After 35 years on DAYS, James Reynolds is still going strong as Abe Carver — and has no plans to slow down.
When James Reynolds debuted as DAYS’s ace crime fighter, Abe Carver, in October 1981, he thought it would be a short stint. “I had just finished a wonderful nighttime series TIME EXPRESS,” he recounts. “I was cast on DAYS on a Friday, and showed up for work on Monday. I had never done a soap before and I thought, ‘Well, this will be good for a year or so [laughs].’ ”
On day one, Reynolds worked with John Clarke (ex-Mickey) and Bill Hayes (Doug), but doesn’t recall the specifics of what they did. “I don’t know where people find this stuff, but somebody sent me Abe’s first scene,” shares Reynolds. “He was sitting in the police office, with his feet up on the desk, and Mickey Horton came busting in, wondering what Abe was going to do about all these murders [taking place in Salem]. It was fascinating because I didn’t remember that scene at all. I do remember that on my first day, everyone was very giving and welcoming.”
Two months into Reynolds’s run, he was partnered with Wayne Northrop (ex-Roman) and the two found themselves front and center in the memorable Salem Strangler storyline. “I knew that Roman and Abe were to be this dynamic duo that would suddenly be involved in a lot of the action on the show,” Reynolds relays. “But I didn’t realize it would be a kind of a renaissance for DAYS OF OUR LIVES.” In short order, along with the additions of Reynolds and Northrop, Thaao Penghlis (Tony/Andre, 1981) and Joseph Mascolo (1982) were added to the cast, followed by Kristian Alfonso (Hope) and Peter Reckell (Bo) in 1983, Stephen Nichols (Steve) in 1985 and Mary Beth Evans (Kayla)in 1986. “Suddenly, you had this extraordinary group of people that changed the direction of the show,” he marvels. “The directors were extraordinarily encouraging, and warm in their reaction to us. Really, truthfully, after a few days on the set, everybody made you feel as if you’d been there for a while. We had fun. We were doing exactly what we wanted to do. We had scripts that were extremely challenging that allowed us to do everything from comedy to action and adventure. We embraced those moments, and those stories, and had just a wonderful, wonderful time.”
From the beginning, DAYS has delved into Abe’s love life, pairing him early on with Nikki Wade and Valerie Grant. “Abe being the dedicated police officer he was, his personal life always took more than a back seat to his professional life,” maintains Reynolds, “and it wore that relationship thin. In so many ways, Abe was the love of [Valerie’s] life, and she did not want to have to fight for him with his job. So she left town.”
With Valerie’s recent return to Salem (now played by Vanessa Williams), DAYS is revisiting her involvement with Abe, and Reynolds couldn’t be more pleased. “It’s interesting that the embers have been re-lit again 30-plus years later,” he muses. “Both of them have lived their separate lives, and been involved with other people, and now they find themselves attracted to each other again.”
Reynolds is thrilled to be paired with Williams. “Vanessa is wonderful to work with on and off set,” he praises. “She’s just very personable.” He also enjoys the new dynamic between Abe and Theo now that his son is a college student, struggling to establish his own independence while also navigating the challenges of being autistic. “I love every time I have a scene with Kyler [Pettis, Theo],” smiles the actor. “He’s another person, who on and off set, is just delightful. I love working with him.”
Rounding out the Carver clan is Sal Stowers, who is back as Abe’s daughter, Lani. “I’m going to sound a little bit like a broken record, but what has happened is that the Carver family has been reborn in just an extraordinary fashion,” he points out, “and I’ll say a lot of the same things about Sal that I’ve said about Kyler, because there’s a light with Sal that is special, and I think comes across on-screen. There’s a kindness in there, even when she’s playing this character that’s not always kind. She’s got something that kind of pulls you toward her, and I enjoy that.”
Reynolds appreciates that DAYS keeps the memory of Abe’s late wife, Lexie, vital. “The presence of Lexie is always there,” Reynolds notes. “I think that’s an excellent thing. Lexie is one of those DAYS OF OUR LIVES characters that the audience has loved dearly over the years, and should constantly be part of the tapestry of the show.”
