He only joined the cast of Guiding Light last fall but he’s already left an indelible mark on the series. Actor Jeff Branson (Shayne Lewis) has garnered not only the admiration of his colleagues on the set, he’s also received a pre-nomination for the Daytime Emmys this year. He’s a strikingly intense actor, and not just on screen. In person he emits the same intensity, which can quickly veer from a slightly off-kilter humor to an inspiring enthusiasm.

He’d been having a hectic week of shooting scenes in Orlando and was weary of the crowds and the heat. After joking around about the woman he’d seen dragging her children about the park on a leash to avoid the onslaught of student bands that paraded through the streets every few minutes, he launched into his admiration for how effectively the show works. The show’s rawness persistently keeps everyone on their toes, but they’re,”…getting so good at this format; doing it quickly, I’m not try to belittle this by saying, doing it ‘guerrilla style’… The more we’re out of the studio, the more it’s all coming together. The only drag about it is, you shoot in Peapack and then you go back to the studio and it looks like two shows fighting each other.”

While other soaps have been watching GL‘s experiment with some trepidation, Branson is confident that they have carved out a strong and unique model for doing things. “Everyone has got a great team attitude here… We’re not going to long for the old days when we were in studio and everything was beauty shots,” he said. This hasn’t been his first role on Daytime, of course. He previously played the difficult role of Jonathan Lavery on All My Children. He admitted that working at ABC soured him on the genre a little and he was reluctant to go back.

However, last year, Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler gave him ‘the pitch of a lifetime’ and he decided to return. Although people had been trying to recast Shayne for years, and Branson had even been sent several breakdowns for the role, he was never interested before. But Ellen’s pitch and the promise of working alongside Kim Zimmer (Reva Shayne) and Robert Newman (Josh Lewis) were enough to finally bring him on board. “Between Robert Newman’s eyes and Kim Zimmer’s eyes, half my work is done for me. When they look at me and they start to play the parent role, I go a big softy, just because they are such penetrating actors,” he said. They allow him to work with humility and to simply react because the sense of trust they have built together is so strong. When we discussed working with Newman, he enthused, “Not once does he phone it in. He’ll knock on my door and rehearse a page of dialog for an hour until we find the truth in it and what it’s really about… I appreciate the hell out of him.”

Although much of his story lately has been concentrating on his complicated relationship with Dinah (Gina Tognoni), his potentially volatile relationship with Edmund will soon take off. While they danced around each other to start with and slowly developed a closeness, it’s doubtful that this will save Shayne from Edmund’s anger when he finds out the truth about Lara. “There will be repercussions,” Branson promised, but he wouldn’t give details, though he hinted that the upcoming battle could stretch beyond the two men.

Even if I couldn’t pry many plot details from him, he was more than happy to talk about David Andrew MacDonald (Edmund Winslow). Both actors are highly literate and share a detailed love of world theater and an appreciation for the rigor of working on the stage. MacDonald brings that intelligence to every role he plays and imbues his own particular villainy with a fascinating, calculated coolness. “Watching his mind work is really exciting, but he needs the opportunity to do more comedy because that man can make some of the most ridiculous lines sound split-your-sides funny,” Branson offered. Edmund is the kind of character Springfield could really use more of, but what really makes him so impressive is, “the look of abandonment in David’s eyes.”

– Matt Purvis