To call oneself a soap opera fan is something truly special. It's a badge of honor that denotes one is dedicated, passionate, supportive, and, likely, opinionated. After all, it requires a lot of love and commitment to consume hours upon hours of daytime dramas each week, keeping the convoluted web of storylines, character family trees, and rich histories of the shows straight in one's mind. However, there are some that say soap opera fans are also a little bit crazy, for all of the aforementioned reasons that make them awesome. And it's this mix of weird and wonderful that will be explored in the new film Fangirl, created by Days of our Lives alum Blake Berris (ex-Nick Fallon).
Shining light on the loneliness and humanity on both sides of the universal fan-star relationship, the story will follow Before You Know It actress Jenn Tullock in the role of Mercy, a soap opera fan who decides to shed the trappings of her declining marriage, financial woes, and small-town life by attending a soap opera event in Los Angeles. She hopes to meet the object of her intense affection -- Days of our Lives' Blake Berris (who plays a funhouse mirror version of himself) -- but ends up getting so much more than she bargained for, including new friends out of fellow soap opera fanatics Priscilla and Barbara and the opportunity to finagle her way into Blake's hotel room for a private, one-on-one encounter. As smart as she is, Mercy can't help but believe that she and Blake are soulmates... but unfortunately, there's often an excruciating discomfort that comes along with a fantasy becoming a reality.
In order to bring Fangirl to life with as much authenticity as possible, Berris plans to shoot the film verité-style at a real soap opera fan event attended by real soap opera stars and real fans -- which could include you. Soap Central spoke with Berris to get details about the fan event, how interested parties can take part, and what led to the creation of Fangirl. Check out our interview with the actor below, and be sure to sign up for the fan event, details of which you can find here.
Soap Central: So much has changed for you since we last spoke. You're now a husband and father, so congratulations!
Blake Berris: Thank you so much.
Soap Central: How are you adjusting to life as a dad? Is it really different?
Berris: It's really different but also exactly the same in a lot of ways. Sometimes people have this idea that when you get married and have kids, you suddenly become a grown-up, but that doesn't happen! [Laughs] I mean, you do become a grown-up in certain ways, because you just have to, but you're also like, "What do you mean? I'm just a kid who has a kid." But it's been great. Our son is just the best, and we are totally in love with him.
Soap Central: Do you help out with a lot of the parenting stuff, like diaper duty and all of that?
Berris: Oh, yeah, 100 percent. I try to take as much of the responsibility off of my wife, Alex [McGuinness], as possible. She's still breast-feeding him, so there's a certain amount that is biologically [hers to do], but we are working really hard with each other to try to come up with a way to do it so that all of the household stuff doesn't fall to her. There are so many studies that show that when a child enters a marriage, too much of the total household responsibilities fall to the mother, so we're working to combat that. Society has been like that for a long time, though, so it doesn't move completely easily all of the time.
Soap Central: You mentioned to me earlier that you spend half your time in Ireland, where your wife is from. So, are you taking your family back and forth when work calls you to L.A., or do they stay there?
Berris: We actually all go back and forth. I have an agent in Ireland, and my wife is a filmmaker. Last year, Alex was editing her film She's Missing, which just came out last month and stars Josh Hartnett, Eiza González, and I'm also in it. It was released in theaters in December, but now it's available on iTunes and Amazon and all of those places. But anyway, even though it was shot in New Mexico, she did the editing in Ireland, and while she was doing the editing, I was filming a movie called Never Grow Old with John Cusack and Emile Hirsch that was shot in Ireland, so that was really lucky that I was able to land that job. And then over the summer, I did this Hallmark movie there. We had planned to take our son Lir to Ireland to visit the family and friends who wanted to meet him, so I asked my agent what was up, and he said, "There's this Hallmark movie filming around that time," and I was lucky enough to be cast in that. So, we kind of just go back and forth. There's a play that I might end up doing in Dublin in the near future, and Alex's next film happens there, which I'll be producing, so we just try to make it work with both of our work schedules. I will say that traveling with a baby isn't the easiest thing in the world! [Laughs] But it's manageable.
Soap Central: I can't believe you guys are doing all of that work with a newborn baby, plus you've been working on Fangirl. Props to you on that!
Berris: Thank you.
