how it came about.
Why was Texas chosen for the location shots?
Because Chuck Walker, the original screenwriter and one of the producers, an old friend of mine, he was on the U. S. Boxing Team…he was the only white guy on the black team. He experienced prejudice the other way around which was interesting. Yeah, they didn’t want any white fighters on that team.
That’s very interesting.
Yeah. And so he is from Conroe, Texas near Houston and they had done a series of smaller films and he had approached me, as I said, many years ago and so they found the money down there to make the film and they had the production company…it was already existing, and that’s how it came about.
I had read that it took you nine years to bring it to the screen?
You know it takes a while to get the money together, to get the cash together, and all that is a lot of work, I tell you. When you see the finished product, you say, oh well…but a lot of stuff goes into it.
Right, you don’t know it at the time, but a lot of work goes into it. Did you choose the cast for the movie yourself?
Yes. Armand Assante was brought by the director but everyone else I more or less chose and…
I thought George Kennedy was great as Judge Duke.
He was fantastic.
I know he played your father on The Young and the Restless.
Yes, I absolutely loved working with him and I told him about it when we worked on The Young and the Restless. I said, listen, I have something in mind. Would you do it? And he said anytime, anyplace, and…
Yes, he’s such a great actor.
Wonderful actor and what a gentleman, what a nice man. He’s 83 years old, about six foot four, weighs about 300 pounds and the man just never complains one bit.
And he never stops working, I’ll bet.
No, he’s wonderful, just wonderful and so is Billy Zane and Armand Assante and Sean Young and Peter Jason and I mean, they were all just so helpful, so cooperative, it was wonderful. I had a great time, I must say.
I couldn’t help but compare Reese Paxton to Victor Newman in terms of men seeking revenge.
Did you find the two characters similar?
Somewhat similar, but I think the revenge impulse in men…I think, probably in women as well is deep seated and one identifies with that, so yes I’ve always been…yeah, I’ve been attracted to that, no question about it. Um, yep.
I was so touched during the scene where you were in the cage and you had to watch as your family was being killed. How in the world do you prepare for something like that as an actor?
It’s too horrible to envision to be honest with you, but it doesn’t take very long to, as an actor, to imagine what that would be like, you know.
That was certainly one of the best acting scenes I have ever seen in a movie and you were gagged, you know? There was no dialogue. And it was just one of the best acting scenes I’ve ever seen.
Yeah? Well, thank you very much. It was just, whoa, the rage you feel…the pain you feel…the rage, the pain, everything.
Yes, so intense.
Yep, it is. I don’t want to even imagine what that would be like. And yet it has happened…and does happen…when we think of that little girl right now in Florida. I mean you hear stories that just make you say, you can’t be serious. It can’t be true but it is. The depravity of man is endless sometimes.
Yes and overwhelming.
I enjoyed Ken Norton who played “Grandpa.”
Yeah, Ken is an old friend.
Have you ever been in the ring with him?
No, we have never…and I wouldn’t want to. (laughs) No, that’s the real deal. My God, what a powerful man.
You do appear to be in great physical shape. You box, don’t you?
Yes I do. And I used to box in the ghettos of LA here. And I just have an enormous respect for fighters. And I work out twice a day. I do Olympic lifting.
Did you perform some of your own stunts?
Oh, all of them…every single one of them. I would not do it without that.
I really thought that was the case. You can really see that.
Oh, you bet. But, I work out twice a day, and as I say, I do Olympic lifting which is different from body building. Olympic lifting is what athletes do and do you know the difference…it’s the kind of lifting you see at the Olympic Games.
You’ve also played soccer…semi-professional soccer, right?
Well, I won the U. S. championship in 1972-1973.
For Los Angeles, right?
The Maccabees, right, we won the U. S. Championship and then I won the German Youth Championship in discus and javelin and shotput.
What do you think about professional athletes using performance enhancing drugs?
As far as I’m concerned, either you accept it for what it is or you say we turn back all records established in all the Olympic games since 1968 because that’s when it started. It started here in America as well. I know.
I know they’re talking about maybe not putting a ballplayer in the Hall of Fame because of it.
I think it is nonsense. Athletes have always tried it because there is too much at stake. If they really did extensive studies on it I’d guarantee you it starts in high school in many cases. I personally think we should do scientific studies about the ill effects of it or the positive effects of it. Wouldn’t you say give me a shot in the rear end and I’ll perform much better?
That’s just human nature.
