For Deidre Hall, revisiting the possession tale came as a surprise. “When I heard about it the first time, I was called upstairs and I was told, ‘You know how all of these things have been happening, with the Christmas presents and the tree being burned? Well, it was you,’ ” the actress recalls of the first story in 1994/95. “This time, I had a low level of concern because I adore Ron’s [Carlivati, head writer] writing and I think he’s wildly imaginative and daring in his writing, so my concern was, ‘Oh, we’ve sort of been here…’ But then you see that chilling moment where Doug is first possessed and I love the way it’s being done. So my concern was more about repeating a storyline, but the way he’s telling it is so rich, it’s so great. I’m having so much fun with it.”
But the actress admits she never expected to be tangling with the devil again. “I didn’t, and I’ve often said because it was such a startling moment when it happened over 25 years ago, possession is going to be on my tombstone,” Hall muses. “No matter where I go, that’s what I hear: ‘Oh, possession. I saw when you were possessed.’ And I’ve done a number of quite amazing storylines, not the least of which is working with my identical twin [Andrea Hall, who played Samantha and Hattie], that really got people in a deep place. Whether they were home watching with the grandmother while she was babysitting or they were in a college dorm, boy, they remember that. We brought in a younger demographic at that point, which, who knew they would want to watch it, but they did.”
Hall notes that there’s an opportunity to introduce new viewers to this darker side of Salem. “So many people have not seen the original possession,” she points out. “It was a long, long time ago. In those 25 years, we’ve gotten really good at special effects. This is not your grandmother’s possession. This is not going to be for the faint of heart. It’s going to be a little bit scarier. And it’s been great fun for me to work with the special effects people. For the levitation, they brought in huge wind machines, they brought in lots of debris, so when the moment starts to happen and all hell breaks loose, that bed was rocking around. They really went after it.”
A high point of the new tale for Hall is working so closely with Bill Hayes (Doug) and Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie). “I’m very personally close to Bill and Susan; they’re my heroes,” she shares. “I can remember back to when I was first on the show and I had a dressing room that was across from Bill and Susan’s. At one point, they had their door open and I was leaving and I looked across and Bill was sitting at the dressing table and Susan was stretched out on the couch and had a blanket on her lap reading and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a lifestyle. I love this. This is that family that you see on screen and now you see them across the hallway.’ They both work so incredibly hard on their scenes. You can’t catch Bill where he’s not looking, and you can’t catch Susan where she doesn’t know the dialogue or where she hasn’t thought it through far more clearly than I have because I’m more of a by the seat-of-my-pants performer. They’re extraordinary performers, deeply dedicated, and they are the face of the show. We had Mac [Carey, ex-Tom] and Frances [Reid, ex-Alice], and now we have Bill and Susan. They’re our grown-ups. They are a couple in the truest sense of the word. They like each other, they love each other, they appreciate each other.”
This week in story, Marlena gives herself over to Satan completely. “She’s mean. She’s hurtful. She is completely behaving out of character and she frightens people,” previews Hall of how it changes her alter ego. “She’s trying to get Ben to have a baby with Ciara, that’s what she wants, so there’s a lot of plotting and planning.”
John, however, feels something is off and suspects she may not be herself. “She would like to keep it quiet for as long as she can,” notes the actress. “Who wants to be watched when you’re trying to do all of this evil stuff? But I don’t think underneath all of it, she’s really concerned about John. She can do anything. He can trip off the ledge of the apartment, a number of things could happen. John is not a life threat to her, so I think she just wants to get on with the job at hand, which is getting Ben and Ciara to have a baby.” And keep Doug institutionalized without visitors. “Oh, yeah. He’s going to tell everybody that she’s possessed because he knows and he and Marlena have had that conversation,” she points out.
As for the fans’ reaction, Hall says, “I like that we’re able to find different ways to entertain them. The fact that we get to have special effects and have more time to do the scenes we really want to put on the screen makes it a lot more exciting right now than it was 25 years ago.” Plus, she adds, “It’s all in a day’s work and for me, it’s getting to play a little more wicked than I normally get to play.”