Unlike his terminally ill
in the moment
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
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."
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."