In Salem, Susan Seaforth Hayes’s Julie is trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on with her husband, Doug (Bill Hayes). Here, the actress talks about playing out their current tale.
Soap Opera Digest: What were your thoughts when you first heard about this story?
Susan Seaforth Hayes: I wasn’t told a lot. I was told it was going to be serious, of Doug’s mind going, which is frightening to Julie. I believe she’s had the line, and certainly my own line, “You are my whole world.” As an actress, I enjoy having plenty to say about it. It’s given Bill some interesting stuff to play and he has enjoyed that a lot. At 96, he’s doing a lot and loving doing it. And he’s really cute, too! Speaking as a legacy character, I’m the oldest legacy character still standing, it’s pleasant to have story that is not based on, “Remember when?” or “You were very useful and very interesting then and now we can look back”. Instead of being taken back, we’re going forward with a story, which is delightful. All the older people that I know that are functioning in the world are functioning in the world, and have family connections and citizen connections and civic connections and artistic connections that keep them going. You don’t really go off in a room and look at the family albums all the time — the world is moving too fast for that – so I appreciate the nostalgia that we represent, but it’s nice to be representing more than nostalgia and to be involved in the here and now and hopefully the future, as well.
Digest: How is Julie coping with the idea that Doug could have dementia?
Seaforth Hayes: Well, her initial reaction is denial. Denial, denial, denial. He doesn’t have dementia. Of course, there is the gradual fading of the light with all of us as we lose a grasp of 7 to 12 numbers in a row. Her initial experience is, “I refuse to believe that that’s happening to him,” which is where you start but not necessarily where you finish. And of course, being an older person married to an older person, you have that fear and that frenzy. You’re not just denying that someone has dementia or may be slipping, what you’re denying is it can’t be over, the love story can’t be over. In short, it puts everything good behind you and everything in front of you is the darkness, the other side of fortune. Fortune has two faces, the good side and the bad side. Between the two of them, they got over the bad side a long time ago and have had a wonderful long line of happiness, and you don’t want to see it end. You can’t believe it could end. It’s not the end that you pictured. I’ve seen this with myself, with my mom, with the people that I have lost, that you have to be quite philosophical to take a breath and say, “Okay, this is what it is and maybe it’s not so bad. Maybe we can handle it.”
Digest: This is an emotional story. What does it mean to you to still be in the mix?
Seaforth Hayes: It’s emotionally gratifying, it’s physically challenging, it’s part of being alive and being an actor and being lucky enough to still work at 78 and 96. It’s pretty cool. When Bill came on the show [in1970], he always brought more energy to the screen than most of the cast. He brought a joie de vivre, which he still has. When we toast each other with morning orange juice, he always says, “To life,” and he’s there. He’s in it. He’s alive in every way, and this is a time of life when you lose so many of the people you grew up with. If you last and last and last, you outlast some of the people who you loved, and it’s wonderful to have this other world of unseen people that you get to meet occasionally, who are still enthusiastically attached to you. Though they may be strangers, they’re not really strangers because you’ve had the mutual experience of Salem. Yesterday I was walking through the Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles with my foster sister, masked, but I was wearing sort of a kimono and a lot of beads and earrings. Two ladies who are well under 40, maybe under 30, saw me go by and said, “Oh, hello, we just wanted you to know that we love the show.” I was thrilled. No matter what actors say, they’re thrilled to be recognized, remembered and saluted, and that’s rarity when you’re 78 and 96 years old. Pretty nice.
Digest: Do you have any message to the fans about what’s to come?
Seaforth Hayes: It’s been really good plotting by the head writer, Ron Carlivati. We’ve had more work than we’ve had in a long time, which has only been enlivening.