INTERVIEW

EJ Returns To Salem

EJ returns to Salem today after a seven-year absence, which spells trouble for Sami and Lucas, who have been having an affair behind his back. Deciding to recast the role after James Scott’s memorable run from 2006-14 wasn’t taken lightly.

“The genesis of bringing back EJ ties to the character of Sami,” begins Head Writer Ron Carlivati. “When I got to the show and Sami wasn’t on the canvas, she had left Salem but had this drive where she had this idea that her husband was still alive and was searching the world looking for him. So each time we brought Sami onto the show, you could kind of gloss over that, and we could sort of keep alive, ‘Oh, I’m out there in the world looking for EJ,’ but I feel with each successive visit, the spectre of EJ loomed larger and larger until we finally felt we had to deal with it. Otherwise, it’s hard to continue to tell stories with Sami unless you’re going to answer the question, is EJ still alive?”

In 2018, the question was answered when Sami found EJ in Dr. Rolf’s Nashville lab. “So, with each visit, it becomes more imperative that we deal with the question: What’s going on in her marriage and what’s going on with EJ?” says the scribe. “So we came up with this idea to pair her with Lucas and build this little affair, and then how do you not deal with EJ? Does she just leave town with the secret that she slept with Lucas a few times? It’s a little unsatisfying. You want EJ to ultimately show up and wonder if this secret of Lucas and Sami is going to come out. So that is how we went about saying, we have to tear off this Band-Aid and find ourselves an EJ.”

After an extensive casting search, Australian actor Dan Feuerriegel was tapped to play the pivotal part. “I think the audience understands that any time you’re dealing with a recast, it’s a challenge because you can’t just clone that other person,” Carlivati points out. “The original actor or actress is what is burned into people’s minds, so you have a couple of different ways to go. You can cast a look-alike who resembles the original actor, or you can go for someone who embodies the spirit of that character through their acting, and it doesn’t always have to be a physical resemblance. Yes, sometimes it helps immensely to have someone who looks like the other actor, but other times I look at Abigail on our show. Marci Miller and Kate Mansi don’t physically look that much alike, but you get the sense of Abigail from both of them. All that is to say that you’re not necessarily looking for a doppelgänger; you go with who embodies the character, who has the chemistry with the other actor. We did a test with Alison [Sweeney, Sami] and she responded well to Dan, as did everyone on set. I wasn’t there for the auditions in person but I watched it virtually. Dan just brought a lot. He brought the attitude, which is what we were looking for in EJ. And an accent, which also helps. So I’m hopeful that the audience will welcome him and give him a chance because obviously, he’s something new and different, but that would be the same with anyone playing this role.”

Sweeney admits that she was concerned when she heard there would be a new actor in the role. “To be honest, I was nervous when I heard they were recasting EJ,” she relays. “That’s a big role to fill. I mean, James Scott was definitely a fan favorite, and EJ is such a memorable role in the story and certainly in Sami’s life. I was nervous about who they’d find who could step into that right out of the gate. And then, I was also aware of how important it was for Sami to respond to EJ just right in those first scenes. When Ron first mentioned it to me, I had not realized the pressure I would feel.”

But all went well and the actress has high praise for her new co-star. “Dan has been fantastic,” Sweeney raves. “I’ve really enjoyed working with him. He clearly understood the importance of the task ahead and really was great about everything. It was hilarious at first, sort of filling him in on the backstory and details for some of the characters and their relationships with EJ. But I didn’t want to overwhelm him by telling him too much all at once. I mean, it’s a lot to take in [laughs]. But we had so many great conversations, and again, he has to make EJ his own — he can’t try to replicate what James was doing. But, EJ does have some intrinsic qualities that Dan does a great job of bringing out. And when Dan and I would rehearse, it was really fun to try to create that dynamic relationship between Sami and EJ, and I hope those ‘EJami’ fans see the couple they were so connected to, but of course in a new, different way. All that is to say, my experience working with Dan has been fantastic. He’s hard-working, a talented actor and a super-nice guy. I’m thrilled for him to be taking on this role.”

