When Freddie Smith was cast on Days of Our Lives as Sonny Kiriakis, he became the soap's “official” first gay character in the show's 47-year history! But after coming on to the daytime scene with much fanfare, Sonny’s story was put on pause, while Will Horton’s (Chandler Massey) coming out story became front and center. While taking a back seat to all the drama, but maintaining some airtime as Will’s steadfast friend, the show was carefully crafting a budding love story that needed some things to happen first, to set up obstacles, and for the audience to care. And now, like every great love story, this one is fraught with miscommunication, just-wrong bedmates and a dose of gay-bashing!
Frontiers caught up with Freddie Smith to talk about the Sonny/Will romance, a preview of what’s ahead in Salem, playing gay, how the LGBT community has embraced the young actor and his stance with Congress on bullying. Yes, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!
You have been waiting for a good story for Sonny! How was the waiting period for that? It seemed like so many stops and goes for you, and for fans of Days!
Once I was able to see how everything played out, it was actually for the best. We needed to see Sonny and Will’s friendship building, and have Will’s coming out, and showing that side of a gay storyline. I think it was important for Will to have a best friend there like Sonny, because Sonny went through the same thing at some point in his life.
Do you ever wish as an actor that you had been the vehicle to tell a “coming out”story?
That would have been cool if I would have done a coming out story, but at the end of the day, it’s like the show did have one and Chandler Massey did a phenomenal job. So either way, it’s fine.
We recently saw that Sonny had been gay-bashed! What has been the feedback you have gotten on this story point?
Everyone seems to be very positive. That has been really good, because you never know how storylines like this are going to turn out and how the fans are going to view it. I think 99 percent have loved it. I really don’t read the message boards that much. From what I hear and tweets I get, it has mostly been positive. I have only had one or two tweets where people don’t like the storyline.
Did you watch the ‘bashing’ episodes when they aired?
I did. I think they turned out really good. I actually forgot the scene with Sonny and his dad, Justin (Wally Kurth). It turned out to be such a great scene. It’s important to have family there under circumstances like that. I think it’s nice showing that he is being comforted by family and friends. That is what you need in situations like that.
The big question: Is Sonny truly and deeply in love with Will?
Yeah, he has definitely developed a crush over the past year. They are best friends and a lot of romance stems from friendship, but there are times when one person feels something and the other person doesn’t. It’s basically trial and error. If someone has enough “balls” to say, “Hey, I have feelings for you, and I hope it doesn’t ruin the friendship if you don’t have feelings,” that is a pretty big step.
Sonny’s mom, Adrienne (Judi Evans), does not approve of Will as a boyfriend for her son. What is that about?
Will has a lot of baggage where his family is concerned. I don’t think Adrienne means it directly at Will. I think it was more towards his mother, Sami. You know, Sami has gone from guy to guy and drama follows. I think it’s that Sonny’s mom is worried that the family Will comes from is dysfunctional She has a weird vendetta against his family, and she is not sure if Will is good enough for Sonny! [Laughs]
And then, Sonny tells Will he doesn’t care what Adrienne thinks?
He doesn’t! His mom is looking out for him, but Sonny is an adult. He needs to make his own choices. She is talking about one of his best friends, so he is going to be defensive about it. Sonny wants to comfort Will and let him know that everything is fine, because that is how she feels, not at all how Sonny feels.
Are we going to get to see some scenes between you and Alison Sweeney (Sami), Will’s mom,where you admit to her that you love her son? Has there been a scene taped like that yet?
Nothing like you are talking about. But, it would be absolutely interesting to play. I think with Will/Sonny’s friendship building, I think there will be a scene with Alison and me. Everyone just has to wait and see.
We notice that many times in Hollywood, we see the casting of a straight guy playing gay. Do you have a rationale as to why you think that is? Do you think it’s really about the best actor really getting the role?
I think it’s about just what they are looking for.There are so many people who get cast in roles regardless if they are gay or straight. Until you are able to dig in and be there, and develop the character, you never know. But the more I think about it, I became so good with Sonny that I could see why they chose me. I mean that by the way that it is written; as there is something that relates to me. When I read the scripts, I just get it instantly. That is why I believe most roles are meant to be. When I went in for the casting of it, they liked what I was doing with the part. Now I just do as much work on the character as I can to make it as real as possible and to tell a good story.