Soap Central: The word is out on Fangirl, but I'd love to hear in your own words what it is and how you came up with such a cool idea.
Berris: Well, Fangirl is a film about a superfan who travels to a soap opera fan event in order to meet her favorite actor. We're going to throw a real soap opera fan event with real soap stars and real fans in order to film it, and we want the soap community to be a big part of the fabric of this film. They have been so far. I mean, some of our investors so far are soap fans. I was very inspired by this blog that a particular fan that I've met throughout the years wrote, so we're working with her for the film. She's giving us the rights to the blog piece that she wrote, and that blog piece is included in the film and throughout the film. So, soap fans have been a part of the fabric of the film from the beginning, and the further we go with the project, the more I realize how crucial soap fans are going to be to the success of the film. In my head, I was writing an indie movie that was going to play at the film festivals and appeal to people who know nothing about the soap world. I wanted to show them something they've never seen before. But the further I go, I think it will also really appeal to a soap opera audience for the exact opposite reasons. It's going to be faces that they are familiar with, it's going to be a subject matter that they are familiar with, like maybe they've been to a fan event or maybe they've thought about going to a fan event, and at the end of the day, it's going to be about finding a home for this film that can reach both the indie market and the soap opera market.
Soap Central: What made you decide to focus on the soap opera world specifically as opposed to other types of passionate fans, like Star Trek fans or obsessed Disney fans?
Berris: [Laughs] I think I was always just really fascinated by these soap opera fan events that I would do when I was at Days of our Lives. Meeting with fans was always really interesting, because it's seeing the people behind the screens. It's not like doing theater, where the audience is out there physically. When you're doing television, you imagine them, but you don't actually get to see them until you go to these fan events and you meet the people that are affected by the work that you're doing. I found it fascinating. I found it moving. And I also found it bizarre, at times. There's everything from people that you would love to hang out with on a normal basis, to people who are a little cray-cray, you know? There's everything in there, and I found the world of these soap opera fan events to be really rich with characters. So, I started writing a piece about it, and everything I wrote in the movie is made up, but it is all inspired by real things that have either happened to me or that I have witnessed in having done a lot of soap opera events.
Soap Central: The movie might be made up, but do you have any real-life crazy fan stories or bizarre fan moments you can share?
Berris: I don't have anything too crazy, but I have heard stories from all of the people that I've worked with that are certainly more "crazy spirited" than what I've had. This fan that we're working with who has the blog, I've always found her to be really smart and interesting and just a cool person, and I feel really lucky that she is lending us her intellectual property for this project.
Soap Central: Are you keeping this person a secret for the time being, or can you reveal the name of your fan blogger?
Berris: I think we're still working out a few things, so I'll keep it under wraps for now.
Soap Central: So, you're playing the role of the soap opera star.
Berris: Yes, our lead character is called Mercy, and she's the one who travels to the soap opera fan event with the idea of meeting this soap star named Blake Berris, who is kind of a funhouse mirror version of myself, maybe a terrible version of myself. It's a version of me that could have been but isn't -- but maybe is in a lot of ways. I'll let [the audience] judge.
Soap Central: What made you decide to cast actress Jenn Tullock in the role of Mercy?
Berris: First of all, she is one of my favorite actors, and I mean that really seriously. I think time will prove her to be one of the great actors of her generation. She just got a huge, huge project [being cast opposite Patricia Arquette in the Ben Stiller-produced Apple TV series Severance], so people are going to know about her soon, and I think Fangirl will be a part of that, as well. She's just one of those actors who can make you laugh and cry all at the same time. When she looks down to have a thought, you want to know what's going on in her brain and you just empathize with her completely. She makes you feel. And also, she's a great friend of mine that I've had the pleasure of working with a few times. She cowrote a film that premiered at Sundance last year called Before You Know It, which I am in with Alec Baldwin [ex-Joshua Rush, Knots Landing] and Judith Light [ex-Karen Wolek, One Life to Live] and Jenn, so we have a built-in vernacular working with each other. From the second I wrote the character, I wrote it with her in mind to play, so I'm really excited for this kind of star vehicle for her.
Soap Central: Do you know if Jenn is a soap opera fan in real life?
Berris: Jenn is a soap opera fan, or was a fan at a certain point in her life. She totally fangirled when I was texting with Kristian Alfonso [Hope Brady, DAYS] about something. She was like, "Oh, my God, I was obsessed with Hope!" So, she knows her stuff.
