SOAP OPERA DIGEST, April 24, 1984
ON THE RAZOR'S EDGE WITH THAAO PENGHLIS
Whether it's public vs. private or art vs. junk, DOOL's Tony DiMera is succeeding at a hair-breadth's balancing act.
Don't try to peg him. Or pin him down or compartmentalize him or wrap him up neatly in a cliché. Because Thaao Penghlis isn't interested in the good or the bad, the black or the white or the simple answer. It's the gray area in between; the place where anything is possible that fascinates him--not only in his work but in his life.
The handsome young actor who first came to daytime viewers' attention as one of the diabolical Cassidines on "General Hospital," quickly moved to "Days of Our Lives" under the protective wing of then-head writer Pat Falken Smith, as the nefariously charming Count Anthony DiMera. Although Ms. Smith and many of the actors she brought to the "Days" family were soon gone, Thaao lasted primarily because of a popularity that simply wouldn't die. And due to that popularity, Thaao is now on the verge of a storyline that hs him clapping his hands with delight.
And while Penghlis takes such obvious pleasure in his profession, his first dream after high school was to become an archaeologist. Born in Greece, Thaao emigrated with his family to Australia, where he held that country's 100-meter hurdle record for over ten years. Instead of becoming an archaeologist, however, Thaao served with the diplomatic corps in Sydney, working with Greek immigrants seeking Australian citizenship. Taking a leave of absence to see the world, Thaao arrived in New York City with $180.00 in his pocket. At a party there, he was introduced to director Milton Katselas, who inspired him to pursue an acting career . By day, Thaao was an apprentice antique dealer and by night he was a drama student. Since then, Thaao has appeared on Broadway in "Jockeys," and has had parts in the films "Altered States," and "Slow Dancing in the Big City," among others. Besides "General Hospital," television audiences have seen Penghlis in "Nero Wolfe," "Hart to Hart," and "Moviola."
Penghlis has come half way around the world searching for his place in it and in America, besides finding a career, he's also found a home. "America has become my country," he admitted in an earlier interview. "America's built on change. And Australia is built on waiting to see how the change will affect them."
Now for Thaao, home is a two-story affair in a parcel of West Hollywood real estate, which could best be described as "fading gothic grandeur;" a distinction which sets it apart from the rest of the fifties-style architecture on the street. Inside, the distinction is no less apparent. As with Thaao's personality, his home is eclectic. For example: a chair whose backing is entirely composed of antlers, two fake-ivory pedestals constructed in the form of thin pyramids, a French writing table, a variety of plants and an odd mix of artwork which covers the wall. What is genuinely singular about this melange is that it works--which also says something about Thaao.
"I'm finally relaxing into 'Days,' " says Penghlis as he slides onto a couch. "I don't know why it's taken so long but I do know that to work on DOOL is a greater struggle than it was on GH. Take the character of Tony, for example. I've had to create Tony. I provide my own clothes for the show and I've literally had to ransack my closet to give Tony not only his sense of clothes, but his sense of color as a character. Of course Lee Smith, who costumes the women for the show, helped me, but I still resented the fact that a lot of the work of putting Tony together was left to me. Now I realize that it was a very important thing for me to do because if I hadn't been able to make Tony as forceful as he is, I think he would've been killed off the show a long time ago." Indeed, sources within the cast and crew agree with Thaao's perception. Bottom line: if Tony DiMera wasn't as popular as he is, he would be gone by now. Thaao attritbutes this to two reasons.
"First, Tony is a difficult character. There was a period when Tony came out as the loser or the victim, and I wasn't about to stay with that. An audience isn't interested in following that kind of character. You've got to bring them something special," Thaao theorizes. "What I'm trying to do with Tony is say, 'Hey, if you follow me, I'll show you a way you've never been before. I will show you an interpretation of life that possibly you've not tasted.' That's what I believe originality is. It's the ability to put forth something that you've seen before, but not with that interpretation. You've seen rich guys and diabological guys on shows already and, let's face it, one thing about soaps is that a lot of it is borrowed," he concedes. "I wanted Tony to be different; the kind of man you'd love to sit in a corner with but at the same time you would be scared to be seen with him. Tony's not like Roman Brady, he's not a nice guy like Chris Kositchek. Those characters don't surprise you because they're safe, the majority of the audience wants to identity with them. Whereas if you decide to take Tony DiMera's side, you might lose. Then again, there could be the possibility of a great prize.
