Interview

ICYMI: Leann Hunley Interview

Leann Hunley is always up for reprising the role of DAYS’s Anna DiMera

Though their on-screen coupling has intrigued viewers from the moment sparks ignited between the count, Tony DiMera, and gold-digging Anna during DAYS OF OUR LIVES’s glorious ’80s heyday,  Leann Hunley didn’t initially welcome her pairing with Thaao Penghlis. “When I was first told that I was going to work with him, I said, ‘Whyyyyyyy? Why me?’ ” laughs Hunley, reflecting on the moment. “Because I was like this little innocent deer. That’s how I would kind of describe Anna until it was discovered that she really worked for Stefano and had this other side to her. And I’m kind of like that in real life. I’m not challenging. I am more of a calming [presence]. And Thaao was used to being a little fiery. I was scared a little bit because he was demanding.”

Albeit demanding for the right reasons. “The thing about Thaao is he has a tremendous sense of standards,” explains Hunley. “He puts you through your paces. He wants [the work] to be done right. He wants it to be good. He’s more vocal about that than some people and strong. I’ve grown to love those qualities about him.”

The turning point came when Hunley and Penghlis were teamed with Arleen Sorkin (ex-Calliope) and John de Lancie (ex-Eugene). “It really kind of jelled when we were all working together,” remembers the actress. “Just literally, our scenes started working. Of course, in those days we came in at 6 in the morning and rehearsed until we filmed at 2 in the afternoon. So you had a lot of time to work with the lines and make them funny or poignant, whatever was needed. That camaraderie we had as a quad was marvelous. We grew to love each other, and each individually.”

In the process, Hunley and Penghlis bonded and emerged as a Salem supercouple, following the soap’s long-since-abandoned recipe for success. “The people I talk to who are watching the show, the older audience, still want that,” she shares. “They are still invested in those relationships. That’s why they appreciate it when the vets come back.”And the feeling is mutual. “When you get a little further down the road — age or whatever — it’s a welcome appreciation,” contends Hunley. “We want to be back and we want people to enjoy it and think about where it might lead.”

For Hunley, who began her run as Anna way back in 1982, it’s been a long, fun-loving ride, one that includes a Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Supporting Actress in 1986. “It was so totally unexpected because I was in a category with such extraordinary actresses,” marvels Hunley. In fact, she was so sure she didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning that she skipped attending the New York ceremony in favor of filming a guest spot on HOTEL in Los Angeles. “I’m sad that I wasn’t there but I’ve always been proud I pulled that off.”

Her post-Emmy career flourished with an array of memorable prime-time gigs opposite Hollywood legends like Michael Landon on HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN and Angela Lansbury on MURDER, SHE WROTE. “I loved working with Michael Landon. He was such a lovely producer, writer, director and actor,” praises Hunley. “And I’ll always admire Angela Lansbury  because she made new actors feel comfortable on set. She was available for rehearsal and was just terrific.”

Then, of course, there was Hunley’s three-season run as Adam Carrington’s wife, Dana, on the original DYNASTY. “I was playing glamour on DAYS so it was kind of a natural evolution for me to just go on to that show, which was the height of glam,” notes Hunley, who wore wardrobe designed by Nolan Miller while playing Joan Collins’s (ex-Alexis) daughter-in-law. “I always remember with Joan, even if she wasn’t there, you could feel her coming because people started getting a little antsy. She was always so lovely to me and very quick-witted.”

In spite of her impressive resumé of work — far more than the aforementioned series above — it’s the role of Anna that has always held a special place in her heart. So whenever she’s been invited back to DAYS to reprise the character, she’s happily said yes. “For me, it’s always been a beautiful experience,” smiles Hunley. “There’s not a day that I go into the makeup room, the hub of the community, that I’m not hugging and kissing somebody. It’s a true family, no matter how long you’ve been away, and everybody loves to see you.”

And no matter the lengthy absences in between her stints as Anna — Hunley originally exited the soap in 1986, returned 21 years later in 2007, left in April 2009, returned that December, stayed until June 2010, then came back seven years later in 2017 — she insists that reprising the character is pretty much effortless. “I think it might take me about an hour because Anna is so much a part of me at this point,” observes Hunley. “I certainly have to work at what the scenes are about and where all of that is going, but as far as getting back into Anna, I zip her on and walk on stage. She’s always been that fun to play, and she’s completely outrageous now. I have had to work a little bit on all of that, but for some reason it comes out of me. I’m ready to play. I’m ready to be outrageous and a little crazy. Still, I want her to be lovable. That is who she is. And she’s passionate about her Tony.”

