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Days of Our Livesí Alison Sweeney on Show Business, Motherhood and the Deconstruction of Sami Brady
By Allison Kugel, Senior Editor - February 24, 2006

Alison Sweeney, from Days of Our Lives (Sami Brady)
Alison Sweeney
Alison Sweeney recently took some time out to chat with me about her life on and off the small screen. While her trouble making character on Days of Our Lives has been wreaking havoc in the fictional town of Salem for thirteen years, Alison Sweeney has had her own ups and downs in navigating the treacherous waters of Hollywood. At the age of 26, she found herself in the position of already being a soap veteran, with ten years of television notoriety under her belt. Feeling the need to branch out, she published her first memoir at the tender age of 27, is developing a series for the Internet and now she and her husband are enjoying parenthood with one year old son Ben. Our conversation covered the good and bad of growing up in show business, Hollywood diets, balancing work and motherhood and the psychological makeup of her notorious alter ego on Days of Our Lives, Sami Brady.

PR.com (Allison Kugel): Did you finish working for the day?

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, I finally finished.

PR.com: What time did you start?

Alison Sweeney: This morning I started at 7AM.

PR.com: Oh, that's not bad.

Alison Sweeney: Yeah.

PR.com: Because I read in your book that sometimes you start at like 5:45 in the morning?

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, normally not earlier than 6:15 actually. We shoot usually… like last night I didn't finish until 6 o'clock at night. You just never know.

PR.com: But this is one of those good days that you were talking about, that you get out…

Alison Sweeney: This was one of those good days. We do get out early sometimes.

PR.com: So what kind of stuff are you shooting now? What is your character up to?

Alison Sweeney: Oh my character is, you know, Austin and Carrie are back on the show. So it's sort of back to that quadrangle, the foursome of Sami pursuing Austin, jealous of Lucas, and all that sort of stuff.

PR.com: I know that you said that you work really long hours and then you guys have to memorize a script every night for the next day. How does that work? When you come home after work do you get any breathing time?

Alison Sweeney: It just depends on the schedule. Especially now that I have my son, Ben, it's hard to find time to do everything.

PR.com: I can imagine.

Alison Sweeney: I mean, I come home and I try to spend time with my son and figure out dinner, and then towards the end of the evening I try to… I like to know ahead of time how much I think its going to take me to memorize my dialogue.

PR.com: Right.

Alison Sweeney: And then I know how much to accommodate for. So I usually allot however much time I need at night before I go to bed.

PR.com: You've been on Days of Our Lives now going on thirteen years?

Alison Sweeney: Thirteen years.

PR.com: Wow.

Alison Sweeney: (Yawns) It's amazing, huh?

PR.com: Yeah and you sound tired! (Laughs)

Alison Sweeney: Sorry about that.

PRcom: So how has having your son a little less than a year ago changed the dynamic of your life, working on the show and making appearances and things like that?

Alison Sweeney: Oh, it's changed everything. First of all, having a child just totally changes your priorities in general. He is my first priority. As aggressive as I am and business minded, and I have all these sort of, I guess, dreams and ideas and stuff I'm really trying to work on, and it's really fun and I love my career, but it definitely takes a back seat to my relationship with my son. It gives me a whole new perspective and motivation to go out there and do good work. But at the same time it's all for him now rather than thinking about other stuff.

PR.com: Can you bring him to the set?

Alison Sweeney: I do, I bring him to the set. I have a little room in my dressing room for him and all the toys; he's like a celebrity when he comes here. Everyone is so excited to see Ben and to play with him. It's really cute. So, we have a great time bringing him here and I love getting that opportunity to spend time with him because I work so many long hours and sometimes it's hard because I actually leave for the studio before he wakes up in the morning. Then I get home sometimes and it's so late that he's already asleep. And there are days that I wouldn't see him at all if he wasn't able to come here.

PR.com: Now you were a child actor, right?

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, I've been an actress since I was four.

PR.com: What would you think if a few years from now he said, "Mom, I think I want to try acting."?

