Linden Ashby pulls up in front of the west side Los Angeles restaurant in his blue pickup truck and greets me with a warm and friendly smile. Blue eyes sparkling, he points to his car and says, "Not a glamorous vehicle for Los Angeles, eh?"
Perhaps not by the current standards of Hollywood's au courante trendsetters, but the Melrose Place star, I learned, was not one to follow the pack - nor does he care what they have to say. One look in those eyes and you instantly know this man has a great sense of humor and is not on a star trip.
Standing tall at 5'11" and exceptionally fit at 165 pounds, this Gemini has been working steadily since he decided to drop out of college in his junior year and follow his true passion. He moved to New York City where he immediately found an apartment and a bartending job in a Thai restaurant in the city's infamous Hell's Kitchen.
Ashby auditioned for the legendary Sanford Meisner and was accepted by his prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, where he studied vigorously under the master for two years before embarking on his acting career. Initially work wasn't exactly waiting for him and "there were a great deal of lean times and a lot of macaroni and cheese and Ramen noodles for dinner."
But the starchy diet didn't last long and soon Linden landed his first roles in some off-Broadway productions and a few television commercials. His big break came when he scored a role on the ABC soap opera, Loving. A benefit of being on the show was meeting his wife of 12 years, actress Susan Walters. The couple has two daughters, Grace, six, and Savannah, four.
After finishing his role on the soap, Ashby relocated to Los Angeles where he appeared in NBC's mini-series, Poor Little Rich Girl. Since then Linden has starred in numerous television series including China Beach, EqualJustice, Showtime's 15th Phase of the Moon and Tango. The handsome actor is also well known for his roles in two recent popular feature films: Warner Bros.' Wyatt Earp, co-starring Kevin Costner, and New Line Cinema's action adventure, Mortal Kombat which gave him the opportunity to use his 21 years of martial arts experience. "And my daughters think I'm a super hero!" he says.
Just prior to getting the role of Dr. Brett 'Coop' Cooper on Melrose Place, Linden completed work on an independent film, The Time Of Her Time, co-starring Melvin Van Peebles.
Taking a few minutes off from his busy schedule, Linden orders a large Diet Coke and spaghetti with Bolognese sauce (guess he still likes noodles!) and readies himself for our interview. "What I love about interviews like this is that you ask me real questions. I hate interviews where I just get asked about my character. Stuff like 'What does your character think?' I sit there and try to answer those questions and there's a part of me going, What the fuck am I supposed to say here - I didn't write it!"
PLAYGIRL: You're in great shape. What are your secrets for staying in condition?
Linden Ashby: I exercise three times a week, using a mix of machines and free weights. I work different parts of the body every day but I try to do something stomach-related every day. I'll run a few times a week but I'll usually cut my run short and go on a two mile loop to Starbucks. I run to food .... it's the only way I'll run. I've got to have food at the end, like a rat in a maze. I also work out on a heavy bag, throw some kicks and punches, just to stay loose. I don't do as much martial arts as I would like to right now. It's just a question of finding time. Unemployment is good for my martial arts. I surf all the time, play a little golf and a bit of tennis. I snow ski, rock climb, fly my own plane (a six-seat, single-engine Piper Lance with retractable gear). Basically, do anything that will give me an adrenaline rush.
Flying small planes is scary. Why do you do it?
It makes those horrible 500-mile drives tolerable. Like if you're going to Colorado or New Mexico, you can do those trips in 3 1/2 hours instead of driving 13 hours. So it's great for that kind of thing. What I generally wind up doing - since I don't have time to go anywhere - is eat a lot of very expensive hamburgers. I'll say, 'Hey, let's fly to Santa Barbara for lunch."
You were a business and psychology major in college.
That's a weird combination, isn't it? I enjoy business quite a bit, like making a deal work. The creative process of putting it all together is interesting to me.
Psychology seems to relate directly to acting.
Definitely, because acting consists of behaving end reacting, not just dialogue.
Did your parents go through any anxiety about your career choice?
I imagine they had parental anxiety my entire life. Just my existence gave them parental anxiety. (Laughs) My parents were great. When I went to New York and said, "I want to be an actor," my dad supported it because he had wanted to be an architect but got stuck in the family business. Later in life he fulfilled his dream a bit when he designed something for a foundation. It's what he's really good at and what he has a passion for. So when I said I wanted to be an actor, it was understood: if you're going to be an actor, be an actor. Don't be a shlub who sits in New York and says, "I'm an actor." I think they're proud of me.
Most actors like playing bad guys, but you usually play good guy roles.
Everyone says bad guys are more fun; I totally disagree. I 1ike to get the girl. I like to ride off into the sunset. I like to be the hero. Look, if you're playing the lead, everyone does the bullshit dialogue and then says, "The bad guys are holed up in that cove and they're going to something something something ... la de da de da." And when they all turn to you and say, "What do you think Sam?" And you say, "Let's go get him." That's great. You want to be the guy that everyone looks to. And it's nice to be the one who always gets the girl!
