Things are never boring in the fictional town of Salem on the daytime serial Days Of Our Lives, and there’s almost as much action behind the camera.
Popular actor Chandler Massey has played the out character of Will Horton since 2010, but this summer, shortly after winning his second consecutive Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor In A Drama Series, Massey announced he would be leaving the when his contract ended at the end of this year.
Then, news broke that Massey had been replaced earlier than expected (by actor Guy Wilson) and, of course, the rumors began to fly. Why was Massey leaving in the first place? Was the role of Will recast early to punish Massey for leaving the show that made him a star? Was it done to give the show much-needed attention for its gay storyline? And, with a new actor in the role, what does that mean for the future of WilSon and Freddie Smith, who plays Will’s lover, Sonny Kiriakis?
To get answers, TheBacklot spoke with Greg Meng (Vice President of Corday Productions, Executive In Charge of Production and Co-Exec Producer of Days Of Our Lives) and got his take on Massey’s departure, what fans can expect when Guy Wilson assumes the role (in early 2014) as well as the new book, Days Of Our Lives: Better Living, which Meng penned with Eddie Campbell.
TheBacklot: What was the definitive story of what happened with Chandler’s departure because I’ve heard a lot of different things how it all played out? Can you just kind of lay out quickly what happened there?
Greg Meng: It’s real simple. There was a lot of accuracy and inaccuracy in the press. Chandler is not on the show right now. We have an incredible actor on board that is able to take the reins from this role that Chandler did an amazing job creating. And we found somebody who’s extremely talented… but more than talented, he’s so sensitive to this role and so sensitive to the story and the relationship and all that stuff. So we feel that we were very, very lucky to find somebody who wanted to take the reins. It’s an extremely difficult thing to do because Chandler had created such a wonderful role here, played it so sensitively and everything. So we think we found him, and we are very lucky to have somebody that will take those reins that Chandler handed to him and go forward with that.
No ugliness, no weirdness. It was all done within the family, with Chandler and everything based on his future plans and based on where we needed to go with the story. I even told Chandler, I said laughingly, ‘This is your fault because you’ve created such an amazing character here and the storyline is so amazing and we’ve got major places to go with that and we can’t lose momentum.’ He was always fine with that, but he’s got plans. So it all worked out very well. It’s just gotten some misinterpretation out there.
TBL: So now when you’re recasting a role like this– whether it’s the role of Will Horton or any iconic role– what do you look for? What did Guy Wilson have that gave him the role?
GM: You obviously look for some sort of physical similarity on some level. You’re not looking for a cookie cutter because these are human beings and actors, and they have to make [the part] their own. But it’s beyond just looks. It has a lot to do with the sensitivity to the story and what we want to do with it and the eagerness of an actor to really get inside that storyline. And even more importantly the chemistry between whatever other key characters are important with that role…I’m telling you, [Guy Wilson’s] not only doing Chandler justice with what he created in this role, but he’s inside it. I’m telling you, you will love him.
TBL: And that’s the other thing because there is such a nice chemistry with Chandler and Freddie. How do you go about finding that same electric chemistry?
GM: You try and try to find it, and then sometimes you just hit gold. And I think we’ve done it.
TBL: The holidays are coming up pretty fast. Are we going to see a lot of those familiar Horton faces and friends from the past like we usually do?
GM: Here’s the thing from this book tour. I get a lot of people coming up to me and getting that feedback, and it’s interesting to feel the love from people about how important it is to have the iconic figures and the family members on the show as well as the new generation and new people filtering in, but it’s still amazing how important it is to have a balance of that, and it’s great to be constantly reminded of that…Doug and Julie, that’s a big iconic thing. People love them. They’re very happy that Maggie is so integral right now, too.
TBL: Talk about just the business of daytime a little bit. I know the last couple of years it’s been more than a little shaky.
GM: We are in a good place. We’ve got incredible support from our network, NBC, and that has meant everything. And we’re happy to have that and we’ve reinvented, we had to cut costs and we eliminated a lot of stuff that we thought was important in the 80s and 90s like big flower arrangements and all that to major stuff. We cleaned the canvas and we realized, ‘My gosh! The story stands on its own! We’ve got great stories. Let’s tell it faster.’ We feel like we’re in a really good place. We’ve got amazing support from Sony, who’s our distributor, so we feel like we’re all kind of in a good place. And of course the great writers, the dream team I think.
TBL: What do you think is the state of the gay storyline now in daytime?
GM: I think it’s definitely changed. I think our goal has been to not only launch but integrate that storyline to where it’s just part of daily life. So it’s not the big front burner story. I mean, we’re happy of that because that was a precedent setting thing, but our goal is to have it where that’s just another solid couple on the show.
TBL: The Better Living book is really fun and I just want to make sure that you can guarantee if I follow everything it says I’ll look like Eric Martsolf. Is that correct?
GM: [laughs] I’ll do the best I can, but I’ll race you to that.
TBL: How did the book come about?
GM: It came about years ago. I’ve always wanted to do a lifestyle type book, but I didn’t want to do something hokey. And then as I was traveling with the cast promoting around the country and when you’re with somebody 24/7 you start seeing how they operate. You start realizing ‘wow, these people are so multifaceted, and they don’t just know how to turn it on and look good, but they always look good. But they’re also happy and they’re fulfilled.’ And it’s like ‘okay, what’s the secret here?’
So over time I figured out a way to start delving into that with some help of others. We were finding out ‘oh my gosh, there are a lot of common traits here even as each person has developed their own unique style or lifestyle,’ There are common traits that they’ve all made happen. I never found out what the real secret is. They don’t do anything extreme. They just keep a healthy balance of nutrition, exercise, style and inspiration. They find a balance between their acting and public side with their private side. And most of them have found a way to give back to others in some form or other. So it was fascinating. The more I got into it the more fascinating it became.
And we wanted to give back also. That’s part of this book, too, finding ways to give back. So we partnered with the American Cancer Society I think through Valentine’s Day. We’re trying to help raise awareness and money for that because that was sort the largest, most common cause that just affects everybody. Most of the actors have their own individual thing, but we wanted an overall umbrella. So we’re trying to find a way to raise money for cancer. Selling books is one way we can do it.
Days Of Our Lives airs weekdays on NBC. The Days Of Our Lives: Better Living book is available everywhere books are sold.