matthew ashford homepage articles

Soap Opera Weekly

Zen at work

SOW photo of the Buddha

SOW Oct. 05, Matt Unlike his terminally ill
enjoys life
in the moment

This week was admittedly one of the rougher ones for Matt Ashford and his Days of our Lives character, Jack Deveraux. Both of them had to deal with Jack admitting to Jennifer — and then telling Abby — that he's dying. As Jack contended with an onslaught of anger and resentment from his wife and daughter for keeping them in the dark, his portrayer felt like he'd "been hit by a ton of bricks" by the turning point proffered by the script.

After months of maintaining a virtual holding pattern while Jack ran around contriving various distractions to keep himself in denial, all of them must now finally face this very grim reality together as a family. "A Jack was unprepared, so was I," remarks Ashford immediately after taping those scenes, which air this week.  "When it started coming out I wanted to run and  hide, but I  had to stand there and deliver, because they were pulling at me. Missy (Reeves, Jennifer) was starting to freak out. I couldn't leave and I didn't know what to do. Put my arms around her? Not put my arms around her? At one point — I don't know if this will make it onto the air — she got very upset; very angry. As she should have. Because that comes out, too. It was messy. You didn't know what was going to happen next.

SOW Oct, Jack/Jennifer Matt/Missy"There is one thing I want to share with you about this: I  realized something about Missy. She can ask me a question, and if Jack is stretching the truth or outright lying, it keeps getting harder and harder. I'm looking at her thinking, `I can't do this. I can't lie to you.' Me, Matt, looking at her I believe what she says. And I find myself wanting to protect her and not wanting to hurt her." Equally surreal for Ashford has been Ashley Benson's (Abby) contribution, as Jack and Jennifer bring Abby into the look, "They wanted us to hold on to each other. But we started finding that the scenes worked better... the way it came out was I just sat there with my hands in my lap and she sat next to me with her hands in her lap. I couldn't reach out and touch her. so it came off as very grim, very weird. But I  liked it because I couldn't look at her. That's how I felt with a lot of this stuff. Sure, we could sit there and  hold each other and hug each other, but there in so much anger, deception and betrayal in all of this. You can't just hug and make up."

Unlike Ashford who seems to be handling the protracted apparent demise of his character with aplomb. It would be easy to ascribe that to his character's repeated dalliances with death — developing and battling Hodgkin's disease shortly after Jack's arrival in Salem, and more recently becoming a casualty in last year's Salem Stalker murder spree. But Ashford is quick to set the record straight on that. "The Hodgkin's disease was played out by two actors before me. When I came on, I asked then-producer Shelley Curtis, `How do you want me to play this Hodgkin's? She said, `Oh, drop it.' It had already `killed' two actors. So now it was time for it to go into remission.  I always took a fatalistic sense from that with the character. Live fast, and don't exactly smell the flowers."

As for Jack's recent "death," "Frankly there was nothing there. I walked around a corner, got hit with a brick, and the next thing I knew I was gone. There was no payoff for me. [But] here, I'm party to this thing, and I'm trying to make the most of it. I'm not interested in playing, `Pity me,' though the timing of it was such a slap in the fact of the character. He was getting a relations with his daughter again, with his wife, they've got this new baby boy, then this. Karmic wallop"

Perhaps Jack would be better suited to handle life's karmic wallops if he were as spiritually fulfilled as his portrayer, a Buddhist. "Jack does consider himself a Christian — although he probably only goes to church when Jennifer makes him. But when pressed, he has a pretty gloomy outlook on things. But believe me, as a Buddhist, you're only as god as your last day."

Ashford worries about doing justice to the story. "I have concerns about overplaying it, not doing a good job. We had a friend pass away suddenly from cancer this summer. I'm doing these scenes and I'll see or talk with someone, and they are fighting [a terminal illness]. Sometimes you question that and thin, `What are we doing?' We have fans who are really dealing with it. That is why sometimes it gets skewed for me, because I feel like such a pretender. I have so much to be thankful for. I have my health. So sometimes it weirds me out. But I know I am trying to do my best."

SOW Oct 05, the Ashford familyAshford's storyline hits close to home at times for him and his wife, Christina: Their youngest daughter, Emma, now 8, battled retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer that caused her to lose an eye. "I sit there and say, `Who am I?' I'm sitting there talking about today being the end. It makes me feel appreciative of what I have, and it could be gone in a minute." But similarly, their faith (Ashford met Christina through a Buddhist event) sustained them through Emma's illness. "Very quickly, we had hundreds , if not thousands of people from around the country who changed. Even people overseas who heard about us, chanted for us and our family. We started seeing right away that we were in the right place." Acting on one of the principal tenets of Buddhism — to take a "poison" in your life and turn it into something positive — Ashford and his wife, along with Hunter Tylo (Taylor, The Bold and the Beautiful) and her husband, Michael (ex-Alexander/Rick, The Young and the Restless, ex-Quint, Guiding Light), whose own daughter suffered from the same disease, founded Retinoblastoma International, which seeks to promote research and raise awareness.

"Because Emma came into the world with this cancer, the world has changed. The diagnosis time has been cut in half. It used to be a year to 14 months... just devastating. Now it's been cut to less than six months, and that's a direct result of Emma. Already, the world is a better place.

Children are walking around with their eyesight and their health because of her."

Similarly, Ashford hopes positive things will come from Jack's struggles. "I am playing, at this point, a character who is dying. But if through this work, i can encourage people in one way or the other to do their best in whatever situation they're in... As a Buddhist, you are really encouraged to live every moment."


home ] [ articles index ]