Alison Sweeney: Um. (laughs)

PR.com: (laughs) Do you always get that question? Or, you probably will…

Alison Sweeney: No, no… I am not an advocate of encouraging children to perform. I was very lucky. I had a great, stable family life. But being in the industry, I saw, and even now, working with child actors… there are so many examples of obnoxious Hollywood parents and obnoxious Hollywood children. It's a very difficult… let's just say this… it's a very difficult life that I would not encourage for anyone. I think if it's something you really love and are passionate about, then you have to pursue your dreams. But I wouldn't put my kid in a commercial or something like that. I'll see how he reacts and if it's something he wants to pursue when he gets older and he steers himself in that direction, then of course I am going to be supportive. But um, it's not something I would encourage, let's say that.

PR.com: I agree with you. I think that's very wise. For the most part, I think that children should be children.

Alison Sweeney: That's exactly how I feel. I obviously would not be where I am today if it were not for my career growing up, but at the same time I do regret not having a regular childhood. Or I guess I missed that, and I would want my child to have that.

PR.com: Did that come from you, where you kind of led your mother?

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, my mom thought it would be really cute for me to do a commercial when I was like four years old, and I fell in love with it. I had so much fun. It was something I was good at, and I always had a very vivacious, outgoing personality when I was a kid.

PR.com: You've been playing Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives since you're sixteen years old, and you're now 29. How has playing her evolved over the years in how you approach the character?

Alison Sweeney, from Days of Our Lives (Sami Brady)
Alison Sweeney

Alison Sweeney: I guess it's changed for me because…I've grown up. And, in some ways, I feel like the character really hasn't. But, you can't help but bring a different level. In my opinion, the most important part about acting is bringing yourself to the role. That's what makes my performance of this character different from anyone else's, is what I bring to it. So I guess I can't help but grow and change over the last thirteen years. So I bring, I think, a different sensibility and, hopefully maturity, to this character. One of the things I really like about the way they've created this role is all of her problems and her anxieties, and certainly her shortcomings. Sami is a very flawed character with a lot of insecurities. I think all of the actions that are so bad and maybe even evil stem from a very organic insecurity; insecurities that women and people in general can relate to. So I really like that about the character. When they write sequences and scenes where you can really see, for example, Marlena favoring her other daughter Belle over Sami or you see scenes where Roman takes Sami for granted …no one ever understands Sami.

PR.com: So you see where her pain comes from...

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, you can see why she feels like she has to fight for what she gets because it's never handed to her the way it is to Carrie.

PR.com: So do you look at her as a villainous character or do you look at her as a misunderstood or hurt character?

Alison Sweeney: I definitely see both. Obviously, I understand why people call her a villain, but I play the hurt and the insecurities because I think that's real. I know people like this, who, I mean not necessarily 100 percent… but, everyone knows people who act out of pain. Even when I lurk online and a lot of the reaction to Sami is like "Oh, come on, she's 29 years old!" It's like, come on! How many adult people do we know that… [just] watch Jerry Springer for two seconds!

PR.com: (laughs) Right.

Alison Sweeney: They act immaturely their whole lives. I mean, everyone knows a man who never settles down, you know what I mean? It's not uncommon for people to never grow up and to not learn from their mistakes, or to learn the wrong lesson from their mistakes. I think in this instance, for example, this whole Lucas dynamic is a really interesting one, because from Sami's perspective, the lesson that she has learned from her past mistakes is she is not going to pursue Lucas. She's not going to chase after him because obviously he doesn't want to be with her. If she learned the right lessons and all of a sudden became this perfect person, it would be boring and no one would watch.

PR.com: Do you ever wish that she would transform into someone who's still flawed but a little bit more of a protagonist as time goes on?

Alison Sweeney: I actually felt that way a lot over the last two, even three years, that she was much more, [still] sort of sarcastic, and maybe a little bit bitchy, but she was much more on the protagonist side and sort of the hero. But I have to say, I think that Sami is inevitably a person who is not going to sit around and let life happen to her. So when things don't turn out the way that she wants, I think that it would be untrue of the character if she just felt bad about it and didn't do anything. I have to admit that I have a lot more fun with the flawed, sort of, borderline villainous character that she is.

PR.com: Is it therapeutic for you to get out these bold emotions at work?