"Second, in addition to Tony being a difficult character," Thaao says honestly, "I'm difficult. I fight a lot because I don't like to settle." Co-star Leann Hunley (Anna Brady DiMera) seconds this motion. "Thaao is a perfectionist and because you don't have the luxury of time to get it perfect every time, he'd often start his day in a very gloomy, downbeat mood. But when he realized that his attitude was affecting our scenes together," Hunley notes, "he did an about-face and since then there's been a complete change in his approach to the show."
"I'm much happier now," concurs Thaao. "And do you know why?" he asks enthusiastically. "I like my producer. For the first time in two years, I finally got to like him. I never liked him before. I'm honest about it, and I think he is too, because up until now, Al Rabin always regarded me as a thorn in his side."
You can almost hear Al Rabin smile over the phone upon hearing Thaao's statement. "Thaao and I have had our differences," Rabin agrees diplomatically, "but the majority of the credit for the success of the Tony DiMera character goes to him. However, if we do anything right here, it's observing the actor, becoming aware of his uniqeuness and then nurturing that uniqueness," he adds thoughtfully. "In other words, we write it one way but if the actor gives us a different dirrection that works, we go with it. We've tried several things with Thaao and he's finally found a wonderful niche. Granted, we've had to adjust, and at times that can be difficult, but it's worth it. The audience response has been tremendous," Rabin admits.
With the power of popularity comes the perks of pleasure and while Thaao declares that his first priority is his art collection ("They're very important to me, an outward expression of my inward feelings") he does confess to purchasing an '84 Corvette. "Last year I was leaving Mann's Chinese Theatre and I had just signed an autograph for a family. My car was parked outside and the kid looked up at his father and said, 'If he's such a big star, why's he driving that old car?' The father said, 'Well son, that's a restored Mustang. That's an important car.' The kid said, 'Oh, I see.' But I wasn't sure if he did or not and frankly, I wasn't sure if father did, either. Suddenly a little bell went off in my head and I knew it was time to buy a toy."
While celebrity has a certain amount of fringe benefits, like getting a good table in a good restaurant, there are drawbacks as well, like being bothered at a good table in a good restaurant. "Fans have a tendency," notes Penghlis, "to come up to you in the middle of a meal and say, 'I know you're eating, but...' As a consequence, when I go out, I tend to sit in the chair or booth which puts my back to the rest of the restaurant. The other problem with being reocgnized hit me one day when I thought, 'My God, I can't walk down the street anymore without someone looking at me,' Now, you don't always look your best. Let's face it, most people see you when you're on camera and you're wearing makeup and your best clothes and you look great. But you can't look great all the time so I tend to be more private than I used to.
"I'm amazed when I open a magazine or a book and see how so many celebrities discuss their lives so openly," Thaao says, sounding genuinely perplexed. "I think to myself: what do I owe my audience? Certainly I owe them a performance, but I'm not sure that I owe them much more. I'm not the National Enquirer. On the other hand, I'm curious about the public's need to know. I'm not a voyeur. I'm not interested in what someone else does in bed," he muses. "It's not as if I can jump in bed with them." Thaao pauses and sips a cup of espresso, the steam seemingly curling his face into a grin. "When people ask me about my love life I don't name names but I do admit to thinking of myself as a great lover because I'm a great eater. I mean that in the sense that I love taste. I love texture. I love flesh."
On a less intense level, it might be safe to say that Thaao loves women. That's with an emphasis on the "e" because as of yet, there's no special woman in Thaao's life. "I often get asked, 'Why aren't you married?' And my response is, 'Oh, is that the answer?' A lot of people think it is, but I haven't found the answer yet. I'm still asking questions and that's healthy. However, when I find the right, independent woman, I'll marry and I definitely want children. To me, children are life."
