Days of our Lives fans are about to see Xander Kiriakis (Paul Telfer) pull out all the stops to convince Sarah (Linsey Godfrey) that he deserves another chance, but the real judge of the character is going to be the show's audience. Many viewers haven't embraced the new, softer side of Xander, a character who previously made mischief without a care in the world. The fear is that if he sheds his bad boy ways, he won't be nearly as entertaining. Or worse, that he won't be recognizable as the fun and devious character he's been the past year. But portrayer Paul Telfer says there's no need to worry. Xander will always be a villain, no matter how much of a conscience he might develop in the weeks and months ahead.
"I was very happy with where Xander landed [when we stopped production and went on hiatus in March] and agreed with the writers' direction, even though it was a surprise to me. I wasn't necessarily expecting to go from a mustache-twirling villain and gleeful, unapologetic mayhem maker all the way to a thorough-good father of a kidnapped cancer baby!" Telfer tells Soap Central with a laugh. "But I really understand what they were doing and the effect that it has on the part of the audience that just refuses to properly engage with a villain. They're never going to fully care emotionally for a villain, because why should they? They're awful people. And I'm sure there are fans who liked him being a fun villain as he was and are frustrated by some of the softening, but I think ultimately, his villainy now, when he gets to be bad, will start hitting in a way that maybe it didn't before."
For example, as Telfer explains, Xander now has the ability to surprise people just by making an unexpected good choice -- which can throw all kinds of nuances into storylines and opens up a lot of potential for the character. It also heightens the moments when Xander is being evil.
"For a long time, the only way Xander could surprise you was by scaring you or doing something outrageous... and now, because he has shown the capacity for being nice, it means that when he's being evil, he's already demonstrated that he knows the difference between right and wrong -- even if he has a very tenuous grasp on it -- so now, when he does a bad thing, there's no excuse!"
As for what fans can expect from his alter ego over the summer, Telfer says to imagine former Salemite Bo Brady (Peter Reckell) as the antithesis to the "new Xander."
"I think more and more about somebody like Bo Brady, who was like an anti-hero; he was this tough, devil-may-care, wild kind of character, but he [was also the hero]," Telfer explains. "That's not Xander. Xander is a villain, and he's never going to be a hero. But what I like now, where it's sort of settling, is that instead of being an anti-hero like Bo Brady, I do think Xander could be like an anti-villain. He's somebody whose essential motivations and inherent character is bad, but he struggles with it. He's becoming a self-defeating villain in a way, and I think that could be really fun to play moving forward. So, that's kind of where it feels now; the writers didn't redeem him, they just made him somewhat sympathetic, and I hope I was able to portray some of that. I like the idea that he's becoming more and more of his own person. If you don't like him, or you disagree with what he did, then maybe he's okay with it now, whereas before, he would do good things or bad things, wait and see how everybody reacted, and then try and lie his way out of it! But now he'll be more of an unapologetic anti-villain, which is what I'm naming it now."
Obviously, when one thinks of the word "unapologetic," DAYS villain Victor Kiriakis (John Aniston) comes to mind -- especially as he's been so integral to Xander's development. Telfer agrees that Victor has had a huge impact on Xander, the same way Aniston has had a huge impact on Telfer.
"John is a masterclass, and not just for acting specifically, but also in the acting that we do, which is like speed acting," Telfer shares. "The biggest thing that I am still trying to learn from John and will hopefully get better at, especially if I get the opportunity to continue to play Xander and continue this trajectory that I've just been describing, is [character confidence]. The biggest differences between Xander and Victor are maturity, obviously, because Victor has a few years on Xander, but also that Victor isn't insecure. Victor knows who he is, what he is, what he's about, and he doesn't apologize, whether he thinks he's right or wrong. He's been around long enough to feel the hypocrisy and all of the histories and the contradictions of all the characters in Salem, and he just gets on with trying to protect himself and his family as best he can."
The actor continues, "I think he and Xander share that drive, it's just that Xander has never had the maturity or the security to just do that. He always has some kind of personal or selfish ulterior motive or underlying motivation that causes him to self-sabotage. [Laughs] So moving forward, the biggest thing, outside of sheer longevity, that I would like to inherit from John Aniston is just his simplicity and his clarity. He does so much, and it comes across so effortlessly. Whereas, though I feel pretty good about my performances, and I feel proud of what I'm doing for the most part, I would never call it effortless! [Laughs] You can feel the work, like of me shouting and jumping around."
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July 3 May 4,2015 @mauritz #Daysofourlivessaofficial Victor: Brady's problems are not your concern. Just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut. And when the time comes, be prepared to do what I ask. Xander: Yes, sir. I am at your beck and call. Victor: You'd better be. You know, there's more to family than just blood. Xander: Of course. I know Daniel is like a son to you. He means just as much to you as Sonny, Brady, Philip. Victor: If any of them need my help, I'll be there. Xander: Me too. I would do anything for them. Catch #Daysofourlives 17:15 #etv #victorkiriakis #xandercookkiriakis #capetown #bethlehem #bloemfontein #southafrica #snapchats #nbcdays #osizweni @baks1024 #ouest #Roots #power
As time goes on, viewers will continue to see that Xander and Victor are actually quite a bit alike -- which ultimately is the thing that both binds them and creates a very twisted relationship between the two.
"It does feel like the writers have worked relatively hard to set up Xander as a 'proto-Victor,'" Telfer says. "He's the black sheep of the family, but in a lot of ways, he's the most similar to Victor. Victor treats him awfully, but maybe on par with the way Xander's recklessness and immorality reminds Victor of himself, and maybe he's not comfortable with that."
Of course, that begs the question: why does Xander continue to do Victor's bidding when he treats Xander so terribly? It's almost as if as soon as Xander carries out one evil plan for his uncle, Victor demands him to get involved in another.
"Exactly! Why does he keep doing it?!" Telfer enthuses. "I think it's because he doesn't have anybody else. Until Sarah came along, and to some extent Maggie [Suzanne Rogers], there was just nobody else for him. And also, he wants everything that Victor has. He wants that legitimacy but to still be a bad guy, he wants to have a lovely loving wife but still be a bad guy. Basically, he wants his cake and to eat it, too, and it seems like Victor has pulled that off somehow, so he can't help but be in awe of him."
For more from Telfer on Xander's transformation and to get his thoughts on being honored with a Daytime Emmy nomination for his work as the complex character, check out our Emmy reaction interview with the star here.
What do you think about the recent softening of DAYS' Xander Kiriakis? How do you hope the character develops in the months ahead? Do you think Sarah should give Xander another chance? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.