A Day in the Life of Robert Newman
Join Soapdom's Phyllis Tremblay as she takes on the North Shore Music Theatre and Spends the Day with Guiding Light's Robert Newman (Josh) with Amanda Serkasevich (Darcy) as they prepare for their upcoming starring roles on the road in Nine!
OK, maybe "A Day in the Life of Robert Newman" is a dramatic title, but I actually did spend part of the day with Robert Newman (Josh, GL) recently while he was in rehearsal for the North Shore Music Theatre’s production of Nine. You see, Newman is preparing for the lead role of Guido Contini. That’s right; our Josh Newman, will be portraying the very Italian, down on his luck character, Guido Contini. How can this be possible you say? I’ll tell you all about it, but first let me set the stage so to speak.
The North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) is in Beverly, MA, which is actually 20 miles north of Boston. This is the same theatre that I would frequent on a weekly basis back in my high school days. Back then, NSMT was just a theatre in the round with a shingled exterior and a connecting space that was dubbed the dressing room area. Let’s just say that it was very sparse and if there should be a huge downpour, there was no need for a shower. This is also the theatre that I would occasionally be thrown out from -- since I would always try to catch the closing night of a play by sneaking in at intermission. Some times it worked, other times it didn’t. Security knew me by name in those days!
But many changes have happened since then. The North Shore Music Theatre has grown into a year round facility with a seating capacity of 1,800. NSMT annually produces seven musical productions, one Shakespeare production, two dozen celebrity concerts, and ten children’s shows each year. The subscription audience of 27,500 is one of the largest in New England, and among the top ten in the country.
As for me, things have now come full circle as I was recently given the ‘royal treatment’ by NSMT. Julie, the Communication Manager for the theatre, was so gracious and accommodating. As you will see, I was allowed to watch and photograph Newman in rehearsal and then I had the opportunity to interview not only Newman, but his former Guiding Light co-star Amanda Serkasevich, (ex Darcy Matthews). In fact, if it wasn’t for Serkasevich, this interview, let alone this production of Nine, may have never happened. You’ll see why in a moment. But first, a little about Robert Newman.
Newman is no stranger to the theatre. He earned a BA in theater from Cal State University. His theatrical training began at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and he also studied with the Strasberg Institute and with Tom Troup, Malcolm Mac Dowell and Charles Nelson Reilly. So where does Josh fit in to all this?
PT: We know you as ‘Josh Lewis’ and we have let him into our homes since 1981. When did the theatre come in?
RN: The theatre came in way before Josh. I mean, the theatre was the foundation for Josh. I had been doing musicals and plays pretty much non-stop for four or five years before setting foot in front of a camera for the first time.
PT: Do you have a preference, live theatre or studio taping?
RN: I do love the theatre, I love being on stage. In some ways if you’re looking for one over the other it’s probably the theatre because of the whole live quality of it is just so extraordinary and to have people around you, giving you feedback instantaneously is one of the most frightening things on the planet. You do get that SOMETIMES on the soap. Sometimes we finish a scene, and for instance, there was a scene I did with Shayne (Marty West). I did a monologue at the bed (when Josh injured Shayne in the accident), and when I finished that, the crew really responded to that. And, when the crew really responds to something that you’ve done, then you KNOW that you’ve done something truly special. But that’s just once and that’s very rare.
Oddly enough, Newman met Nine’s director, Barry Ivan about 10 years ago when he was doing a play in Stamford, CT. He had asked Newman then about doing a musical with him and at the time Newman felt that he had just started singing again and he wasn’t ready for that sort of schedule at that time. Lucky for us, Newman then met up with Barry a few years ago when he came to see former GL co-star Mark Pinter in Victor/Victoria. But the stage was still not set for Newman to portray Guido Contini.
It wasn’t until taping scenes for the 4th of July Bauer barbecue on Guiding Light that Newman heard of the opportunity.
PT: I have to ask, ‘Why Guido?’ Why Nine?
RN: Well, there are a couple of answers to that. One answer to ‘why Guido’ has a lot to do with Amanda. We were sitting there at the Bauer barbecue, which as you know, bores me to tears (laughter), and we were talking about things and she said that she was going to take time off to do a musical up in Boston. At the same time, I was trying to get some time off to do a play somewhere and she said….
