2011 was not only a dreadful year for the soap genre with the cancellation of two more beloved shows, and all the backstage turmoil that ensued, but also for the lack of gay characters. But as the year comes to a close, Days of Our Lives now has two core characters that are gay—Sonny Kiriakis (played by Freddie Smith) and Will Horton (Chandler Massey), the latter of which is struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in a compelling coming out storyline.
Frontiers sat down with Massey to discuss Will’s inner turmoil, what’s ahead as the story heats up in the New Year and the importance of Days representing the LGBT community.
We have been watching Will’s story finally beginning to unfold. Did you like the plot point where Will walks in on his mother Sami having sex with her former flame EJ, and that it would propel the next big arc of his story?
Oh, absolutely! It adds another layer to the storyline. One of my friends who watched it went, “Oh no! Seeing his mom have sex with the devil turned him gay!” That is not what it is about obviously. But I love the choice the writers made, that this is all about Will and all the things he is going through than it rather being just an after-school special on this guy and how to come out.
As a gay person and viewer, I don’t want to see another coming out story told in the same way. Days needs to be ballsy with it, which I think they are doing now.
They really want to tell a story that is unique and different from all the other stereotypical stories. I think they realize now is the time to take a risk and do a story like this where it’s not all PG, and not all happy, and everyone is loving and accepting. I think that is what makes this story so great; it’s twisted and dark and has so many facets to it. Another thing I like is they are not making Will the misunderstood goody-goody. He has some edge. He is going into a gray area instead of being such a clean character. I think that’s good too, because most of the storylines I have watched or read about involving a gay character, they seem to be afraid or hesitant to make the character bad. The lines are blurred here.
What has Alison Sweeney (Sami), who plays your on-screen mom, said about all of this and the big moment where Sami will learn her son is gay?
I have talked to Alison about it and she is excited, as we all are. Everyone is excited because it’s a storyline that needs to be told. We are looking forward to the moment where Sami finds out about Will’s sexuality. I don’t know what or how they are going to do that, but it will have to be some moment where they have that talk. How that occurs should be very interesting.
Bryan Dattilo (Lucas) has just returned to Days after a lengthy time away. How is having Will’s on-screen dad back in the picture?
The last time Bryan was here, I said one thing to him, which was “Dad” because it was my second day of working on the show and shortly after he left. So that was the only interaction I had with Bryan, but he is back now and that is awesome.
Fans are wondering how Lucas will deal with Will being gay. Could Lucas, or another major character, be a homophobe?
I don’t know. Like I said before, they are taking their time with it. I feel like with Sonny all of a sudden they made his friend, the character of “T,” turn into a not-so-cool guy, which is funny because before he was the wry humor sort of guy that everyone loved. I guess it was something that the character had an issue with it. I think it would serve the story better if there is less hate being heaped on Will from an outside source and more about the internal struggle because Will has grown up and seen his mom with several different men and his dad be with different ladies. All the examples that he had growing up of parental figures have all been straight heterosexual relationships, and that is what Will comes to think is normal. He is like, “Well, I am going to grow up and have kids and everything.” Then he realizes that is not something he actually wants if he is true to himself. That is where the struggle comes from and it’s all internal rather than someone from the outside bashing him because he is gay.
It is such an internal struggle for someone to come out. We don’t live in a world that is always accepting of one another. Will is in pain and lashing out. How he does this has been cause for great on-screen drama!
This is another reason I love how they are writing the story. I just don’t have to play, “Oh man. I’m gay, but I want to hide it.” There are different ways it comes out, for instance, when Gabi broke up with him it came to the surface because Will wanted to keep Gabi and keep her as his safety net, and his pillar of support, and he wanted so bad to be with her and move in with her, and for her to be his beard! But when she broke up with him I was able to play losing his support system. That is much more specific, and that comes across, than just playing the angst that comes from not coming to terms with your own sexuality. And another thing; Will is funneling his denial into other things—like lashing out at his mom and trashing the kitchen!
How was playing the trashing of the kitchen after Gabi dumped Will? And having half the cast in the scene reacting strangely to it?
It was so much fun because I have never done something like that before. With soaps you have to be careful on the set because you don’t want to damage the props. But this is the one time they said to me, “It’s OK. You just go have a ball!” So when I saw the episode they actually showed a good amount of it. I actually trashed the whole place and it was done in one take. We did not have time to redo it because we did not have time to re-trash it. (Laughs) It was such a rare scene that I feel any actor would love a scene where you can go completely out of control!
