INTERVIEW: Days of our Lives' Wally Kurth on his Emmy nomination and playing Justin's many colors
Posted Tuesday, June 02, 2020 6:38:08 AM
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Days of our Lives' Wally Kurth (Justin Kiriakis) opens up about his Daytime Emmy nomination, the unique way he approaches scenes, and how it feels to be the guy in the middle of one of Salem's most beloved supercouples.

Days of our Lives fans were thrilled to see Wally Kurth get plenty of front burner storylines last year as Justin Kirkiakis. Not only has it been nice to see him given such juicy material to play with, but it also led to the actor's second Daytime Emmy nomination in the Outstanding Supporting Actor category. Kurth tells Soap Central that he feels honored to be recognized by his peers, especially considering how difficult daytime work has become. He truly loves exploring all of Justin's colors, no matter how quickly he's expected to do so on film. In fact, he loves it so much, he says he's thankful that he has two daytime roles (DAYS and General Hospital's Ned Ashton), as that's the only way he can satiate his addiction to acting!

Soap Central: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination! How are you feeling?

Wally Kurth: Well, I'm very excited, of course. It's very gratifying and humbling to be recognized by your peers, which is what it is in its simplest form. So, that's nice -- my peers voted for me, and that's lovely. It's very gratifying.

Soap Central: How did you find out that you'd been nominated?

Kurth: Kind of like everybody else -- social media! I got a Facebook message from someone congratulating me, and then a minute later, it came up on The Talk Twitter feed. I was expected to watch The Talk at 1:00 here, but I forgot that it was New York time, so it came on at 11:00 on the East Coast. So, they started rattling off the names, and there I was.

Soap Central: How did you react when you saw your name?

Kurth: Well, when I found out, I went into my kitchen, and my wife was there, and I just looked at her, and I said, "I just got nominated for Best Supporting Actor," and she said, "Fantastic!" [Laughs] And then we just sort of went on with our day. I told her that two other Days of our Lives actors [Chandler Massey, Will Horton; Paul Telfer, Xander Kiriakis] got nominated, and I thought they were great, and of course James [Patrick Stuart, Valentin Cassadine], who I work with over at General Hospital. So, three of my fellow nominees I actually work with, so that was pretty cool. And of course, we're all friends and coworkers, so we celebrate each other's honors. So that was fun. I don't know the other two actors, and, in fact, I don't think I've met either one of them. But it's great to be with them.

Soap Central: Do you feel any more or less competitive when it comes to being up against someone that you work with or that you are friends with, or does it not make a difference?

Kurth: Well, I don't feel necessarily competitive. I've been nominated once before, and I've been doing this a long time, and it's so much due to the story you're telling and the work that you've been handed. So, I don't know. I honestly feel like I've already won because of the nomination, and that's cool. I'm not as competitive as I used to be. When I was younger, I think it meant a lot more, and now that I'm older, I've been doing this daytime acting thing for over 30 years, and I have a pretty good perspective on the whole awards situation.

Soap Central: I get you. When we mature and have a little more wisdom behind us, these things don't mean as much as when you're a brand new 20-something-old actor raring to go.

Kurth: Yeah, that's absolutely true. And I'm that way with almost everything that I do now -- when I play basketball, when I play tennis. I don't have that, "I've got to win!" attitude, and if I lose, I may get pissed off and angry -- but because I played bad, not because I lost the match! [Laughs] And that's kind of how I look at it, my work on Days of our Lives. I thought the writers gave me such a wonderful story, and it was my job to just deliver and not screw it up, and I felt like I did. I felt very proud of my work, and I felt like I pretty much accomplished what I tried to accomplish. We work under very difficult conditions -- we go very, very fast and do everything in pretty much one take, and that's what we're expected to do, so we have to come in really knowing what we're doing and know our lines, know what the scene is about and what your character wants, and yet also be present and listen and do all the Acting 101 things that you're supposed to do, like react, obviously. It's such a different world now. It's really up to the actor to bring so much to the game. When I was younger, we had rehearsal all day long. We had notes, and we had, "Oh, let's do it two, three, four more times. Let's get this important scene right." That doesn't happen anymore. Producers don't have the time, the directors don't have the time, so you've got to get in there, you've got to know what you're doing, hit your mark, deliver the goods -- hopefully it's magic -- and move on. So that, to me, is the reward. If I walk out, and I feel like I've accomplished that, if I can get in my car and drive home and feel like I did, then I'm a winner! [Laughs]

Soap Central: So, which scenes were you very proud of from last year? Which ones ended up making it onto your submission reel?

