NBC's Days of Our Lives will broadcast its 12,000th episode Friday, and for Alison Sweeney the long-running soap opera represents more than half of her life's work.
The 36-year-old actress began her career at age 4 and January 5 marked her 20th year in the role of Sami Brady on the daytime drama. During that time, Sami has created untold mayhem in Salem and walked down the aisle 14 times, with five of her weddings resulting in actual marriages. In addition to her plotting and scheming, she has had four kids and, unbeknownst to her, is about to become a grandmother. Her character has dealt with issues such as bulimia, date rape, teen pregnancy, capital punishment, and the revelation that her son was gay. A winner of multiple Soap Opera Digest and Daytime Emmy Awards, Sweeney has also hosted NBC's reality weight-loss competition The Biggest Loser since 2007 while juggling her duties as a wife to a California Highway Patrol officer and a mother to two young children. Recently, she sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss her tenure on Days and what the future holds for her.
Celebrating her 20th anniversary on Days, Sweeney still loves her job. "That's incredible and so special for me, and I totally remember my screen test. I was 16 years old and I've been very lucky. I remember celebrating the 7,000th episode, and to be here now at 12,000 is just such an honor," she said. "Days has always been strong as an icon in TV history, and it's still going on strong and represents the genre of daytime drama so well. I'm proud to be a part of it. I'm a fan of daytime drama; I totally get it. When we are doing scenes that are romantic or will get the audience riled up, I feel like I'm a fan in the room going, 'People are going to be so mad right now!' I love it. It fuels my fire. I still feel excited to go to work every day."
Although the milestone 12,000th episode was filmed four months ago, Sweeney reached into her memory bank to describe the headspace of her character. "Sami right now is in a very delicate situation – these two gorgeous men are definitely both speaking up that they'd like to have her affection," she explains. "She feels very torn between them for such different reasons, and there's a major revelation coming down the line for her. The audience already knows there is a girl pregnant with – I can't believe I'm saying this – her grandchild, but Sami doesn't know. It's such a great twist, and people are waiting for that to come out and see what her reaction is going to be. Anybody who is a fan knows that she is not going to take that lying down."
Her long tenure on the show has also given her the authority to judge the right course of action for her character, although ultimately the writers are in charge. "To a certain extent, we get to have conversations about certain dialogue that maybe isn't in keeping with how we feel the character has been over the years," noted Sweeney. "But in terms of major story lines, it's absolutely the writers' purview, and we are the keepers of the gate for our characters. We do the best we can to create a through line. One thing they will concede is that I'm the only one there who has been there for every single scene of the same character for over 20 years, so I do have a certain place to stand on to have that conversation."
Looking to the future, Sweeney acknowledged that the daytime genre is not as strong as it once was, although Days was recently renewed through September 2014. "It's really tough because like I said, I am a fan, and we know how how loyal and passionate our fans are. So I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is for other shows people have grown up watching with their mom and grandma in the living room every day for 40-plus years," she pointed out. "We want to make sure that doesn't happen for Days fans. It's sad, and we are friends with actors on other soaps that were struggling, and now there isn't a show to go to. We fight hard to keep Days strong and on the air. I'm happy to read that some might find a home online; I know the audience is there, and everyone has to find a way to make it work in today's economy and on a budget."
Are you a fan of Alison Sweeney? What does the future have in store for Sami Brady?