Did you get kudos from the cast and crew for the performance?
The people that were there were very complimentary. I don’t know if they really felt that or if they felt I would have to trash the place again and wanted me to stop! (Laughs) But yes, the cast and crew that were there were very nice.
So Will came upon Sami having grief-sex with EJ and, since Will sees it, there is a double blackmail. How does it come about?
Will’s emotions and his disgust with his mom comes to a boiling point. His grandmother, Marlena, is there to try and diffuse that bomb, but she can only do so much. Will has all these different emotions going on inside him. So he goes to EJ because now he has dirt on him, and also Will wants to make him pay in his own way. And yes, Will could have gone to a different member of his family, but I think this is where he wants to make EJ suffer and really punish him for doing that. Will is hurt most by the fact that his mother betrayed his family, but also she wasn’t doing it by herself, you know what I’m saying? He tries to go to EJ and blackmails him for money to leave town. He wants to get away from his mom. He does not want to come to terms that he is gay yet. So Will goes to EJ, and of course, you can’t blackmail a DiMera, especially EJ, because they are going to turn the table on you immediately! And that is what happens. Will is in an emotional state and is not thinking very logically. EJ turns the table and then it turns into a very interesting relationship between the two of them! (Laughs) He now has Will under his thumb for sure, and he will be using that to make Will help him with his political campaign and aspirations to be the mayor of Salem.
How does EJ know that Will is gay?
EJ is a very smart guy obviously. I think it’s like more deduction on his part, but when he brings it up and sees the reaction from Will, it confirms it.
So Will becomes EJ’s puppet in his political skullduggery because you are under his thumb!
Yes, and that is what makes it so great because there is then this whole other dynamic to play.
And it will be so sad in the end that Will did all of this because he just couldn’t accept himself!
How is Deidre Hall (Marlena) to work with during this? Does Will ever have a therapy “session” with her?
He does interact with Marlena a lot, and it has not been through an official “session.” They do hang out a lot and, with Gabi gone, Marlena is the only person that Will can be himself around. So they spend a lot of quality time together. And for every innocent hang-out between the two of them it turned into a “session.” (Laughs) Not only does Marlena kind of give Will all this unconditional love, but Deidre is such an amazing woman to work with. Honestly, I was intimidated at first because when I first got the job I went back and watched all those old Days episodes where she was like the star, and I was a fan. When it was announced that Deidre was coming back to Days, I was so glad. Then to work with her I was nervous, but she could not have been nicer. In real life she is so real and that carries over to her scenes. It’s such a treat to work with her because she elevates me.
I think it’s great that the grandmother needs to be his anchor.
I agree because his mom is not there for him!
What does Will really think of Sami?
I think most of it is hurt and disappointment. Sami had Will when she was young and they sort of grew up together. She has made some mistakes in the past, but Will has always called her out on that because he realizes she loves him. But at this point, Will is really doubting that she cares about her children, Rafe or anybody but herself.
Does Will like Rafe, Sami’s in-the-dark hubby?
Rafe is like the rock, in Will’s eyes. He is the one who keeps his mom stable and is a good father for the kids ... basically, the second best thing to having his real dad, Lucas. I think Will is hoping his real parents will be together and who doesn’t? Will wants to protect Rafe from the secret. Will also feels responsible for his younger siblings. So if Rafe finds out and Sami is a wreck, then a family is destroyed. Then the kids are going to be the ones that really suffer from that, and that is Johnny, Allie and Sydney. They are not going to have a stable family to grow up in. So that is the main thing for Will. He wants to protect them.
How does Will view Sonny? Sonny is very comfortable with himself being gay.
Sonny is like a rock star to Will because when he encounters any opposition he always keeps his cool and is always centered and comfortable. Let’s put it this way—Sonny is not going to be trashing anyone’s kitchen. Will envies that and wishes he had that confidence and was at peace with himself like Sonny seems to be.
Do you think there is hope down the line for a relationship between Will and Sonny?
I think anything is a possibility on a soap opera, but the feeling I get currently is that it is just a platonic relationship where 'I am there for you.' I don’t want to say “yes” to them as a couple and feed into that stereotype—that just because two guys are gay, and are the only gay guys on screen, that they are going to be together because that might not be it. Will has to do some soul-searching and really find peace within himself before he is ready to find love with someone else. He has to love himself before he can find someone to love him.
You recently participated in the NOH8 campaign with a brand-new photo that is out and about.
