Interview

Elia Cantu On Joining DAYS

Elia Cantu was already familiar with DAYS before she was tapped to play Detective Jada Hunter, who makes her debut on July 19. “I was a watcher from back in the day,” she reports. “I watched with my sister. It started, though, with my cheer squad. I used to be a cheerleader. I was the new cheerleader on the squad and all the older cheerleaders were already watching DAYS OF OUR LIVES. They were sophisticated and grown-up [laughs]. So I started watching it. I would watch it during summer break. Then I got my sister hooked, and we would watch it together. But then when school started, I would record it and then watch it.”

So it was a full-circle moment for the actress when she got a callback after she sent in her self-tape audition. “I went through a chemistry test and a network testing,” she recalls. “There was quite a bit of back and forth. Then I received a call the next day from my agent [that I got the part]. I was super-excited. I celebrated with my dog, who was with me at the time. I was really happy in that moment. I screamed. He barked. We were jumping around in circles. He’s used to my antics. He’s been with me for 10 years. He’s my baby. His name is Danny. I have to give him a shout-out. I don’t hold my breath. I don’t count my chickens before they hatch. I’m really in the moment. I don’t take anything for granted or assume anything is going to happen. So I wanted to make sure this was mine. This is my role. I got it.”

Cantu shares that she did some research before her first day of work on February 1, which is also her mother’s birthday. “I reached out and contacted people, made sure I was as true to the profession and character as I could possibly be,” she explains. “I reached out to actual police officers that I know. I wanted to make sure that I was handling a gun correctly, that I was doing everything I should be doing as a detective. It’s been pretty awesome to be able to do the special stunts and get to handle a gun on the set.”

And having some familiarity with the soap itself proved to be a plus. “It definitely helped to be familiar going into the show,” she nods. “I already knew the tone, and I knew the characters and the backstories. That absolutely helped. That was an advantage, having already been a watcher of the show.”

Cantu says she has already connected with her new alter ego. “I love the character,” she enthuses. “She’s a very confident woman. She’s intelligent. She’s gorgeous. She’s tough. But she also has, like all humans, layers. She has a vulnerable, soft side, but it takes time to get to that. She’s been through some things. And she’s in a male-dominated world, but she hangs in there. She really holds her own. She’s very independent. She’s kind of like a black stallion. As an actor, I use that animal as inspiration, because she’s on her own path. She does her own thing. She’s not afraid to be by herself. And she is very strong.”

“Pretty awesome” could also sum up her feelings about her time in Salem so far. “The experience has been wonderful,” Cantu raves. “Working on a soap is a challenging job. It’s been a beautiful growing experience for me, because I come from a lot of prime-time experience — I’ve worked on shows like BLACK-ISH, 9-1-1 and THIS IS US — and coming from that world to daytime is so different. I also came from a background of theater. It reminds me a lot of theater. The prepping is important. You’ve got to really be ready, because when you go on set, you’ve got to be ready to go. You get one take, maybe two. Then you have a lot of dialogue to get through and work on. All the actors are so amazing. I was just in awe. It was very inspiring to see everybody and to work that muscle.”

Cantu was also excited to meet some of the actors who she watched when she was a fan. “I was looking forward to meeting Kristian Alfonso [ex-Hope], which I did get the opportunity to do at one point. That was awesome,” she enthuses. “Deidre Hall [Marlena] was amazing. I met her, as well. Ari [Zucker], too. She’s fantastic. You’ll see that we get to work together. She’s an amazing actress and person. I always used to watch her character, Nicole, and Sami. So it was pretty awesome that I got to work with her.” Cantu is also toiling alongside Galen Gering (Rafe). “He is the commissioner. He’s the big boss,” Cantu points out. “He’s a hoot. He’s hilarious. He’s great with comedy and improv. He’s a great actor. It’s been really lovely working with him. He was another person that I watched when I was younger, so it was great to meet him and work with him.”

The icing on the cake for the newcomer was attending the recent Daytime Emmy Awards with the cast. “It was my first awards show and it was definitely memorable,” she smiles. “It was awesome. It was almost a blur, though, because there was so much happening. It was like a roller-coaster feeling, emotionally, but it was really fun.”

And though her sister is still a fan, Cantu says her family’s viewership is set to expand. “My mom told me she has her DVR set,” Cantu shares. “She’s been watching to make sure she catches up on the story. So is my grandmother. I have a lot of friends whose grandparents watch, too. They’re longtime DAYS watchers.”

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