This interview originally appeared in the March 3, 1998 issue of Soap Opera Digest.
When he’s (not) catching Salem’s bad guys as DAYS OF OUR LIVES’s Abe Carver, chances are, you won’t find James Reynolds sitting around. In his “down” time, Reynolds is a husband and father who squeezes in personal appearances and charity events whenever he can. He also works at heightening awareness of the effects of child abuse. Add theater producer to that. And co-runner of a film and documentary company that focuses on projects that highlight the history of African-Americans. There is the one-man show he tours in. And, oh, he and his wife, actress Lissa Layng, own and run a learning center. Reynolds also tries to get in a game of racquetball when he isn’t too buys. And in his “spare time,” he reads a few books every week.
Given his jam-packed schedule, it’s no surprise that the actor asks to meet at the South Pasadena office of the learning enter, rather than at one of those see-and-be-seen restaurants favored by so many Tinseltown stars. He and his family live nearby in this sleepy town of tall trees and spacious lawns, and while in person, Reynolds is movie-star handsome, his casual attire and easy laugh make him seem anything but Hollywood material. And boy, can he tell a story.
After growing up in the small farming community of Oskaloosa, KS, Reynolds joined the Marines. While serving in Vietnam, he was assigned to the Information Service Office. When he returned home and was “trying to get a direction going” as a prelaw and journalism major at Topeka’s Washburn University, he envisioned a life in Washington, D.C. as a political columnist. Then, an actor friend told him that if he wanted to meet girls, the place to be was the theater department. “We walked over and the theater was where I belonged,” he calls. “I discovered that sometimes you just want into whatever it is you’re supposed to do. There was nothing in my background to suggest I should be an actor. I didn’t see a play other than a musical until I Was in college, but I changed my classes and pretty much devoted myself to it.”
And what about the girls? Reynolds grins, “I met the girl, oh, yes. He was right, absolutely right.”
Over the new few years, Reynolds jockeyed between journalism and acting, depending on what paid the bills. A featured role in 1974’s Mr. Majestyk starring Charles Bronson led him to L.A., where he guested on nighttime series. In 1981, Reynolds nabbed the role of Abe Carver, and played it until 1990, when he left to join the now-defunct soap GENERATIONS as businessman Henry Marshall. In spite of its short run (one year to be exact), Reynolds looks back on it with pride. “Working on GENERATIONS was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” he declares. “I’m happy now that [GENERATIONS head honcho] Sally Sussman-Morina is the head writer of DAYS. I like and respect her a great deal.”
Reynolds returned to Sale in 1991, and it feels like home. While outside projects (like his guest spot on SEINFELD) keep him content, so do DAYS’s storylines. “I find that what’s been going on in the last few years is very creative,” he remarks. “It’s fascinating the way we make use of fact and fantasy.”
Things are a little mellower at casa Reynolds. The romance with his wife of 12 years began as a friendship over 20 years ago. Reynolds’s earlier marriage — which gave him his son Jed, 18 — ended in divorce after four years. Reynolds invited Layng to accompany him and his son to a concert. Soon after, they made New Year’s plans and rented a limo. “The idea was to attend all the events [we’d been invited to]. We were just going to have a good time together — as friends. At the end of New Year’s Eve, we were together.”
Reynolds beams when he speaks of his wife and his son. But his compassion extends past his own front door. He’s a spokesperson for the National Children’s Asthma Center, and he just played in a fundraiser basketball game for the Pasadena YMCA Outreach. In return, all he’d ask for is a couple more hours a day. “Giving back is very important,” Reynolds smiles. “When I look around and see children growing up unhappy and hurting, the simplest thing is to turn your attention to it.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: August 10
Fave Food: “It changes from time to time, but at the moment, it’s Indian. I love spices, hot stuff and garlic. Especially Chicken Marsala because of the sauce. I love Chinese and Italian foods, soul food, too. That’s why it’s difficult for me to choose a favorite dish. There’s so many I really enjoy.”
Happy Feet: “I love dancing. I want to go swing dancing now that it’s back in vogue.”
Ride Of Choice: “Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.”
Good Reads: “Thrillers. You can knock one off in a couple of days and they’re a lot of fun. And I love histories, like Stephen Ambroses’s Citizen Soldiers, which is about WWII.”