By Robert Schork
Soap Opera Weekly
Flash back to 1999, when an arrogant WASP with too many dollars but not enough sense named Julian Crane first stumbled across viewers’ screens. With a cheesy dye job and a brandy snifter permanently affixed to his right hand, this blue-blooded lush drank and skirt-chased his way from one predicament to the next. With most of them provoked by his mouth or libido, Julian was often Public Enemy No. 1 in Harmony (and privately too, within the Crane clan), and found himself on the business end of too many fists, palms and even guns, when someone in town (viewers still don’t know who) tried to off him in a boiling vat of tuna.
Fast-forward to 2004. Perhaps metaphorically, Julian let his hair go au naturel, while the character is now alternately consumed by two natural, serious, bittersweet relationships: one with his estranged son, Fox, and one with his old flame (and love of his life), Eve, as they embark on finding their MIA son. While Julian still gives viewers a hefty supply of LOL’s – he’s still the town’s favorite punching bag, and never manages to stay on the wagon for very long – the character has steadily progressed from being one-man comic-relief to becoming its standout leading man and core family patriarch.
Ben Masters declares he’s welcomed the transformation to a kinder, gentler Julian. “It just sneaked up on me at first,” says the actor. “Jim Reilly (Passions creator/head writer/consulting producer) laid a couple of nuggets on me that I didn’t know if I should take, but I did, and I’m glad that I did, because the road he is now taking Julian down is a very interesting wide highway with all sorts of possibilities. It was a shock for the audience at first to see such a kinder, softer Julian, especially with Eve, but thankfully, they’ve seemed to take to it for the most part.”
And he does pay attention. “I’m a big fan of cruising the soap message boards on the Internet,” reveals Masters. “Generally, fans have been ecstatic about this, but of course, there are always a few detractors who go on about how they hate the lap dog poodle Julian has become. And then once in awhile some Juvy (Julian and Ivy fans) with their pointed little heads come up and there is a lot of screaming on the boards to bring back Juvy, and they’ll like hijack the whole message board for the evenings. And then others come in and scream for them to get off the board. My God, they get like feral beasts on there. I had this one really rabid Juvy fan who came to the annual fan club get-togethers each year from the beginning. She’d show up and would go on and on with pictures and things she’d made, but she didn’t come this year, so I think she’s really pissed at how I’ve changed.”
One big fan of Julian’s change is Masters’ longtime girlfriend, Susan, who “keeps tabs on things a little too closely. She says she feels like Rebecca,” cracks Masters. Does that mean he’s kept on a short leash at home? “Oh, no, I’m too old for that! She appreciates that this is my job and this is what I’ve done for 30 years, and that part of my job is to romance and kiss beautiful women on the screen. But she also feels the more realistic and naturalistic stuff we’ve been playing now is more ‘on the money’ as it were.”
For Masters, his character’s change in direction has not been without its acting challenges. “I find I now have to temper Julian’s behavior when he gets into a wacky situation, with the main task being that I have to honor this more naturalistic approach that Jim Reilly has come up with. But to be honest with you, it would be easier to keep playing Julian this way. It’s still tricky, but it’s easier than trying to make all the whacked out madness that I was doing the first four years of the show even remotely believable. You know what they say about comedy being much harder. Before, I was always worried about where I would put the beauty mark when I was in half-drag with Rebecca. But now I just throw on a trench coat and talk very low about the woman that I love.”
While a change of costume might help to illustrate a character’s change of heart, some of the things in Julian’s past – namely his attempt to kill his own sister Sheridan – can’t be covered up quite as easily. How does Masters reconcile the homicidal Julian with the paternal Julian? “I’ve made a number of references on the air to the time Julian spent with Timmy and how it was magic – and maybe it is magic, because there’s a magical element to this show. We have to accept that. I’ll be perfectly honest with you: If this were a show that did not have that element in it, it would be a lot harder for me to reconcile. What I do find frustrating as the actor and as the character is that I can’t – how can I say it – I have all of this security at my mansion, and I’m this rich powerful man, so why can’t I just get rid of Rebecca? Then, of course, there would be no ‘drama,’ but it’s very frustrating for some of the fans, too. They’re always asking, “Why can’t Julian just kick TC out of his house? Why can’t he just get rid of Rebecca?’ Julian seems to be such an impotent heir to a great fortune. I mean, the dreaded locals come wandering through his house at all hours of the day and night, stealing things, beating him up. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not sure where it is.”
While magic and mysticism may explain away part of Julian’s darkest colors, “the other explanation is that the Julian we now see is so sorry that he was ever talked into (trying to kill Sheridan) by Alistair. It was almost like he was under a spell of Alistair’s that he’d never do it again. I think we’re in the midst of watching Julian’s redemption, and I think Mr. Reilly is going to be bringing that redemption out more (by addressing) his attempt at killing his sister. You may be surprised at what you see soon,” he teases.
While Masters has enjoyed his turn
at displaying a dialed-down Julian, don’t think for a second that he doesn’t
also miss the “good ole days,” as well. “It’s great
to get to play Julian like this, but I don’t want him to get too boring.
So every time he gets around the liquor bottle I still guzzle and every once
in a while I’ll still throw a little spark of weirdness in there. One
day Julian will be sitting there closing his eyes, and then he opens them and
goes, ‘I am back.’ I would love to sneak up on TC Russell with a
4 x 4 and let him have it – even though I have enjoyed playing Julian
as a more caring person – really!”