Arianne Zucker first joined DAYS as Nicole Walker in 1998, and enjoyed an eight-year run as she made her mark on the canvas. She left in 2006, then returned two years later, and now she’s preparing to say good-bye again. Here, Zucker opens up about her reasons for leaving, and discusses her real-life relationship with former co-star Shawn Christian (ex-Daniel) for the first time, as well as the videotape seen ’round the world last fall.
Soap Opera Digest: When did you start thinking about leaving?
Arianne Zucker: Two years ago, I was contemplating making the shift. The first time I left, I didn’t even know if I wanted to act. So this time, I finally figured out who I am and what I am and what I want to do, and I absolutely love acting. I thought, “Well, I have a great job,” but you always want to have a backup plan. I just want to go off and try new things. So I made sure I dotted all my i’s and crossed my t’s and had a plan to leave the show. I’m [coughs] in my 40s, but I still have dreams, so why not live them? As scary as it is, and respectfully, I know there are a thousand girls who would take my job in a second, for me, it is my time to go.
Digest: When did you inform the show?
Zucker: Right before Thanksgiving of 2016, we had a big, two-month break. So I wanted to let them know, because when we came back [in January], technically I only had eight, maybe 10 weeks left of work, depending on our schedule.
Digest: How did they react?
Zucker: I told one of our executive producers that I was leaving, and I think he was basically like, “Well, not surprised. I’m glad you told me early.” To me, the reaction I got was a compliment. I absolutely love our crew, our day-to-day people, our makeup, our hair, our night-guys that are leaving as I come in, and they’re always so complimentary and sweet to me, and they’re not surprised that I wanted to go was the initial reaction I got. It made me realize that I’m making a good decision because I have support from my day-to-day family. I was glad to hear that people were very happy for me.
Digest: Though you’ve been front-burner, you haven’t had a lot of “Nicole” stories in the past few years. Did that at all factor into your decision?
Zucker: Yes, I would say a little bit. It did factor in, not having a full-blown story. I think that I’ve had some great stories, don’t get me wrong, for sure. I think listening to the fans, too, and their disappointment over how this character has been written and pushed aside and slapped around, you try not to take things personally, but it’s hard not to. Behind closed doors, you go, “Come on, guys, give me a story.” What actor doesn’t want one? I’m not gonna lie. Anyone who knows me at all knows I am very direct. I don’t lie, and sometimes, part of my problem is I’m too honest. So, I will say I think I was due one, and I would say a lot of fans would agree I didn’t get one.
Digest: Not to say you had an issue with any regime, but when you heard Ron Carlivati was coming in as the new head writer, did you ever consider changing your mind?
Zucker: No, no, no. I had a plan. It’s great that he’s coming on and I know that he’s got some amazing writing abilities, so I was very happy for the show.
Digest: Have you told any of your castmates?
Zucker: Yeah, everybody knows, I think. It goes around so fast. Bill Hayes [Doug] was like, “Wait a minute. Don’t tell me you’re leaving the show.” I was like, “Oh, Bill, I love you.” He’s so sweet. Eric Martsolf [Brady] and I tend to get the room going. We’re kind of those people, and so that’s the response I get: “What? No more parties? No more taco trucks?” It’s been very sweet and very loving, I have to say. I told Shawn, “You know, honey, I think the one thing I haven’t done yet is I haven’t broken up with the show. I’ve been so busy trying to figure out if I’m staying or going, I haven’t had that one good cry of, like, aww.” I love that place. Love it.
Digest: Let’s talk about Shawn. The two of you have been together for awhile now. How is it going?
Zucker: So good! He is so incredibly supportive of my choices and he’s just wonderful. He’s an amazing man. Don’t get me wrong, every relationship takes work, so I don’t want to come off like, “Oh, we have the perfect relationship,” because I’m a straight-shooter, but we work at being great for each other.
Digest: Were you surprised when he left DAYS?
Zucker: I was really shocked, I have to say. Not just for the fact that we were working together at the time, but I was surprised that he was the one to go. I read in some places that he left of his own accord. Uh, no, he didn’t; he was fired. He did not leave on his own accord. I wasn’t happy about it.
