DAYS’s Paul Telfer as a guest on Digest’s podcast, Dishing With Digest, where he talked about his surprising journey to Salem’s front-burner as Xander Kiriakis.
Soap Opera Digest: Tell us about some of your early acting jobs.
Paul Telfer: I mean, the first couple were pretty terrible. They were these very low-budget sitcoms. It was on Sky TV, which is a British satellite company, a bit like cable. It was one of their very first self-produced productions, but it was incredibly cheap and shot in Spain. I did a guest star on one of their shows that was called … even the title’s terrible. It was called IS HARRY ON THE BOAT? Which in itself was cockney rhyming slang for a very rude sexual act. You can Google it if you have to. I was, like, a rival holiday rep who was a bad dancer. That was pretty much my character’s arc was revealing that I couldn’t dance, I guess. And, of course, there’s some shirtlessness at the end. Maybe two months after I did that, the same network hired me to do a different show. Again, just a guest star. You thought I was a pilot and then the twist was I was actually a stripper. It was the first time I had a stunt double, but the stunt double was for full-frontal nudity. My character in the show had a very specific piercing that I was not prepared to get. So yeah, they brought a very nice young man in to do that one shot for me. And hilariously, that was the first thing my now-wife ever saw me do on television, this full frontal stripper nudity and somehow she still wanted to date me and we’re still together, so I guess it worked out!
Digest: Was DAYS the first soap you ever auditioned for?
Telfer: I was in L.A. doing pilot season and I had gotten really close to the job I really, really, really wanted so desperately and I didn’t get it. I was about to fly to New York to meet [wife] Carmen. My agents called up and they were like, “Hey, I know you don’t want to do a soap opera, but DAYS OF OUR LIVES are asking if you can come in and cover for a character called EJ for a week because the actor [James Scott] has a health issue. They will just pay you a bunch of money to sit and learn scripts just in case you need to run in and do them.” I was like, “Yeah, I’ll do that. Sounds great.” It was all great except for all the scripts turned up and it was, like, eight scripts. I was like, “How am I supposed to memorize all of this?” I had no idea how you could even begin to memorize that amount of material…. And then luckily, James did every episode so I didn’t get called in. At the end of it, they paid me the money, which I was amazed by…. But at the end of it, the lovely casting director, Marnie [Saitta], and I think it was [Co-Executive Producer] Greg Meng sat me in their office and were like, “Hey. Would you be interested in doing the show?” And I was so cocky back then because I was getting close to all these big jobs. I was like, “Eh, I’m good. It’s not really a good fit for me and my wife’s on the East Coast and then she’s going to be on tour and I don’t know if I want to be stuck in one place for a year or years at a time.” But to their credit, they were very patient. Pretty much every year or maybe even every six months, they would send through an audition or just get my interest if I was maybe thinking about coming on the show. And then fast-forward [to playing Xander]…. I was very nervous about it because of all the material and all the memorization and all that. The thing that ended up really surprising me about it was that I actually really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the speed of it and the whole process of it. I really enjoyed the work environment. It’s a really fun place to work. I ended up kind of loving it. I was devastated when they let me go the first time ’cause I was originally on a one-year contract. I think I did maybe three or four months of it on that first run right before they brought a bunch of famous DAYS veterans back for the 50th anniversary. They changed the writing staff and a lot of changes happened. I didn’t take it person- ally, but it happened to me personally and it sucked. But I remember even when they let me go they were saying, “Look, this isn’t about you. It’s about what we’re trying to do for the 50th anniversary and everything. We’re not going to kill you; we’re just going to tuck you off to the side. We’d love to be able to bring you back at some point.” I was like, “Yeah, we’ll see, I guess.” I wasn’t super-happy about it. A big part of what has been my relationship with the show over the past five years or so I’ve been doing it was everything they’ve ever said with me they’ve done. Like they’ve never let me down in that regard, never lied to me, never told me some- thing just to kind of cheer me up or keep me on the hook kind of thing. They’ve always been very honest. And sure enough, within, I think it was within six months of being let go the first time, they asked me back for that fun little stint with Orpheus and Clyde where we were, like, holding the town hostage and all of that.
Digest: Were you even surprised after having played Damon that they created the role of Xander for you?