Still, it’s a major contrast from who Hunley is in real life. “Anna is much more bold than I am, and she’s brash,” observes the actress. “I spend my time trying to make everybody happy. She doesn’t care about everybody else being happy. She wants what she wants. There are lines in the sand that I would draw that she would just step right over in a high-heeled shoe because her arrogance, if you will, is that she deserves what she wants. I come from more of a service personality: ‘Can I offer you a cup of coffee? Can I get you something? Can I take care of something for you?’ Anna wants somebody else to handle everything for her. I think that’s the biggest difference between us. I also might have a little more humility and not quite the amount of chutzpah than she does.”

As for the fans’ allegiance to Tony and Anna as a couple over the three decades since they were originally paired, Hunley attributes it to a few things. “Thaao and I really like each other, and I think that helps with our chemistry,” she notes. “And Anna truly loves Tony. There’s no way around it. Every move she makes is colored by how much she loves Tony, what she needs from him, and how to get him back to her side. That’s been her driving force forever.”

So the chance to work opposite Penghlis again, as Tony, and revive their special love has been a dream come true for Hunley. “I’ve come back under different circumstances over the years and have not always worked with Thaao, and when I did work with him he was Andre,” points out Hunley. “It is so great to work with Thaao. It’s wonderful to work with everybody else, too, but it’s really special to work with him. No matter how he says something, I know I’m going to find a way to respond to it. There’s no judgment between the two of us in our scenes and on our dialogue. We make it work because we’re so comfortable together.”

Hunley would love to see the romance go further. “It would be nice to have a wedding on screen,” she says. “We did have like three or four in the ’80s. Some were with a fake priest. Some of them Anna drugged Tony to get him to marry her. There were a few different incarnations of that. The last few times we’ve come back to the show, they’ve married us off, but it was off screen. It would be nice to see a wedding.”

And then, perhaps, move back into the DiMera mansion. “I know Thaao would like to be back in the mansion. He’s always like, ‘Who is running my household?’ ” muses Hunley. “I keep saying, they need someone with Thaao’s gravitas [in charge of DiMera Enterprises]. That was the thing about Joe Mascolo [ex-Stefano]. He had this aura and big personality that was just bigger than life, and Thaao embodies that. He’s the next person to come along with that as far as I can tell. Other people are doing a wonderful job and all, but I’m partial to Thaao because I love him.”

 

Just The Facts

Birthday: February 25

Birthplace: Forks, WA

Not-So-Social Media Social: “I know that I’m a bad girl and out of the loop because I’m not on Facebook. I’m not on Instagram. I’m not on Snapchat. I just choose to have a little privacy. I can appreciate what people do with it but I’m not very good at it myself.”

TV Time: “Here’s my secret. I am somewhat obsessed with every REAL HOUSEWIVES of whatever city. I cannot help myself. The show I truly love is THE VOICE because I love music. I love to watch how they take raw talent and mold it into something that is so beautiful and worth listening to, and give these people an opportunity to [become stars]. I’m very impressed with the way the judges handle and mentor them.”

Pitcher This: “I love pitchers, water pitchers and ewers. I have so many of them. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the shape of them or maybe it’s a water thing. I’m a Pisces, a water sign. I have collected many of them over the years.”

A Good Read: “I love detective stories and mystery stories. I love the Bosch series [of novels by Michael Connelly]. I go to my public library and borrow books on tape so when I drive around in L.A. traffic, I listen to them. And they’re [voiced] by actors. That’s something I’d like to do is [voice] a book on tape. I’ve often thought about pursuing that because I like listening to them. I’d like to be able to tell a story.”

 

 

GLAMOUR GIRL

Anna DiMera has always been a very glamorous character, which is not so different from her portrayer. “Well, I do like a sequin and a bauble. I like glitz and glam,” says Hunley, adding that she “was made for the ’80s. I like to dress nicely and appropriately and glam it up if I have to. I think that’s something I have in common with my family. We kind of do that. If we’re going out for dinner, we dress for it. If we’re going on a girls’ weekend and we all get together, somebody will bring a bag of big fancy rings along. And everybody will be wearing rings while we’re sitting around chitchatting. It’s just part of who I am.” So might you ever catch Hunley in jeans, sweats or casual wear? “Oh, yeah, but that’s mostly around the house, although sometimes I’m out and about like that in the avocado section of the grocery store. It’s funny. People will come up to me like they’re trying to put it together. They’ll wait until they hear my voice. But if I’m not all glammed up, they can’t quite get there.”

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