TO THE DOOR OF MATTHEW ASHFORD'S
(JACK DEVERAUX, Days of Our
Lives) dressing room is a card depicting
the Marx Brothers — Harpo, Grouch and Chico — each
hanging by his collar from a coat rack. "Did you see this?"
asks Ashford, flashing a smile. "Michael Sabatino (Lawrence)
gave it to me. He and I have the same sense of humor."
card, of course, is meant to symbolize the fate of Ashford, Sabatino
and Crystal Chappell (Carly), all
of whom are being written off the show— hung out to dry,
so to speak — in a manner of months. "We all just say,
`Well, this is part of the [business], and at least we're in good
company,'" Ashford says matter-of-factly.
Ashford, a six-year Days veteran, whose
contract expires Sept. 26, had all intentions of signing on again.
"Negotiations were going along, as far as I knew, very well,"
he says. "There was definitely no question of money. It was
not a problem at all, which is interesting after the last time,
when we just couldn't get over that hurdle.
"What I was going through was a series of meetings with [executive
producer] Ken Corday, [co-executive producer] Tom Langan, and
other people at NBC." he continues. "I was talking to
them about my creative concerns. My feeling was if they wanted
me to commit to two more years — they even wanted three
years at one point — they needed to commit to two years
of good story." Ashford diplomatically describes his last
two years on the show as "less than glorious. I think everyone
is aware of that. Nothing was fully thought out, a lot of damage
was done to characters." He believes Jack, in particular,
went through an endless cycle of "buffooning."
While Ashford admits he's always fought for the opportunity to
go for the laugh, he concedes that it snowballed. "I never
wanted to be comical; I wanted to be humorous. . . someone who'd
be able to laugh and then cry. My aim was to try to show the humor
in life, but not make it too big. But things stated to get out
of hand. I fell into a niche." Ironically, the actor says
he has seen progress in recent months, noting that Jack has been
moving in the direction of becoming "a more solid and effective
character." Ashford also believes the show's current writing
regime is "not just give over to blatant jokes and stuff
like that. If there's humor in something, they allow Missy (Reeves,
who plays Jack's wife, Jennifer) and me to find it. I think
Jim Reilly is capable, competent writer," says Ashford. "if
he is left alone by other people around him, he can tell a good
Story being Ashford's prime concern, he felt compelled to question
the Days brass about Jack's future.
Those inquiries were never answered, he says. Instead, the show
halted negotiations. "They just withdrew," says Ashford.
"Obviously something happened up in the offices. I can't
really speak for what their ultimate reasons were. I think it
has to do with what they want to see on the show now, and I think
they don't want to see me. My understanding is that they going
to recast the role.
"Last year, 21 contract players
were taken off the show. The year before that, it was a similar
number," he explains. "As much as The Young
and the Restless holds on to its people and builds
an audience that way, Days continually
gets rid of people when something goes wrong. That's the way they
Did he ever anticipate becoming one of those causalities? Maybe
in sense I did. Underneath, as an actor, my challenge has always
been to grow. Sometimes I take that are written one way and challenge
myself to find more levels to them. It's not easy, but I take
what I can bring to a scene very seriously. That's the kind of
work I want to do. I have a feeling that the producers and i don't
always see [things] the same. Sometimes new challenges aren't
what they have in mind. I think we were getting to a point where
the cage was getting a little too small."
Ashford also believes that in an attempt to shake up the show
and boost sagging ratings, Days execs
have been moving the show in an entirely different direction for
some time. "When a new production team comes in, they have
their people that they want to focus on," he explains. "That's
part of this business. I feel like the production team as it is
has wanted people to forget about Jack and Jennifer and try to
focus more on other characters. . . like Austin and Carrie. it's
literally the old world order and the new world order kind of
thinking. Jack and Jennifer are part of the old world.
"The goal of the present producers is to push Kate, Lucas,
Billie and Austin. They are, in a sense, the new Horton family,"
says Ashford, referring to Days' blossoming
new core. "Even though not all their names will be Horton,
they'll be part of that circle. I think Days
is taking a chance. I think they're betting on the future. They're
bringing on new actors with new faces, and I don't think they're
that concerned about viewer acceptance," he adds."Unfortunately,
there's a feeling that if people watch the show, they'll keep
watching. It's a bi jaded a bit cynical, but I think that's what
their bet is."
Why Ashford, one of the most popular and youngest old faces on
the show, doesn't fit into Days' remains
a question, and one he can only speculate about. "I remember
a lot of things the producers don't exactly want to remember,
think about or deal with." he notes, adding that a recast
with no real knowledge of Jack's past "definitely makes it
easier. He'll probably do things based on what started the day
"It's funny. Memory is selective thing," Ashford says.
"You can remember what you want. The history being remember
about Bill, Laura, this person and that, suits [upcoming[ story.
But other things they want to forget."
Ashford cites a scene in which Deborah Adair's Kate was supposed
to hold up Harper Deveraux, Jack's late father, as someone for
Jack to emulate. "Deborah had no idea that the man was an
ax murderer who had hacked up three or for women," Ashford
explains. "To let her talk about him in an admiring, wonderful
way would have been unfair to her as an actress. Then, the audience
watches and says, `Bogus!' So I mentioned it to her, and she was
able to make an adjustment [in her dialogue].
"The whole rape story is something they couldn't deal with,"
he continues, referring to Jack's violation of Kayla Johnson.
"But for better or for worse, those were the stories of
Days. My hope was that we could have developed from
them rather than away from them and not act like they didn't happen."
