Soap Opera Digest: What do you want to say about your exit from the show in 2018?
Stephen Nichols: I’d like to deal with what’s current. That stuff is old news.
Digest: When did you learn you would be playing Stefano?
Nichols: After I signed on to return, I had a conversation with [Co-Executive Producer] Albert Alarr. He told me that I would be playing Stefano. That a chip containing Stefano’s essence had been implanted in Steve’s brain.
Digest: What was your initial reaction?
Nichols: WTF?!! Then my brain went immediately into hyperdrive considering how in the world I was going to do it.
Digest: How did you go about preparing for the role?
Nichols: I watched the master, Joe Mascolo. I got lots of videos of Stefano. Stefano in every mode: Manipulating, laughing, Stefano with the ladies, with his children and, of course, Stefano raging. I also looked at scenes with his interactions with characters I would be playing opposite. Also, Joe and I had worked together over the years.
Digest: Taking on the persona so memorably played by Joe Mascolo must have been daunting. How did you approach it?
Nichols: It was daunting and a major challenge to take on. I knew I didn’t want to do a cheap imitation. I wanted to get Stefano’s essence. I knew that Stefano’s and Steve’s physicality was very different, but what I could do was try to carry my body like Stefano. Standing tall. Leading with the chest. After all, posture is mostly psychological. I studied his gestures. I chose a few that he used more than others. He used his hands in a very particular way; sometimes he looked as if he was conducting an orchestra. Psychologically speaking, I felt I would have no limitations because the chip made Steve 100 percent Stefano. Language was there, so he would have his accent but coming from Steve’s mouth. My thinking was that Steve was completely erased except for his body, so he was Stefano as long as that chip was there. The only times Steve was even remotely present were moments when he is with Kayla and he is not conscious of it, but a psychic, spiritual connection is there. Something almost imperceptible was what I was going for.
Digest: What memories of Joe stand out to you?
Nichols: Working with Joe was always joyful because he relished playing that role. He truly loved it. That joy was contagious. Joe always gave the actors so much to work with. My most vivid memories are around scenes we had when he was in a hospital bed and I was planning to do him in. “Go ahead, shoot. Squeeeze the trigger. Go ahead. You think I’m afraid of death? Death is but a breath away.” Then his reaction when Steve told him that he had dug up a grave and it was his son Benji in the coffin. His entire face and countenance changed in an instant, “No, it’s not … possible.” Joe was amazing. Until I had revisited his work, I had forgotten how sorely he is missed. It was during the preparation, as I took this on, that I realized that I had to do my best to honor Joe Mascolo and Stefano.
Digest: What was your first day back like? How did it feel to be back?
Nichols: As I have said many times, my family at DAYS has always been dear to me. There is a mutual admiration society between the cast and crew and everyone on both sides of the camera. There is a lot of love in that place. I could name so many people who I look forward to seeing at work. That is, I’m guessing, pretty rare.
Digest: What was it like to reconnect with Mary Beth Evans (Kayla)? Matthew Ashford (Jack)? Your other
Nichols: Love, love, love. And portraying Stefano afforded me new relationships with everyone I had played opposite as Steve. That was interesting and fun.
Digest: You worked pretty exclusively with Kristian Alfonso (Hope/“Gina”) upon your return. What was that like?
Nichols: Yes, that was even stranger because she was that other lady, not my “Sweet Thing”, Hope. But I love working with Kristian. She’s so good and always so prepared. It was cool to see her do her thing as Princess Gina. We’ve always had a great working relationship.
Digest: When in scenes with people you worked with as Steve, how
did you make sure no “Steve” crept into your performance?
Nichols: Well, first of all, because Stefano was in Steve’s body, it took some effort to convince many people that he was really Stefano. As far as Steve creeping in, I tried to forget about it and just be Stefano because Stefano loathed Steve. He doesn’t give him a second thought, except when he catches his reflection in a mirror. That helped.
Digest: What did you think of the story twist that Kayla was with Justin?
Nichols: I thought that it was risky to pair her romantically with someone, but it made sense to finally have that happen and especially because the story supported it. As for it being Justin, I think it was a smart choice. He is a good man and reliable. These two people found each other at a time of tragedy and bonded in their grief. It made sense. And Mary Beth and Wally [Kurth, Justin] have been doing some really good work. And also, being Stefano made seeing Kayla in love with another man so much easier.
Digest: How did it feel to be back at the show?
Nichols: I love being back. It was a bit different for me this time around because I was working so much. Four-to-seven episodes per week, nonstop, until fairly recently.
Digest: What did you do in your time away?
Nichols: So many projects around the house and I put a lot of time into a feature film project. More on that soon.
Digest: You received quite the reception at the Day of DAYS. How did it feel for you to see the passion of the fans?
Nichols: It always feels good to be appreciated and loved. My fans, and Steve and Kayla fans, are the absolute best and we appreciate their love and support. They know how much we love them. We had a special event for them on the Sunday following Day of Days. It was truly a lovefest.
Digest: Your first episode of DAYS was in 1985. What does it mean to you to be back on the set in 2019?
Nichols: I feel fortunate to be able to continue to work. Thirty-four years, how remarkable is that? I am grateful to daytime TV, in general, and especially to DAYS OF OUR LIVES, to [former Executive Producer] Betty and [Executive Producer] Ken Corday, [former Executive Producer] Al Rabin and [former Producer] Shelley Curtis for deciding, back in 1985, to keep the Patchman around. Daytime television has been very, very good to me.