When Lexie’s portrayer, Renee Jones, decided to leave DAYS in 2012, Reynolds recalls, “I respected Renee’s reasons, and to be honest, it was something she had talked about for some time, so it was not a shock by any stretch…. I certainly felt it was not my right to talk her out of it in any way, shape, or form.” With the absence of Lexie as Abe’s touchstone, Reynolds had no idea what would happen to his character, but he was confident that Abe wouldn’t fade into the background. “I do know there was an effort by whoever was writing at that point to continue to make sure that Abe was involved,” he affirms. “Over that period of time, there have been some interesting moments, and interesting stories and, of course when Lani came in and Theo grew up, Abe’s role as the central moral conscience of the show has been sustained.”
Reynolds is delighted that so many actors harkening back to his early years on the show remain a part of the Salem mosaic. “That’s attributed to several things,” he notes. “One of those is Ken Corday [executive producer] having an understanding of what the meaning of the show is, and how the veteran characters ultimately always carry the torch forward, always carry the story forward and are always the anchor of whatever stories are going on. The other is that the audience is deeply connected to these characters. The majority of these characters, which came on in the ’80s, the audience quickly grabbed hold of them and embraced them and made them their own. I think the other is that we all approach our jobs in the same way we approached it 30 years ago, with enthusiasm. We work with enthusiasm every single day. We are as enthusiastic and as energetic and dedicated as we were the very first day we started, and I think that it translates to the audience.”
With a nod to the viewers’ continued affection for his work as Abe, Reynolds shares, “I feel very happy and grateful that it’s appreciated, and I hope it’s appreciated for many, many years to come, because I don’t see any particular need to slow down.”
During James Reynolds’s time on DAYS, several co-stars have passed away, most notably original cast members Macdonald Carey (ex-Tom) in 1994 and Frances Reid (ex-Alice) in 2010, and more recently, this past December, Joseph Mascolo (ex-Stefano). “It’s hard to wrap your head around [their] absence,” he comments. “I felt close to and admired them. With Joe, there is that void, and I think the audience will feel it. I have no idea how the show will deal with Stefano. I know that both Frances and Mac are very, very much a part of DAYS. Not only are they talked about frequently on the show, but we see their memory all the time, whenever we go to Horton Square. We also see their memory, absolutely, over the Christmas holiday, when the ornaments are hung on the tree. Mac and Frances are very much part of that. Alice’s chair sometimes comes alive, and [it feels like] Frances Reid’s spirit is there on set and becomes part of whatever we’re doing. DAYS has a tremendous ability to keep, not just iconic characters and people, but also iconic memories, alive, and be part of the fabric of what this show is about, and I expect that to be exactly the same way with Stefano.”
Did You Know?
• Reynolds holds the distinction of being the longest-running African-American actor in the same role on TV.
• Reynolds has sat on the board of the Kansas Historical Society for almost 20 years.
• While serving in the Marines, the actor was stationed in Vietnam, where he was a journalist.
Just The Facts
Birthday: August 10
Hails From: Oskaloosa, KS. “I visit frequently. It’s my hometown, it’s where I grew up. It’s a very, very small town. I have very strong friends there. I have a house in the city. My brother still lives there. Because I have such close ties, I try to get back at least a couple of times a year.”
The One: This past December, Reynolds and his wife, Lissa Layng, celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary. “It’s pretty extraordinary. I guess when I make a commitment, I stick to it.”
Proud Papa: “[Son] Jed is maybe the best human being I know. He’s got this tremendous heart and a great ethical sense, and seems to be very empathetic. Those are qualities I envy and they make me very proud of him.”
Salem Start: Reynolds debuted on the soap on October 29, 1981.
Father Figure: “Ari [Zucker, Nicole] and I talk a great deal [about Abe’s and Nicole’s connection]. We both feel that it’s possible Nicole is Abe’s daughter, so for years, we have brought that into the way we play scenes together. Abe gets disappointed and very exasperated with Nicole constantly, but there is an undercurrent of paternal feelings toward her.”