INTERVIEW: DAYS' Thaao Penghlis serves up details about his new book and a post-Stefano Salem

Posted Friday, January 29, 2016 10:28:19 AM
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INTERVIEW: DAYS' Thaao Penghlis serves up details about his new book and a post-Stefano Salem

Days of our Lives' Thaao Penghlis (Andre DiMera) dishes on his new book, Seducing Celebrities One Meal at a Time, and the rise of the new Salem Phoenix set to take the place of Stefano.

Nobody plays a villain like Days of our Lives' Thaao Penghlis, who manages to simultaneously stir up both fear and delight in the hearts of millions of viewers who tune in on a daily basis to see him play the nefarious Andre DiMera. It's no secret the Australian-born actor takes his craft very seriously, having done countless interviews in which he explains the importance of ever-so-delicately lifting a character off the page. But he's recently been thrown a curveball with DAYS' latest story twist, the murder of Stefano DiMera, which helped usher the patriarch's equally-as-talented portrayer, Joe Mascolo, off the screen due to real-life health issues.

The turn of events was a personal blow to Penghlis, who has fostered a longtime relationship with Mascolo, and also a major setback for Andre, who's currently trying to make sense of his father's unexpected death. The result has been beautiful performances by Penghlis, who tells Soap Central that Stefano's absence will see the rise of a new Phoenix set to wreak havoc (or maybe not?) on Salem. But that's not all the intellectual actor discussed during our in-depth interview. Read on for Penghlis' opinions on education, politics, rude young actors, why he avoids a certain costar, possible romance for Andre, and much, much more.


Thaao Penghlis: I love that, when somebody like that from the studio [announces positive things]. That's very encouraging. Because when you see how many people it takes to put DAYS together... It's amazing what those people contribute on a daily basis, from our publicity department, to the crew, to the lighters, the producers, the actors, the directors. Everybody's got a piece of the cake and contributes to it, and so I think that's great news. I'm sure we'll be given the contract of DAYS continuing on.


Penghlis: You can't take the veterans away and think that it's not going to make a difference. Even with Joe gone, a lot of people are really saddened by that. He's part of the history, and the DiMera family is very important, so we're continuing on with that, as much as [we are] the Hortons and the rest of the groups that come on. I can see [the change], and I think [DAYS' co-executive producer], Albert Alarr, has been truly responsible in keeping it together as far as the floor is concerned. His interest and his education in the acting field, coming from Julliard, from producing and writing, he's brought his hand, and to me, it's the calmest set I've ever worked on. And that's an asset to him, and that's what I enjoy. It's a privilege to go on the set, and there he is. He's always warm and appreciative. So everybody does what they do, but the conductor is very important. There have been some that have been detrimental, so thank God they're gone!


Penghlis: Each show is challenging because you want to take it off the page, you want to make a difference to the scene. And it helps the writers think about something else sometimes rather than the track they're on. You have to help them expand their thoughts, as well, and help bring them new ideas. To me, it's always new. I never take it for granted. You may think you know the character, and some material is better than others, but it's always surprising, the challenge of lifting the dialogue off the page.


Penghlis: The actor who just died, Alan Rickman, they asked him about how actors should become actors, and he said, "Travel the world and learn about other cultures." He said listen to politics and form your own opinion, read a lot, understand how we differentiate from other cultures because you [will one day land] a role, and all of that information will be part of the foundation you create. I thought that was really appropriate. As many years as I've been in this industry, it's still new. Thank God! It's an education to yourself. We get educated by our parents, from their decisions to send us to whatever school and the teachers that teach us, and a lot of that information is okay, but I think it's the education you choose for yourself that makes the difference. Because the idea is you come into this life to unravel who you are, and you seek the world to find information you didn't know about yourself and learn about others. There's always something.


Penghlis: My manager, when I first met him, he said, "Write a cookbook. A soap opera diet cookbook." And I looked at him, and I said the idea sounded so boring. Personally, I don't believe in diet cookbooks. Everything in its place as far as understanding how much you eat and when you eat, and that's part of the reason you understand the body you brought in. So I thought, "Well, what is food?" Food to me has always been a way to seduce, and I don't mean it as being sexual. I mean seducing people into bringing the best out in them. Appreciation, flavors of all kinds, when people come into your house, the smell that stimulates them, the flowers, the whole presentation, the ambiance you create for the people you brought to your watering hole. So when I was in Cuba last year, I was at a restaurant... and on the wall, there was a series of photographs of celebrities who had been there, and I thought, "I wonder what they ordered." And the words out of my mouth were, "They must have been seduced by the presentation," because it was a fine restaurant. And so I thought, "I wonder what it would be like if I invited my friends or people I've worked with to my home. I wonder what the menu would have been." So that's how it started, where the seed was planted. And then I wrote a list of people I would have cooked for or have cooked for and characters in life that were interesting, and that's how the book became a book.

