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Alison Sweeney has spent more than half her life playing Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives.
The 36-year-old actress, who began acting at age 4, is marking her 20th year on NBC’s daytime drama, which airs its 12,000th episode Friday. During that time, Sami has walked down the aisle 14 times — resulting in five actual marriages — had four kids and is about to become a grandmother. She also has tackled such story lines as bulimia, date rape, teen pregnancy, capital punishment and her son’s coming out.
Sweeney, who has won multiple Soap Opera Digest and Daytime Emmy Awards for her role, also has begun directing episodes of the daytime series, which was just renewed through September 2014.
Sweeney — who lives in L.A. with her husband, Dave, a California Highway Patrol officer, and son Ben, 7, and daughter Megan, 3 — also juggles Days with her duties as host of The Biggest Loser, which had its 14th season premiere Sunday. She recently talked to The Hollywood Reporter about her long run on the soap, the state of daytime TV, what’s ahead for her character and her most memorable fan encounter.
THR: Congratulations on your 20th year on the show — and series’ 12,000th episode.
Sweeney: It’s so exciting, isn’t it? [Jan. 5 was] my 20th anniversary on Days of Our Lives. That’s incredible and so special for me, and I totally remember my screen test. I was 16 years old and I’ve been very lucky. I remember celebrating the 7,000th episode, and to be here now at 12,000 is just such an honor. Days has always been strong as an icon in TV history, and it’s still going on strong and represents the genre of daytime drama so well. I’m proud to be a part of it. I’m a fan of daytime drama; I totally get it. When we are doing scenes that are romantic or will get the audience riled up, I feel like I’m a fan in the room going, “People are going to be so mad right now!” I love it. It fuels my fire. I still feel excited to go to work every day.
THR: What can you tell us about the 12,000th episode?
Sweeney: We shot it four months ago, so it’s hard to remember everybody’s story. But I know that Sami right now is in a very delicate situation — these two gorgeous men are definitely both speaking up that they’d like to have her affection. She feels very torn between them for such different reasons, and there’s a major revelation coming down the line for her. The audience already knows there is a girl pregnant with — I can’t believe I’m saying this — her grandchild, but Sami doesn’t know. It’s such a great twist, and people are waiting for that to come out and see what her reaction is going to be. Anybody who is a fan knows that she is not going to take that lying down.
THR: What has it been like having Eileen Davidson back?
Sweeney: She was on the show when I first started, so it’s awesome to have her back. She’s an amazing actress, and it’s a lot of fun to have her included in the mix again.
THR: What’s been your favorite story line for Sami?
Sweeney: There was one that was affectionately called “Sydnapping” by the fans. Basically it was a two-year run of a story line where Sami found out she was pregnant, and [another character] Nicole swapped babies. The baby Sami thought was her child died of meningitis, but it turned out it wasn’t really her child, and it was a two-year battle to get her child back. In the process, she fell in and out of love and had a major transformation as a human being. Sometimes characters can feel repetitive, but going through something like that has to change you and it certainly changed Sami. She found her spunk again, but it took years. But the maturity wasn’t there before; it was a major turning point for me as an actress.
THR: How do you juggle duties for both Biggest Loser and Days of Our Lives?
Sweeney: It’s crazy, and it’s tough because there is a lot going on and a lot to manage and they are very different jobs. Luckily, the producers on both ends are fantastic and work together really well. I love both jobs so much.
THR: How long do you think you could continue to play Sami?
Sweeney: As long as they will let me. Obviously, daytime is a tough place to be right now. That’s true of TV and every industry; I don’t know anyone avoiding the tough times. But we are fighting the fight and trying to stay current. For me, Sami is always interesting and fun and exciting, and I love that she wears her heart on her sleeve and is so dramatic and unpredictable. It’s fun to go to work every day and work with talented actors and gorgeous guys and play out these outrageous fight sequences and do crazy things I’d never do in real life.
THR: How much input do you have in your story lines?
Sweeney: That’s sort of a separation of church and state there. To a certain extent, we get to have conversations about certain dialogue that maybe isn’t in keeping with how we feel the character has been over the years. But in terms of major story lines, it’s absolutely the writers’ purview, and we are the keepers of the gate for our characters. We do the best we can to create a through line. One thing they will concede is that I’m the only one there who has been there for every single scene of the same character for over 20 years, so I do have a certain place to stand on to have that conversation.
THR: Will you be directing more episodes of the show?
Sweeney: I’m going to be directing again in 2013. I’ve always dreamed of being a director … and I decided to stay with the show instead of going off to college. And I started following the directors at work and learning everything I could. It paid off. I feel like I’m good at it, and I feel like I’m learning something new every day when I’m directed by them and continue to learn when I’m directing.
THR: Has it been hard seeing other daytime dramas canceled?
Sweeney: It’s really tough because like I said, I am a fan, and we know how how loyal and passionate our fans are. So I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is for other shows people have grown up watching with their mom and grandma in the living room every day for 40-plus years. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen for Days fans. It’s sad, and we are friends with actors on other soaps that were struggling, and now there isn’t a show to go to. We fight hard to keep Days strong and on the air. I’m happy to read that some might find a home online; I know the audience is there, and everyone has to find a way to make it work in today’s economy and on a budget.
THR: Has your show been affected by budget cuts?
Sweeney: Yeah of course, it’s affected every show. We’re just feeling our way out and trying new things out, and we work fast and hard. The amazing thing is to see the energy level of the cast and crew who go the extra mile and push that much harder, and we don’t miss a beat. We fight hard to do what we can above and beyond what is expected to put out our best product.
THR: You’ve written two nonfiction books: the memoir All The Days Of My Life (So Far) and a guide for women about nutrition and fitness dubbed The Mommy Diet. Now Hyperion is set to release your first fiction book, The Star Attraction, on May 14. What can you tell us about it?
Sweeney: When I started writing it, I was writing just for me actually because just as a creative person, I was feeling at that time frustrated, dare I say, about the story lines in Days of Our Lives. I was feeling like I wanted to stretch my creative wings and tell the story I wanted to tell. I’m notoriously a company girl and keep my opinions to myself about the story lines that aren’t my favorite, but I felt like I had a creative outlet — I had my laptop and started writing my way and how I wanted the story told. I embodied the main character and wrote about what I know. It’s a story set in Hollywood about a publicist and her career, so there’s a little gentle teasing about actors from a publicist’s perspective and an inside look at how red carpets and Hollywood work. I had a great time telling this love story that I wanted to tell. I hope the fans love it; it’s a good summer beach read that gives a hint into Hollywood.
THR: What’s been your most memorable fan experience?
Sweeney: I could tell you about the crazy ones, but I met Shaq one time at The Tonight Show, and then he came over to the set of Days because he said he watched the show. It was pretty amazing. I’m a huge basketball fan, and it was pretty cool to meet him.
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