Other than getting the girl, what are the advantages of an acting career?
I spend a lot less time in the office. Actually, when I'm working I probably put in more hours than most businessmen do. One of the things I really love is that I get to learn and live and experience so many different things. Martial arts, cowboys, cops, doctors, pilots, you name it. You learn a little bit about a million different things. Actually, some parts require quite a bit of studying. And you get to step in and do these things.
Didn't you recently have to train to be a bullfighter?
Yes, when I was working on The Time Of Her Time which was based on the Norman Mailer novel. I actually trained with a matador. It's not that easy to look proficient with a cape. You think you can just wave the cape around. So I trained for about a month, two or three times a week. And I learned the K passes and all the various uses for the different capes. It's really quite involved.
What is the film about?
It's the story of a guy who grew up in Texas and went down to Mexico to become a bullfighter. Now he's in Greenwich Village teaching bullfighting in a loft and basically sleeping his way through the village, kind of on this quest. And since it's Mailer, there's a lot of sex in it. I was reluctant to do it when I first read it because of the sex. But I met with the director and we sat down and talked about it and I knew that not he - nor anyone involved with the project - had any interest in making a soft core movie. I realized this movie is just very sexy. It's smart, it's funny and it's Mailer; and Norman's seen it and digs it, which is very important. So I'm proud of it.
Is It difficult doing sex scenes?
Yes, movie sex is always sort of awkward for me. I think it is for anybody. I hear actors claim they like having sex while filming, and I think, Oh come on! Maybe if everyone left the room, but you're there in front of everybody and it's awkward.
Have you ever gotten aroused while doing a love scene?
Of course. Like that famous line goes: forgive me if I do and forgive me if I don't. I don't know how to fake it like that. Some people can separate the two, but if you're kissing somebody and being intimate with them, then what happens happens.
Do you ever have to kiss someone who doesn't know how to kiss?
Bad kissers? Yeah, I've had bad ones. It's a total turnoff, like all teeth or tongue. Or it's click, click, click with teeth and the tongue's going this way and you think, What the hell is this? Or the mouth opens like the Holland Tunnel. Bad kissing is bad.
How did you get the part on Melrose Place?
I went to Costa Rica with a surfing buddy I grew up with back in Florida. Costa Rica is a fantastic country. It's got a great government, it's clean, it's friendly, it's inexpensive, it's safe. So we were down there surfing and I called back home to check in and Susan said, "Aaron Spelling offered you a job to do 10 episodes on Melrose." It was kind of a bad connection, and I said, "I'll deal with it when I get back." When I got back, an even better offer was waiting for me! Being out of the country and out of communication is the best negotiating tool I've ever used in my life. (Smiles) Listen, I'm a firm believer that if you want a job or if you want something to happen, all you have to do is make non-refundable airline tickets. Sure enough, you'll get it. Out of the blue, you'll get something. You don't hove to go anywhere, you don't have to plan on going anywhere, just make those reservations and you'll get a job.
Anyway, we went through the whole song and dance of negotiating. They said, "You want to do it?" And I said, "Yeah," and they said, "Well, do you want to have a regular part?" And I said, "Absolutely."
So, I'm on there now, and I'm thrilled to be on there. It's working for Aaron and working for Frank South and everyone involved in the production. It's a unique pleasure. Aaron genuinely likes actors. He was an actor, he likes the entire creative process. He's a good man to work for and Frank's the same way.
Is it more difficult doing this show than a movie?
It's a different format and you've got to get used to it. There's an art to it. It's 1ike surfing - you've got to learn how to surf and once you do, it's a whole lot of fun. Melrose Place is a well-oiled machine. You either jump on and get in the groove or you get left behind. There's not a long initiation period. It's more like, here's the program - get with it. They're a great bunch of people to work with and the interesting thing is, it's pop culture. Melrose Place is existing, occurring, current pop culture. It's not every day you get a chance to be a part of something like that. It's a unique opportunity. It's a hoot. It's a lot of fun so I'm happy to be where I am.
Have you come across a pecking order among actors?
Melrose Place is a nighttime soap so that puts us on the ladder at a certain place. You get a feature film and that puts an actor on the ladder at a different place. Everyone wants to feel better than somebody else, and I find it to be such horseshit. People downplay what you're doing. If you're doing a daytime soap, people think you're on the bottom of the food chain. And let me tell you something - I've done daytime soap and I never worked harder in my life, or with finer actors. You're working with actors usually in New York who are doing theater at night and doing the soap in the day. These are actors, and boy, you better be on top of your game. It's a 24-hour job because you're learning a new script every single day. And it's this whole thing about people wanting to peg you. I'm comfortable knowing that we're actors. I find that for me it's about going home at the end of the day and saying, "Did I do good work? Did I do the best that I could possibly do?" If I did, then I'm proud and I sleep at night.
