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DAYS's Emily O'Brien On Taking Over The Role Of Theresa

After three-and-a-half years of playing DAYS’s Gwen Rizczech, Emily O’Brien was tossed a curveball: She would now be playing a new role, Theresa Donovan.

“I didn’t know how to feel about it,” admits the actress. “I’d never ever stepped into somebody’s shoes as a recast before. I knew nothing about it. So I was watching [Jen Lilley, ex-Theresa] thinking, ‘How am I going to do this? I’m nothing like Jen, and she’s had this role for five years. How am I going to step in and do this justice? The fans are going to just hate me.’ But, at the end of the day, I’m an actor who was given a part. And I had heard that Jen was unavailable and could only do [the show] for X amount of weeks.”

Lilley graciously offered help to the actress as she got familiar in her new part. “She said, ‘I’m here if you need any information and backstory,’ ” reports O’Brien, who soon realized there were similarities between her former alter ego and the one she’d be taking over, namely that both characters had a penchant for causing trouble. “Because Theresa is kind of on the dark side of things the same as Gwen, it works in that aspect, but still it’s pretty different,” she notes. “The only thing I know is I am not Jen Lilley. I don’t look like Jen Lilley. I don’t sound like her. I cannot be her. All I can do is play the role of Theresa the way that I feel is the right way for me and that fits for me. I have not sought out to emulate Jen or be her in any way. I’m just trying to be the best representation possible through my view. I hope that that translates. I hope that the fans don’t throw rocks at me, which I’m prepared for, because I’m stepping into a role that has been around for a very long time. I know the fans liked her. I hope they don’t look at me as coming in and stealing her role, which is absolutely not what happened.”

O’Brien vividly remembers her first day as Theresa. “There were a couple of times where I was [playing] Gwen in the same day, and it was too much,” she relays. “Everyone knew how nervous I was. The whole crew and cast gave me a round of applause after my first scene to kind of warm me up and make me feel good about it.”

Slowly but surely, O’Brien has acclimated to the role, although there were a couple of things she had to adjust to. Number one was ditching the British accent she was required to use as Gwen. “I was unhappy about that,” she shares. “Doing the accent made me feel closer to myself and my family and who I am and where I’m from. Even though I don’t sound English any more, it was so fun to be that again and have this banter that I could go to; especially working with Paul [Telfer; Xander]. It just felt like this beautiful familiar nostalgia every day. So I miss it.”

Donning a blonde wig was another adjustment. “At first it was really difficult for me,” concedes O’Brien. “I was frustrated with it. It hurt. It wasn’t right. But now I’m kind of loving it, because I can come in and I don’t have to put all this heat and product in my hair. They just pin it back, and then I have this wig that every day is in perfect beautiful blonde condition. I’m learning that so many actresses actually wear wigs, which I didn’t know, like Nicole Kidman. It makes sense, because you don’t want to damage your real hair. You just put a wig on. Now I’m used to it, and I’m actually really liking it.”

Seeing herself as a blonde, however, “is still weird and stunning,” she acknowledges. “I pass through the halls, see myself in the mirror, and think, ‘Oh, right. That’s me.’ It’s pretty different, and then under the lights it looks even more blonde and dramatic than the pictures of myself in the blonde wig.”

Aesthetics aside, O’Brien’s been missing interacting with some old familiar co-stars. “I was talking to some actors about it, like Greg [Rikaart, Leo] and Paul,” she recounts. “I said, ‘I never see you guys anymore.’ Because we’re in completely different storylines now. But I am working with the lovely Robbie [Scott Wilson, Alex] again and Eric [Martsolf, Brady], who I adore. I feel very lucky to be set with these two guys. We’re having a really good time discovering the situations that we’re in together.”

All in all, O’Brien sums this whole unexpected experience up as “a really great challenge for me, because I’ve been confused, scared, nervous, awkward, tentative…. I’m sort of throwing myself out there with the lions and into the fire, and have to go and do it. And I’m discovering it as I go,” she contends. “Now I’m really starting to loosen up and enjoy it. I’ve kind of found a place that kind of fits for Theresa. I hope that the fans like it, too, and I really hope that they accept this. It wasn’t really Jen’s choice or my choice. I’m just an actor taking a job. I hope that the fans embrace [my Theresa] and embrace me… I hope that they embrace this all as a whole and can just accept it.”

After some time on the job, O’Brien has discovered some aspects of Theresa that she thoroughly enjoys. “I love how she’s able to just get away with things and just play them off like she’s this lighthearted blonde: ‘What? Don’t blame me. You know I’m like this. Let it go,’ ” O’Brien delivers in her best “lighthearted blonde” voice. “Whereas Gwen would never have gotten away with things like that. Everything is really light and comical. Even though she’s up to no good, even though it’s some pretty heavy things that she’s doing, there’s still this weird kind of humor behind it. I love that she’s light and fluffy and has crushes on these boys like Alex and just gets away with things. I’m crossing my fingers [that viewers accept it].”