Robert Fontaine Jr. : «I brought my soul to Rafe

 By Nicolas, exclusively for Santa Barbara : le site Francais, April 2012

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On April 26 2012, Robert Fontaine Jr. agreed to take on his time to answer exclusively the questions of Santa Barbara : le site Francais. The actor talks about his debuts, his time on Santa Barbara as Rafe Castillo, his new career as a writer / director / producer since his departure from the show, and his projects.

The beginnings before Santa Barbara

At first, I'd like you to tell us a little about you : how old are you today ? Where do you live ? Do you live in couple or have children ?

I live in New York City, with my wife of thirteen years - currently we have no children.

To know you better, what did you brought from yourself in the character of Rafe ?

I brought my soul. Rafe was a person who only thought from inner promptings, and spiritual guidance. A person total in-tune with his inner self.

How did you start your acting career ?

I start training with the late and great Gene Frankel in New York City, back in 1985. Gene until 2004 was the only true great teacher left from the Group theatre. A union of some of the most respected acting catalysts the acting world has ever know.


The time of Santa Barbara

How did you start in Santa Barbara ? Did you ever watch the show before ?

NBC Television had called my agents back in 1991, to see if I would be interested in coming over to their network. At the time I was a contract player on General Hospital, and I was only at the end of my first year on that show (I had a three year contract). At the beginning of my second year on General Hospital, the show was down in ratings. ABC thought that by bringing back Gloria Monty (former producer credited for the glory days when Luke and Laura were hot), the show would have more success. They wound up firing a lot of quality actors, and a great executive producer Joe Hardy. I was one of those actors. It turned out to be a disaster for the show eventually. Anyway, the offer from NBC was still fresh, and we started talking again about the possibility of me coming over to the network. At that moment, Santa Barbara was not looking for Rafe yet, nor I believe was he even created. Six months later, I received a call from my agent, that NBC was interested in bringing me on to Santa Barbara. I screen tested for the role, and immediately got the job that afternoon.

How did Rafe was presented to you at first ?

Rafe was a passion creation of Pamela Long, the head writer of the show at the time. She had definite ideas about who Rafe was, his whole history - She was definitely clear on what she was looking for. I almost didn't get the job because she had wanted some one with long hair for the role. Paul Rauch (the executive producer) said, "He is Rafe and hair can grow". And that, was to be the beginning of what I call one of the best moments of my career. In part, I was left to develop Rafe by instinct and Pamela Long evolved Rafe with what I brought to him.

Rafe seems to be a doomed character : he didn't know his father until arriving in Santa Barbara, was abused many times by Lisa (her false pregnancy, their false wedding...), he didn't had the chance to live his true love for Lily... Is this also how you saw Rafe ? What were your tricks as an actor not to make Rafe a victim ?

Since Rafe was truly a character to live moment-to-moment, he always kept his purpose before him. I think when the reality of what might have been a pregnancy came into play, it was surely a way to test his faith and beliefs - But I think he very much would not have stopped believing that Lily was his soul-mate, and in turn, either by will or manifestation, he would always get what he believed was meant to be his. The trick was always to go steer away from the obvious. As people do not like to suffer in general, to have Rafe wandering around in self pity would have been a trap, and I believe as an Actor, less interesting.

At last, Rafe left Santa Barbara alone. What did you think of that end which was reserved for him ?

I thought, as with any character, that Rafe had a life before the curtain, and that there would continue to always be life after the curtain - it was painful, both for he and I, but as with someone like Rafe, we can always imagine all sorts of adventurous things, and the passion that someone like Rafe would find along the road. I am sure, that the writers thought if anyone should continue to have life after Santa Barbara it should be Rafe. En Fin, I thought the ending was very poetic, and befitting of Rafe, and if the show had not come to an end, Rafe would have come back just at the right time.

What were your favorite male and female acting partners as Rafe ?

As for the Female acting Partners - apart from the ones I would share only moment on screen, I would have to say it was Paula Irvine. She by far, knew her character the best, and I believe we worked well together. I often think of her and miss working with.

You were one of the actors to know the last episodes of the show. When did you learn that Santa Barbara was definitively coming to an end ? What do you think may have saved it ?

To be quite honest, for so many years the network had been threatening to cancel the show, that all of the older cast-mates were not at all concerned. It was old news and still they were on the air. For the newer cast members, I guess they just went along with what the general feeling was. They just put it aside as an old rumour, paying a visit again. I do not really remember specifically how soon after that the cancellation was confirmed, but I believe it was after a few of the storyline had come back from remote shoots in Cleveland and Russia. Perhaps it was only just a month or two before. I think if New World would have just sold the show to NBC, and perhaps maintained some of the distribution right, then we would still be on the air.

What are your best remembrances from the show, on a relational and on a professional level ?

I guess what I miss the most is the memory of a family unit. We all grew to love each other and supported one another. It truly was a family. Professionally, I can't say that I have work with a more professional group of people before or since. Great talent, and a great producing team.

Did you keep in touch with members of the cast or the crew after your departure ?

I speak often with Michael Brainard and on occasion with Forry Smith.

If you hadn't play Rafe, what character would you have liked to play ?

Rafe  :-)


These 19 last years after Santa Barbara and now

After Santa Barbara, you played Ray Guzman in the soap-opera As the World Turns, seven years after having left General Hospital. What comparison can you make between all these soap-operas you played in ?

Ray Guzman was a mistake. General Hospital, a pretty cold bunch at the time, except for a few.
Santa Barbara was by far the warmest and most welcoming environment to work in. I felt respected, and inspired. As The World Turns, was like working in a ego farm.

For a few years now, you became a writer, a director, and now have your own production company, Industrial House Films. How came that choice to widen your professional activities ?

For the most part, I was tired of playing stereotypes. I felt that if I was ever going to be part of something more meaningful, that I would have to try and create it myself. Times were tough in between shows then. In that time, there wasn't that much work out there. There were many long periods of down time and struggle. Times when some offers came in, and fell through. So I began to write.

The movies and documentaries you worked on these last years have in common to be quite realistic, and to tackle the subject of immigrants or at least ethnic minorities in the United States, and the violence created around this subject. Can you talk to me a little about this choice ? Is it something personal for you ?

As a writer/filmmaker, I usually tend to focus on character driven stories. The hate crimes in the U.S.A., and subject matter sort of found me. I tend not to be political in my work, but after doing some research and speaking with victims, the issue was pretty grave. Hate-Crimes against Hispanics of Amerindian descent has grown to 63% since 2003. I thought this is a very important subject and a story that needs to be addressed and told. So yes, I felt it to be a social responsibility.

What are your projects for this year ?

Currently I am working on a feature about a 90 year old man who hasn't seen his son in over 30 years. And sensing his need to reconcile with his son before he dies, and can not rest until he finds him.
The other, I am Associate Producing a Guy Pearce comedy entitled Mis-Fits.

What would you like to say to all the Santa Barbara fans all over the world who didn't forget you as Rafe ?

Thank You. Because, he continues to live in their memories, and in some small way, so do I.
Warm Regards !

Once again all my thanks to Robert Fontaine Jr. for his time, his kindness and his commitments.