But Newman was interrupted by Amanda Serkasevich who chimed in: “At that time I had been offered the role of Claudia, and I said that I really didn’t know that status of the casting of Guido, if they had cast it or not, but if you’re looking to do something, I don’t think it would be too difficult to fax in a resume, to see, to say ‘hi,’ I’m Josh Lewis. They would probably be happy to see you. But I think it took a little convincing.”
RN: I responded immediately saying, I don’t think I’m right for that role. And she said, I think you ARE.
AS: You ARE! Are you kidding me! First of all, in my opinion, it’s one of the best musicals to work on. It is so full, there are so many layers to all of the women and especially Guido and I thought; don’t pass this up because you may not consider yourself Italian or culturally the right person. A man can definitely on some capacity relate to Guido.
PT: Are you intimidated by playing Guido? (This part has most recently been done by Antonio Banderas and John Stamos on Broadway.)
RN: Not because of them, no. I think, initially I had a fear. I mean, when they actually called and asked me to do the role, after I had some interaction with Barry, after I had sung through much of the piece, now this was intimidating, with the conductor from the Broadway version. We spent two hours singing through stuff. Now that was tough. Then when they called me I said ‘yeah, I’m going to do this thing’. This decision then required a lot of working with Ellen Wheeler (EP of GL) along with discussions from my wife and my family about me being away for a period of time. But when I finally said ‘yes,’ I found myself up at three in the morning asking myself ‘what am I thinking?’ Things can get out of proportion at three o’clock in the morning. It’s not like I suddenly woke up and said I’m going to do a musical today. There have been many, many years of vocal work but also, just a lifetime of preparation. Guido is forty and I don’t think a 25 yr old can play Guido. Guido needs to be over forty because there are things that you actually need to experience to truly be Guido. I don’t think that even five years ago that I would have been ready for the part.
Here’s an except from a previous interview where Robert explains how he prepared for the role. “I see Guido as basically a good man who has made many unhealthy decisions in this life and now they’re catching up with him. Joshua (Newman’s character on GL) is very much like this. Heck, so am I. Guido is searching for a way to grow up and leave his childish ways behind. The role is also physically demanding to play, both in terms of the score and in the amount of time I’m on stage. It’s like preparing for a marathon.”
PT: Guido comes across as ‘slimy.’ I mean, he has women EVERYWHERE!
RN: That’s not the issue either for me.
AS: I think that that is an interpreted thing by each director. I think that Guido, the way I prefer to look at him, because I have to be in love with him, isn’t that he’s slimy. First of all, he’s going through a mid life crisis because all of these things that are catching up to him. He’s a worldly character, I mean, he’s a huge international star. He has people coming at him in every direction. I think a person’s circumstances, when they are that huge, they don’t own a lot of themselves. People own parts of them and I think that after a while, it must be confusing to determine your identity. So, I think, as my character rationalizes why she is in love with him, I think that you allow some flexibility as to what you get from different people. In Guido’s case, he gets different things from different women and in a way, all of the women know this and accept it on some level because what they get from him is unique.
PT: Amanda, you have given us such and enlightening and different viewpoint of Nine. Most of the time when you think about the show, you think of Guido. You don’t think of the impact he’s had on the women on whether they mind sharing or that they are just happy to be a part of his life. Thank you so much for showing us this side.
AS: Each woman receives something very unique from Guido but they also provide him with something very unique.
RN: I want to go back because my other feeling about why Guido is not slimy from my perspective is …you know, there is that old thing in acting where you are playing a bad guy, you don’t think of yourself as a bad guy, you can’t . I remember seeing Anthony Hopkins in an interview once, when he was playing Hitler. I mean, you can’t get any worse than that. And he was saying Hitler believed that he was saving the world and that’s the way that he had to approach the character. I can’t approach Guido as a slimy character. I’m approaching Guido from all the things that have happened in his life that have brought him to today. I believe that he loves his wife completely 100%. I believe that also loves Claudia 100%, and he also loves Carla 100%. I know that sounds like 300% but it’s not unlike the way that I love my son 100% and I love my daughter 100%. They are just different facets of his life. He’s gotten to a point in his life where he knows that this is not going to work for him and I don’t really know if it’s going to work for them anymore either. This has created in him this massive writer’s block that is ruining his career.
PT: Let’s move on to Guiding Light. I talked with Amanda earlier to ask her what is going to happen to Frank. Basically, she has not been killed off, she just asked for time to do Nine. How did Ellen free Josh up?