The LGBT community gravitates and grabs on to anybody whose is playing a gay character because there is still not a wealth of them—certainly not on daytime TV. It kind of puts you under a microscope. What has that been like for you?
To be completely honest with you, I have many gay friends and I hear their stories. Being a straight guy, I did not go through the coming out process. But when you are playing a gay role, that is your homework. So I started reading through people’s personal stories and these feelings, and it brings me that much closer to the LGBT community. My character is gay, so I feel then I am right in it. I am playing a gay guy for five days a week. I start to get in touch with that side and be able to relate. It’s hard to come out. It’s hard with the gay bashing. I realize it more now through playing this character. So that is why I am so invested in wanting to help and wanting to talk about it. People should have equal rights.
So many gay men watch daytime soaps. A gay man in rural Kansas for example, so loves Sonny and so loves Will because they may be his only touchstone. He may be trapped on a farm or isolated. It must be a tremendous feeling for you that you are able to touch so many people’s lives who have no other connection to another gay person. And, you lead by example as they see Sonny as being this well-adjusted gay guy.
Exactly! That is the thing that has made me love this job and this character even more, because back in the day there were just very stereotypical gay storylines and characters. They never showed a realistic storyline. Now on television shows, they are starting to do that more and more. So when the LGBT community is watching TV, they can put themselves in Sonny’s shoes. When you are straight, you see all these movies and people can relate, but how about a gay storyline? It’s real life and it needs to be in every show! Everyone knows someone who is gay. It’s part of life. That is why I am so happy that President Obama is onboard, because it’s coming to that time where I feel that equal rights are in the very near future!
One of the reasons the co-executive producer of Days, Greg Meng, mentioned in many interviews you were cast as Sonny was that you were the “normal” guy, the boy-next-door who is very comfortable with himself. Is that what they wanted from you when you walked in the door at your audition?
I do remember my audition and that was it when I walked in the door. I do remember that it was going to be the first gay storyline on Days, and they really did not want to go in a stereotypical way. They wanted to show different aspects of the story and that went into the casting of Sonny—and that he was comfortable, and out, and even his family was accepting of him. They just wanted to show that when you come out and you are with the people you trust and love—you can finally get out from under that rock, and just be who you are. I think that is what they went for.
In a turn of events that obviously will be a catalyst for the story for quite some time to come, is this little story beat where Will just slept with ex-girlfriend Gabi! Has Sonny figured this out yet?
No, he doesn’t know! I would think it would be a major issue for him. He is very forgiving, but I don’t know how Sonny is going to react when he finds out that Will was with Gabi.
What did you think when you read that in the script? Many gay viewers are upset about this. We just had a gay guy come out and then he goes and sleeps with his ex-girlfriend? Doesn’t that scenario seem unauthentic to you?
I think it does. But for Sonny, he is comfortable with who he is and he has been out, where Will still has that part of him that is slightly struggling. He had the character of “T” come up to him who talked trash to him, he had Sonny come up to him and yell at him and he had his dad come up to him, who said he was disappointed in him. So I think he just went to be with his friend. I don’t think he had any intentions of sleeping with her. He was just so broken with everyone he cared about talking so badly to him. He was with a friend and it just sparked, and it just happened. I think he felt like, “I don’t want to disappoint people.” But in the end he disappointed himself. At the end of the day, people are just looking for love and to make a connection. Some people who are straight, they try the same-sex, and they could be bisexual. I think people put too many titles on it. Whoever you love, you love. So if you look at it that way, then it is authentic, because Will was just feeling a connection, and he just went with it.
Brant Daugherty (Pretty Little Liars) has done a guest arc as Brian, a potential love interest for Sonny. Do you think that Brian could be in the mix for Sonny’s affections?
Basically Brian knew that Sonny’s heart was not in the right place and that Sonny cares about Will. He didn’t really want to overstep his bounds because he then knew he was not Sonny’s first choice. So Brian decided to be the bigger man. Sometimes you feel you need to say, “Hey, go ahead.” Actually, I don’t think Brian thinks it’s going to work out between Sonny and Will. So it’s like a maneuver he is playing right now, like, “Hey go for it. But you are going to come running back to me.” So whether Sonny goes to him, or Will, or someone else that is in the near future—we shall see!
What would you say about working with Chandler Massey (Will)?