Alison Sweeney: It definitely is, having these emotional sequences. I think Sami is really someone who wears her heart on her sleeve and also is this eternal optimist. I mean, she inevitably is hurt because she really thinks it will work out. Rather than really seeing the truth of the situation, she kind of is endlessly hopeful that things will work out for her. To answer your question, yes, it's almost cathartic, my scenes. Yelling at people, crying and fighting and doing nasty things. It's fun.

PR.com: Because in real life sometimes we have to be polite even when we really don't want to.

Alison Sweeney: You're right!

PR.com: And you've also said that people will approach you on the street or you may get a letter from someone who's kind of, taking out their anger towards your character, on you.

Alison Sweeney: Oh yeah.

PR.com: Or sort of mixing up the two and blurring the lines of fantasy and reality? What do you think that is?

Alison Sweeney: It's interesting because often times letters will be addressed like, "Dear Alison… I hate you! Why can't you leave Austin and Carrie alone?" It's very funny. People blur those lines a lot. But for the most part, I think that the fans that I meet are true fans of the show and they see it. I think that fans are so smart, and they get it. They know that they're watching a soap opera because they like to hate someone, or they like to be angry or crying with Bo or Hope or whatever. They tune into our show because they want to be affected by these characters. So, I think that they either hate or embrace Sami. They love her and sympathize with her and I enjoy meeting both people because it's really fun to egg on the people who hate Sami. I get such a kick out of defending her. Seeing it from my perspective as the actress who has plays her, that's sort of my job, to find a defense for Sami and to see it from that point of view. So I have a whole fistful of witty comebacks for people who say things.

PR.com: Thirteen years ago one audition, one single event, completely changed the course of your entire life.

Alison Sweeney: You're so right!

PR.com: Are you a coincidence and chance person or are you a meant-to-be type of person? Which one do you believe in?

Alison Sweeney: I've never had anyone ask me that before. I suppose this is a cop-out answer, but a combination of both. I believe you make your own future and in that way I suppose I do identify with my character a lot. I think Sami goes after what she wants and she doesn't believe in waiting for life to come to her, and I feel the same way. You could sit around your whole life watching life pass you by, waiting for an opportunity, but you have to go out there and make opportunities. You have to put yourself in those situations and especially when it comes to your career. Especially in this industry, it's very difficult. It's all about auditioning and hoping someone will want you for a certain role and cast you. And that doesn't sit well with me, so I...

PR.com: It makes you feel very out of control…

Alison Sweeney: Exactly, and that is not who I am. Thirteen years later it would be very easy to come to work every day and be very lazy and not care and not commit yourself to working hard. That's just not who I am. I work so hard every single day and I remind myself every single day that there are a million other girls who would love to play this role. I don't take it for granted. And I don't take this industry for granted. I'm working on a lot of other projects right now, producing and directing. It's just so much fun to be in this industry and to take control of it and go after what you want without waiting for things to come to you.

PR.com: So it sounds like you're the kind of person who thinks that you make things happen for yourself.

Alison Sweeney: Absolutely. I mean, obviously there are instances where it's the right place at the right time, but if you don't have the right answers and you're not prepared and educated, they're not going to hire you. So I think that you definitely make things happen for yourself.

PR.com: I just read your book (All The Days of My Life…So Far) this past weekend…

Alison Sweeney: Oh!

PR.com: …and I enjoyed it very much…

Alison Sweeney: Oh, I'm glad you did!

PR.com: A major theme in the book was about weight issues and body image issues. You talked about just so desperately wanting to be thin or how many actresses desperately want to be skinny. I never had that issue. We all have our neuroses. But I never had that…

Alison Sweeney: Right.

PR.com: So, I don't fully understand it, but I want to understand it. What I don't understand is, why is the goal, or why is the obsessive thought to be skinny rather than to just be healthy and fit and to look good?

Alison Sweeney, from Days of Our Lives (Sami Brady)
Alison Sweeney

Alison Sweeney: That's an excellent question, and I wish I had a better answer for you. I think because in this industry, people who are unhealthy work all the time. It's not about that. It's not about your health; it's about what you look like. And that's sad but it is true. There are a lot of women out there who are very successful and leading incredibly unhealthy lives, whether it's smoking cigarettes, or drinking too heavily, or various sorts of drugs, or an eating disorder. All of those things lead to weight loss, and people can be beautiful looking people and struggling with all sorts of problems. So the ideal, unfortunately, is specifically attributed with appearance rather than necessarily health.