So if family is still relegated to the future, Thaao is making the present count by creating a sense of family, both on and off the set. This past Christmas, Thaao held a party for the orphan friends of his in Los Angeles who couldn't be with their families on Christmas because of work or travel or possibly because they no longer had a family to spend the holidays with. While he readily acknowledges that he spent a good deal of money on the bash, Penghlis doesn't regret it for an isntant. "People are so tight. They're tight with money, with love, they're tight in giving of themselves and then they wonder why things don't happen for them. Christmas was a gift for my friends--not some date where you mark time--but a day where you celebrate being together. It was so nice being the magnet that brought all those people into one room. That was my Christmas present."
The above is a prime example of the modern-day do-unto-others-as-you-would-have-them-do-unto-you which is known as karma, and Thaao's belief in that basic principle is reflected in his wish for '84. It's not more money or a starring role opposite Meryl Streep or even lamb's wool seat covers for that new Corvette. "I want," says Thaao with hushed simplicity, "to see peace around me."
AFTERNOON TV, June 1984
The Sensuous Gourmet
If a girl wants to be romanced in exquisite style, by a gentleman with taste and distinction, who happens to be suave, sexy, extremely attractive and the epitome of class, then Thaao Penghlis is the only man for the job.
Imagine this...walking into a Spanish-style duplex apartment, and the first thing you see is a large painting of masked men and police fighting; it's named Modern Times. Mix this with eighteenth century columns, a Tiffany lamp over a large pine dining table, set with dark blue candles, flowers...warm colors against a dark backdrop, giving off a total feeling of warmth and romance. The tone is set for one of the most memorable nights a woman may have in a long time. Not to forget to add an attentive host who will cater to a woman's every whim. This is how Thaao likes to romance the lady of his choice.
"I walked in and out of my apartment a lot when I was furnishing it. I wanted to capture a certain feeling. I wanted to know how other people would feel as they came in. It's like the brain takes a picture and puts it into a card file and leaves it there for future reference, saying that is what he or she is all about. What I don't like is when the picture is clicked too fast. I want people to be surprised; to think, 'What is this person really about?'
"But I don't want them to know so quickly. I want it all to be savored, piece by piece as if uncovering a puzzle. Sure my place lends itself to romantic nights, and intimate dinners. I've done it purposely. I wanted to be able to walk into my place and not make it look 'set'. Make it look seductive yet every time you go there it looks different. I like to think there's a lot of me in my place. I guess that's why I collect eclectic art: Egyptian, French and Yugoslavian primitives." Thaao stops talking a minute and smiles, thinking about his next statement. It could lead us into an entirely different area, but he plunges forward anyway.
"I just bought a great bed. It's upstairs. I thought to myself when I saw it, 'I need $1500 right way'. I was in an antique shop and saw this old bed from England and knew I had to have it. It dates from 1840, it's brass with burgundy enamel, and I bought the most wonderful sheets to go with it. Anyway, the headboard is almost Georgian, the front of it is masculine; strong bars. In a way it's almost hard-looking, yet esthetically beautiful. I eat in my bed. I really do serve there. I love it in bed. It's like you can't go any higher. I slept on the traditionally known 2 mattresses for 15 years, and it wasn't romantic at all. That's where I'd go to sleep--that's where I'd throw them and do it. Now all of a sudden I have these purple and blue sheets and down pillows and high bed, and the room is painted a pale grey and I bought two large trees. The carpet is white; that's the only touch of Greek I have in the apartment, that touch of white." We all wanted to put our food from Trumps Restaurant and in doggie bags at that moment and run to Thaao's apartment and eat on his large bed, but it would have been too crowded. There were five of us.
"So anyway as you can tell, my apartment is all me. It's like little vignettes of life, my life. So when a woman arrives for the evening I have a large bowl and I fill it with fruit, grapes hanging over the side so that what you set up is what they're going to taste for the evening is also seductive.