Telfer: Well, that’s what blew my mind about it. I was down in San Diego when I got that call. Carmen had gotten the job in San Diego when I was offered the Damon job and she was just starting rehearsal. I think it was a good, like, month or six weeks in between. I only did, like, four, maybe six episodes as Damon. They were just quick little scenes, nothing like being on contract. I thought it had gone away. I felt like, “That went well. Take the money and run.” I was hoping for more work, but I wasn’t betting my career on it or whatever. I was auditioning and everything was fine. I was also doing a lot of video game stuff at that time, which is actually kind of exciting. I was doing a big new Call Of Duty game with Kevin Spacey and so a lot of my attention was being taken that way. I was like, “If the soap comes back, great. If not, no worries.” So when they called back, I just assumed they were bringing Damon back. And they were like, “No, no, no. It’s a different character.” At the time, he was called Drake, which just freaked me out because of Drake Ramoray from FRIENDS. I was like, “Oh, no, that means I’m Joey. Oh, no.” I was in San Diego and the head writer called me up. It was the only time I ever talked to the head writer, which is kind of weird before you take a job that might take up years of your life to just have a quick sketch of, “Well, basically he’s a charming psychopath. Got it? Okay, good. Bye!” But yeah, I was just shocked that they would really just have a six-week break, give me a haircut and be like, “Here’s a completely different guy. Same accent, same face, same everything, but he’s a different person.” And to be fair, it worked.
Digest: Was there ever a time when you would get scripts and see what Xander was doing and be like, “Oh, God. He won’t come back from this?”
Telfer: I used to do that early on, ’cause I was totally new to daytime. I didn’t really understand how it all worked. And also,we weren’t getting feedback from the audience because my stuff hadn’t aired. I remember at first he was kind of gray and you didn’t really know if he was a goodie or a baddie, and then you saw him being kind of mean to Serena. And then all of a sudden, the character just went evil and I was, like, throttling Nicole, try- ing to murder her and then locking Eric and Nicole in a pizza oven. And also, that’s when they started to kind of, like, fake kill me. I got hit in the back of the head and it would make it look like I was dead, and then no, I was taken down to the basement to be tortured by Victor and his thugs and all this kind of thing. I was like, “I’m worried that maybe they’re going to fire me.” I talked to Ari [Zucker, Nicole] about it, and she was like, “No, here’s all the terrible things that Nicole has done. And here’s all the terrible things …” And she would just list off all of the different characters who were “goodies”, that had done all these awful things. She was just like, “Don’t worry about it.” And then literally three weeks later, they let me go. But she knew what she was talking about because a few months after that, I was back again.
Digest: When Sarah entered Xander’s life and they fell into bed, it sort of started a new era for Xander. Tell us about your real-life relationship and friendship with Linsey Godfrey.
Telfer: Well, it was funny because I’d been off the show for maybe six months. It was during a period where I was off the show for a while. I’m good buddies with Breckin [Meyer], her boyfriend, and we just bumped into each other. He was like, “Hey. My girl- friend’s on your show. You have to say hello to her.” I was like, “Well, I’m not on DAYS at the moment, but if I ever go back, then of course I’ll say hi.” And so they asked me back and the first script I get is me hitting on Sarah and then I Googled her and I was like, “Oh, that’s the char- acter that Linsey plays.” So I just texted Breckin and go, “Uh-oh. This could be complicated!” And then sure enough, every script got more like, “Come into the hot tub with me, Sarah.” And then all of a sudden they’re hav- ing a drunken, passionate one-night stand. I was like, “Oh, I should stop sending this stuff to Breckin. He’s not going to think it’s funny anymore.” But it just made life a lot easier, obviously, to have that ice broken before we even met sharing one of our favorite people, you know what I mean, and to have that in common and have that to talk about. And then more than anything, Linsey’s like Arianne. She’s super-prepared. She doesn’t take herself seriously, but she takes the job seriously. She’s always fun, but she wants to work, she wants to do good work. She wants to know her lines and just be able to rock and roll. I just feel really fortunate with all of the partners that I’ve had [and] to be finally given a legitimate romantic pairing that isn’t just going to be unrequited and have me put them in a cage or kidnap their child. I didn’t kidnap a child this time around, but obviously there was some chicanery involved with children. I just feel really lucky to have been paired with someone who at the end of a long day of crying over our kidnapped cancer baby we can have a laugh and just hang out and blow off steam. We’re very lucky.