PR.com: And how to get that appearance as quickly as possible I guess…

Alison Sweeney: Exactly. If you were an athlete that would be something different. Watching the Olympics right now is so motivating because those women are so incredibly beautiful to me, and obviously healthy. That is what it's all about for that sport. So I suppose, in that industry, they are very conscious about their health and making sure that they are healthy. In this industry the goal is much more appearance oriented than being physically fit, unfortunately. When I was losing weight and trying to be skinny, I never was successful. When I realized how unhealthy I was being doing all these fad diets, I realized that it was just so detrimental, and it really kind of beats you down mentally… to starve yourself and then binge, or whatever you end up doing. You have to find a balance of eating right and working out. A good workout sends off these endorphins in your system that just make you feel so good about yourself.

PR.com: At this point, have you reconciled that whole situation in your mind, as far as enjoying and appreciating your body and who you are, rather than thinking about size zero or size two?

Alison Sweeney: Frankly, it will never be something that I have completely reconciled. I think it really is something that, I don't know if you're born with it, or if that's just how I've developed mentally, but it is always going to be something that is in my thoughts. It's sort of like an alcoholic. You're never not an alcoholic anymore. You're just a recovering one. I feel like that about my body image. I have to remind myself of my goals, and I try to re-establish that and let myself have fun sometimes too and not stress about it so much. When I had my son that totally changed my perspective again. When I spoke to Ann Curry on The Today Show about it, she had the same reaction you did. It wasn't so much specifically about weight loss, so much as the point of whatever it was that was your weakness, or whatever it is that lends itself to you not having a positive self image.

PR.com: Right, everybody has their own thing to deal with…

Alison Sweeney: Yeah, it's like… acne, or your parents' divorce or… whatever. And it's that same premise, no matter what the thing is; it's a symptom of obviously another issue.

PR.com: It's the place you go when you're not feeling in balance or good about yourself. You immediately go right there.

Alison Sweeney: Exactly. And I am a big believer in being honest with yourself about that shortcoming and being honest with yourself about what it is covering [up]. [For instance], I'm using what I ate for lunch as an excuse to feel bad about myself. What am I really upset about?? Being honest with yourself about what's really going on is a huge step in the battle.

PR.com: When fashion stylists say, "I'd love to get you this free sample from this couture designer, but it's a size zero or it's a size two, can you lose ten pounds?" Why can't an actress just assert herself and say, "Well I'm not a two, I'm a six. Either make it for me in a six, or let's find another dress."?

Alison Sweeney: It wouldn't be as simple as a question like that. It's more like they bring the dress to you and they're in the fitting room and they're like, "Oh honey, what's happened to you? What have you been eating lately?? I mean this dress is sooo beautiful, too bad it doesn't fit you." You know what I mean?

PR.com: Why not just say, "Oh honey, you're fired if you're going talk to me that way."

Alison Sweeney: Well, of course…

PR.com: (laughs)

Alison Sweeney: I would choose to hire people who would never talk to me like that, but there are very famous fashion designers out there who are making a killing and you want to hire them. The other answer to that question is actresses are notoriously looking to other people. The whole industry is you out there looking to other people for affirmation. That's what the whole business is about; putting yourself on the line and other people judging you. The whole concept is that other people are telling you, "Yes you're right for the role, or no you're not." "Yes, your hair looks great like that, or no it doesn't." It's very hard to stand up for yourself.

PR.com: Going back to your career on Days of Our Lives, you said that at the age of 26 when you wrote your book, that you kind of felt you were in a mid-life crisis because you had essentially been on the same career track for 10 years. Was that when you started to branch out to do other things?

Alison Sweeney: I guess, yeah definitely, I love my job, I love my character. But, I did sort of feel like I was having a mid-life crisis having been on the show for ten years. I think I got out some of those feelings by branching out and doing other things. I found a way to do both at the same time. I hope to continue to do that because I love my job here and I'm loving producing this other project I'm working on.