"I don't let anyone taste my food while I'm cooking it. I only let them taste it at the table. I like that formality and then I'll say, 'Let's go upstairs for dessert.' Thaao stopped again and we wondered where he'd take us from here, but he's totally impeccable about wanting each detail to be perfect, and went back to how he serves dinner. "I put nothing on my table, except of course flowers and my cobalt blue candles. But I like the idea of eating on bare wood. The food stands out better that way. It tastes better. Anyone who's strictly just male is off balance, as anyone who is strictly female is off balance. If you're not in touch with them both, you've lost something. That's what is wonderful about where we are today. The rebelliousness about it all. We are all standing up for our male and female qualities, and that's what women want and men want more and more. It's the ruggedness that's gone. We are becoming more spiritual because we've been lied to so much by society, politicians and churches. So people are now looking within.
"It's important to be with someone and connect with them. If I have a dinner party, it's always small enough to have everyone sit around my dining room table. I like the intimacy to be able to sit and talk. That way we've all had a good evening. Good conversation, good food. Otherwise, who wants to go to a big party and then you go home and say, 'I didn't meet anybody.' That's always the idea about dinner parties...'Maybe I'll meet somebody'...and that's wrong."
Thaao digresses a bit and changes the subject. He's very intense about everything he does. It's been said that he's difficult, but Thaao denies this. "I get blamed for things. I look at people. It's interesting when you have nothing to hide and you look at somebody. You look into their eyes, but you see beyond the eyes into their other side, and suddenly when someone is hiding something they start to get very uncomfortable. Someone who doesn't have something to hide will look back at you or laugh and say, 'What are you staring at?' It's like unconsciously what I'm doing is taking the veil off, so that I can see what's underneath.
"Some people say watch the body. I don't. I say watch the tone of voice. The tone is more interesting. People have learned to cover with their bodies, but they haven't learned to cover with their tone.
"I was a diplomat in Australia and used to sit across from people and interview them. And then I studied 18th century Chinese art in New York for four years to get my papers to stay in the country. And I learned a great deal about people. My boss was one of the leading authorities on Chinese art in the country, and one of the best in English art. He made me appreciate what furniture is all about and what culture is about. That this person made this piece to pass on. Someone broke something in my apartment once and I got so mad. Not at the person, because she didn't mean to break it. It was an 18th century glass piece. What got me mad was that it took 200 years for that piece to get to the person who broke it...and now it's gone. After all, all we have to leave behind is our culture, our art. Everything else is gone, people are buried. What's left are books, art and furniture people lived with. We have to understand our society; why a cup is served a certain way. Look at what we are doing here today. What we are creating is what people will know about us 100 or 200 years from now, so people can sit around as we are and talk about us, and how we lived. That's our responsibility.
"Food became an obsession with me because when I was struggling and couldn't afford to go out to a restaurant to eat and got tired of hamburgers, I decided to learn to cook. I was determined to do it right." And he has learned to take notice of every detail; not only on how to cook a meal, but how to serve it with flair. Much of Thaao's knowledge came from his being around a great many Europeans when he was working at the United Nations. He learned about detail. "Their idea of dessert was Dom Perignon and French chocolates, and playing backgammon. I was the kid who used to watch them. They were in their 60's. Now I live the things I used to fantasize about.
"When I decided to become an actor and took my first acting lesson, I was told to forget it. They couldn't tell the difference between me and the chair. But I pursued it anyway. I played Victor Cassidine for three months on General Hospital, and thanks to Pat Falken Smith got to DOOL. The only sad part of my career is that when I took the role in Sadat, I didn't know I'd screw myself up for the rest of the year. Our Days budget was cut and they postponed my storyline...but now it's going to go full swing again. I have a dynamite new storyline. I'm very excited about it. It will be my focus for months. An adventure story."
It's diabolical, but he couldn't say any more to us. Could Tony DiMera be the Salem Slasher; that would certainly be a twist, but who could believe it after spending the afternoon with Thaao fantasizing a romantic evening!
