Thaao Penghlis is Back in Salem!
In an exclusive and very candid interview with SOAPDOM.COM, Penghlis opens up about his years away from the show, and what he’s been up to since returning.
After a six-year hiatus, fans were stunned (well, maybe not—this is daytime after all and anything can happen!), but extremely excited about Thaao (pronounced Tay-oh) Penghlis’ (Tony DiMera) return to daytime and Days of our Lives. The character of Tony DiMera was a staple of the show throughout the 1980s. From his marriage to Anna to his devious business dealings with his father, Stefano, the character of Tony was a mysterious and intriguing addition to the cast back in 1981. Penghlis left the show in 1986, but returned in 1993, only to depart again three years later. Many of the Days fans will remember Tony from his last stay in Salem. It was during that time that Tony married Kristen, plotted against John, and kept in cahoots with his father. Although Tony was supposedly killed off when Penghlis left the show, Penghlis managed to make sense of Tony’s return with a little manipulating of his own. He altered Tony’s mannerisms during his last few days alive so it would make sense that it wasn’t the real Tony who was buried. Confusing—yes, unheard of—no.
Soon after departing Days, Penghlis delved into the art of writing screenplays. His projects ranged from stories about seeking lost treasure to an erotic thriller (“which is seriously being looked at in New York”) to an Indiana Jones saga. According to Penghlis, fans can look forward to his work coming to life sometime possibly next year.
Prior to his writing, Penghlis took two years off to mourn the passing of his parents and heal. “Out of that, Sherri Thomas (Penghlis’ writing partner) and I started writing together, and then suddenly it dawned on me that I didn’t have to be in front of a camera to care what I looked like. I didn’t have that need to do it. Because I enjoyed it so much, I wrote those three screenplays during that time. I think the writing in some way helped me elevate myself, and the family, in some way. When I went back, (the family) said, ‘why don’t you go back to acting?’ and I remember my nephew saying, ‘it’s what we always looked up to you for.’ So, following that, I did a miniseries for three months and then I did a lot of voice-overs . . . anything really, so I wouldn’t have to be in front of a camera. In some way, I had lost my own sense of persona. There’s an old saying, ‘the way out is the way through,’ and so I felt that’s what I did—I went through the tunnel and came out on the other side.”
Penghlis is one of four children born of Greek parents who moved to Australia. He was born in Sydney and is fluent in both English and Greek. No stranger to daytime, he also appeared as Victor Cassadine on General Hospital in 1981, and as Micah De Angelis on Santa Barbara from 1992-1993. He was a series regular in Mission Impossible in 1988. Other television credits include mini series "The Tribe," " Memories of Midnight," and "Emma, Queen of the Seas." He guest starred on a number of prime time series including, "Who's the Boss," "Magnum P.I.," "Hotel," "Nero Wolf" and "Kojak" to name a few. His feature film credits include "Altered States," "The Bell Jar," and "Slow Dancing in the Big City."
When I asked Penghlis about returning to one of his most famous roles, he opened up about his last departure from Days and how he came to return.
“The show approached me about four or five months after I had ‘died’ (in ’96). But James Reilly (Days former head writer at the time; now head writer on Passions), put his foot down and said ‘no.’ It wasn’t because I didn’t do good work during rehearsal one day, I think it got back (to him) about the quality of the writing at the time, and he used my character as an example (for what wasn’t working on the show). So I suddenly saw that door shut, and I said, ‘ok, it’s over.’
Imagine Penghlis' surprise when he was approached again just recently.
"This time, it was different. All those people from the past were gone, and that’s why this time there were no enemies. It was a clean slate and it was good because I always got along well with Ken (Corday, Executive Producer) and Steve Wyman (Executive Producer). There are people who were always supportive towards me, but James Reilly was head writer and he had a lot of power back in those days. Once he left, I thought his power was diminished.”
A six-year hiatus may not be a long time, but for Penghlis, the physical make-up of the cast has changed dramatically. Although regulars like Kristian Alfonso (Hope), Peter Reckell (Bo), Drake Hogestyn (John) and Deidre Hall (Marlena) are still front and center, others—such as Joe Mascolo (Stefano), Eileen Davidson (Kristen) and Jason Brooks (Peter Blake)—are not. In fact, now Penghlis is finding himself mixed in with some of the younger cast such as Alexis Thorpe (Cassie) and Rex Winter (Eric)—those mysterious Gemini Twins.
According to Penghlis, “When I first came to the show (in 1981), I was the young guy. When I came back again, I was still in my father’s shadow, so the decisions were shared with a strong personality like Joe Mascolo’s character. This time around, my history is certainly there, but it has been wiped clean. Now I can bring a rounded, more mature side to the character. (Tony) has his own persona. I don’t look at him as being dark, but as someone who wants to beat the game.”
So, for the moment, Tony isn’t completely evil, but can fans look for him to eventually follow in his father’s footsteps? In character, Penghlis says, “when it comes to moments with family, I can show my sensitivity and compassion. When it comes to my rivals, I can show that I can beat them at anygame, or at least give them a good battle. I also find a lot of humor with characters like Sami (played by Alison Sweeney) and even Drake Hogestyn (John), who I enjoy.”
Tony’s history is complex and fascinating, but what about his future? Obviously, Penghlis can’t tell us too much, but I pressed him for a bit of info regarding his connection to the Gemini Twins (Cassie & Rex) and Colin (Jen’s former flame). According to Penghlis, “I don’t know the history yet, but apparently Colin and Tony have worked together (in the past) and we have a secret that hasn’t been uncovered yet. As much as (Colin) would like to get away from where his commitment lies, I think the character is trying to (forge ahead), but he’s being pulled back by the fact that he can’t jump ship right now as much as he would want to.”
As for the Gemini Twins, Penghlis says that “I think I know what (Tony’s connection to them is), but I can’t say. It does involve the DiMera’s and the Brady’s.” That’s great and dandy, but I wanted to know more. So I asked Penghlis if it’s safe to say that the Gemini Twins are related to Tony in some way. “Some way? Yeah,” Penghlis shyly answered.
Regardless of what happens to Tony, it’s a pretty sure bet that all of Penghlis’ family and friends back in Greece (although Penghlis is actually a native Australian) will be watching. “We (over in Europe) are a smaller population, and we don’t have as many stars as they do in America, so when I go back home, I’m the boy who did well and it’s still ongoing. The immediate family was always excited. There is also a tremendous fan base in Australia and to a lot of the Europeans and ethnic population—which is major in Australia. I even get letters from the Russians, because in some way I represent the European. I’m not the Anglo. (My new episodes) haven’t aired there yet, but they’re gearing up for my return.”
Which brings up another huge difference since Penghlis was last in Salem: the internet. As a result, Penghlis has launched his official website (http://thaao.tripod.com) to help the fans learn more about him and vice-versa. “It’s quite nice and has a lot of great information,” Penghlis says of his new website. “I call my fans ‘my lovelies, my dear lovelies!” It’s extremely apparent that Penghlis holds his fans in high regard and genuinely appreciates their support. In that case, Thaao Penghlis is definitely an actor that you will want to know more about. So click away and tell ‘em Soapdom sent you!
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