TV WEEK (Australia), August 2, 2002
With a defiant attitude and brilliant acting, Days legend Thaao Penghlis returns to his daytime roots.
Thaao Penghlis was part of Days of Our Lives during some of its finest hours. In the early 1980s, his alter ego Tony DiMera hit town and turned Salem inside out.
Not only did the suave son of evil Stefano DiMera romance some of the town's most beautiful women, he was also part of many enduring storylines.
When the Sydney-born star left Days in 1995, he did so on his own terms. Thaao believed his character had been neutered to nothing more than a one-dimensional villain.
"I was having a tough time with one of the producers," he reveals. "I chose not to go out as a victim. I didn't try to get even. I just wanted to outsmart him."
His character made elaborate plans to shoot himself and pin the death on John Black (played by Drake Hogestyn), who was having an affair with Tony's wife Kristen Blake (Eileen Davidson). Thaao's plans were no less elaborate.
"A few weeks before Tony's supposed death, I began acting out of character by displaying strange behavioural quirks that didn't quite fit in with who he was," Thaao says. "The idea was to plant the seed that the person who died was not Tony, but an imposter [his identical twin brother Andre] who looked like him."
That laid the groundwork for Thaao's return. It was an excellent move, as Tony DiMera is now back in the show on US screens...and the scriptwriters haven't had to explain his "death."
Thaao's first day back at work earlier this month set the tone.
"I arrived at the studio, and the crew applauded," he says. "I was so touched...I must have done something right when I left the show!
"The actors also applauded. To be embraced by one's peers is wonderful, because daytime is filled with its share of complaining and backbiting. When these moments of acknowledgement come, it's truly a blessing."
Days fans are also in for a blessing with Tony's return. It won't take place on Australian screens for another three years, but the wait will be worth it.
"Tony doesn't live in the shadow of Stefano [Joseph Mascolo] anymore," Thaao says. "He's been through a lot and is wiser and more experienced."
Tony's journey mirrors that of Thaao. In the same week, he lost both of his parents to illness. Naturally, the tragedy devastated him but, ultimately, it made him take stock of his life.
"I knew I had to learn how to heal," confesses the 56-year-old star. "I had to be willing to look closely at my life and what had transpired."
Part of that process, along with his return to Days, was focusing on his writing. With an associate, Thaao penned a story about Greeks living in Australia in the 1950s.
"It was close to being produced but we ran out of funds. However, we've also written a screenplay on lost art treasures of the 19th century--sort of an Indiana Jones-type thriller."
Thaao is currently juggling Days with preparatory work on a one-man play about Greek revolutionary Alexander Panagoulis, in which he plans to star. Life in Salem is his priority, though, and he has approached his return with the enthusiasm of a newcomer.
"Oh, yes! The writers have thrown me in with everyone," says Thaao of his storyline. "It's wonderful to be back."
SOAP OPERA DIGEST, August 27, 2002
When Thaao Penghlis walked off the DAYS OF OUR LIVES set in 1995, he wasn't necessarily saying good-bye forever. The actor, whose alter ego, Tony, was scripted to be killed off, was one step ahead of the writers.
"I suppose you can say I planted the seeds when I saw that my character was going to be eliminated," he recalls. "That didn't sit well with me, especially in the way he was going to be sent off--in a coffin. I decided spontaneously to play the character differently, with a cigar and a different attitude, and made him a bit Machiavellian. So, years later, they were able to look at this character and say he was switched [with his look-alike cousin Andre] and saved. It's funny--I was able to keep the character alive."
The termination came at the worst time in the actor's life: That year, both of his parents had passed away; he was still trying to come to terms with the loss when he got his walking papers. Though shaken, Penghlis chose to make the best of a difficult situation. "When I found out I was going, instead of feeling vengeful, I did some of my best work," he muses. "I thought, 'You know what? I'm not going to go to that level. I'm not going to turn around and say, "Well, f--- you." I'm going to simply leave well.' "
Though he didn't exit with warm and fuzzy feelings for then-Head Writer James E. Reilly, Penghlis wasn't unappreciative. "He gave me great story," says the actor. "He gave me terrific challenges, some of the best stuff I've ever done. He was a great teacher for me. He became an adversary, but his motives were his business. He had to do what he had to do; it was his job. But I had to do mine. What's nice is, he's off doing another show [PASSIONS], and I'm back on the show I love dearly."