The fact that Michael Phelps smoked a joint…big deal! I can’t stand the hypocrisy to be honest with you.
I wanted to mention your son, Christian who’s a screenwriter. Would you be interested in working with him on any future projects?
Has that ever come up?
Well, it has come up. Yes, he helped me with The Man Who Came Back. He helped me with getting some post-production people, among those Clint Eastwood’s Editor, Joel Cox, who worked on the show and who was fantastic and he…and I respect him enormously for never wanting a helping hand from his father and I respect him for that. So, once he becomes firmly established in as a director which in the next two or three years he’ll be a very good one, then maybe we can talk about something…but not until then. He wouldn’t want anyone to think that he got that because of me.
How would you feel if your grandchildren entered show business?
Ah (laughs)…well, that’s a good question. I would encourage it if they wanted to. Yep. They offered my son to play my son on the show, you know…on Y&R.
Oh, is that right?
Yeah and he turned it down the day before he was supposed to make up his mind and he said, “Dad, you’ve always told me to follow my dream and my dream is to write and direct films.” And, I said, “I respect that.”
Joshua Morrow probably said “thank you,” huh?
(laughs) Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. And what a good actor he is.
Yes, he’s a great actor also. Well, speaking of The Young and the Restless, I was kind of disappointed that I haven’t seen much of Zapato lately.
And I was hoping he hadn’t been changed to recurring status.
Well, hopefully he didn’t suddenly age by ten years (laughs). Yeah, in a dog’s life that’s not too cool.
Do you feel like working with an animal is easier than working with, say, an infant?
I know you’ve probably got some great trainers on the set.
Yeah and usually Zapato lies around on the couch and ah, sweet dog…beautiful dog.
You know, Victor Newman has come a long way since he arrived in Genoa City in 1980.
Oh, my God, he’s been busy.
Where do you see Victor in ten years down the road?
That’s a very good question. That’s a very good question. Maybe you see him walking down the country road with Zapato (laughs).
Now there’s a picture, yeah (laughs).
With flashbacks (laughs).
There is a great picture.
Yeah, who knows. I don’t know…he goes back to Hope…oh, Hope passed away didn’t she?
She did. Of course, the fans are probably clamoring now for a Victor/Nikki reunion.
Oh boy…are they?
Well, I think they probably are since, you know, Ashley hasn’t found out about Jill becoming the CEO of Jabot yet.
Hmm, uh oh.
Yeah. I think that the fans might see that as kind of a way to get Victor and Nikki back together as they always do.
Uh oh. (laughs) As has happened so many times. They’ll have a wedding in some motel… who knows?
Something different anyway. (laughs) I hated to see that Don Diamont left the show.
Yeah, I don’t understand why, but he did, yeah.
Do you think the Soaps are starting to downsize because of the economy, like the businesses are?
Oh, definitely, oh yeah, absolutely. That was the reason.
That was the reason?
That’s what I was thinking, but I wasn’t sure.
So, they’re starting to cut the…
Yeah, definitely. I think they made a mistake doing it but…
Yeah, a character that’s been on the show for such a long time.
Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Well, I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about politics if you don’t mind.
Sure. Not at all.
Do you think President Obama’s stimulus package will be successful?
Well, it…I certainly hope so. I respect him for coming up with it. But, obviously if he does something for the infrastructure, if he does something for public works…that will hopefully generate jobs. When I think about Obama, what I like about him is that he does not seem to be ideologically driven. And what people forget, for example, is that one of the most important pieces of legislation was the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and that came out in 1990, I think, and it prevented America from being run by a few families; the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and the J. P. Morgans. In other words, it prevented the conglomeration of more and more economic power in fewer and fewer hands. And that is what will happen if it is left to its own devices. You need regulation in the banking industry. Without regulation we wouldn’t have safety in the workplace, we wouldn’t have pensions, we wouldn’t have any of that.
What issues would you like Obama to address during this first three months in office?
Well, obviously the economic issue is the most important and I have to tell you that I personally would say that we obviously need to dictate to the banks and if they get public money they need to lend it to those most in need and then I personally think, don’t you, that there ought to be an upper limit to mortgages. In other words, if you realized that…in other words, it would be easy to find out how many people could continue on paying the mortgage that they paid initially when they got into the loan, right?
Well, then the banks should be absolutely forbidden for a while…there should be a moratorium on their ability to raise interest rates, suddenly double them or something…you know that some banks actually lure people into borrowing money and they say, you know we can afford that now…we can still pay the mortgage if it stays like this, but not if it doubles all of a sudden.
