Thaao Penghlis resurrects Tony DiMera once again on DAYS
Soap Opera Digest: You’re back! Pretty soon you’re going to be rivaling Joe Mascolo (ex-Stefano) for most returns.
Thaao Penghlis (laughs): I’ve died more times than he has.
Digest: The last time you were killed off, did you think, “That’s the end”?
Penghlis: That’s a good question. The last time was so sudden, the death with Abigail. But when I got back upstairs, to be told that they’re going to kill Andre, I said, “Well, how many more times do you think I’ve got?” And you count the nine lives. Suddenly, you’re taking that seriously. But I was told just to hold off and I was going to be fine. It was a very slow comeback.
Digest: How did your return come about?
Penghlis: [Co-Executive Producer] Greg Meng called me. I said, “Oh, let me sit down.” The good part is, I left well. I’m not one of these actors that leaves with drama. I look at it this way: It’s all about the writer’s story and who gets into it.
Digest: What did Greg say?
Penghlis: He said to me, “Thaao, are you going to be free at this particular time?” And I said, “Yeah, why?” And he said, “Ron’s [Carlivati, head writer] written this story and he wants you to come back. We’re bringing Tony back.” And I thought, “Oh, okay.” Somehow I was expecting it because I heard there were actors coming back from the dead. I don’t know if it’s from the dead; I look at it as making a transition, coming from that part of life that hasn’t yet gotten to heaven.
Digest: Right. They’d been kind of in limbo.
Penghlis: Yeah, looking at how they lived and how they could have done it better.
Digest: So you told him that you were free and happy to come back?
Penghlis: I was slightly hesitant because after being killed this many times … I mean, if I was an actor who didn’t know his lines and you’re creating problems and no one can work with you, I get it. But I’ve never been better as far as myself as a human being because of where I’ve been and where I’ve gone with it.
Digest: You wanted to come back?
Penghlis: Yes, I wanted to come back as Tony. I thought that would be interesting because I was so used to playing Andre, so how do I tap into that source? And then I go, “Well, both of them are diabolical characters, but Tony had more heart.” I thought, “You can’t find Andre’s heart but Tony, you can see him wearing it. There’s something more loving.” And that’s why I think a lot of the women are saying, “Oh, I hope it’s Tony coming back.” I had to tap into that. When he asked me about coming back, I thought, “Oh, my God, how would I play him?” I got a little bit uncomfortable with the idea because basically, one of the things I did for Andre is I combined both characters. I thought, “That’s how you make a richer character.” So now you turn around and you’re saying, “Oh, I’m going to take some of those things back.” This area also has a lot of shadows, and coming out of the shadows and what is the condition of Tony. You find out.
Digest: You said fans seemed to be hoping you were playing Tony.
How did that make you feel?
Penghlis: Well, there are people who like both characters. I think part of it is because they like the actor because the actor will bring some surprises. Because of social media, in many ways I’ve been able to have kind of a diverse personality with the journeys I take, and how I’ve taken them on those journeys. This time around, when they say they love Tony, I can always tell this is a romantic woman. The other one is more into thrills. We like villains. If you don’t have the villain, you don’t have a good hero.
Digest: What can we expect from Tony? Is he going to be different?
Penghlis: Well, Albert [Alarr, co-executive producer] said something to me. He said, “Tony is not as ruthless as Andre. He’s softer. He’s a nice human being.” And I thought, “Well, I’m not really telling you, then. I have to show some other colors.” I didn’t want to come off like Prince Charming; I wanted to have something about him that was ruthless. I’m working with Stacy [Haiduk, Kristen] and also with Leann [Hunley, Anna]. I’m looking at a face I haven’t seen in years. That was where the heart came out. Stacy brought my brain out. She’s wonderful.
Digest: Leann Hunley is also returning. I’m sure that appealed to you.
Penghlis: People who didn’t know us before said, “You two have really got great chemistry. The fans have this romantic idea of the two of you.” Listen, as soon as we put our arms around each other and kiss, I’ve got to say, she’s the most available kisser, I think, I’ve ever experienced. Maybe because we’ve been together on and off for 37 years, but there’s something available about those lips. She has beautiful lips, but she’s available as a human being. Others are not. I mean, there are some people when you’re kissing, nothing happens. There’s no giving. But with her, she’s a total woman to me, and that’s what makes her so beautiful.
Digest: What did you miss about being on the show?
Penghlis: I love my actors and my crew. There’s something about the ritual. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have, there’s something about that ritual when you come on. The way we’re doing it these days and doing it so far in advance, there’s always challenges. But once you hit your first scene, and the crew, everyone is so supportive. I mean, they applaud, they say lovely things and they make you really feel welcome. And they’ve missed you. I went from being 10-take Thaao from the beginning when I first went on DAYS OF OUR LIVES to one-take Thaao. I liked those challenges. So, to your question, certainly the crew and the actors, but also the performances and how you challenge yourself to do really good work. That’s how I was trained. I don’t like to go onstage if I’m not prepared. Ten minutes before we start the scenes, I go and sit on the set because I want to take in the energy. It’s the same thing I would do in the theater. I will lie on the stage with the curtains closed for a half hour and I will do a meditation and bring the audience onto me, onto the stage, instead of me having to come out and work at it.
Digest: How had you been filling your time while off the show?
Penghlis: Well, I’ve written two books. I’m now on my third, Culture and Cuisine. It’s like [the late Anthony] Bourdain, except there’s more culture than cuisine. Bourdain was more cuisine. I’m writing a story now. I just came back from Egypt and it’s about really interesting things that took place this time around and how it affected me. When I came back, I thought, “What recipe would I have had? What did I eat there?” After each revelation or the journey that you take, at the end you celebrate with food. To me, food is about celebrating your survival and the way you live and what you do in your life and what you represent. When I sit at the dinner table, this is a reward for me, a reward for the people, because I cook a lot. It’s a reward for people who have come to my place for dinner. I’m having Wil deVry [Julian, GH] tomorrow because he lives across the street from me. It’s nice.