James Scott plays the dashing EJ Wells on NBC’s Days of our Lives. He was once the heir to the evil DiMera empire, but he has since renounced his family and is trying his best to provide a home for his wife Sami (Alison Sweeney) and her children. Trouble is perpetually on the horizon for him, it seems, as he is currently juggling run-ins with the immigration service and the troublemaker Nicole Walker who has just returned to Salem.
BuddyTV was lucky enough to get an interview with James Scott. He gave us some hints about what’s in store for his character, the difficulty of acting on a soap opera and how he likes to spend his down time. Below you will find a complete transcript of the interview.
You’ve gotten to play a lot of different types of characters within the character of EJ Wells – a good guy, a very bad guy – and what do you like playing more?
I prefer to play a bad guy. It’s a lot more interesting. You can have a lot more fun, I think. Good guys, their role is pretty clean cut. They turn up, they say the right thing and, generally speaking, they end up running in circles looking like idiots, for the most part. Bad guys always tend to be smarter than that.
So, where do you get the inspiration to be a bad guy?
I am not a very nice person, myself, which I find helps a lot. [laughs] I don’t know. I don’t know where I get the inspiration from. I’ve kind of been able to play with a lot of different characters, and I find that it doesn’t come too hard to be able to do that. I think everybody has sides of them that are dark, and if you have experience as an actor and able to tap into those things, then it’s not too hard to bring them to the surface.
You’ve also gotten to play EJ’s grandfather, Santo DiMera, and so for that, you had to take on a different accent and you had period costume. What was that like?
It was a challenge. The mustache was very ticklish, which is never very fun. I don’t think Alison Sweeney enjoyed kissing it either. The accent was hard. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to get something like that right, and generally, in soap operas, you’ll find the one commodity you do not have as an actor is time. So, that made it quite challenging. I worked with a wonderful dialect coach called Robert Easton. He’s a very famous dialect coach. He’s the guy who gave Pacino his accent in Scarface. He helped us, and he helped Alison too. But it’s not easy.
Right now, EJ’s future seems to be up in the air because there’s some worry that he might get deported. Can you please give us some hints about what’s to come?
Well, obviously, there’s some concern that he might be deported, and on the surface of it, it would seem to be a fairly open and shut case because in reality, he has a son who is American by virtue of the fact that his wife is also an American citizen. Therefore, technically, if you were to read the letter of the law, it’s not really that difficult a case. The problem of course comes when the immigration service really does not particularly wish EJ to remain in the country because they don’t think he’s a particularly nice fellow. And obviously, the DiMeras have caused a few problems in their time. So, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. From my perspective, I hope he doesn’t get kicked out of Salem.
EJ and Sami Brady, played by Alison Sweeney, are considered to be one of the great supercouples of the soap world, but there’s always this question about whether they really belong together. What’s your opinion on that?
Well, that’s a tough question. All of this really goes back to one story point. If it hadn’t been for the rape, I don’t think this would be a conversation we would be having. They have a lot of chemistry and they obviously relate to each other very well. Then you have that one pivotal incident which has changed all that. And how do you get past it? It’s very difficult to maintain the integrity of the characters, to honor the story as it’s been written, and also to then make such a huge transition from one thing, which was such a violation to something else, which could be so beautiful. It’s very difficult. I know that Alison and myself and the writers and the executives of the studio sat down and had a meeting to try to work it out.
Soap operas have this reputation of throwing in plots where they can’t figure out how to get a character to do the right thing, and in my opinion, that’s one of the reasons why the audiences on the shows are dwindling, because they rely on plots to drive the shows instead of the characters. So we really want to maintain the integrity of the story, and not just turn around one day and kind of pretend that that whole incident never happened, and just have these two characters come together. In doing that – in not wanting to take that shortcut and avoiding that – it’s hard. So it’s hard as far as being a supercouple goes. Most supercouples have some kind of physical relationship, and these guys don’t. Though, I will say, watch this space.
So, the character of Nicole Walker has just been reintroduced. Is she going to interfere with the EJ and Sami relationship?
Oh, absolutely. I mean, she always interferes without doing anything. Sami and Nicole have such an abrasive relationship that just her presence is enough to throw things into a bit of a spin. And Sami is very reactionary. She’s somebody who, if she feels threatened, she reacts in a certain way, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Nicole comes on the scene.
Being on a soap looks like a lot of hard work because there are so many scenes and so many lines and the show airs five days a week. How much are you actually working?
That depends. Last year, I worked every single day and shot something like six or seven shows a week. We have 11 dark weeks, if you’re wondering what the math on that is. This year has been quieter. I actually was off work for almost an entire month, which was lovely. Now, I’d say I probably work between three and four days a week at the moment. It’s very hard to tell. You tend to find that the story rotates. If you’re on a front-burning story, you can be working more than that, but if you’re on the back burner, you can not be working at all. So, it’s kind of cyclical.
So, take us through an average day when you’re on the set.
