This story first appeared in the May 17, 2016 issue of Variety. Cick here to view.
In 40 years of playing Dr. Marlena Evans on “Days of Our Lives,” Deidre Hall has had it rough: She’s been in a coma, been kidnapped on multiple occasions, battled an evil twin, fallen from a 30th-floor window and — in one of daytime’s most famous plotlines — been possessed by the devil.
She’ll be honored for her troubles, and for her work in television, on May 19 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With so much drama under her belt, it’s nice to hear Hall is a bit of a ham at heart. “I love comedy,” Hall says. “I’d love to do a pratfall or a spit take. The fact I play a serious psychiatrist is funny to me.”
In fact, Hall recently completed a standup comedy class that culminated with a graduation performance at the Comedy Store. “It was as frightening a thing as you can imagine,” she confesses. But she’s not one to be complacent; in fact, she’s often signing up for classes as “a way to keep expanding and stay fresh.” Past courses have included water coloring, sign language, writing and cake decorating. “Whatever looks like fun at the time,” she explains.
It makes sense she’s willing to take on anything — what could be more intimidating than the demanding daytime schedule? “Days” shoots seven episodes in five days. and she’s often required to memorize between 10 and 30 pages per day.
But to hear her tell it, she would have it no other way. “It’s the hardest job there is because of the pace,” she says. “But those of us who work at this pace think, ‘If I did film, I’d shoot myself! I can’t read that many magazines.’ We thrive on it.”
During an interview, the stunning Hall is seated in her dressing room mere yards away from the sets where so much conniving and backstabbing take place. Paintings of her two sons, whom she calls “the absolute joys of my life,” hang on the wall. But her second family is her cast and crew, many of whom she has known for years.
“There is such a sense of teamwork and camaraderie,” she says. “In this genre, if you don’t do your job and help everybody else do theirs, the show doesn’t get in the can. We’re a group of really hardworking people, we like working together, we exchange ideas — it’s an ensemble production.”
Over the years, many great daytime dramas have fallen by the wayside, but “Days of Our Lives” remains one of four soap operas still on the air — and the only one on NBC.
Asked about the secret to its longevity, Hall doesn’t hesitate. “I think we’ve got the best fans,” she says. “And that isn’t glad-handing. They care and they stay and they write and they invest in you. In a way that’s very specific to ‘Days.’ I couldn’t tell you why, but it’s absolutely wonderful.”
And though she’s played the character for 40 years, Hall says she never tires of Marlena. “She has a yummy husband and good friends and she’s fun,” Hall reasons. “She’s easy to play for me because I know her so well. She is completely accepting, which is a comfortable place to be: to love everybody all the time.”
In a Day’s Work
A look back on Hall’s favorite storylines and outside projects:
The Devil Made Her Do It
Perhaps Hall’s most iconic storyline took place in 1995, when Marlena was possessed by the devil. When head writer James E. Reilly told her about the plotline, it gave her pause. “It was such a departure from anything I’d done,” she admits. “But I thought, well, it’s in good hands. It was a story he’d wanted to tell for a long time and, lucky me, I got to be the person to help tell it. It was also fun to cut loose, to be the villain.”
Asked about her favorite storyline, Hall cites the 1977 introduction of Marlena’s twin sister, Samantha, played by Hall’s real-life twin, Andrea. Though her sister wasn’t an actress at the time, she proved to be more than adept at the job. “There was a scene where she had to cry on the stand and I tried to coach her through it,” Hall recalls. “She said she’d be fine. I wasn’t so sure, but when it came down to the moment, she burst into tears. I said, ‘How the hell did you do that?’ She said, ‘I’ve seen you do it. How hard can it be?’ ”
In addition to working with Operation Smile, Hall is a supporter of the Wounded Warrior Project. One of her watercolors has been made into a card. “The back says 100% of the proceeds of this card are being donated to wounded warriors because they gave 100% to us.”
Hall has penned “Kitchen Closeup” (2010) and “Deidre Hall’s How Does She Do It? A Beauty Book” (2011). She also authored the children’s book “Little Big Bear” for Write Brain Books.