HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Freddie Smith is becoming quite the expert at playing gay on television, and he is thrilled at the new storyline coming next week to the venerable daytime soap opera, “Days Of Our Lives” (DOOL) on NBC.
“My character [Sonny Kiriakis] is the first gay character in the 45 years of the show,” Smith said.
Three weeks after leaving the nighttime soap, “90210,” on which he played the gay character of Marco Salazar, Smith landed a recurring role on DOOL.
Sonny is the son of Justin Kiriakis and Adrienne Johnson, and he moves to the fictional town of Salem in 2011 to live close to his parents and to attend college. Soon he comes out to his Uncle Victor and befriends other members of the younger set in Salem. Along the way, he finds the acceptance of his family and friends, but begins running into conflict with less open-minded people.
DOOL then introduces another important character, Will Horton, and he and Sonny become close. So close, in fact, that Will comes out to his friends in Salem.
A romance blossoms?
Smith is coy in describing the major gay subplot coming to DOOL, but he teases that Will and Sonny may become romantically involved.
“Sonny has a romance coming up,” Smith said. “You’ve got to check out Sonny’s big storyline.”
Again, not one to spoil a storyline, Smith will go as far as saying that his character will be the victim of anti-gay bullying.
“Sonny was picked on for being gay early on,” Smith said. “So it has developed slowly, like it does in real life. And what’s interesting is that the bullying is being done by different people.”
Smith is adamant that bullying is so very wrong, and that Americans must rally to stop it for once and for all. He admits he faced mild forms of bullying and hazing as a youth growing up in Ashtabula, Ohio, but that he saw an even uglier side of bullying when kids would egg his cousin’s house. “She had it really bad,” Smith said.
“It’s such a problem that something must be done,” he said with conviction. “This is an opinion of mine, but parents are playing a huge role in it. Kids 5 or 6 are too young to know what it means, so they must be learning it from home or on the playground. Parents need to stand up for what’s right.”
DOOL’s demographics will reach the right audience, mostly women from 20 to 90, and many of them are stay-at-home moms. “I hope our audience learns something” from this storyline, Smith said.
For his part, Smith has no hesitation to play gay, something that once was considered a career-killer in show biz. He declined to identify his sexual orientation, but expressed full support for equal rights.
“Love is love, whether you are gay or straight,” Smith said. “Sexual orientation is such a small part of the complex person you are. We get too hung up about this in America.”
Fans have embraced the two gay characters that Smith has played, and he estimates that the feedback has been 99% positive.
Smith says Sonny is played honestly and without any stereotypical characteristics of early gay characters on television. “We [Smith and Sonny] are similar in many ways; we are both positive people, have high energy, and I know I was very close to who they wanted for the role.”
He signed a four-year contract on the show, so fans can expect Sonny to be around for at least two more years.
The life of a soap star is not easy. The show airs five days a week, year-round, except when special events like the Olympics bumps regularly scheduled programming off the air. DOOL actors had a rare two-week vacation while NBC covered the London 2012 Olympics.
“We shoot seven episodes per week,” Smith said, who works Monday through Friday. “So we get only one or two takes per scene. … This has been like an actor’s boot camp. It has made me a better actor. Every day you must come prepared, be ready, be professional and respect your fellow actors.”
DOOL is fast approaching its 12,000th episode.
Gay storyline gets earnest on Thursday, Aug. 22
For Smith, he cannot wait for America to tune in to see the anti-gay bullying arc on DOOL. It starts on Thursday, Aug. 22.
“I’ve got to give credit to the writers on DOOL,” he said. “They are embracing this storyline full-blown. The romance. The bullying. The aftermath. It’s such a great story … I think it’s one of the best gay storylines ever.”
Smith explains that point further.
“It is touching on every subject. The ups and the downs of a gay relationship, but not in a stereotyped way. It’s showing the lives of real people, the fights, the making up, the break-ups. It’s no different from a straight relationship. It’s three-dimensional storytelling.”
The excitement in Smith’s voice was very palpable.
“I’m very passionate about what I’m doing!”
Ken Williams is Editor in Chief of SDGLN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.