Well, normally I get in around 7, and I walk into makeup and they make me look much prettier than I really am. And then I get dressed and go out and meet the director, and she will talk us through certain aspects of the scene. On average, we shoot something like14 pages if we’re going at a good pace. If we’re going at a really good pace, 20 pages of dialogue in an hour. When you consider that, if you’re doing a feature film, you would shoot 14 pages of dialogue probably over three weeks, that gives you some sense of exactly how fast you’re moving. It’s very difficult. I firmly believe it’s the hardest medium to work in. You have an incredible volume of lines to learn. It’s not unusual to finish work at 7 o’ clock at night and go home and sit down in front of 30 or 40 pages of lines – just your lines – and have to have them memorized by 7 o’ clock the next morning. That’s not unusual at all, and it’s very challenging. And it’s very hard, also, acting it. There’s a process involved in it, and acting and improvisation are two different things, and really, a lot of what you do in soap operas is improvise. Not with the dialogue, but with your actions because there is no real opportunity to be able to explore anything. So, it’s very difficult.
To make it look good is very hard, and I’ve worked in a number of different arenas, and I can say, I think that the strongest actors I’ve worked with have been in soap opera. Because a lot of actors who do film or even night-time television, they have the luxury of having several weeks or months to prepare for the amount of work that I will shoot in one day, and I will then shoot the same amount of work the next day. When you look at it like that, it’s a great challenge, and it’s very hard, and it’s somewhat annoying that people don’t tend to give the medium as much courtesy as it’s due. I would challenge anybody, any actor, any great actor that you can think of in any other medium to come and work on a soap opera for a month. And you would find that those great performances you see on the silver screen that have taken months of preparation, it’s very hard to do that when you have minutes to prepare.
So, you don’t have very much opportunity to do retakes?
The budget restrictions now are such that we don’t have rehearsals anymore. We walk onto set, the director gives us our positions, and we take those. And I think they try to get a scene, which can be anywhere from one to ten pages, done in about five minutes a page. So, it’s very fast. These shows, if you look back at the ratings even three years ago versus today, the budget is not there. Every single soap opera is on the verge of being canceled. There is no exception to that statement. And so, they’re all trying desperately to save money, and the best way to save money is to save time. Even four years ago, when I started on All My Children, I thought that was fast. And even a year ago, looking at what was happening on Days, compared to what we’re doing now, it’s very, very, very fast. You just cannot turn up and not know your lines, inside and out, and be able to do it the first time without any mistakes.
Wow, that just sounds so difficult. What goes on behind the scenes? Do you have any funny anecdotes about your castmates that you’d like to share?
Oh my goodness. None that I wouldn’t get in trouble for. You know, I always blank when I get this question. I’m sure something happens every single day. I just can’t think of any that I would want to repeat. [laughs]
Alright. When you’re working, what’s generally your favorite part of the day?
I’ll change that question slightly, if you don’t mind. I don’t know if I have a favorite part of the day. There are lots of times when I leave work and feel, just because of the speed at which things move and some of the materials that we work with, it’s very hard as an actor to really be able to explore the material in any depth. So a lot of times, you leave work feeling frustrated with what you’ve done. The best feeling is when you leave work and you feel very satisfied, very happy with the work that you’ve done. And it doesn’t happen every day, and it doesn’t happen every week because it does move so fast. If you make a mistake, it’s just been made, and it’s in the past, and you have to keep going forward. And if your performance wasn’t the best that you could give, it doesn’t really matter because you’re not going to redo it. So, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into getting each thing right the first time, without exception. And when you’re actually able to do that, and actually get material that’s really fun to work with, and you’re able to pull those things together, it’s good. I really enjoy it.
You said that you’ve had about a month off. How did you spend it? And what do you like to do in your down time?
I spent it traveling. And in my down time, I don’t do a tremendous amount. I have three dogs, and I go running with them. I take them out for walks and we go into the hills around Los Angeles. I do a lot of outdoorsy stuff, climbing and kayaking and going out to the beach and things like that. I tend to find that I don’t do a huge amount. I’m not a great one for going out and doing stuff. I don’t particularly like shopping, I don’t particularly like drinking or bars. I have a very quiet, nice life. Nothing hugely exciting goes on. I spend most of my time with my dogs, and I have a couple of projects on the side that I’m working on, and that’s about it.
Besides Days, are you a fan of any other TV shows?
I don’t even watch Days. [laughs] I don’t have a television. I’ve not had a television for five years, so I could not tell you. I’ve never seen an episode of Lost. I’ve never seen any of these shows. I had a television, and I was watching television one evening – I was still in New York at the time – and I suddenly realized I hadn’t read a book in a really long time. And I thought, “Well, this is stupid. I’m sitting in front of this box, feeding myself junk.” So I got rid of it and I haven’t had a television since. You know, I like going to movies. I like theater and things like that, but I don’t miss the television at all.
-Interview conducted by Debbie Chang
(Image courtesy of NBC)