His Master Plan
By: Mara Lewinsky
Soap Opera Digest Online
August 8, 2000
For the past 13 months, Ben Masters has been providing belly laughs to Passions fans as Harmony's underhanded, oversexed persona non grata, Julian Crane. Digest Online spoke to the playful patriarch about his "deranged madman" of an alter ego, his first encounter with series mastermind James Reilly, and what Julian's really doing when he logs onto the Internet.
Digest Online: Ben, I was just reading transcripts of the chats you did in character as Julian for the Passions website. Was that fun for you?
Masters: Of course, because I was doing them as Julian, and Julian, as you know, is not politically correct. I was having a blast saying stuff like, "Jump off a bridge, you miserable fool! Your life is worthless if you're not a Crane!" People played with me and I played with them, and it was good.
Digest Online: Passions' Creator/Head Writer James Reilly was your special guest at one of the chats. Was that the first time you'd been in contact with him?
Masters: Right, I had never spoken to Mr. Reilly before. I think he likes to maintain a distance [from the actors], to sort of see us as the characters. He doesn't want the personal relationship going on, to have that fourth wall destroyed. But I did get to chat with him a bit. I think it's so interesting that the man lives and breathes this show and these storylines. It's like his own personal erector set, his own Lego set ,and he gets to dictate the outcomes of all these people's twisted lives. He was a very well-spoken, interesting man. He was complimentary to me, which I was very appreciative of. I'm even, at my old age, in quite a bit of awe of his talent.
Digest Online: I imagine that your sort of twisted take on Julian has had a great influence on the way he writes for the character.
Masters: He has outlines of the characters and what they are, but as the particular actors playing them flesh them out, he sees what we contribute and he builds on that. Julian is definitely a deranged madman with too much money, and I think that Mr. Reilly enjoys writing for that character.
Digest Online: Did you see Julian as a humorous character from the get-go?
Masters: Let me put it this way: When I got this job, I -- like everyone else -- had to be screen-tested. And the scene that I did was with Ivy, a scene that has never appeared in the show. It was about a two-page speech and the way it was written was madly over the top. It had a lot of funny, crazy stuff in it, accusing Ivy of all this stuff and playing these hideous games with her. As an actor, I looked at it and thought, "Well, they've written it this way, and I'm going to go for it!" I was outrageous in the screen test, and I got the job immediately. So I figured, "That's what they want? That's what they're going to get!" The difficult thing in doing it is remembering to stand back every once in a while and think, "Have I gone too crazy with this?" But I always go back to that day, over a year ago, when I did that screen test, and think, "Well, that's what they wanted then, and they seem to want it now, so I'm going to stick with it." The way that I play Julian, rightly or wrongly, is of course over the top, but it's not that I don't play him like a real person. I just make him a real person who's… a little weirder than most people! And it seems to be working!
Digest Online: I'll say! Consider this: When a voiceover you provided was added to the Passions website, hundreds of thousands of fans logged on in the first day alone. I have a few theories of my own, but what do you think makes your voice so irresistible?
Masters: I don't know! All I know is, because I'm such a fool on my computer, I tried to download that stuff and listen to it and I couldn't figure out how to make it play! So I'm impressed that that many people figured it out! But obviously I said something very interesting, right? And if anybody knows what it is, will they please tell me? Any transcripts should be sent to me!
Digest Online: How Internet savvy is Julian? Has Silicon Valley hurt Crane Industries?
Masters: No, we're on the cutting edge, constantly, with all sorts of new technology. We incorporate all of the newest technology into our various business holdings, because we are at the forefront of the new millennium at Crane Industries. And speaking as Julian, I do like to surf the web at night. Now, what I surf for I cannot tell you… but let's just say it ain't work-related! And I've been emailing Theresa, but she won't reply to it!
Digest Online: Do you think there will come a time when Alistair and Julian will do their scheming by Instant Messenger? Why haven't they incorporated that? They're so old-school with that speaker phone!
Masters: Well, you know, Alistair is back in the Dark Ages somewhere. I just don't know how he knows everything that's going on in the house! I don't know if he's tapped into my computer or not, but no, he's more into the phone, into that K-Mart answering machine that I act with all the time. Our technology in that respect is a decade old. Alistair isn't into anything like that. But Alistair won't be into much of anything if I get my way! He's been messing with me, threatening prison, and we can't have that!
Digest Online: Does Alistair have call waiting?
Masters: Alistair still likes to use a rotary phone. I think he may be on a party line! But actually, in the show I tape today, I try to call Alistair and I get a busy signal. He doesn't have call waiting, the old bastard!
Digest Online: At this point, because of Alistair's constant meddling, shouldn't Julian invest in Caller ID?
Masters: He most definitely should!
Digest Online: Forget Timmy, forget Tabitha -- what's really too hard to swallow on Passions is that Julian doesn't have Caller ID!
Masters: And think how unrealistic it is that I'll be on the handset talking privately and then I put it on the speaker phone just in time to talk about all the evil deeds I've done or plan to do!
Digest Online: The Cranes definitely need to get with the times – especially when it comes to new and improved methods of covert plotting.
Masters: The interesting thing, though, is that technology now – whether it's computers or anything else – has almost outpaced our need for it. As people, we're still just fools. I mean, you can get the best camera in the world, but if you're just going to take pictures of your dog, who cares? You can have the fastest computer in the world, and what are you going to do -- play Solitaire faster? I'm waiting for when we have a little machine that you get into and zip to New York to have lunch with someone, then get back into it and zip back to Los Angeles . That will come. Not in my lifetime, but I'm sure there will be the ability to transfer material at some point.