Everyone is talking about actor Gregory Zarian, who recently appeared in the third season of the massive HBO hit Westworld. But as daytime fans know, the California native got his start on soap operas, first as Days of our Lives' Brent in 1986 and later as General Hospital's Julius, a flamboyant fashion designer who came to Port Charles to support his best friend, Kate Howard (Megan Ward), back in 2007. He also played twins Nate and Nick Pfander on the digital drama Venice the Series, for which he was recently nominated for a Daytime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Daytime Drama Series category.
Amidst all the buzz, Soap Central snagged some time with Zarian to get his thoughts on his Emmy nomination, how he feels about his soap past, and what lies ahead now that he's got such a major credit like Westworld to his name.
Soap Central: Thank you so much for chatting with us, Gregory! First of all, how are you holding up in quarantine? Are you doing okay?
Gregory Zarian: Thank you for asking. You know, I'm holding up! I'm not opposed to the pause. I'm spending a lot of time figuring out more about who I am and what I'm about and what I'm doing, and then extending out and communicating with people more. I take a hike every day, and I wave at the people and say hello from across the street. There's a new level of kindness, and people are kind, it's just a different type -- a different hello, a different acknowledgement. There's more engagement, and I'm loving that.
Soap Central: I feel the same way. There's this quietness, and it's almost like we've returned to an old-fashioned kind of life that's not as chaotic and hectic as it was before.
Zarian: Yes, like when you pick up a phone to make a call, and somebody answers. We were so used to, "Hi, I need this and I need that," but I'm finding that more people are, "Hi, how are you?" But really like, "How are you?" And, "How are your kids?" Even my social media connections are more detailed and more back and forth. And also, with my family -- my aunt comes from Armenia, and she's the last one in the family, as my father passed away years ago. So, I'm really asking detailed questions like, "What was it like when you and dad were growing up? Tell me about grandma, tell me about what happened to my grandfather." Because once she's gone, who's going to answer those questions for me? So, I'm enjoying the deeper relationships. And listen, we're social distancing, so I will be ten feet away, sitting on the lawn, and she'll be screaming from her little porch [laughs], but she's giving me the answers. So, it's been really wonderful to be able to ask different questions to get to know someone a little bit more. I'm loving it.
Soap Central: I want to congratulate you on your Emmy nomination for your role in Venice, but at the same time, I feel bad because everything is up in the air this year, and the experience of being nominated must be so different than usual. So, what has the experience been like for you?
Zarian: People have been wonderful, and thank you for asking about it! You know, it's been really exciting. It's been fantastic... We addressed a poignant topic; the scenes were about bullying. The series is a love story about two women, and I get to talk about this amazing love story that has been around for over ten years, and I get to be part of it. I don't believe in the saying, "Oh, it's a gay this, or it's a that." It's a just a beautiful love story about two people who are going through the ins and outs of what it is to be with the one that you love and all of the drama, all the happy, and all of the sad that goes with it. So, I'm grateful for that. And the fact that we deal with so much real stuff on the show, and especially now, since we are staying at home and in lockdown. My character is bullied, and people have reached out from all over, celebrating the portrayal of what I did on this show, and it then allows me to talk on a different platform about cyber-bullying. I was bullied as a kid -- my twin brother and I were bullied together and separately, so I get to take this beautiful show that I'm part of, take the topic of it, and really bring light to [a difficult topic]. Being bullied sucks. It's awful, and it's horrible. People just want to be celebrated and loved for who they are, the love that they give back.
View this post on Instagram
I am super proud & honored to have been "Pre-Nominated" for a Daytime Emmy Award in the category of: "Outstanding Performance by a supporting Actor in a Digital Drama" for @venice_the_series ❤️ It is such an honor to be part of this ground breaking series! Thx to the incredible cast & crew! Thank you @crystalchappell for trusting me! Fall in love with love and become part of #venicenation & see what everyone is talking about. venicetheseries.com #love #venicetheseries #lgbt #webseries #digital #daytimetv #emmys #love #lovestory #prenomination #lgbt #gregoryzarian #daytimeemmys2020
Soap Central: You play twins on Venice. Do you think being a twin in real life gave you an advantage or special insight into how to portray them?
