This interview originally appeared in the August 3, 1999 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
After 13 Years As DAYS OF OUR LIVES’s Superhero, Drake Hogestyn Prefers Life In Front Of The Camera, But Out Of The Limelight
It’s a little tough these days to get Drake Hogestyn (John) to talk about DAYS OF OUR LIVES. It’s not that he doesn’t like the show: He does. It’s just that after 13 years as the soap’s leading man, he’s ready to turn the interviews over to the newcomers. But since Hogestyn is one of the friendliest, most likeable actors in daytime — not to mention an all-time great storyteller — reporters aren’t ready to turn off their microphones quite yet. Nice guy that he is, Hogestyn obliges.
Digest: When you signed a contract 13 years ago, what did you think?
Drake Hogestyn: Well, I didn’t know anything about daytime. I was told I would be on for three months, February sweeps to May sweeps. At that time, they weren’t sure about the Roman connection. I remember when I Went in to screen-test, the casting director said, “Throw that script away. You’re right for it. You’re perfect for this one! I finally got you in here and your agent and manager don’t want you doing daytime, but you’ll listen to me now.” That shows you how little connection I had with my agent and manager. To this very day, my agent won’t call me. It’s like, “I haven’t heard from you in a couple of years. I saw you on TV the other day.”
Digest: Were you happy when the Pawn became Roman?
Hogestyn: Deidre [Hall, Marlena] was very instrumental and wanted that character to be Roman. That was a huge selling point. That was the underlying strength, that the audience wanted Roman to come back. I soon found out that the audience was clamoring for Roman and Marlena, and they were ready to take any substitute at that time, to see that love story rekindled. Then I started to get a grasp on what daytime is about, and I started to watch and listen to people talk and watch Deidre. I watched the private moments when she would work just for the audience. I wasn’t used to those moments, just to reach those people in Indiana or Idaho, let everyone in on your “little secret.”
Digest: Acting never really figured you into your long-term plans, did it? Baseball did.
Hogestyn: I gave myself four years to make the major leagues and if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to kill myself in the minors. Well, I didn’t even make it four years anyway. Lack of talent, no doubt. My father told me, “Know when to cut bait.” And I did. I see kids who come out here and have wanted to be actors and actresses forever. That’s a hard dream to die. And I can appreciate it now because when I grew up, all I wanted to do was play baseball.
Digest: Was DAYS your lucky break?
Hogestyn: I feel a little guilty sometimes because what did I do? I came out here, never having been to California in the off-season, and the proverbial spin on the ball changed. My body was all torn down from the season, and I needed some rest and rehabilitation and to get away from baseball, get it out of my mind. And I got this job.
Digest: You’ve worked with many leading ladies over the years, and have clicked with every one. That kind of chemistry….
Hogestyn: I don’t know if it’s chemistry, but it takes two people. I’ve been very lucky to work with a lot of talented women who are unique unto themselves. I can think of 20 things that are different from woman to woman, but there’s usually three or four major points that stand out, that you can just lock into that gives you a very strong point of view. I just enjoy them so much for who they are. They’re very special. I’ve been very lucky having those women.
Digest: Do you like the direction that John is going in now?
Hogestyn: Yeah, it’s fun. I think there’s a strong focus right now, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. I always do my homework and read the scripts every night. I’ve been trying to read a little more into what’s there and look at different angles.
Digest: Did it surprise you when they started these stories again, revisiting John’s past?
Hogestyn: It can be a little bit confusing, but there is a big gap, and I think they’re going to re-create a little more history. There is a lot of dramatic license. It’s hard as an actor, but it goes with writing to make quantum leaps in our own characters’ beliefs I have a lot of faith in that story, which is a good thing. Some of the writers are asking me a lot of questions about John Black’s past, which is confusing to me, too.
Digest: You have the best handle on it.
Hogestyn: Yeah, I do. IT’s nice that they ask me. No specific storyline is related to the question, but more about what happened during a specific time. Mainly I don’t have an answer, because it wasn’t defined. They would start something and never get there. So those are nice areas to attack right now.
Digest: John is ever-changing because of that murky past. Does that keep the work interesting?
Hogestyn: It’s very interesting. I’m kind of cut out of a different cloth, though. I enjoy working, and I can find a lot of interest in almost nothing. Really. I find a lot of interest in little things. That’s what my wife says. I’ve always been able to keep myself occupied. I’ve never needed to have this entourage of friends or to be entertained by anything. So I find a lot of interest in the stories. I believe that if I were a character that was on the one path, I’d have a lot of good things to do.
Digest: Do you ever wonder how long that enthusiasm can last?
Hogestyn: I’ve been doing that story for 13 years and yes, you wonder, “How long can I keep doing it?” You do. First of all, you look at it from a practical standpoint: “What’s a leading man? How long is a leading man’s range?” Agewise, this is a kid’s medium. I know that, too. Young men coming in, especially today in prime-time, the shows I’m watching, from BUFFY [THE VAMPIRE SLAYER] to 7TH HEAVEN. It’s not gonna surprise me when all of a sudden, they recast Belle and Brady, and they’re 16. I can see that happening. That’s just the logical progression because we’re almost ready to have another turnover now. I can feel that. I’m talking about a business standpoint.
Digest: Are you still surprised by the popularity of this character?
Hogestyn: Maybe some day I’d like to say, “wow, I had extraordinary popularity,” but that day hasn’t happened. I think it’s a DAYS thing. I think somehow, DAYS OF OUR LIVES is tapped into an audience that’s unparalleled. Even if they say they won’t watch again, they’re not going to turn it off. If I walked off the show tomorrow, it wouldn’t make a blip on the screen. The show just keeps moving on. I can name fabulous actors who have left our show and the show keeps going on. It’s bigger than the sum of its parts. I still get excited getting up and going to work. It hasn’t become a long drive yet. I told [my wife] Victoria that whenever that drive to work in the morning gets long, I will know it’s time to leave.
Hogestyn says that his character was based on Jason Bourne of the Robert Ludlum trilogy: The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Bourne Supremacy. “Whenever I get a little confused with the character, I go back to Ludlum,” he explains. “That’s kind of a safe place for John Black to be — a man who was struggling with his past.” That said, here’s how it all got started:
“The first day that he came into Salem, he was in the rescue mission with Brother Francis and the camera looks up at a Vietnam War memorial,” Hogestyn recalls. “He knocked the dust off and took the first name. IT was John Black. John went to get work at the docks and he saw Patch and Bo and started having flashbacks form the subliminal memories that were put in his brain. It was confusing because he didn’t know who they were. HE went in to Shenanigans to get a beer and Marlena was in there. A guy came in to rob the place and John just jumped up and disarmed the kid. He had no idea how he did that; it was more of the training in the past. That’s when he met Marlena. She got him a job with the hospital security. As they got closer, she busted him on not being John Black and she said, ‘Something doesn’t jibe here. Oh, my God, you don’t know who you are.’ That was my audition scene and that kicked off the search for the identity.” John later learned that he was Roman Brady, then Forrest Alamain and now, John Black. But who John Black really is remains to be seen.
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