Days Newest Teen Heartthrob, Jensen Ackles, isn’t fazed by soap stardom and life in the Hollywood’s fast lane.
IMAGINE THE PRESSURE, FOR YEARS DAYS OF OUR LIVES FANS EAGERLY AWAITED THE RETURN OF Salem’s lost son, Eric Brady. Sent to stay with his maternal grandparents during an especially rocky period of his parents’ marriage, Eric - unlike his twin sis, Sami - never came home (no one knows exactly why). He finally worked his way back to Salem from Colorado last summer. Ah, the intrigue!
After a nationwide casting call, Jensen Ackles has brought to life one of the most anticipated characters in daytime history. It’s a daunting task, but the easygoing actor couldn’t be more thrilled.
"I was very fortunate to get a role that was anticipated - that wasn’t just some new guy randomly coming in," he says. "Eric has always been there behind the scenes, but I wasn’t picking up where somebody else left off. That was really cool to come in and have a background with all these people, but not have to fill anyone’s shoes."
Ackles may be psyched, but his Days addicted gal pals back in Texas are having breakdowns. "The only soap I really know anything about was Days, because all my friends, the girls back home at my high school, used to watch it. That’s all they would talk about. So when I got the show, and I called all my friends back home, they were like, ‘No way!’ His Texas granny, however, is enjoying his Days job for a more practical reason: "My grandmother says, ‘I get to see you every day now!’"
Still, stepping into the role was pretty heady stuff for someone just exiting his teens. But Ackles and his alter ego share an important trait: Both are unusually mature for their age, but for radically different reasons.
"Eric’s independent because he’s basically grown up without his parents," Ackles explains. "He’s grown up with this resentment of almost having his childhood taken from him, and having to grow up quickly. He likes to be on his own and do things his way."
For Ackles, who at 17 moved from Texas to Los Angeles by himself, developing maturity was a sink-or-swim situation. "I came out here in 1996, three months after graduating from high school, just to test the waters."
The waters were initially tranquil and inviting. During his first week in California, he landed a role on NBC’s Mr. Rhodes. "It didn’t get picked up for a second season, but it was a great gig. Prime time - I mean, whoa!"
During the time between that and being cast on Days, however, the waters turned a bit choppy. For the first time, Ackles found himself knee-deep in the audition process. "I auditioned from mid-February until the end of May, and the only job I got was a guest spot on Cybil." he says. "If it hadn’t worked out with Days, I think I would’ve gone back to Texas and gone to school." The athletically inclined Ackles was interested in pursuing the field of sports medicine.
It did work out, though, and now Ackles is slowly finding his way into the daytime groove. Not knowing what to expect from his first soap, Ackles admits he was most surprised by the camaraderie shared by the cast and crew. "I thought there would be some attitude," he says. "But it’s not like that. It’s very laid-back. I have a blast working with these people. We’re always playing jokes on each other."
In fact, on his first day, Drake Hogestyn (John) solicited Ackles’ assistance with a little prank. The target? Deidre hall (Marlena). "Deidre’s really big on grammar and articulation, so during rehearsal, instead of saying, ‘How are you two doing?’ I said, ‘How’re you guys doing?’ That kind of thing bugs her. She said, ‘First of all, we’re not guys.’ Drake and I started laughing hysterically! She took it really well, though. Deidre’s cool to work with. You feed off her energy."
Ackles also enjoys working with TV-dad Josh Taylor (Roman). "Playing with Josh, to realize that this is my dad and he’s dying - those have been pretty intense scenes." Taped exchanges with his troubled twin are special for entirely different reason. "The scenes with Sami - telling her to shut up and get over it - those are fun!" Ackles declares with a laugh.
The thing Ackles most looks forward to is fleshing out the character and uncovering Eric’s dark side. No one, not even Ackles, knows how the brooding young Brady occupied himself while he was away. "He has some secret I wish I knew," he says. "I’m sure the writers have ideas, but I think they’re waiting to see what I do with the character and how I relate to other people as to what skeletons Eric has in his closet. Obviously there is something going on - he couldn’t have been an angel the whole time he was gone."
While Eric seems to be settling into Salem’s fold, Ackles, raised in Richardson, a Dallas subarb, is acclimating to life in LA. "The biggest differences between the cities are, Dallas is much more open, traffic is not so bad, and of course, there’s no smog. It’s a lot cleaner. LA is also an open city, but everything is cramped together - and there is lot of smog. It diffidently took some getting used to."
Plus, there is his love for country music, not to mention that accent - both things for which he takes some ribbing from his castmates. Although Ackles claims that most folks raised in Dallas don’t really have an accent, "from what I’ve been told, you can hear mine every now and then."
Not that LA doesn’t have some major advantages over his hometown. Late one night while grocery shopping, Ackles had a brush with greatness. "I heard singing coming from one of the other aisles," he explains. "It was this old-time ‘40’s music. I wheeled my cart over and there was this older guy, arm in arm with this younger guy. The young guy was supporting him, and they weren’t shopping or anything: they were just walking, and the old guy was singing. I went right up, shook his hand and said, ‘I just had to meet you, Mr. Hope.’ Unbelievable! Bob Hope - in the grocery store!"
Ackles also takes advantage of his prime location on the NBC lot. In fact, the day of this interview, he was heading to The Tonight Show with Jay Leno (which tapes next door to Days) to check out Michael Jordan. "I can wait in the hall and then catch him before he leave," he says with a laugh. This strategy has worked for him before. "I met Garth Brooks last week."
Striking up conversations with legends comes easily for Ackles. Now if Eric could only figure out a way to engage in some friendly dialogue with a possible love interest. "The two young girls (Christie Clark and Alison Sweeney, who play Carrie and Sami) on the show are my sisters," he says with a laugh. The suggestion that the producers import some single non-Brady women sparks a quick response: "There you go! I like that idea."
Eric’s lack of prospects notwithstanding, dating shouldn’t be a problem for Ackles. Still, he says, "Who knows what my 20s will hold? It’s king of scary. it’s a pretty critical decade, considering how most of the decisions you make at this point in your life are going to affect the rest of your life. I guess I’ll just take it as it come." *