Zarian: When I did season five and I heard there was a season six and the door was open, I reached out to the creator and star, Crystal [Chappell (ex-Carly Manning, DAYS; ex-Olivia Spencer, Guiding Light; ex-Maggie Carpenter, One Life to Live)], and I said, "I would love to come back and play with you all," because it was such a fantastic experience working with the cast. It's soap opera royalty to me! Crystal Chappell and Hillary B. Smith [ex-Nora Buchanan, OLTL] and Nadia Bjorlin [ex-Chloe Lane, DAYS] and Cady McClain [ex-Dixie Cooney, All My Children; ex-Kelly Andrews, The Young and the Restless; ex-Rosanna Cabot, As the World Turns]. So, anyway, Crystal brought me back, and I read the script, and I was the twin to the character I played in season five. I said, "I've got to call my acting coach." But then I was like, "Well no, I'm an identical twin!" So, I went back and re-watched what I did in season five. My twin brother Lawrence and I are very much alike, and we're also very different, so I took some of our similarities and some of our differences, and I sprinkled the best of both of us into this new character. And it was fun. There were moments that I would make a choice, and I'd be like, "Let me do what Lawrence would do," or, "I'm going to act a bit more like me here." So, it's very much part of who I am, but I also wanted to make the differences very apparent: just because we're identical doesn't mean we're the exact same thing. What I love about being Lawrence's twin is he is my very best friend. We are so much alike, but we also have very independent, separate lives. He has his own house, his own world, and I have my own house and my own world. And when we come together, we're a force.
Soap Central: This being for a soap opera audience, I'm very curious: between you and Lawrence, which of you is more likely to be thought of as the "evil" twin?
Zarian: I would say him, but he would probably say me! [Laughs] But I will admit to this: I am much more of a troublemaker than Lawrence is. If it says don't walk on the grass, I want to walk on the grass. Not to cause any harm! I just want to know why I can't walk on the grass. If someone says, "Hey, don't touch that, it's going to burn your finger," then I'd like to know how it's going to burn my finger, why it's going to burn my finger, and what happens after I get my finger burnt. And then I won't do it again. [Laughs]
Soap Central: I heard this crazy story that, years ago, you were working at a department store, and somebody came in and discovered you and cast you on Days of our Lives. Did that really happen? Because that is literally the Hollywood dream.
Zarian: It's true! I was working at a major department store and I was helping a customer, and he ended up being Thom Racina, the head writer for Days of our Lives at the time. He said, "Are you an actor?" I said, "Sure," and the next thing I knew, I was on the show. It was a great time. He was so sweet, and he was so considerate.
Soap Central: What do you remember about first starting on the show?
Zarian: I remember walking in on my very first day, and I had no idea [what to do]. I didn't know anything. [Laughs] I was this kid that just thought it would be really cool. I was first introduced to Melissa Reeves, who plays Jennifer [Horton]. The possibilities of my storyline could have been great, but here's the truth: I wasn't good. I was a kid that didn't know what he was doing. So, I was on there for quite a while, doing the best that I could, but I was written off. I was given something really great, and I wished I had been more talented at the time, because it could have changed everything else that happened. But at the same time, I wouldn't change a thing, because it has brought me to this great moment of working really hard. One of the producers of the show, Shelley Curtis, changed who I was at that moment. She's an actor's actor -- she is proud of her people, she's known for changing lives, she's known for being in the ring with you as an actor, and she supports her people. We had a conversation, and she told me that I just wasn't good. And years later, I took what she said, and it changed everything. It made me work harder, it made me take more classes, and it made me realize how important this chosen craft is. So, I'm very thankful for [that experience] and for her, as it led to me being nominated for this Emmy. Because it always stuck with me, that you've got to be good to be in this business, and she has been loving and kind to me, and I'm super grateful for all of it.
Soap Central: You couldn't have been so bad, because otherwise General Hospital wouldn't have snatched you up!
Zarian: You're very sweet. There were some years in between that. I had gone to Europe and modeled for a few years, and I had to go away and come back to realize what was really important. I'm working in a major department store, and somebody puts you on a soap opera, and you're like, "Wait, what?" I remember I was in a sound booth with Deidre Hall, and she's soap opera royalty! Dr. Marlena Evans! I mean, these people are so talented, and I didn't know anything. There was a day I was getting my hair and makeup done, and I was sitting next to Leann Hunley (Anna DiMera; ex-Dana Carrington, Dynasty), who has become a very, very dear friend of mine. She's a Daytime Emmy winner, and I'm getting my hair and makeup done next to her?! Like, what?! I have a photo of her on my desk that I stare at, and I'm like, "You're one of the most beautiful women, and you're talented!" So, it was beyond anything that I had ever dreamed of. And fast-forward to years of working and studying and going to class, and I got a phone call from my agent, and she said, "Hey, I have an offer for you for General Hospital." And I'm like, "What?!"
Soap Central: Wow, what a great feeling that must have been.
Zarian: Yes, and the beautiful part of that was that I played Julius, a fashion designer, and I walked on set and Megan Ward -- who's a friend of mine, we used to be in acting class together, and we had great history -- she played my friend Kate Howard. And I was then introduced to Maurice Benard, who plays Sonny [Corinthos], and he now has a New York Times Best Seller. And they were so gracious and so kind.
View this post on Instagram
Happy 57 th Birthday @generalhospitalabc So grateful to be part of your history! Loved working with the amazing @mauricebenard & my beautiful pal @wardshot Thx #GH fans for all the "Julius" love ❤️ #generalhospitalabc #daytime #daytimeemmys #soapopera #julius #gregoryzarian
Soap Central: What was it like working with Maurice?