Despite the size of his role, Ashford has never really fit
Days' brand of macho, heroic leading men. "I've
always been odd man out, but I like to play that — neither
good nor bad but somewhere in between," he insists. "Jack's
kind of a common man with common problems. How can someone be
totally clean and never be considered a villain? How can someone
hardly ever take off his clothes, never hang all over someone,
have deep quenching kisses, and still be considered [part of the
best] couple in daytime?" he says, referring to the Soap
Opera Digest Award he and Reeves
won on more than one occasion. "To me those things are very
interesting." He notes that the year he took flak for being
the lousiest kisser in daytime, he and Reeves won awards for best
wedding and most romantic love story."
He doesn't give credence to the rumors that he and Reeves lack
chemistry, and that's part of the reason he's being let go. "To
me chemistry is not just to people licking each other and throwing
off their clothes. Sometimes that becomes a crutch." he declares.
"I feel sorry for Drake (Hogestyn, who
plays John) sometimes; they'll just write in he has his
shirt off — in the middle of a snowstorm."
Ashford believes real chemistry isn't necessarily hot, sweaty
and animalistic. "Sometimes you have to dig deeper, find
a deeper connection. Missy and I try to be as honest, simple,
and sincere with one another as possible. I feel we have a communication
and a trust that is our own, and that is the most important thing.
"We have definitely been in an unfortunate story pit,"
he admits"We've constantly asked for things that we could
challenge together, and we've constantly been pushed aside. Newly
married couples have all sorts of interesting, funny, romantic
problems. Things could have been written on and on, but nothing
was ever delved into in a serious, real way."
Despite the recent lack of storyline attention, Ashford has found
memories of his tenure on Days, "in
terms of everything I've been able to do, express and explore.
I feel I've grow a lot as an actor, and become more confident
in the process. Jack has been a very interesting phenomenon from
the writers to the press to the public," he says "Many
people connect with the character. They'd tell me he was just
like their boyfriend, husband or brother. Yet, I'd still be pointed
out or ridiculed for some of the things I tried to do just on
a person-to-person level. But I was always into taking chances,
doing the thing that was not expected, making the difficult choice
and not the easy one. And by that I mean making the choice that
is not cosmetic, the choice that doesn't show the character in
a bright, rosy light. I got flak about that in various places
and that's OK, because I wanted to provoke thought. I wanted people
to consider things — that sometimes a villain is not a villain,
sometimes a good person is not a good person. There are different
sides to everything.
"The opportunity to play this role has been tremendous. I
may not have gotten it on other shows. I've really appreciated
— Ken Corday to former producers Al Rabin and Shelley Curtis,
even down to Tom Langan — the latitude give to me, whether
they wanted to give it or not. It's been a learning experience,
a chance for me to push and grow, try things and make mistakes.
You can't do that everywhere."
As he prepares to leave Days September,
Ashford says he'll long remember the show's crew. "Within
the acting quarters there's a nice camaraderie," he says.
"The crew has always been so supportive. They laugh. They
keep things up and moving and give honest responses."He'll
also miss the devotion of the Days fans.
"They've been everything from the very beginning," he
notes. "They've seen me through changes, and their response
— everything from letters of support to letters of criticism
— has been incredible. It's something I don't expect to
experience again on any other show. I want to express my appreciation
Most of all, Ashford will miss collaborating with Reeves, who
he terms"a hard worker who deserves the best." He cites
concern for her future in Salem as the sole reason he wishes Jack
were not going to be recast. "I really feel it's a great
opportunity for Missy and the character of Jennifer to be cleared."
he explains. "We got stuck being together in the way they
write for married characters." Ashford even offers his blessing
to Jennifer/Austin pairing. "That seems to be a strong possibility,
in which case that's fine. My feeling, personally, is that would
be better for Missy. It would give Jennifer a chance to start
over. If that's the way it works, out Patrick Muldoon (Austin)
couldn't ask for a better partner to work with."
As far as what lies ahead for him, Ashford assures his fans that
he and his family — wife Christina Saffran, who's currently
starring in a production of My Fair Lady,
and their daughter, Grace — will be fine. "When we
got married, we were both out of work," he recalls. "I'd
been off Search for Tomorrow (Ashford
played Cagney McClary) for some time, and we were saying,
`Well, do we have enough money to get married?' Yet, underneath
I felt this confidence. I wasn't going to worry about it. I knew
we would be all right."
"Now I feel like we're kind of back to that time," he
says. "We're going to enjoy this moment, get the most gusto out
of it. It's times like this when you feel things more and think
more. It's not a time to shut off, but to open up and be more
receptive to everything. I feel we're experiencing more; that's
The actor has already started auditioning for night-time series
and movies-of-the week. He is also interested in getting involved
with a theater group recommended by Marilyn McIntyre (Jo).
"It's a group of actors who do new, serious plays. They've
TV and movies. They're interested in doing good theater. That's
what I want to do, get involved in things where i can really dig
down and work." As for the possibility of doing another soap,
"I'm not going out looking for it. If something comes my
way. . . it depends on the situation."
Ashford hopes his exodus "doesn't send a message out that
(his Days co-stars) not ask questions
or be challenging or be able to talk to [the show's producers].
If that is what comes out of this. . . if the producers feel they
can control actors better by staying behind closed doors and actors
are afraid to go to them, then I'll feel very sad, because a wonderful
opportunity to create together will be lost. A free flow of ideas
is what can really create very interesting, lively show. It's
my hope that communication between actor and producer doesn't
totally close down. I've been on shows like that before, and there's
not a lot of vision. . . they're not very far-reaching. I hope
actors can always have choices, make decisions, create things
and go with them — not just totally take what is given to
If Matthew Ashford had done that, Jack Deveraux might have been
just another soap clone instead of an unforgettable enigma.
Janet Di Lauro