To order a copy of Seducing Celebrities One Meal at a Time, click here.


Penghlis: Omar Sharif was someone I worked with overseas in Yugoslavia when I was doing Memories of Midnight the miniseries, and I was playing his brother-in-law. I remember once he tried to tell me about how to play a scene, because he was going to punch me out, and I said, "No, no, no. I'm not going to be punched out by you. If you punch me, we'll have nowhere to go." And from that moment, he said, "I love you! I love you! Do you like Champagne?" And from that moment, for six weeks, we hit it off, and he was just glorious. The stories he told me at the dining table about doing Lawrence of Arabia and some of the other movies like Dr. Zhivago. And then he said to me, "I liked you the moment I saw you, because you remind me of my son." So we just clicked, you know. Sometimes that happens, better than other times. But somehow, when you do go on to areas away from your home, you look to click with somebody, because you know you're going to need someone, a companion, in some way. And he was my companion. So when he died this past year, I wanted to include that transition in the story, in my book.


Penghlis: When I was a young man in New York, I worked for the United Nations for a year, and I met a lot of people through different consulates that invited me to their homes, and I watched and I learned about presentation and being on time. I'd go into the kitchen and watch the chefs cook and how they would present themselves. All those years of my twenties were all an education in what applies to my life today. That was the greatest learning decade I ever had... but some people, you know, I get very defensive that you can't tell them [they're being rude], especially today. It's not like my years where you had boundaries and you knew how to talk to people who were older. The younger ones these days don't have any differentiation, and I think that's because of social media. It has broken down all barriers. As long as someone has an opinion, they can tell you off, even if they're hiding. Whereas we always, when someone was older, [had respect]. That's the reason Joe Mascolo [Stefano DiMera] and I get along very well, because I allowed that father/son relationship to develop by the space between us and the tone of [my] voice when we spoke. And Joe, being the actor that he was -- we came from the same training -- he responded to that in place. And so that gave us longevity. There was one actor I had a bit of a confrontation with, a young actor, recently, who doesn't know about those boundaries, and so they crashed through like a bull in a china shop. So to me, when people behave that way, I just say to them, "If you don't know how to treat me, then I'm going to show you." And having been in the industry long enough, we all have our own tricks as to the way we work, without having to have a fight. You just behave a certain way, and I think it worked, the way I behaved towards that actor. I think it's all so wrong, and because we move so fast, there's no time to stop for that. Everything is so expensive, and you can't [deal with] problems. You come and do your work and you go, and you do it as fast as possible. But occasionally, younger ones get an attitude where they believe they're more important than they are, as if none of us have had that position, so you have to make sure [to teach them how to behave]. And it's not just for yourself; it's also to help them, because understanding that is also understanding the script when it comes along, just like Alan Rickman said. You have to learn about boundaries.


Penghlis: I think Lauren [Koslow, Kate], even though I've worked with her before, it feels kind of fresh and new, because it's been awhile. She I really enjoy. And even though Kristian [Alfonso], Hope, and I are enemies on the show, we're good friends in life. A new character I've never worked with that I think would be interesting because he certainly has his shadows, is Vincent Irizarry [Deimos]. I think it would be interesting. He studied with the same teacher I did, and it would be interesting to see two actors having come from the same classes, even though he also trained in the Actors Studio. It would be interesting, two men who are used to getting their way, and if they're not getting their way, they find a way of changing it. There's one character, Rafe, Galen Gering, who I purposely in a way keep a distance. I don't want to be that friendly with him because of the characters. I find it's better. It suits me better to play opposite him by not letting him reveal who he really is in life. I just see him as the character in a show that's being written, and so I play it better that way. He makes me very Machiavellian. He is a character I like disturbing -- and he knows it, I think. [laughs] But with Billy [Flynn, Chad] it's different. I have a love for Billy. He's young and passionate, and he's not the easiest actor to open up, which is good, because that means there are secrets and things to be revealed in the future, which makes for good character development. He's not a person you go, "Oh, that's who he is." Which is good. I don't like to do that. But you know, I also like working with people like Deidre Hall [Marlena Evans] because it's part of the past, and she and I always had an interesting dance.