Is working on a daytime soap possibly the hardest challenge for an actor?
It's doing 60 pages a day. I remember a very frustrating time coming off of this soap. You get to LA and they say, "Well, you haven't done any movies." And you say, "Yes, but I've spent the last year and a half of my life in front of a camera every single day. Doesn't that count for something?" And every single day there's new dialogue to learn and perform. This whole caste system - it's ludicrous.
You met your wife on Loving, didn't you?
She was already doing the show and I played some guy at a frat party. Susan and I had this attraction but I was going out with another girl. It was kind of like being in grade school - when you like somebody, you don't talk to them. Then I split up with the girlfriend I'd been going out with for a while and I asked Susan out. We dated for three months, I asked her to marry me and she did - three months later. Love at first sight.
And she has a role on Melrose Place now also!
She's going to do eight episodes, playing Christine, who is from Kyle's past. She was his love in the Gulf War. He thinks she's dead but she's come back. I don't know how much I can say, but it's not really Christine. She's pretending to be Christine. Taylor set her up to do this thing; she's actually a Vegas showgirl. It's going to be fun working with her. People always ask, "Does it bother you when your wife does love scenes with somebody else?" I always go, "No, no." I was having this conversation in makeup one day, and Kelly Rutherford, who plays Megan, teased me about it. She said, "I mean, she's just going to be kissing Rob (Estes)." And I said, "Oh yeah, it's just Rob. (laughs) It's not like she's going to enjoy it or anything!"
How does she feel about all your kissing?
She's okay with it. It's one of those things you'd just as soon not see. You don't want to be there when they're doing it. I always hear about a famous acting couple, and the wife always wants to be on the set when he does these love scenes. What is up with that? I wouldn't want Susan there and she wouldn't want to be there. It would make her uncomfortable and it would make me uncomfortable. What the hell's the point? You've got to do your job.
Do you consider yourself a romantic guy?
In a very pragmatic sort of a way, I guess. Romance is fun.
Do you remember a specific romantic incident?
I got my wife an engagement ring for our ninth or tenth anniversary. I am a romantic but I don't have a very good memory. (Laughs) I got down on my knees and asked her to marry me again. Stuff like that. I mean, how romantic can I be?We're in the kitchen and I remember Grace, our oldest daughter, was there and Susan asked her, "Whet do you think, Grace? Should I say yes?" Grace is the practical one. She saw the ring and went, "Yes. Say yes."
Where was the strangest place you've ever made love?
I would say the most bizarre place was a Vons Supermarket parking lot. It justhappened. The hormones kicked in and there you go. I remember I was a lifeguard at one point in my life, at a big resort in Florida. We would work the beach and we'd work the pool so we'd always be going back and forth. There was a hot tub right next to the outdoor bar, a thatched roof sort of thing, and there were always people in the middle of the day, fucking in public, as if the woman was on top thinking no one knows what they're doing! We'd vacillate between saying, "Get out of there," and just going, "Hu-hu! Okay. Well, we're going to have to clean the hot tub in a while. Put extra chlorine into that." (Laughs) Or you could just walk over and turn the bubbles off real quick.
What is your favorite sense?
Smell, for me, is certainly the most powerful; it's like an E Ticket ride to deja vu. I'm also visual and also...hell, all senses are good when it comes right down to it. If you're going to take one of them away, I think I'd rather keep sight. As far as lovemaking or sensuality, I can do without sound. I could learn to read lips. Scent and taste are a11 good stuff. I wouldn't want to be without any of them. Especially in that particular situation!
How can a woman turn you off?
I don't have many turnoffs. (Laughs) I'm a real sucker for nasty girls. Jesus, that's a turn on. I just love women. Oh listen, all the givens are turn offs: gum-smacking, eating 1ike a pig, bad manners, smelling bad. These are all turnoffs but you just try to avoid those kinds of people. In romantic situations, I like aggressiveness. And I like passiveness. Okay, so I don't have any turnoffs, except for the obvious things.
What part of a woman turns you on?
A lot. Sight, smell, taste, touch, sound. I always like the girls who are a little offbeat, which is funny, because Susan both is and isn't. I don't know exactly how to describe what it is, but I know it when I see it and it's like a drug. It's just a very definitive thing, black and white. I mean, there's no set type. I like so many different types of women. (Pauses) Brains. Intelligent women are incredibly sexy. Stupidity is a huge turnoff and you can put that on my turnoff list. Ignorance, stupidity, bigotry, narrow-mindedness are all incredible turnoffs. A bad mind is a fucking waste of time. Humor is also a real turn on, because it comes with a great mind. So yes, the mind is it. Period.
You've been married 12 years. What's the best part?
The partnership. It's the being together and the day in, day out love. It's having and building a family. It's sharing. It's not unconditional love, but it's pretty damned close.