I couldn’t have asked for a better partner to do a gay storyline with. We have fun and we are friends, but we are also professional. That is what I really respect about him. We are prepared. We put the work in to make it authentic. Depending on the scene, a lot of stuff we do ends up being improv. We just go off of each other so well. That doesn’t happen every day in this business. I am glad I found someone like him to work with.
You recently went to Washington, D.C., and spoke to Congress on bullying—a horrific issue that is still so prevalent among youth, teens and adults in our culture. That life experience can shape you as a person and affect you for the rest of your life. What do you think can be done to reduce the amount of bullying in society?
This is one of those things that bothers me about our schools. If you say the “f’ word, you are suspended—at least it was like that in my school. Why aren’t they stricter when it comes to verbal or physical bullying? That is where I think teachers and parents need to step up, and have an awareness of the kids and let them know the long-term effect they are having on someone. I went to D.C. to talk about how parents need to get involved, and that it is important for them to talk to their kids who were bullied, and to talk to their kids if they are the ones bullying, and not just on sexual orientation but in general. People get bullied for so many things. I think we just need to bring awareness, and that is why I am so glad a show like Days showed the effects. We are bringing awareness and I think a lot more shows, if they can, it would be great if they could too show more bullying incorporated into their storylines. It is such a huge issue. The media shapes a lot of people’s views on the subject. They watch something and they see their favorite characters being bullied and they think, “Oh my God. I've got to talk to my kid and make sure they are not bullying anybody.” I think a lot of parents are unaware of what is going on in school.
The most graphic love scene between two men on daytime occurred on OLTL between the characters of Kyle (Brett Claywell) and Fish (Scott Evans) on a New Year’s Eve episode where they had the two guys “making love." Would you like to see scenes where Sonny and Will are actually in bed together?
Absolutely! I think it’s very important. If you are in a relationship, that is the romantic aspect of it. So I think it’s important to show every aspect of a relationship.
Would you like to see soap veterans Judi Evans and Wally Kurth, who play your soap parents, have more airtime and be brought more into Sonny’s storyline?
I would like to see them onscreen more. They were there and mentored me when I first started, because I never worked on a soap before. So as people … they are great, and as characters …. they are great. But it’s going to be nice for Sonny to have arguments with his Mom and Dad, because yet again, it is real life and that happens.
What comments or feedback are you getting the most from your portrayal of Sonny?
I get a lot of tweets more than anything about, “I am going through this right now. Thank you for portraying this character.” Or, “This is reminding me that three years ago I came out and then I became comfortable.” So there are a lot of people who find the character to be relatable. That is all I can do as an actor, and that is to be relatable and tell a good story.
Sonny is such a goody-goody! Would you love him to get his hands dirty and do something bad? Gay people are just as capable as anyone else of doing some pretty bad things. One thing that seems to occur on daytime is that the writers and producers seem to be afraid to make a gay character do anything that bad. It would be great to organically have something happen on Days that causes Sonny to do something that is not so nice!
Sonny does have some fires going, and some mistakes he is going to be making, but he is going to develop. People are going to see more layers to Sonny. I can’t say much more than that!
Do you ever think an ex-lover of Sonny’s from the past could pop up and cause problems?
You never know? Sonny traveled the world and he has broken hearts in many cities. [Laughs]
Before Days, you also briefly played a gay role on 90210. Did you ever have reservations taking on the role of Sonny, in that it was a gay role and there is a typecasting stigma that can occur in Hollywood? Was your family cool with you playing gay?
First of all, I was cool with it because my whole appearance on 90210 was such a short stint, five episodes, and I was not in that much. It wasn’t like this huge character that everybody knew about and I was known for it. People know me from Days, not 90210.So it’s like this is still my first gay role, if there were to be any type-casting going on. But I never had any reservations, I just love the character. My family was great about it and happy for me.
In closing, what would you say to the fans who are clamoring for Sonny and Will’s love story to take off and move forward? What is in store for Sonny in the months ahead?
I would say hold onto your seats. Sonny has many dimensions that fans haven’t seen. He has a romance (but we don’t know with who), and he and Will continue to get closer. Sonny cares for Will and he does want something to happen. But whether Sonny gets his wish or not, you have to tune in to find out. Sonny is also interacting with a lot more characters and storylines on the canvas too. So if you are a fan of Sonny, this is the time to tune in every day, because he is going to be taking Salem by storm.
Watch Sonny and Will's first real kiss!:
For more on soaps, visit MichaelFairmanSoaps.com. Photos by Angelina Venturella of Brooks Institute.