Kurth: I think it's important to tell a story. I've watched these things, and I didn't judge this year, but I've judged in the past, and [you don't want to see] one dramatic scene after another, so I try to tell a little bit of a story so people can sort of follow a bit of an arc. There is also [something I learned from a French theater expert]; he deals with four emotional states that the actor has to play. It's obviously very limiting, because we all play shades of those four states, but I think it's really fun to make sure you include when your character is happy, when your character is sad, when your character is afraid, and when your character is angry. Well, sometimes you're all of those in one scene, all four of those major emotions. So, I do try to make sure that I include that, instead of every scene being a sad scene, where they're just crushed or sobbing or a mess, or every scene is angry or just outraged or fear. I know it sounds simple, but if I can capture those, or make sure that I include all of those wonderful colors in one form or another in these scenes, then you showed a pretty good range of where your character is at. So, I included the scene where I ask Adrienne [Judi Evans] to marry me, where I get down on my knee and ask her to marry me for the fourth time, so that's sort of a little bit of a fear mixed with happy, right? And then the next scene I put in is where Kayla [Mary Beth Evans] and I are together, and it's our one-year anniversary, and we're talking about the sadness of losing Adrienne, and she brings up the moment where she told me that Adrienne died, so it's a flashback of six months earlier, and you see me get really crushed and sad and cry. So, in that scene, there is anger, there is fear, there's sadness -- so all three of those in that particular clip. And then afterwards, I included the scene where she and I talked about how she saved me and really made me a better person, like, "I'm okay now, I'm healing because of her." So again, that kind of shows you the colors of he's moving toward something. And then the last scenes that I included were the scenes where I confronted Will [Chandler Massey] in the prison, where I'm forgiving him for killing Adrienne and telling him that you may be hurt and you may be mad at your son, but you never stop loving your son. It was beautifully written stuff, those scenes. And Chandler was awesome to work with. I just thought those were really good scenes. So, those were the three episodes that I included.

Soap Central: It does seem like you achieved a story with those scenes. I can sort of see the whole thing playing out on the reel.

Kurth: Yes, I thought it showed a wide range of Justin and what he went through last year. And one was in October, one was in November, and one was in December, so you sort of saw Justin, even though it was a flashback to six months earlier and a year earlier, you saw that he was in love with Adrienne, that he was going to marry her, that he was excited, then you saw him losing Adrienne, and the "oh, my God, he's devastated," but now he's found this woman who has somehow brought him back to life, and then you see him meet the person who killed Adrienne and have to discuss the feelings about that and what that means, and the fact that it's his son who did it. So, I think it accomplished that nice little arc.

Soap Central: How do you feel about the fact that the Emmy ceremony will be televised this year?

Kurth: It's funny -- I've been to the last couple of Emmys, and they are fun to go to. I have to say, they're a little more relaxing when you're not nominated. Two years ago, when I went, I was nominated, and it's absolutely nerve-wracking. You can't really relax, because you're like, "Okay, I can't drink too much because I may be making a speech, and I don't want to make a fool of myself." [Laughs] Of course, [having a drink] is what you want to do, because you're stressed out! Like, "What if I lose? What if I win?" But this year is going to be odd, too, because if you win, I'm assuming we're going to be accepting the award from our living room? [Laughs] So that's a little bit strange. But at least I'll probably be more relaxed sitting in my living room than I would be sitting in the theater at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium! That will be odd, watching it, and I'm assuming they'll have to come to our houses and give us some sort of direction on how to get ourselves prepared to talk on national television from our house, right?

Soap Central: I don't know, actually. I figured they would send you some emails and maybe a Zoom tutorial? I have no idea! But have you already jumped on the Zoom bandwagon and know how to use all of these apps and technological things?

Kurth: I don't know how to set up a Zoom, but I've been on some Zooms, and they just send you a link through your email and boom, you're on. So that's pretty easy. I guess that's what they'll do, huh? I guess I'll be accepting my award looking at my laptop? [Laughs] Accepting the award, looking at my laptop and saying, "Thank you!" If I win, of course.

Soap Central: Do you think you'll get dressed up and wear a suit or a tux for that?

Kurth: Well, that's a very good question. I don't know. I don't think I'll rent a tux, but yeah, I'll probably look nice. That's probably a good idea. I may wear a suit and tie -- it's an important event.

Soap Central: Would you do a full body "fancy look," or just the top?

Kurth: Maybe just the top -- I live down at the beach, so maybe I'll wear my shorts on the bottom. [Laughs] Keep it casual.

Soap Central: Normally, we do ask what you're going to wear, but this year, the more important question, I think, is what is your background going to be? If you're on Zoom, then everybody gets to see where you live!