What saddened Thaao most was his wanting to go home to be with his family, but with the new storyline this trip to Australia will be impossible. But in the true spirit of Thaao Penghlis, instead of feeling sad about having to delay his being godfather to his sister's new baby, he ran out with a few friends and bought eight hundred dollars worth of Christmas decorations and decided to do up one hell of a tree, and the shopping spree lifted his spirits. "It's been two years since I was home, and four years before that and six years before that. My family and I are very close. I sent my parents to Greece for six months. It was always a dream of mine to be able to afford to send them there. My mother is like a kid. It's amazing that people age because they give up. They don't have to. My brother is responsible for my parents. I guess Europeans are like that. Not here so much. But I blame that on the parents. They didn't take care of the children well enough to give them the sense of love and responsibility. And food was always like a religion in my house. You sat at the table, my father at the head and I sat at his side so he could hit me if I talked, because he knew I always would. It was a ceremony. My mother spent all day cooking and we appreciated it. I can't stand it when I spend 2 days preparing a meal and then people eat it while they're talking and don't even know what they've eaten. So as you've already guessed, people I bring to my house appreciate food.
When Tony DiMera showed up in Salem, he was diabolical, but as much as no one wanted to like him, there was a charm about him that made a person look again. After spending time with Thaao Penghlis, one would know why. It's Thaao's own personality that comes through. His charm, his wit and his sense of appreciation for either a woman, a room or an object. It's all there; he's learned a great deal about how to appreciate life and what it holds, and also how to make it better and more beautiful. And yet there's that devilish quality about him that make his Tony DiMera so convincing.
"Tony was diabolical when he first arrived in Salem, but now he's nothing. I hate him now. Even though a lady came up to me and said, 'I love hating you.' It's interesting that they're trying to make me nice, but I can't stand it. It's like castration time. But now with the new storyline it's going to be wonderful again. It's so wonderful it's criminal."
What does Thaao see in his future besides acting? "I'd love to open a Greek restaurant. I've been living in California 10 years and although there is a good Greek restaurant here it's not like the one I'd like to open. Mine would be two levels, all white-washed. Food, of course, the priority. I want people to be seated in groups on the two levels, so they can watch each other. And of course, lots of dancing. It would be on the water to give it that Mediterranean flavor. Colors contrasting, like the islands themselves." But in Thaao's restaurant people would watch dancing, not participate. And with his flair for details I'm sure it would look exactly like a Greek setting.
So watch carefully for Thaao's new storyline, he's gotten us curious to find out exactly what it is. Let's hope he isn't the Salem Slasher. If so he'd have to leave the show, being that the slasher would either have to go to jail or be killed off. He isn't a nice guy. But Thaao certainly is!
DAYTIME TV, July 1984
KNOCK 'EM DEAD, TONY
"I told the writers I wanted to play a lady killer," says Thaao Penghlis, "but did they have to take me so seriously?"
"I was crying on the show for months and months," says Days of Our Lives' Thaao Penghlis. "I'd come home from the studio depressed, still caught up in the terrible undertow of emotions that my character, Tony DiMera, was experiencing."
Thaao is referring to the double dose of tragedy that the headwriters poured for Tony in swift succession in 1983: first the loss of his father, Stefano; then the death of Renee, the woman he loved.
Thankfully, after all that heartbreak and handerchief-wringing, Tony's life took a new storyline twist early this year--but not in a strictly romantic direction. It suddenly became apparent that Tony DiMera--or someone who looked a great deal like Tony DiMera--was turning out to be the dreaded Salem Slasher.
Well, if Tony Perkins could set the motel business back a few years in Psycho--and if Chris Reeve could drive Michael Caine crazy in Deathtrap--then what's wrong with Thaao playing a guy who breaks a few commandments on daytime? "Nothing at all," says Thaao. "In fact, when they told me about this storyline, with its terrific surprise outcome, I couldn't wait to start. This is the best material I've ever had to do on Days. It's a dream part for any actor. It combines humor, terror, and finally pathos and courage."
Thaao's first brush with pathos, courage and all the other larger-than-life emotions of the drmaatic world came at age 14. That's when he started working in a cinema house in his native Sydney, Australia. "I got an after-school job selling candy and ice cream in the theater," he recalls. "I got to see every feature dozens of times, everything from Pillow Talk to The Guns of Navarone."
Today, it's obvious that some details of Tony DiMera's character come straight from real life. Both Thaao and Tony love the finger things in life. "And like Tony, I grew up in a house where there was a lot of Old World feeling," says Thaao. "My father was Greek. He was a mechanic for a big auto company in Australia, but we were very poor. I grew up in a stern atomosphere. My father sat at the head of the table; my sisters and brother and I didn't speak unless we were spoken to."