Yes. It is my second picture and I like it. The photographers, Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley, are great guys. They made me really comfortable. There is a process so this time I wanted to be a little different. I wanted to wear a white hoodie instead of a white shirt. So then they put the NOH8 tattoo on my cheek and then they put the duct tape over my mouth. And fortunately, I did not have a cold or anything, my nose wasn’t plugged up or it would have been a really quick photo shoot! (Laughs)
It always amazes me that a gay story in soaps always prompts so much attention. When there is a gay character, we all gravitate and grab on to it. Do you feel like Will is the “gay poster child” on the soaps? And if so, what is the good and the bad of that?
I agree with you on the media attention and everything. Hopefully, in the near future as much as possible, this will be a normal thing and not be such a big deal. I thought about everything you had mentioned and at the end of the day I came to a decision that if the story is told well and realistically, truthfully and powerfully, that is all that matters to me. As far as being the “poster child,” I just want to do the story justice, and ultimately make them think, and make people see something a little bit differently than they would have and maybe open their minds a little bit. That is my ultimate goal and I really want to give this story 100 percent.
Finally you are being given the opportunity to showcase your ability and it affords you the opportunity to be more than the “Oh, he is the guy that is playing the gay character.” Instead, it’s turning out to be an admirable, great, memorable performance.
It’s a personal joy for an actor to do all of that stuff as well. It’s an amazing opportunity and a gift on many different levels. I think what every actor strives to do is have everything else just go away and just kind of be there in the moment. You don’t care about anything else, except the person in the scene in front of you, and what they are saying. That is an actor’s paradise and it is so elusive, unfortunately.
What is your family saying at this point? How do they feel about you portraying a gay character?
I was very fortunate to grow up in a family that taught me tolerance and acceptance and that no one is better than anyone else. Just because someone is different does not make them less of a person. They were thrilled and happy that I was going to be able to be a part of an important storyline, and it means they got to see me more on TV. Of course my mom is going to say, “That was great honey.” But I think they mean it and are happy for me.
What are you hearing from the gay community? Are you getting a “Yay Will” or “Yay Chandler”?
I know the fans have been saying, “We are thrilled this is happening. And don’t mess it up!”
Well that “Don’t mess it up” statement is actually a big thing. The writers sometimes mess it up, and the networks sometimes mess it up and it’s not necessarily the actors. For the most part, every soap has dropped their gay characters except for Bianca on AMC and Luke on ATWT, but those shows were eventually canceled. So now there is nobody to carry the flag and by default it lands on you!
Yes, by default I guess, but I am happy about that. This is such an under-represented story in TV and definitely in daytime. All the things you have said are my motivation for doing the best job that I can because I know it hits home for many of the viewers, and of course, they relate to it. Personally, equality and the cause is something I strongly believe in. I do feel pressure in the best way possible and it gives me all the more fuel to try to give the best performance possible.
When I have done interviews with actors who play gay characters on soaps, the comments at times I receive on my website are heartbreaking. Some might comment, ”I could not come out to my parents or friends, and you give me the strength to go on. I tune-in every day. I am all alone and have no one to share my thoughts with, for fear something will happen to me.” You now have the ability with this to do some good actually. There are many people lost going into 2012 who have nowhere to feel safe if they admit they are gay. And then there are the kids that are being bullied because they are gay.
It is BS that here we are going into 2012 and there is still this kind of ignorance and intolerance and this lack of support for the gay community. After 46 years, it’s changed on Days of our Lives and I think it’s about damn time we are doing a story like this!
What is your wish for 2012 for the gay community, and more specifically, for people who are struggling like Will is?
I wish they are true to themselves. I know that takes a lot of courage, especially for those people who live outside of Los Angeles and New York. Living here you sometimes forget how every place is not as accepting as major cities. I think that is the first step; to be true to who they are and if they are comfortable with who they are they don’t need that acceptance from bigoted individuals and the bullies.
What would you say about the tumultuous year in soaps in 2011? How would you encapsulate all the shake-ups that occurred behind-the-scenes at Days?
It is definitely gone through tremendous ups and downs this past year. As an example, we changed the head writer and executive producers, but I actually could not be more optimistic about the future. Now we are on the right track and we are hitting our stride.
What is your New Year's resolution or goals for yourself for 2012?
Mine would be to continue to do the best work I can on the show. This is by and large by being in this storyline, the most important thing I have done, and so I want to give everything I have to this story and—cut out the chocolate and the fast food!
For more on the soaps, visit MichaelFairmanSoaps.com.