Friday I journeyed to NBC Studios to interview Days of Our Lives‘ Jay Kenneth Johnson (Phillip), Shelley Hennig (Stephanie) and, Molly Burnett (Melanie). The trio was in the midst of a photoshoot. Apparently, their love triangle is going to become a frontburner storyline. This is an interesting time for DOOL. The show’s decision to write off several longterm cast members created a firestorm of controversy on the internet, but the ratings actually rose. This past week, DOOL was the #2 show among W18-49, quite a turnaround for a show that was battling Guiding Light for lowest rated soap a couple years ago. The trio spoke to me about their storyline, what it’s like to lose Rachel Melvin and Darin Brooks and life in Salem. My trip even featured a surprise cameo by a superstar.
Shelley Hennig on Why Stephanie Would Kick Melanie’s Butt And Steve & Kayla’s Departure
The triangle is heating up.
Hennig: Melanie, Phillip and Stephanie for sure. They’re a huge love triangle that’s going to keep our show very interesting and hot and heavy. So keep watching.
Why is Phillip torn when Stephanie’s a nice person and Melanie’s pure evil?
Hennig: It’s like real life. Just like there are girls who go for the bad boys, there are guys who like the girls that are scandalous. That would be Melanie. I think Phillip is finding her pretty intriguing in a certain way. However, Stephanie would definitely be somebody he would much prefer to settle down with.
Stephanie’s had a lot of bad luck with love since she came to Salem. What is it about Phillip that makes her willing to take a chance again?
Hennig: Stephanie likes to change guys. She tries with all her heart. I think she’s hoping to bring out the best in Phillip. She sees past the Kiriakis in him and sees a genuine guy who is completely adorable with his dimples and is very caring. She wants to bring that out in him because she knows it’s there.
Do you think Stephanie’s eventually going to appreciate Phillip’s dark side?
Hennig: I think that’s what makes her so attracted to him in a physical way. That power, the way he holds himself, the whole Kiriakis thing about him, is sexy. But as far as being realistic, it’s not something Stephanie can live with.
What have been your favorite scenes in this triangle?
Hennig: Some stuff that’s coming up. I think around April 21. I love doing scenes with Jay, Molly and Rachel. Rachel is one of my favorite costars in terms of working together. I think we have really intuitive thing going on with each other.
How do you feel about her impending departure?
Hennig: Really sad.
You and Melanie get into a knockdown fight over Phillip. Who’s going to win?
Hennig: Stephanie. Her Dad is Patch.
Speaking of which, how do you feel about your onscreen parents Mary Beth Evans and Stephen Nichols leaving the show?
Hennig: I am devastated that they’re gone. I feel kind of like it’s wrong that they’re here and I’m not. But I know they’re going to be fine and have great things coming there way.
Molly Burnett On Why She Loves Being Hated
What’s it like playing the girl everyone loves to hate?
Burnett: I like it a lot because it’s different from who I am. I’m usually pretty nice I hope. I love being evil because you get to release all your tension through your job.
I read a poll on a fansite where Melanie was voted one of the most hated characters in daytime.
Burnett: I’m number one on a lot of those lists. Hopefully that means I’m doing my job correctly, not that they hate me.
What gives Melanie the chutzpah to take on older, more experienced characters like Victor and Tony in the business world?
Burnett: I love it! I’m a woman’s right activist and I think that for a young girl to have the guts to take them on is great. Melanie’s not usually afraid of guys because of the way she grew up. EJ scares her a little bit, though.
Burnett: It could be the accent. I’m not sure. There’s an intensity about him that’s just scary to her.
What drives Melanie? Why is she willing to blackmail and manipulate people to get what she wants?
Burnett: I don’t really know because really she means well. Because she’s so immature in her life experience she makes mistakes. Then she realizes what she’s done and tried to make up for it but it’s too late.
Out of all the hot men in Salem, why has Melanie set her sights on Phillip?
Burnett: Phillip is super hot, obviously, but he’s almost evil a little bit. Melanie totally digs that. Melanie’s kind of jaded and Phillip’s in the same boat. She empathizes with him.
What would you like Melanie’s future in Salem to be?
Burnett: I don’t know. I’m kind of nervous. Melanie needs a girlfriend she can hang out with because everyone hates her. I want some drama. I’d like to see her help people out. Melanie’s going through some career changes, albeit not the most glamorous. There’s some really funny stuff going on. I’m excited because I like comedy.
