INTERVIEW

I’m Not A Lawyer But I Play One On TV: Wally Kurth (Justin, DAYS)

Does playing a lawyer, with all the legalese and long monologues, get easier over time? “It has become easier, and it’s because I changed my attitude. I decided to look at those monologues as if I was doing a musical and singing a song. I just said, ‘You know what, Wally? Pretend that you’re on Broadway again, and you’re in front of the judge.’ I just own the fact that I’ve got to present this thing in a way that’s different from Justin sauntering through the Kiriakis living room.”

Do you have to work harder to memorize scripts that have a lot of legal terminology? “I do. I spend even more time on it. You can’t hem and haw. I have to close my eyes and think about the words Justin would use, these legal words that I wouldn’t ever use. I have to do it over and over again to make it natural, so it comes out of my mouth naturally.”

What qualities do you think make Justin a good lawyer? “He’s empathetic and very smart. He seems to be able to quickly see where the problem is in a case, to see where the opening is and where the cracks are in a case. He’s an honest guy, an honest broker.”

Do you think you’d make a good lawyer in real life? “No. I’d be a terrible lawyer. My wife [Debra, an attorney] says it, and she’s absolutely right: I can’t keep a secret. As a lawyer, you have to really hold your cards close to your vest. You have to be able to take people into your confidence, and I would say too much … I’m a spiller.”

What specific courtroom moments or cases stand out to you from over the years? “When Dena Higley was writing the show, she knew that my father was a lawyer, and she wanted me to really have these great scenes when Justin was representing Hope for the murder of Stefano DiMera. At Hope’s sentencing hearing, she gave me a three-or four-page monologue. One of the directors came up to me and said, ‘Wally, either the writers really love you or they really hate you.’ Then, a minute later, Albert [Alarr, co-executive producer] came up to me and said, ‘Wally, I’ve never said this to anybody else, but do you need a teleprompter?’ I said, ‘No, I think I can do it.’ Well, I tried to do it. I’d get through a page and then another page. To make a long story short, I got the teleprompter. Everyone who saw it thought it was some of my best acting. My brother said, ‘That was really good, Wally!’ ”

What do you consider to be Justin’s most memorable case? “Certainly, the one I just mentioned with the teleprompter, having to keep Hope out of prison for Stefano’s murder. I had to recite the entire case to the judge in order to prove mitigating circumstances to get her sentence reduced. The guy who did the teleprompter, Tony Finetti, was also an actor. He had been a friend of mine from school. In fact, the last time I saw him before that was at the [screen] test for Justin, 25 years earlier. He auditioned for the role, too!”

What stands out about working with other attorneys on the show, like Gilles Marini (ex-Ted) and Laura Kai Chen (Melinda)? “Laura and I are good friends, so it was always great going up against her. She’s so much fun and puts a little mustard on every line she delivers. I’d chuckle as I’d see her eye me and leer and look at me with such disdain. It was just fun. I felt badly for Gilles because of all the legal [jargon], and he had to speak it in a foreign language! But he was remarkable. He really did a good job. Every once in awhile I’d give him a pronunciation to make it a little easier for him, because he was probably having to say some of these words for the first time.”

Who has been Justin’s most problematic client? “Gabi was a problematic client, when Abigail was trying to bring her down when she had the alternate personalities. Gabi kept interrupting, and Justin had to keep holding her down and telling her she had to keep quiet or was going to be thrown out of the courtroom and be held on contempt charges. She was more boisterous than Sami was. Gabi and Sami are probably at the top in terms of most difficult clients, just because they’re both rowdy characters who don’t like to be told what to do.”

What’s the most unethical thing Justin has done in his capacity as a lawyer? “That would have to be when Justin was trying to bring down Deimos. He stole evidence from the evidence box at the police station, and Roman caught him. You saw Justin shake his head, because he felt badly. Victor had coerced him into doing it.”

What’s the best thing about playing a soap lawyer? “You get to work with a lot of different actors and characters, and that’s great. It’s really fun. And I’m usually the one who is asking the tough questions in some very emotional scenes, because [the client] is having to deal with the consequences of being in jail or emotionally distraught. As a lawyer, I have to bring them back from the ledge or comfort them physically. That part I feel is very interesting and intriguing.”

Would you hire Justin to represent you? “I think so. According to the people in Salem, Justin is the best lawyer in town. I’m going to take everyone in Salem at their word.”

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