In the end, leaving was probably the best thing for Penghlis, who still needed to deal with the deaths of his parents. "I did not think about [coming back]," he says. "I went somewhere different, emotionally. I needed healing, which I did. That's why I say, in a lot of ways James Reilly was a great teacher for me--he gave me a chance to mourn my parents and go back to my home in Australia. Acting didn't seem as exciting to me anymore." Today, the actor has no hard feelings toward the scribe. "He's clever and he's successful, and if I saw him, I would say, 'Thank you' because he was certainly a great catalyst in my life for where I am today. And he's doing well, and I'm doing well. I think I was drained from that last year of playing Tony, as emotional as the character was."
Distance from his role on DAYS helped Penghlis put his life in perspective. The changes he made as a result have shaped the man he is today. "I'm a lot more still than I was before," he reflects. "I did a lot of soul-searching. My parents are no longer there, so you also see death, mortality. I have the wisdom now to have a certain reality, and I listen in a different way than I did before. I can see my enemies come to me a lot faster than I did. I can see the predators of life come to me a lot faster. That's all part of the wisdom of getting a bigger picture and coming out of it and being able to see what else is going on.
"I've released a lot of people in my life," he continues. "There are people who I've had falling-outs with, and I've contacted them and healed that. I think that's very important. I don't want knives in my back. There are enough of them. My thing is heal, heal that around you and go forward. Obviously, I think I've healed things around me and I'm going forward."
So, with all of the change Penghlis had undergone in the seven years he was away, coming through the Burbank gates on his first day of work didn't feel as familiar as it once did. "It was strange," he says. "There were different guards at the gate, and I had to introduce myself. What made it better was coming on the set and the crew applauding. I thought, 'Oh God, isn't this nice?' At the same time, I'm also good for the show because of my history as an actor and my history there. It's good because it's good timing."
And he has high hopes that his third stint will be the charm. "This time around, I think, is probably going to be the best of the three experiences I've had on DAYS," he smiles. "I love this group; I think the actors here are very wonderful and very embraceful. It was like coming back to the fold, and everyone was excited. What more can you want?"
Here's what Penghlis has to say about his Salem pals.
Executive Producer Ken Corday: "Ken is one of the most generous producers I've ever known. He gets emotional and takes you to lunch and sends you flowers, and you can't help but feel that you want to give back as best as possible. That's what I'm trying to do."
Executive Producer Stephen Wyman: "I've known him since the beginning, and he's a very spiritual man. What a calm place he comes from. I really enjoy Steve. He's very kind."
Frances Reid (Alice): "I can't wait to see the character of Alice Horton. I look at that lady who's been around for so long, and she's such a graceful human being. I can't wait to see her. She doesn't take any crap."
Susan Seaforth Hayes and Bill Hayes (Julie and Doug): "I love them both, but especially Susan. We have a great relationship. We love sharing stories."
Deidre Hall (Marlena): "I love Deidre; she is no-nonsense. I respect her enormously. I love working with Deidre and I'm happy about that, as well. I like to work with the stronger actors on the show."
Kristian Alfonso (Hope): "She is wonderful, so beautiful. She has always been a favorite of mine."
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: December 15
Born: Sydney, Australia
Family Ties: Penghlis has a brother, two sisters and 45 first cousins.
Salem Stays: 1981-85, 1993-95
Other Soap Credits: Michael De Angelis, SANTA BARBARA, 1992-93; Andre DiMera, DAYS, 1983-84, 1995; Victor Cassidine, GENERAL HOSPITAL, 1981
Pet Peeves: "Rudeness, aggressive people, small spaces and people bossing me around."
Romantic Status: Single. "I've not been interested in relationships since my father and mother died. I think in the next few years, there will be changes in my personal life. I would like to settle down. I would love to have a child."
Hardest thing about returning?: "Finding the rhythm of daytime again. My mind has to get used to learning that much dialogue. The scheduling of the show is tougher than it used to be."
In His Spare Time He: Writes
His Writing Partner Is: Emmy-winner Sheri Anderson Thomas, DAYS's former head writer (1981-86; 1993-94). "One of our projects is writing an epic on the Trojan War."