Penghlis: No, they do not surprise me. When you've worked with the best out there, no. And people don't have much time, except to learn their lines. It's a very difficult medium, and in the time we get for anything, it's like a miracle sometimes that we get it out in one take, and we do. But no, I don't get stunned by actors. I'm always ready. You have to be. It's like a swordsman. When someone comes at you, you have to be prepared to block it... The character has been around for 30 years, so you better know your stuff. And I don't mean just stuff. You better know your business and you better know who your opponent is, most importantly, because someone is going to lose. And I'm not a character that loses. Except when somebody kills him, and that's happened a few times. [laughs] But no, I don't allow my integrity to be stepped on.


Penghlis: In 2009, when I left DAYS, I wasn't on social media. So I think around 2010 [I set up an account] on Twitter. But I found with Facebook, more so than Twitter, that all of the good things, the great things, that I was able to afford because of my book and DAYS and my life, I'm able to put up and share photographs and tell stories when a lot of people can't afford [to see these places themselves] or they're too frightened to go there. So you help open people's eyes. My contribution to the media is not to put anything down. Mine is to build up. That's what I've found and what I'd like to do. Whereas I see people come in and take the character I play and then start saying awful things, like to kill him because, "Look what he's doing!" And I'm always saying, "I'm only playing a part. This is not life!" And they [do the same] to Lauren [Koslow], Kate. And suddenly it dawned on me: She and I play roles that are controversial, but we're only playing them. We aren't them. Whereas these people are playing themselves in reality, and I thought, "What a nasty bunch of people!" I told them they should be ashamed of themselves. They take us down as characters, when they in real life are that way, anyway. So it's been interesting. It's a dance, you know. Twitter is a different matter because of the amount of lines you have. It's so succinct, and sometimes you wish you could expand. I hear it's going to because of what it is you really want to say, but it's a great test as a writer now; it tests my ability about language and how succinct I can be. And you know, with Facebook, it's about the countries that I've been to, the cultures that I've experienced, and I share those. And a lot of my following are people who are very interested in that, and they enjoy that, because in many ways, they are looking at the world from the couch, especially those who can't travel because of physical conditions. It gives them an opportunity to see the world through other people's eyes, so I think it's relevant. I think, also, at the same time, there are a lot of cowards who hide behind words. I think the way they put down our president is so disrespectful. It's things like that that bother me about social media, because in the end, the only thing you can do is eliminate them. And I just block them. As soon as I see negativity come on the page, I block them. I don't want to deal with these people. If that's the best you can contribute, goodbye.


Penghlis: He would be knocking on a few doors, I can tell you that! I've even put that on someone's page. One woman came on and said, "You should die. You're a terrible person!" And I went, "Knock, knock. Andre is at the door." [laughs] It was fun. They think of Andre being this Machiavellian character. So what would Andre do? The disturber of the peace. The man who brings out hypocrisy in all. I think he has a few things up his sleeve now, with what is going on and how we'll resolve all of this mess that they're in.


Penghlis: There are shadows in all of us, and what I love about this writer is he is bringing those characters with their hidden shadows to the surface. And I know some people say, "Oh, the show is too dark." But you know what? Life right now is dark. It is not uplifting. We are constantly reminded of the wars, of people dying, of the migration of refugees, of stock markets falling. There's not a lot of good news. And I think in many ways, [the current mood of the show] reflects the times. And with Andre, at least he can make you laugh. It's not always dark. He can be threatening, yes, but you know, like one person said on Twitter, at least Andre doesn't carry a gun! I thought was very astute.


Penghlis: People get so riled up, you know, in these political years especially, and especially when you have people who spread fear and are not being responsible as a nation. The thing I like about [President] Obama is that he's a man -- whether you agree with his politics or not -- he's a man who comes with logic and peace and understanding and is a true politician, because he thinks it's better to serve your country by bringing peace to the table rather than antagonism. Because look how many people have died in these wars of the last few years. It's just shocking, what has happened to those children and to those women and to those men. I cannot believe the male race these days. I'm just ashamed of those humans and the way they treat each other and other humans. They destroyed the most ancient Christian monastery in Iraq. It was 1400 years old, and they bombed it to bits. And you're going, "For what?" When you think of how many people kept that space alive for all those centuries, through their prayers, their commitment to grace.... There was one monk who just broke down sobbing because all you can take from this monastery were two books, and there were thousands of them, ancient writing that we will never get back. And if we don't have a culture, you see, we die. It's what the Chinese always said: without a culture, a country dies. And they're destroying a country's culture. Syria is one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. And Mesopotamia, all those places. Anyway, those are the things that bring conviction to an actor's work, I think. That's what it does for me, and I have visited all of these places, before they became what they are today, and I'm glad I did, because as sad as it is, at least I had a chance to see them while they were still standing.