PR.com: Tell me about that, the 15 minute episodic project that you're working on…

Alison Sweeney: We actually haven't decided on exactly how long it's going to be. It's probably more like 5-7 minute episodes. But, we are creating a show called In Tune, that is going to be on the Internet. I'm co-producing it with the people who power my website, a company called Safe Searching. We have a concept for a soap opera on the Internet and we think it's the perfect idea for the Internet. I think that everything is going sort of smaller screen. That's what soap operas do best, is close up, high drama, good emotions. Everyone at work would probably love the opportunity to take a break from whatever reports they have to write, and catch up on their new favorite soap opera.

PR.com: And why is it in increments of seven minutes at a time?

Alison Sweeney: We'll probably do smaller story lines a little bit at a time. The reason we chose the time limit is for convenience of downloading. It's really a question of what people will want to watch. That's the big question I think everyone was trying to figure out, what people's tolerance is for watching TV on the Internet. I think it's one thing if you already have a show that's established and you are choosing then to watch it again on the Internet. Like downloading Lost on iTunes or something. But, if it's a brand new show I think we want to make it shorter, quicker highlights and keep it going for longer stretches of time. We're going to have a lot of interactive elements to the show. [We'll have] characters blogging and live webcams at night. Different stuff to make it really interactive and involve the audience with hints and secrets of stuff they can find amongst the special features and things like that.

PR.com: Would you ever approach NBC (where Days of Our Lives resides) or another network to do something like this?

Alison Sweeney: Absolutely, we have deals that we're putting in place right now with some different people. I really can't get into details because we don't have anything in writing yet. But, yeah we've definitely talked to NBC, we've talked to some other people about mobile phone downloading and stuff like that. So, we're on it, and we're really excited about moving forward with this project. We already have a website for the show in progress; it's called www.officialintune.com.

PR.com: And that's where you can see any updates and information on it?

Alison Sweeney: Exactly.

PR.com: Do you have any special plans for Ben's first birthday, because isn't it in a few days?

Alison Sweeney: It's on the 25th.

PR.com: What are you guys doing?

Alison Sweeney, from Days of Our Lives (Sami Brady)
Alison Sweeney

Alison Sweeney: We're probably just going to do a really small, family driven party. My father-in-law is an excellent baker, so I put him in charge of making a little birthday cake for Ben. And then I got some great tips from Martha Stewart when I was on her show. I love Martha! So I went and did a lot of research on her website and found out some good ideas for what I'm going to serve my guests and some ideas for the theme.

PR.com: When you were a guest on her show recently, what did you do on the show?

Alison Sweeney: We actually made favors for Ben's first birthday party. She had an idea of making these really clever little sponges that you can cut out in the shape of their initials and we also made this very beautiful presentation of how to present a vodka bottle for a bar. You freeze it in a block of ice with the bottle itself, with really pretty citrus slices of lime and lemon or whatever or you could do flowers or something like that. Then you just wrap a little towel around the bottom and that's how your vodka stays cold as it's being displayed, but also it's a really pretty presentation. So, it was really fun, I'm definitely doing it.

PR.com: How does she find ways to make creations out of things that you would never even imagine in your entire life?

Alison Sweeney: I don't know. I just love it. I'm so motivated by Martha Stewart. I think she's so inspiring.

PR.com: You're very fortunate to get a chance to meet so many people face-to-face who inspire you.

Alison Sweeney: I know, I know, that's so true.

PR.com: That's one of the perks of the business…

Alison Sweeney: It absolutely is. It was such a highlight for me when I was asked to be on the show. That's exactly how I felt, to get to meet someone I'm so inspired by all the time. I love making my house beautiful and doing home-y stuff like that. You should've seen me last Halloween.

PR.com: It sounds like you have a really well-balanced, beautiful life all the way around.

Alison Sweeney: Thank you Allison.

PR.com: Do you plan to write any more books?

Alison Sweeney: Definitely! I always joke that in the next 27 years of my life I'll write another one.

"Days of Our Lives'" Alison Sweeney on Show Business, Motherhood and the Deconstruction of Sami Brady


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