So, there ought to be a law for a while that says you cannot raise interest rates…period…across the board. Put a moratorium on it, so that people don’t lose their homes. I mean, what a frightening thing to lose your home. That’s scary stuff.
Yes it is.
In other words, the money that is given to the banks has to be loaned but I think there needs to be restrictions and we know what the restrictions should be. And, so am I for more regulation? You bet. You bet. Because we have undone so much of that so wastefully in the last eight years that we need to tighten the screws again because otherwise this will lead to the same kind of havoc that we have now.
During his campaign he said that he supported Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Palestine.
Some people have interpreted that as agreeing with Bush’s Middle East policies.
No, I don’t think so. I think you deal with it by being very even handed as even handed as you can be in negotiating a settlement between the two. Jimmy Carter is…I have enormous respect for Jimmy Carter…
Yes, I do too.
Enormous respect. And I, my personal idea has always been to create a military security belt around Israel where you station European troops…United Nations troops, whatever they are with real fire power and you keep the two apart for ten to fifteen years. You then allow moderate elements of both countries to come to the forum…um, you deal with it along political lines, not along religious lines. That has to stop. That’s got to stop. That leads nowhere. So, we need to abide by international law and then I think we need to ensure Israel’s safety and the safety of the Palestinians. We have done everything in our power to continue the existence of dictatorial governments in those areas. That’s the truth. So, um, you know, I just wish the news media would really know something about history…the people who write newspapers would know something about history.
Would do their homework first?
Do their homework and realize that we, for example, are the ones who armed Iraq against Iran in an 80 year old war. I mean, how quickly do we forget? It goes on and on so we need some honesty and some transparency in what we do and we need an understanding of history. Arabia had promised the Arabs who fought with them to drive out the Turks that if we are successful Arabia will be yours. Well, 1918 comes, the Armistice comes, and the Arabs celebrate jubilantly because they were successful in driving out the Turks. They celebrated in Damascus and suddenly there were some delegations of Britain and France saying hold it a minute, not so fast. This is what the Middle East will look like. That’s the truth. So, they felt shafted then. People forget all of this.
You are quite a historian. Is that one of your hobbies?
Yes, that’s one of my hobbies. But, the point is that we need to understand that. We need to understand that to, you know, to criticize our President when he does foreign policy. We need to know what the hell we’re talking about.
Anyway, there you are.
There you are.
But, I have confidence in this President. I have confidence in this Administration so far. Obviously, it’s a very hard road to hoe, no question about that. But, I think he is tenacious. He is tougher than he…
Hardest job in America. He is intelligent.
It is, it’s a tough tough job. He is bright, not ideological, I think. His wife is bright…very wholesome family and I think he just makes a lot of sense. They need to stop that partisan B.S.
Absolutely. He wants everyone to come together.
Yeah, but it won’t happen. It won’t happen. That’s the nature of politics.
Well, do you have any future projects in the works for movies or television.
As soon as this one makes money. Ah, I’ll be on to the next one.
To the next film, to executive produce?
Uh, most likely, yeah. Absolutely.
I hope the dvd sales are doing well.
They are doing very well so far.
So, uh…hey, Melissa, I really enjoyed this interview.
Thank you so much for the interview.
Remember one thing…uh, this country…the great thing about America is it always reinvents itself. There is such an underlying pulse and strength in this country.
We will always come back…always reinvent ourselves. And then we should not forget (laughs) when these morons who, when the French didn’t want to go along with the Iraqi war…there were some morons in Congress who said well we’re going to change French Fries to Liberty Fries…you idiots, you morons, you don’t know your own history! Without the French financial support, we probably would not have beaten the Brits.
We get pride in our country every time we see the Statue of Liberty.
Every time you do that and every time you read…I just finished reading about John Adams and Jefferson and all that…my God, what a group of incredible men, you know?
Wow. There you are.
Mr. Braeden, I appreciate it so much.
Alright, Melissa. Just remember, America will prevail.
Okay. I will remember that.
Yeah it will because the basic underlying strength in this country comes from all of those immigrants who came here and said, “I’m not going to lose, I’m going to make it.” I know, I’m one of them.
Yes, absolutely, I know.
That’s a true American experience, if you will.
We’ll get back on track and be the great country that we are.
You bet. You bet. Alright, Melissa.
Thank you so much.
Talk to you soon.
Interview by Melissa Parker
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