Penghlis: What people don't realize is that words have vibrations. People wonder about their lives, things that have happened to them, and they say, "What happened to me?" Well, you contributed to that in some way by what you vibrate, what you resonate. And when people are putting others down and saying mean things, their prize is negativity. Whereas people who look to enhance or uplift are rewarded in life, I feel. And I don't think that's just positive thinking. I think it's a reality. So when the world is in chaos, when someone like [Donald] Trump comes in and has these thoughts about race and people, in this day and age, being a racist and attacking people, and for what? Just to become president? I mean, the ego is just so amazing to me. I love this country, and I became an American citizen because I thought it has wonderful values. And it still does. But when you stimulate fear in people, it's amazing what comes out of them.


Penghlis: Success is about making a difference to other people, inspiring others, and that's what happens when you get to know who you are. You get to turn it around and inspire others because of it. And a lot of people don't do that. A lot of people just do it for themselves, and they stay like that, and that's very selfish. It's like the rich have so much money, and it's like, "Well why don't you take some of that bloody money and give it to children who are starving in other countries. Why do you need to have all that money?" To me, that is not success. That's greed, and they will eventually lose it all, some way. The great successes of life are those people who have evolved from themselves into seeing how others live and enhance them and inspire them by example. And you know, it's just through experiences. It's being available to things and allowing even the tragedies to work through you and understand them. Life is about training, until the end. You're always training in some way, and if you don't have that, and you don't have curiosity, well, you're not making a difference to anybody. Even somebody like me who has found their stance on a soap opera, oh, my God! Sometimes I think to myself, "Couldn't I have found something else? Couldn't I have been an archeologist?" But I'm on a soap opera. And still, I continue with my discovery. That's just the platform I step off.


Penghlis: Oh, yes. That heart is beginning to surface. Not yet, but it's coming. I'll let you in on a secret: when I came back on the show, knowing I was going to be a shadowy character, I decided, "Who should I use as a character to devote my heart to so the audience can see there's humanity there?" And it was Joe. And because of the [health] struggles he was going through, it wasn't difficult. He and I go back many years. [In the scenes,] when I reached out and I touched his hand or I kissed his forehead or his cheek or the top of his head, that was all part of the affection that parallels my real life with the characters' lives. I feel that way about Joe in real life, so I was able to embrace that into the scene with Joe, and so that's what I mean about Andre having a heart. You're going to start seeing that, especially with the death of his father, because he only found out it was his father recently.


Penghlis: Oh, he has a plan! We don't know what it is yet. Well, I do. [laughs] The details will surface at the right time, but what I found interesting is that I begin to wear Stefano's ring, I begin to listen to classical music, all those characteristics that show the transformation of the rise of the new Phoenix. I just tried to make it sound like, "Oh, my God, that's going to be terrible!" But it's not. [laughs] The other thing about Andre, another reason they like to hang him I think, is because Andre always looks for humor. He plays with people, you know? I remember with Billy [Flynn, Chad] recently, he started to huff and stomp and huff and stomp, and I had nothing to say because the next thing I know, I was leaving the room. And in the way he played it, and because of the difference in our ages, because let's face it, we're half-brothers, but at the same time, he came in later than I did, I begin to laugh. And I kept the laugh going until I opened the door, and even then, I was still laughing until I closed it. And so to me, you have to bring in the technique at times about how you win a scene. But there is humility on its way, which is healthy for this character. So you know, you go through different transformations, but you have to enjoy all of them.


Penghlis: I think Andre will be going through a great awakening because the tragedy we all know about. I think certainly vengeance is in the way he will do it. Some things will happen to Andre that take him off guard, but it also becomes part of the plan, because he realizes how he's being set up. So other than that, will there be romance for Andre? I hope so. It looks possibly like that's going to happen down the road. There's going to be some magic in his life, and I think the audience is going to like him for something and can publicly say, "Oh my God!" I was doing some scenes the other day that aren't going to air until July, and I'm going, "Oh, my God, I don't like this!" So I had to find ways to make it likeable. As I always say, it's always about the La Familia. If you look at the mafia, it doesn't matter what they did, they would kill a brother just to be sure it's all kept in the family -- the family must not fall apart. So I look at it that way, this is part of what I'm trying to do, to carry the torch from Stefano. There's some devastating things that come up, and I think eventually, there will be some magic as well. So I think all around, there's longevity with the character. We'll just see who I'm about to take my sword out to!

How do you think Andre will handle Stefano's death? Will he take advantage of suddenly being his own top dog and truly become the "new" Phoenix? Or will he crumble with grief and perhaps become a new man, instead? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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