What jobs is Melanie actually qualified to do?
Burnett: Not a lot. I’m going to be honest.
How do you feel about the impending departure of your sparring partner Rachel Melvin (Chelsea) and the possible departure of your on-screen brother Darin Brooks (Max) due to his being cast in a cable show?
Burnett: I love Rachel. It’s very hard to see her go. But she’s going to try new things. If Darin were to leave I’d be heartbroken but he’s talented as heck.
You joined the show as part of a family unit that no longer really exists. Do you think the show has done a good job of transitioning Melanie into the larger fabric of Salem?
Burnett: I’ve got to be honest. I’m a little nervous because everyone hates her. But Maggie and her have a special bond. Her and Brady are friend so I think it will be okay.
What do you think Melanie’s redeeming qualities are?
Burnett: She always means well. She’ll mess up, but she’ll try and make it better. She really is a good person deep down. There’s a lot of baggage.
What was her intent when she pitted everyone against each other with the blueprints?
Burnett: That was just a petty eighteen year old girl who is in love with a boy and is being silly about it. The money was great but I don’t even think it was about that. It was about she was in love with Phillip. She’s trying to make him jealous.
There have been a lot of changes at DOOL lately, with some of the veteran actors leaving. What’s the mood like on the set?
Burnett: It’s all right. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to survive especially in this economy. We’re just going with a new angle on the show. As long as you come to work prepared with a smile on your face and try to keep the environment okay. I just try to bring a lighthearted sensibility to the environment as much as I can.
Who are your closest friends in the DOOL cast?
Burnett: I love Darin to death. I love Rachel. I love Jay. I love Shelley. The younger group is pretty tight.
What sort of reception have you gotten from the fans at public appearances?
Burnett: I did the “Day of Days” which was outrageous. I never could have been prepared for that. The fans are great. They’re devoted. I love them.
Have you ever had people confuse you with your character?
Burnett: Yeah. I was with my Mom in a furniture store. Some woman came up to me and was like, ” You need to be nicer to Max, Melanie!”
Are you interested in pursuing acting roles outside of daytime?
Burnett: I just filmed a guest spot on True Blood. I had a singing part. I’m really excited because I’m a singer too.
Jay Kenneth Johnson Bares (Almost) All
Full disclosure: Johnson did this interview shirtless. Yes, he’s even more attractive in person. I thought that after years working in daytime I’d be used to the sight of beautiful men in states of undress. Apparently not. I turned into a tongue tied idiot.
Phillip is torn between two women, one good and one evil. What does he see in each of them?
Johnson: In Stephanie he sees someone who can make him a better man. With Melanie I don’t think he’s quite sure. It’s the game. He’s excited about the challenge. Someone that’s kind of like him.
Phillip’s become more ruthless over the past few months. How do you feel about the evolution of his character?
Johnson: I think it’s natural. Him being Victor and Kate’s son, it’s only natural. I’m glad they’ve gone that way. I’m having fun playing it.
You recently signed a new contract. You have a lot of primetime experience. Why did you decode to stay with DOOL?
Johnson: They gave me a paycheck. (laughs) That said I feel very blessed to be working. Days has given me a great storyline.
What’s it been like losing so many veteran actors?
Johnson: It’s not just the cast. It’s the crew. Even editing. Across the board we’ve lost people. It’s sad. People had been here for twenty years. But, you know, bigger and better things. Something else will happen.
It seems like the show has gone in a new direction.
Johnson: It’s pretty visible. I looked at the screen today and I saw about five people I haven’t even met yet.
But John Aniston’s got a lot to do, too. What’s he like in real life?
Johnson: Total pimp. Great guy. Always has a joke for you.
Who are your closest friends on the set?
Johnson: I see these guys every day. I don’t really want to see them outside of here. (laughs) Tonight I’m going to go home. I’m going to order a pizza.
Prince Parties Like It’s 2009
Sometimes the universe gives you a present. I am a huge Prince fan. I have always wanted to see him perform live, but it’s never worked out. By a happy coincidence, he was performing outdoors for The Tonight Show steps away from the DOOL studio as I left. I stood near by the gated off area where the concert was happening, listening to Jay Leno speak to the crowd while catching a glompse of The Purple One. Then a security guard announced that some people had left and four of us could go inside. I got to stand about twenty feet away from from the man while he performed two of his songs. It was an unexpected joy that put me in a good mood all weekend. How strange and wonderful that a visit to DOOL made it possible.