For Sweeney, revisiting the “EJami” dynamic seven years later was a challenge. “It was actually really complicated for me returning to the ‘EJami’ storyline without James,” she reflects. “Obviously, when you develop a relationship like that between two characters, it felt sort of overwhelming to try to tackle it with someone new, someone I’d literally met for five minutes. Normally in a soap story, you have time for the characters to get to know one another and you sort of figure each other out. James and I had years of story together before it was really the ‘EJami’ we ended with, so to jump right into the deep end, so to speak, with Dan, I hadn’t realized how hard that would be. But as I said, Dan is such a great scene partner and he has so much respect for the story, the history of these characters and the show that I know he’s going to give the fans the EJ they have been missing.”

Story-wise this week, Sami has a lot on her plate trying to bust Nicole for sleeping with Xander while keeping her own relationship with Lucas under wraps. Nicole runs into Sami, who has just learned Nicole was never registered at the Salem Inn the night Sami saw her with Xander. “Sami has always hated cheaters,” notes Sweeney. “Ever since she saw Marlena with John [in 1993] she has felt that way and been so scarred by that experience. But having done it herself, it doesn’t stop her from righteously trying to bust Nicole. And while it’s partially because of her hatred of Nicole, I think it’s really out of love for Eric. While it’s obviously hypocritical of Sami, she loves Eric and from her right/wrong point of view, Nicole is wrong — and Sami always knew that — and she needs for Eric to know the truth about his wife.”

Nicole claims that she wasn’t registered because she used a corporate credit card. Sami suspects it’s a bluff but is thrown when Nicole produces a receipt from the night in question, unaware that it’s a fake. “In the moment of Nicole producing the receipt, I think Sami is a little caught off-guard,” admits Sweeney. “But later on, Sami will add it up and realize how suspicious it is that Nicole just happened to have proof right on hand. But in the moment, Sami feels stymied that Nicole was able to shut down Sami’s suspicions so easily.”

Later, Sami asks Lucas to help her prove that Nicole had an affair with Xander, but he refuses. “Lucas thinks Sami’s out of her mind for trying to bust Nicole,” previews Sweeney. “He definitely calls her on her hypocrisy and doesn’t think it’s a good idea to poke the bear. But again — and, as always — Sami won’t listen to his good advice.”

Lucas suggests that Sami’s marital issues may also stem from the fact that she’s in love with him. Sami protests, but Lucas thinks they could recreate their old magic and make a go of it. “Oh, I loved these scenes!” enthuses Sweeney. “Bryan [R. Dattilo, Lucas] was so great in this moment! Lucas has this wonderful moment where he is asking Sami to stay in Salem and give ‘Lumi’ another chance. He puts it out there, about their past, their friendship, how well they know each other. And he also points out that EJ hasn’t been the husband she deserves after everything she’s done for him. And I think for a minute she’s tempted. Sami feels so secure and safe with Lucas — their history, their connection is solid, as it’s always been.”

Before Sami can respond, there’s a knock at the door. She opens it and is stunned to find EJ standing there. “Oh, my God, this was such a tough scene for me,” shares the actress. “Obviously, there is so much pressure from how I can imagine the fans will react to a situation like this. And I wanted it to be great. And for Sami it would be huge. She’s been running around Salem, doing her own thing. And in a way, that’s the old Sami, up to her old tricks, scheming, etc., and after the years of looking after EJ, and what we’ve learned that was like for her, it must feel good for Sami to feel like herself again. She loves EJ, she did everything to help him, but he wasn’t responding. She wasn’t getting the two-way street she yearned for. And even though he got the money to rescue her from Xander, she still feels isolated from her husband. And then, boom. For him to just show up on her doorstep, healed and healthy, is a shock. And it is a fun scene. Ron had it in there that Sami is ‘speechless’ for a few lines before she pulls herself together. And I thought that was totally perfect.”

As for what’s ahead, Sweeney teases, “You know Sami: She gets going in one direction and she can’t let it go. She has worked so hard to help EJ, to heal him, to get back to that relationship they had before everything happened and he ‘died’. And she isn’t going to give up on that for anything. As this story unfolds, you’re going to see that blind determination come to the forefront again and that is one of my favorite characteristics of Sami. I mean, in real life, I’m sure it would get you into a lot of trouble. But to get to play Sami, all grit and determination and conviction that she’s right, or her plan is right — even in the face of incontrovertible evidence … It’s a hell of a lot of fun.”

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