Soap Central: Do you keep in contact with a lot of your old Days of our Lives costars?
Berris: Yeah, I mean, Kate Mansi [Abigail Deveraux] was at our wedding in Ireland, Rachel Melvin [Chelsea Brady] was at my wedding in Ireland, I still see Galen [Gering, Rafe Hernandez] and communicate with him, Jordi Vilasuso [Rey Rosales, The Young and the Restless; ex-Dario Hernandez, DAYS] is a good friend. I talk to a lot of them, actually. We message on Instagram and Twitter and that sort of thing. And it's going to be exciting to bring some of them back into the fold for this project.
Soap Central: Have you already started filming Fangirl?
Berris: No, but we're about to start filming soon. We filmed a little teaser at a fan event in November just to get our sea legs and see how it felt to shoot at a real event, and [we've also launched] a Speed and Spark campaign that will give fans the opportunity to buy tickets to the fan event that we're throwing. This event will be unique in that there will be big film stars that they recognize and get to interact with the same way they would at a normal fan event. There will be a Q&A, a picture and autograph session, a VIP dinner, a cocktail party, all of that stuff. But also, they will get an inside look into the way a feature film is made, and I think it will be really exciting, because some of them will end up in the movie, and they will be there for history, and they'll be able to say they were in the movie about soap opera fan events.
Soap Central: For the main event, will you be recruiting actors from several soaps, or just DAYS actors and fans?
Berris: No, we're talking to people from a few of the soaps. [A big casting announcement is coming soon.]
Soap Central: How do you feel about continuing on with your association with soap operas? Some actors run fast and far, while others really honor their history with the genre. You seem to be leaning toward the latter, even though it's been a few years since you were on DAYS.
Berris: [Laughs] I think that's a really interesting question. When I was younger, like when I was on the show the first time, I was told that Nick was going to jail and that my contract was over, and I was stoked. I was like, "Great, done with this, now I'm moving on to the big time." And then you start doing other television shows and films, and by the time I went back to DAYS the second time, I had a much deeper appreciation for everything about the soap world -- the people, the cast, the crew, the fans, the consistency of the job, everything about it. And now that I'm a little older yet, and I have been able to turn my experience with the soap opera into one of the hugest creative endeavors in my life so far, it's become something that I reconciled with in a really cool way. I feel warmer and warmer toward the world and more thankful for it every day.
Soap Central: I'm really happy to hear that because, like I said, there are actors who leave a show and then never want to be mentioned along with soap operas ever again, which is hurtful to the fans who supported them and basically gave them their start.
Berris: Totally. I feel like this is my way of reclaiming that part of who I am, and I am glad to have started off on a soap opera. I think it's one of the most difficult jobs you can do, and to be able to tell a story every day of the week and be in people's living rooms in that consistent way is such a special thing. I have a deep appreciation for it.
Soap Central: Would you ever consider going back to DAYS or starring on another soap opera?
Berris: I would. I never say never to anything.
Soap Central: What made you decide to go beyond acting and start creating your own entertainment?
Berris: I think it's something I've always been attracted to. I have written scripts with various writing partners for a while, when I was in my twenties, and then me and a buddy wrote a couple of Lifetime movies together, and that became a gig that we were doing. And then I decided that it was time to explore writing something on my own. And once I started writing it, I was like, "Well, I think I want to direct this, as well." For me, it was a slow, natural progression toward another version of storytelling. It's similar to acting in the sense that you put on your creative hat, and you go into a world that is your imagination, but it's colored by the events in your life, and when I'm writing, you're kind of playing all the characters in your head. It's been really exciting. I still see myself as an actor first, but this has been a really cool exploration, and I'm really excited to get on set. My DP and I have been talking for months about the shot list and how we want the film to look, and how are we going to get through the scenes on such a tight budget, that kind of thing. But I love the conversations that we're having, and it's been an exciting progression in the ways I can express myself creatively.
To keep up to date on all things related to Fangirl, be sure to follow the film's Instagram page.
What do you think about the casting, premise, and use of real soap opera fans for Blake Berris' upcoming film Fangirl? Have you ever had a crazy encounter with a soap opera star? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.