Kurth: I have no idea! The Zoom things that I have done have been in the dining room, and there's been basically a china cabinet behind me. Maybe I'll look for something a little different, I don't know. The lighting's gotta be good, so we'll figure that out! [Laughs]

Soap Central: Too funny.

Kurth: It is funny, and very strange, right? I mean, crazy. But I will say, though, it will definitely be more relaxing at home than if I'm sitting at Pasadena Civic Auditorium, I will admit to that.

Soap Central: I must ask you a storyline question because Justin has so much coming up, and you guys are the only show with new material! How do you feel about being the guy who's in the middle of a supercouple like Steve [Stephen Nichols] and Kayla? Has that been difficult for you at all?

Kurth: No, it has not been difficult, and it sounds like it should be, right? [Laughs] You're right, I guess I'm sort of the "bad guy," because I'm absolutely keeping the supercouple from reuniting. But for me, from an actor's standpoint, Mary Beth and I have had such fun playing this story and continue to play it, as you watch, and I think fans will really like it. It's just well written, and Stephen, Mary Beth, and I, we very much love and respect one another, and we're all really committed. I read [the fan comments], and I look at Twitter, and I see that people are very upset. Obviously, Steve and Kayla have been together for, well, we all got on the show about the same time. I look at Mary Beth, and she arrived in Salem six months before I did back in 1986. I came in January of 1987. So, we've been around Salem for about the same amount of time. The one good thing I will say about me being a part of that triangle, or creating a triangle, is at least it's a character like Justin, who's been around. And it's not completely unheard of where an in-law or a sister or a brother falls in love with a spouse once the other spouse is gone, which with Kayla, Steve was gone when we fell in love, and, of course, my spouse was gone when we fell in love. So, that part to me, I didn't feel like we were rocking the boat too much. But, of course, now that Steve is back, we're having to deal with all of that stuff. And that's where the drama is! That's where all the good soap stuff is, and hopefully people will enjoy that good ol' soap stuff and what's gonna happen next! I'm not going to say what's going to happen next except that I think people will like it. So, that's all that I will say.

Soap Central: Are you really missing stepping into the shoes of Justin every day?

Kurth: Yes, I will say that. I realize I'm an addict -- I'm an acting addict. I realize that I really miss the acting process. I really miss studying my lines, and going to work, and delivering my lines, and delivering a performance, and working with my fellow actors, and hanging out with the crew and the cast, and being an artist. What we do is an art, it's a craft, and I realize that I am an artist as an actor, and it gives me a lot of peace and makes me happy. And honestly, it's nice that I'm doing two shows, because I realize that I really need to do as much as I can to stay sane! [Laughs] If I didn't have acting, I realized that I don't know what I'd be doing.

Soap Central: Speaking of that, how have you been spending your time since the lockdown began?

Kurth: Actually, now, in the pandemic, I've been doing a lot of writing and research and working on a project. But I love acting. I just love it. I love that process, and I love daytime dramas. I realize that I love soaps. I love the fact that we have these new scripts and it's our job to finesse them and learn them and commit to them and deliver them. And the audience knows when we're on and we're not. They know. And they expect an "A" performance every day. Now, they don't complain when it's not, but let me just say this: When you do deliver, they appreciate it. And they know. These people are watching nighttime, they're watching movies, they watch a lot of actors. And I think, pound for pound, daytime actors are some of the best in the business, because what we have to do is so much more, in my opinion, difficult in a way than a lot of these other formats, just because [with other TV shows], the scenes are smaller and you get to do it multiple times. And I actually think that's the hardest part when you're doing nighttime and movies, is you have to do it so many times, the same lines over and over again. Another actor might struggle with the fact that they don't get more than one take, whereas for us, it's almost better that we only get one take; we keep it fresh, we know we have to deliver it. It's kind of like a theatrical performance, like opening night, and we know that we have to be on. The critics are up there, and they want to see a magical performance, they want to see the goods! So, we have to deliver, and I think the fans really do appreciate when you work hard.

Soap Central: They do, and they love you so much, especially right now. You guys are like a comfort blanket for everyone who is scared or confused or just needs an escape from what's going on. So, I'm really happy that DAYS has new episodes going right now and that the Emmys are happening. It gives fans something to look forward to and celebrate.

Kurth: Aw, thank you for saying that. That's very kind of you. I'd like to think that we do offer something of comfort. Obviously, our jobs, we're entertainers, and we want to entertain, but it's also nice to know that what we do is comforting. That's cool and nice to hear.

What do you think about Wally Kurth receiving an Emmy nomination for his work as DAYS' Justin? Do you think he'll take home the gold? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.

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