Digest: Do you think it colored how you felt about being there?
Zucker (laughs): It did a little bit. That was two years ago. I was like, “In two years, honey, I am going to leave.”
(Zucker’s ex-husband, Kyle Lowder, ex-Brady, stops by to pick up their daughter, Isabella, 7.)
Zucker: Want to say hi to Kyle, the other good guy in my life?
Digest: Hello to Kyle! Tell us how you make your extended family work.
Zucker: I told Izzy today at lunch, “How lucky are you to have two dads?” Not that Shawn is her dad, but he is a dad. And she said, “I am so loved.” She has three grandmas and two grandpas and uncles, and I said, “You are just a loved kid, man.” And we make it work. Kyle and I go to soccer on Sundays and we’re both there for her unless one of us is out of town. He comes over, Shawn makes him a margarita and it’s great. We’re very grateful that we all make it work. I suggest that to any divorced parents: Make it work.
Digest: Would you come back?
Zucker: Yes, I would. But who knows what’s going to happen? We live in the land of “what ifs” as actors. If I can come back and they want to make it work, it’s up to them. It’s their choice to make it work. Not mine. So, sure.
Digest: Do you have any message for the fans?
Zucker: I love you guys. I love you for loving me. I love you for hating me. I love you for disagreeing with me. I love you for being by my side. I appreciate the faith that you’ve had in Nicole. And don’t leave me! Stay with me on my journey!
Digest: What are your immediate plans?
Zucker: My contract is up on April 27. I am being pitched as we speak with my new agency/manager. I booked a movie. I am just ready to fly. I am ready to work. It’s not being a star, it’s working. I’ll probably get a “normal” job, so anyone who lives out in L.A. might be like, “Aren’t you … ?” “Yup.” I have a kid. As parents you have to do what you have to do. There is no shame in earning money, I will tell you that.
Digest: What do you think you’ll miss the most?
Zucker: My morning routine. Driving in to spot 17E. Talking to the crew guys, wandering in to makeup, seeing everybody and being like, “[sings] Good morning, good morning!” I’ll miss the whole thing, because we have a thing! I’ll miss our thing.
Digest: So as you prepare for your final weeks, how do you think it will be?
Zucker: I’ll work my butt off. I want to go out being as strong as I can, as good as I can, and as professional as I can, and I will cry my way out of there — in sadness and happiness. It’ll be bittersweet, I’m sure. I’m just appreciative of my 18 years, and the life that the show has given me has been incredible.
In the lead-up to the presidential election, an ACCESS HOLLYWOOD video was leaked that featured then-host Billy Bush talking to President Donald Trump about his DAYS appearance in 2005, where he’d be sharing scenes with Zucker. Here, she talks about it in Digest for the first time.
“I got a call from my new manager, Valerie, and she said, ‘The Washington Post is calling, they have this transcript that they want you to read.’ I spoke to Shawn about it and we just thought, ‘I don’t really have a comment. Saying nothing is probably better. Let’s see what happens.’ And the next thing I know, my phone was blowing up like crazy. And I’m like, ‘Okay, I guess this is a big deal.’ It made me nervous at first. I’ve never had that kind of popularity, if you will. Everybody’s sort of at you in the news, at my front door, and we had to shut all the windows. I knew I had to say something at some point, I just didn’t want to do it right away. That’s not where I want my career to go. That’s not the limelight I want to live in. At the time I was like, ‘The last thing I want to do is a hundred talk shows and then have my career go down the drain.’ So that’s kind of what I was thinking about, selfishly, my personal life. My personal journey. So that’s why I stayed so quiet.”
Zucker’s story ultimately made worldwide headlines.
“It was surreal. I think it’s still surreal. People still look at me around here and they’re like, ‘That’s the girl. She lives next-door to me. She lives across the street from me.’ My brother was a history major, and he’s like, ‘Of all people, my little sister, who barely put a math problem together, made history.’ He always knows how to make me feel humble. I don’t think I really still understand it all. I stayed inside my little bubble with the exception of a couple of interviews. That was that.”