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Mere days into 2022, The Young and the Restless (Y&R) opted to remove Richard Burgi from the show over a health protocol breach. Whether or not that was the right call, viewers were intrigued to learn that the CBS soap was recasting Robert Newman into the role of Ashland Locke.
However, even Guiding Light fans who were over the moon about Newman’s casting couldn’t imagine what would happen next. As soon as Newman entered the role, Ashland Locke became a more dynamic character – and we can only partially credit the recast for this.
Whether it was the timing of Burgi’s unfortunate exit or the details of Newman’s contract, Y&R writers unmasked Locke as a duplicitous scoundrel on day one of Newman’s arrival.
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Needless to say, Locke’s true character had already been surmised by the average Y&R viewer, but nobody could prove that he was up to no good. Audiences have Burgi to thank for that cold exterior. In his mannerisms and ambitions, Burgi’s version of Ashland was perfectly inscrutable – even if it felt a little one-note.
On the other hand, Newman has presented us with a multi-dimensional Locke within barely a month’s time. (He’s had no choice, given the sudden momentum of his storyline!) While Newman continues to channel some of Burgi’s tics (talking with his hands, speaking with the same bombast), he also conveys a humanity that was previously either disguised or lacking.
First of all, Newman has shown us Ashland’s vicious side, mostly over the phone to his unseen minions in Peru. For nearly a year, viewers have been told that he’s the Locke-Ness Monster, but now they’re finally seeing it. He’s commanding, impatient and serious. But deadly serious? We’ll have to wait and see….
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Over to the opposite extreme, Newman has also presented Ashland as someone who might actually love Victoria (Amelia Heinle), despite his current deceptions. In a recent episode, the camera remained on his face as he embraced Vicky. Although he was successfully misleading his wife at the time, his expression relayed a mix of pain and remorse.
This was another question we couldn’t get answers about during Burgi’s tenure: is Ashland just using Vicky? At present, the answer appears to be more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no”. On one hand, he’s scrubbing evidence that he lied about ever having a terminal illness; on the other hand, he’s putting off signing Vicky’s contract to become co-CEO of Newman-Locke.
Yet another new side of Ashland is his stressed-out and frantic demeanor, as he reacts to the charges brought about by Victor (Eric Braeden). Late last week, when Nate (Sean Dominic) encountered Ashland at Society, Ashland was full-on flustered as he tried to maintain his cool facade.
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Given the new emotions running amok on screen, viewers could be forgiven for seeing the new Ashland as weaker; however, what Newman’s done is make Ashland human.
In a recent interview with Soap Opera Digest, Newman shared how he got into Locke’s headspace. “To me, Ashland is a businessman through and through,” he stated. “The term ‘ruthless businessman’, I think, is the most overused phrase in casting history.”
“There are hundreds of roles that I’ve looked at and the breakdown says, ‘ruthless businessman’,” he continued. “I’m like ‘What does that really mean?'”
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Well, now we’re seeing the person behind that stereotype. Only a sociopath could behave as detached and robotic as Burgi’s version did all the time – and audiences knew he was withholding the Locke-Ness Monster’s true side.
As a side-note, it’s a shame we couldn’t see the character break open with Burgi at the helm. It would’ve been rather rewarding to see the actor shed that diplomatic smugness. Alas, what we have with Newman could be equally thrilling.
It takes time for any recast to really command their role, but what Newman has done so far is very impressive. He’s been tasked with not only assuming Burgi’s presence, but also fleshing out previously hidden sides of Ashland’s personality at a very quick rate.
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This storyline has gone from neutral to high speed so suddenly, it’s tempting to assume that Y&R writers have shifted gears because of the cast change. Last year, they didn’t seem to know what to do with Ashland. So, are they wrapping up this character or giving Newman a chance to stick around?
Because in spite of all the reveals in Ashland’s character – the sneakiness, the romantic conflict and the stress – Newman has kept the character’s sense of mystery intact. He’s no longer a mythological business tycoon, but he’s a real man with real problems. And surely, that’s a better character for audiences to invest in.
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