Zarian: I remember we were rehearsing, and I touched Maurice's shoulders. And someone said, "Yeah, the character doesn't like to be touched," and this and that. But Maurice was like, "Do it. Do what you have to do. It's yours." He was so generous to me. He just wanted me to kick butt. And to have Megan, somebody that I know, play my best friend? Great chemistry and fun, and the writers were wonderful. And the fans, from that day forward, have always been amazing to me. I still get invited to the fan club reunions, because they really loved the character, and they loved the relationship, and they loved the story we told. The fans have followed me to Venice, they've followed me to the primetime stuff. They've been really, really lovely and kind and supportive. One of my lines in General Hospital was, Julius said to Maurice's character, "You think you're more than a French baguette," and fans sent loaves of French bread to ABC! There was a huge campaign to bring back my character. It was insane. And I am forever grateful to these people that have followed me.
Soap Central: Bread making has been such a popular quarantine activity -- everyone's an expert bread baker now, so you might be seeing more bread in your future, Gregory!
Zarian: Oh, my gosh, that would be great! Hi, General Hospital fans! [Laughs] Listen, I love Julius, and I think it would be fun to see what Julius and Sonny do right now, going head to head. So, game on! If you want to make me bread, I'd love it. I love scones, too. Feel free, anybody!
Soap Central: Many of your fans also followed you to Westworld, which is a high-profile HBO series. What was that experience like for you?
Zarian: It was to date one of the best experiences of my career. Every acting job that I've had has been an amazing gift.... It was extra special because a year and a half ago, I had worked on the same stage on a different series called Counterpart, so when I got Westworld and I was being walked into set to film, it was like going home. It was very special to me. Counterpart has my heart, and now Counterpart and Westworld are super special for me.
Soap Central: The show has tons of big stars like Evan Rachel Wood, Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Aaron Paul, and so many more. Who were you most excited to work with?
Zarian: We never worked together, but Lena Waithe, a big Emmy winner and a star, she wrote my guest star when I was on Bones years ago, and we are very much in touch, so she was very proud of me for being on, and I was very excited to be part of the same series in the same season with somebody that I respect and am grateful for, because she wrote a great part for me. Working with Tessa Thompson, I mean, you walk in and you see Tessa Thompson and you get to work with the super talented Vincent Cassel? A dream. At one point I was staring at Tessa, and she caught me, and I said, "I'm staring at you because you're Tessa Thompson and you're beautiful, and I'm now getting shy." [Laughs] And Vincent Cassel? They're actor's actors. They give. I consider great acting a great game of tennis, and they very much invited me into everything I was doing -- not even so much about a gesture, but by a look. They're the stars of the series, and they were so generous to me, to us fellow actors, because they are very much part of the storytelling of the ensemble. It was such great teamwork... I got to build relationships with people that are powerhouses, and it keeps me humble and grateful. There are moments where I'm like "Oh, my God, I'm on Westworld! The biggest show in the HBO universe! How lucky am I?!" And it takes me all the way back to being written off a soap because I wasn't good.
Soap Central: What a way to come full circle!
Zarian: In this time frame, I've worked my butt off to get good, to get better, to still want to learn so much more. Because I'm never done learning as an actor. Every day for me is school. I'm watching people constantly to see what they do, how they do it, what they say, because I am always learning as an actor. I never want to say, "Yeah, I'm done. I've got this." I haven't gotten it. Every day to me is a day in class. For instance, there were things Vincent Cassel did -- his hands were in his pockets, he didn't move, and I loved that. I use my hands! Tessa Thompson, she fixated on things, and I loved that, too. I was like, "Okay, let me learn from that." Somebody said to me a long time ago that I wasn't good, and I never want to hear that again. I wasn't good, and I wasn't ready. But now I'm ready! So, let's do it, and let's play ball.
Soap Central: I can't wait to see what's next for you. Maybe we'll see you on another soap opera one day?
Zarian: You know what? I would love that. And I'm going to throw it out there: let's say an Emmy! I'm going to say a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Drama Series. And it would mean the world to me to have it be for Crystal Chappell's series.
UPDATE: Shortly after this interview was originally posted, Zarian learned that his pre-nomination had turned into a full-blown nomination. The article was updated to reflect that change, and Zarian gave Soap Central a statement about the nomination.
“I am incredibly honored and humbled to be recognized by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and my peers, for my first Daytime Emmy Award nomination for Venice the Series," he tells Soap Central. "It’s a love story that deals with tough issues such as bullying, something that I dealt with growing up, which is still prevalent as we are confronting this tough time in history. Thank you to the fantastic cast, crew and all the fans of Venice, for welcoming Nick/ Nate into your lives! Special thanks to Crystal Chappell! And a big thank you to all of the first responders and frontline workers who are sacrificing to keep us all safe."
What do you think about our interview with Gregory Zarian? Do you think he should win this year's Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Drama Series? Would you like to see him return to GH or DAYS? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.