Soap Opera Digest: This month marks 30 years since you first joined DAYS in 1987. How does that feel?
Wally Kurth: Can you believe it? It’s unbelievable. Thirty years.
Digest: What do you remember about your first day at DAYS?
Kurth: I remember it vividly. My first day was a Saturday, which was the first and last Saturday I ever worked on daytime. Deidre Hall [Marlena] was shooting the prime-time series OUR HOUSE. She had to work on Saturdays. I had to work because my show was going to air three days later. That’s how far ahead we were back in those days. It was a week and a half, two weeks at the most. It took them a while to cast the character. There was some dispute at the network. They weren’t sure I was the right guy. But anyway they pulled the trigger and I worked on a Saturday. It was right after the holidays. I had three auditions and two screen tests, so they must have done it as fast as they possibly could to cast the character.
Digest: Who did you test with?
Kurth: I tested with Lisa Trusel [ex-Melissa].
Digest: Do you recall having any first-day nerves or jitters?
Kurth: It’s funny, because people posted my very first scene on YouTube, and I watched it a few months ago. I looked more calm than I felt. I came from the theater, with long rehearsals, and I had never really done any television. DAYS was my first foray into TV production. It was just one scene — which was great, just to get my feet wet — Justin was in a Paris hotel room, packing up and leaving, and sleeping with some French tart who was married. Yeah, I was nervous and excited, and really, really ready to work. I was at a place in my life where I felt like if anyone deserved to be working, it was Wally Kurth [laughs]. I was working in a commercial production house that did Michael Jackson commercials and a lot of other big-time accounts. I didn’t even have a car. Back in those days there was Rent-A-Wreck. My boss understood that I was an actor, so I could sneak away for auditions. It was really nice that she would let me do that. I was working on Saturday nights as a busboy at a Cajun Creole restaurant. I had a young daughter, Meghann, who was just born. I felt like I had to take care of my daughter. So I felt like I had paid my dues. I was ready to work and felt I deserved a job. So when I got DAYS, I was really kind of confident and ready to go and fired up. So in that sense, I wasn’t scared. When I went in for the audition, I was very confident that I was going to get it. It was mine to lose.
Digest: Were you familiar with DAYS?
Kurth: No, I had never watched it. I watched ABC shows. I remember two summers before, I was working on a ranch in Montana and I was watching ONE LIFE TO LIVE during lunch.
Digest: What do you remember about your early scenes with John Aniston (Victor)?
Kurth: John came from New York and had a background in doing theater there, which I totally loved. He also had a club in New York. I just totally admired and respected him, and really saw him as a mentor. I thought he was a really solid actor. We would do some crazy stories and he would always keep it grounded in a way that made feel we could pull off anything. He was always very encouraging, too. He’s just a nice guy. He was always with the steady hand, just a pro.
Digest: What about Judi Evans (Adrienne)?
Kurth: With Judi, I was very aware that she came from another show [GUIDING LIGHT], where she won an Emmy Award [for Beth], so I was respectful of that. Let me put it this way: I have always trusted Judi and I think that she trusts me. But sometimes early on, young actors can kind of get in each other’s way, like maybe giving direction or saying things. I think because Judi had that background, I felt that I had enough work to do that I wasn’t going to tell her what to do. But I think that also helped us. We got out of each other’s way and played the story as written and just went for it. And the writers went for it.
Digest: How did you feel when the pairing took off?
Kurth: Once they saw we were going strong, they just gave us more and more. It’s why we ended up going to Greece at the end of the year [1987, for Justin and Adrienne’s wedding], and I also think it’s why they got us married, which was a very un-DAYS OF OUR LIVES thing to do. Al Rabin, who was the executive producer, even told me after I left the show — when they didn’t re-sign me [in 1991] — that he was kind of regretful of putting Justin and Adrienne together so quickly, because I think they thought that they ran out of story. Once Justin and Adrienne got married, they had to bring in Emilio and Anjelica and all this other stuff to get them broken up. I think it kind of got a little bit out of hand for the writers. I wasn’t going to leave. I was happy on the show. I bought a house. When I was told, I think they saw the look on my face of, “What? They’re letting me go?” It was meant to be, because six months later I got on GENERAL HOSPITAL [as Ned]. That was a 15- or 16-year run.
Digest: What was it like returning to DAYS in 2009 after an 18-year absence?
Kurth: That’s a good question. That was fun, too. That was really fun. It felt like I was going to kindergarten or something. It was like my first day of school, but it felt like it had been so long that I was really kind of nervous. I was kind of scared but just excited and butterflies, and I remember I was working with John that very first day. It was 2009, I left in ’91. Almost 19 years. As soon as I started, we started talking to one another and it was just like, “Wow. I’m back.” John is my touchstone, just like Jane Elliot [Tracy] at GENERAL HOSPITAL. Once I start talking to Tracy, my character, it’s, “Oh, okay, I know who I am.” I walked in there and there was John. He was a little older and grayer, but he was still John Aniston.
Digest: And now you’re embroiled in a hot triangle with Lucas and Justin fighting for Adrienne.
Kurth: I love telling this story because honestly, when I really look at Lucas and Adrienne, that argument that they’re in love with each other and they’re better for each other right now than Justin and Adrienne, I have to agree with part of that. The argument they’re making is really quite good. I think, honestly, Lucas and Adrienne are better for each other right now. I think that Adrienne is the love of Justin’s life but he did lose it. He lost her. He made a mistake and he let her go for all those months, and she fell in love with someone else and oops! Look what happens when you take something for granted. She moved on. I just think it’s juicy, good stuff. We’re doing it really, really well and it’s fun.
Digest: What do you think of the Kiriakis resurgence?
Kurth: I love it! It’s great. I think it’s smart and I love working with Eric [Martsolf, Brady] and Freddie [Smith, Sonny], of course, and Vince [Irizarry, Deimos] is trying to find his way in, and I love working with Vince.
Digest: Would you like to see Justin’s other sons come on to the canvas?
Kurth: Yeah! I’d love to have more kids.
Digest: Do you think Ned and Justin would like each other?
Digest: Do you think Ned and Justin would like each other?
Kurth (laughs): Yeah, I think they would like each other. They’re both kind of gatekeepers, and I think they would appreciate that. They have that integrity. I think Ned would think Justin is kind of f***ed up [for cheating on Adrienne], maybe too conservative. Ned worked in Hollywood, Justin is a little bit more corporate. They might not have a lot to talk about, but I think they would respect one another.
Digest: What do you think when you look back on how you’ve found success in this business?
Kurth: I’ve been married 13 years now and the thing that I love about soaps is that I’ve been able to raise my children and support my family with this wonderful job that I’ve had for 30 years. I feel like I’m one of the luckiest actors in town. Not many actors get to act professionally for 30-some-odd years. There were some years that were lean, but for the most part I’ve had this incredible good fortune. I feel like these shows have made me a better person. The other thing is that I feel like my real life has made me a better actor and brought colors to these characters that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have a rich personal life with the loves of my life, my children, and the people who have infused my career and my performances over the years, and my friends, as well. Also, I’ve made some amazing friends who are fans of the show, and I think that’s made me a better person and a better actor. Meeting the viewers and hearing their stories and having them be a big part of my life, it makes me work harder. I know I can’t let them down because they love these shows and they love these characters. Whenever there’s a day where I just want to pull some punches and be lazy like, “Eh, let’s just get through this,” I don’t do that and it’s probably because they expect a first-class performance every time. That’s what they deserve.