It’s taken a few tries, but Emily O’Brien has finally found her perfect fit at DAYS, portraying Gwen, Claire’s mysterious fellow inmate at Bayview sanitarium, who also happens to be Jake’s ex-girlfriend.
“It was for the best, because this role feels good,” notes O’Brien. “It’s like a puzzle piece. I feel so comfortable because Gwen is so colorful, and there’s so much room to play.”
The actress initially read for the role of Sarah Horton back in 2018. “I went in three times and screen-tested with Greg Vaughan [Eric], but I wasn’t right for that. They just envisioned somebody different,” recounts O’Brien. “A year later my agent called and said, ‘Will you go in and read for this other role?’ I remember going in and it was very ominous in the room. [Casting Director] Marnie Saitta and [Co-Executive Producer] Albert Alarr said, ‘Well, we’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that you’re not going to be playing this role, but there’s a new role that we want to mold around you.’ That’s when the character of Gwen was born. She’s British. She’s wonderfully unpredictable and volatile and she’s completely fearless. She lives on the edge and with complete passion.”
O’Brien, who portrayed Y&R’s Jana from 2006-11, never envisioned returning to daytime. “And guess what? That was 10 years ago,” she points out. “When I started on the show, I was 20, and that went on until 25. And when I left, I thought, ‘Yeah, okay. That was a good run.’ ”
She headed to Europe — specifically, her native England — and “went to go study at Guildhall School of Music & Drama,” says O’Brien. “I did a few independent films, but more than ever my voice-over career just kind of took off. I kind of fell into voice-over, video games and animation [work]. That’s the path I’ve gone down and how I’ve been really making a living for the past 10 years.
“I did a Lord of the Rings video game called Shadow of Mordor,” continues O’Brien. “I did the latest Death Stranding video game with Norman Reedus from THE WALKING DEAD, Mads Mikkelsen, and Léa Seydoux from James Bond. It’s brilliant because you have these A-list actors now doing video games and you’re working with them on the light stage for months at a time. I also did LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS for Netflix. I was in the episode ‘The Witness’, and that episode won an Emmy, which was pretty amazing. I do Disney audio books, too. I just did all the Aladdin series books.”
Things came full circle, however, when O’Brien was summoned to finally join the DAYS cast. “When this opportunity came, it was serendipitous. I mean, I wasn’t used to it,” admits O’Brien. “It’s a great opportunity and a really wonderful role that I’m enjoying. And Albert was so kind. He said, ‘We’ve been trying to find a way to bring you on the show for a long time,’ which was so flattering. This was the right time, I guess. But now we’re in a pandemic, so I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
In the interim, O’Brien has enjoyed the chance she’s gotten to work with Olivia Rose Keegan (Claire), as well as Brandon Barash, whose Jake shares a past with her character. “I feel very lucky,” says O’Brien. “Olivia is young. I didn’t realize how young, but she was so ready for anything. I just was playing and she would play back, which was so nice. It was really refreshing. And the thing with Brandon…. I got very lucky to be paired up with him. He’s ready for anything, ready to go on, loves to rehearse. He’s so incredibly prepared. When we go up [on set] it’s like a ping-pong game. I’ll throw something at him. He throws something back. That just keeps it really fresh.”
As does the rapid-fire pace of DAYS. “It was so weird,” shares the actress. “I was incredibly nervous [when I started on the show] because I had been used to these long, long, drawn-out rehearsals with video games and movies that you shoot for a month. I had heard that DAYS moved even quicker than Y&R does. My heart was pounding. I remember I had to do two episodes in one day, and I just had no idea how I was going to do it. I think I blacked out on my first day. I don’t remember a minute of it. But, you know, you get back out there and you kind of go, ‘Okay. It’s the same thing.’ You get on the bike, you remember what it feels like, you get that adrenaline rush again, and it’s just, go. DAYS does move a bit quicker than THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, but it keeps you on your toes. It keeps everything really fresh.”