RN: It’s really not a big deal. You know, it doesn’t have to be a big deal for a character to off for a while. I know that they want to make you believe that it is, that they freak when you ask for vacation. If I wanted to leave for a week in the middle of the Marianne Caruthers, Hall of Mirrors, storyline, that may not have worked. But traditionally in the summer, the storylines center around the younger characters as they are trying to pull in the college viewers. I was sitting with her in May and said that I need a break. I went through Shayne’s baseball story, Shane’s in the wheelchair story, and the Marianne Caruthers story, and all of that was really emotional -- not just physically draining. I said that I needed to do something else. They have plans for Josh and Reva in the fall but…
PT: Which are? Can you share any upcoming storylines with me?
RN: (Smiling) No. If you know me, as well as you say that you do, you know that I haven’t got the faintest idea of what is going to happen. I don’t know, I don’t want to know. The last time I went into the producer’s office and asked about a story in advance, it was the Cloning Story and ever since then I have never gone in to ask about and upcoming storyline. I don’t want to know.
PT: This is Marty West’s (Shayne) last week airing. How hard was it to say good-bye to him? I’ve read somewhere how fond you were of Marty’s talent….
RN: I am just very fond of Marty as a person. I just get attached to them. I have a sense that I get more attached to the Marah. I mean, I can name you four Marahs that I was just extremely close to; Ashley Peldon, Kimberly Brown, Laura Bell Bundy and Lindsey McKeon. For each one of those, it was hard for me to release them and to say goodbye. I mean Lindsey and I were just swinging into a perfect Josh/Marah place when she was released from the show. Laura, well I just adore her. I saw Kimberly Brown recently and gosh, she has grown up and she is so beautiful, wonderful and so charming. Ashley was, in my mind, the first Marah. Shaynes have been different, part of that is because they have never really explored that character. He’s always been the kind of guy that comes in and then runs out and it wasn’t until Marty that they really explored the character. Even with Billy Kay, they didn’t go that far with Shayne. With Marty they really explored it. I think that a lot of the stuff we shared during the time he was in the hospital was very powerful. He is such a nice young guy. That means a lot to me too, that counts for a lot. It’s not only ability; it’s how you carry yourself.
PT: Last question, what would be your fantasy role for Josh? If you could write that next storyline for Josh, what would you like to see happen? Who would you to see Josh interface with?
RN: I just don’t have an answer to that. I think that the harder part to that is what haven’t they done? I look at the writers and I’m like, you know… I’d want something extraordinary to happen. I mean, I’m always joking about ‘Skippy.’ I mean, like one day, Skippy is going to have to come on to the camera. Skippy is Josh’s evil twin who only exists in my mind. I’ve always believed that every soap character has to have an evil twin. Skippy is Josh’s evil twin.
PT: May we inform the Soapdom readers about ‘Skippy?’
RN: Sure, the actors are aware of Skippy. There have been times, in some scenes where I am just pulling my hair out, where things are just insane, and then I’ll say, ‘that’s ok, Skippy will do it.’ Or other times there can be a moment when they will say, ‘was that you, or was that Skippy?’ You see, Skippy is much sleazier, he’s sort of has a hump back, (Robert starts to look like Mr. Hyde of Jekyll and Hyde). “Damn you, Billy Lewis.”
AS: If I had an evil twin, she’d be glamorous.
RN: No, Skippy is like nasty and mean and angry. (In his Skippy voice) He’s going to get back his share of the Lewis dynasty.
AS: She’d be a model.
RN: As far as the future storylines for Josh. I just deeply respect the writers of the show. I an really excited about David. I think that he’s a really great young man.
RN: David, the writer, the head writer, David Kreizman. I love David and Ellen Wheeler together. I think that they both really LOVE soap operas and I think that they will both bring that to the cameras.
Well, that just about concludes my day with Robert Newman and Amanda Serkasevich. It was a pleasure to sit with them both and hear their motivations for their roles in Nine. I was lucky enough to get a few photos during rehearsal, and I can’t wait to see the show. I also want to add that Serkasevich has performed in regional theatres throughout the country. I may have seen just a snippet of what she can do but I am so glad that she joined us for the interview and if it wasn’t for her, Robert Newman may have never been offered the role of Guido.
NINE at North Shore Music Theatre
August 24-September 12
call for tickets 978-232-7200
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