Thaao's come a long way from the bleakness of his early life. His duplex bachelor pad in West Hollywood is filled with rare art, valuable antiques and luxurious furnishings. To keep from becoming too work-and-wealth oriented, he takes rest breaks in Hawaii and studies with a spiritual counselor.
"I'm coming into a harvest period, spiritually and creatively," Thaao believes. It shows in his work. Even during Tony's most dastardly days, when new corpses were popping up in Salem left and right, Thaao's army of fans didn't desert him. "Knock 'em dead, Tony!" they chanted outside the NBC studio whenever Thaao arrived. He waved graciously to them, then went inside--and on set--to do precisely that.
DAYTIME DIGEST, Everything You Want To Know About DAYS OF OUR LIVES, December 1984
THAAO PENGHLIS (Tony DiMera) NEVER "COUNT" HIM OUT!
He's handsome, he's sexy, he can be gentle and he can be vicious. You can love him or you can hate him, but you can't ignore him. He's Count Anthony DiMera, better known in the read world as Thaao Penghlis. Is Thaao anything like Tony in real life? Do women throw themselves at him? "Well, I can't say that it's not fun. I appreciate the recognition I get, but sometimes I can't understand it. Women do approach me as if I were Tony, but I can't take it seriously." Thaao takes his work seriously, though, and that's what makes his character one of the most popular on daytime television today.
D.G.: How was it playing the two characters (Tony/Andre) at the same time?
T.P.: I enjoyed it in the beginning because it was such a challenge. It was something new, something I had never done before. The character of Tony was never rehearsed, so to speak. He had a personality that was known, so I would just go in front of the camera and do Tony. There was nothing to think about. Andre, on the other hand, was a new personality. I tried to show him sort of like a failed Shakespearean actor. I gave him a theatrical attitude, but made him believable. I also made him quieter than Tony, though Tony himself is rather placid. Andre was sharper, though. The hardest part was remembering the speeches by the two. Unlike the General Hospital character (Grant Andrews/Grant Putnam), whom I've seen a few times, Tony and Andre are identical and it's hard to make them believable as two different characters. It took a lot of hard work and homework to make it successful. I'm glad I had the challenge, but I'd never do it again!
D.G.: How did your fans react when it appeared that Tony might actually have been the killer?
T.P.: My, some people were very upset. They can't understand why writers do the things they do. Here is Tony DiMera, trying to become an established citizen in Salem, and then it looks like he's a killer. Tony is not like Roman Brady, who is already established in Salem. The writers and producers at Days are wonderful. There's a wonderful human quality on the set. Joe Mascolo is just great. He's a powerful man with a wonderful humor. He's been a personal friend of mine for about six years. He's such a professional, and it's a pleasure to work with him. Leann Hunley (Anna DiMera) and Gloria Loring (Liz Curis) are also great, and so much fun to work with.
D.G.: You came to Days after portraying Victor Cassidine on General Hospital. What differences are there in the two shows?
T.P.: There are not many differences; in fact, one thing that impresses me about both shows is the willingness of the producers to take chances. Gloria Monty (producer of GH) was great, she wasn't afraid to take chances. Shelley Curtis (producer of Days) is the same way. I have some wonderful memories of my days on General Hospital. The people over there were great, but I'd never go back.
D.G.: Tony DiMera really isn't very lucky at love. Renee was killed and you divorced Anna and Liz. Does it bother you that you don't have a stable love life?
T.P.: Well, it's up to the writers which way Tony's life goes. It's very tough to keep going through all those tragedies. I always play the scenes like they were my last performance. These last 5 months with the Salem Slasher, I took charge. I wanted to see what I was made of. I always do my best and I think it pays off. The writers love Tony; he's very theatrical. They let me get away with murder!
D.G.: What do you like to do when you get some free time?
T.P.: Well, free time is very rare. I work very long days, and hardly have any free time. After a hard day on the set, I like to go down and look at the ocean or watch the trees. It's very relaxing and helps me unwind. I was also offered a role in an Australian movie, so I'll be trying to work out something with that.