When Jensen Ackles learned that he had landed the role of Eric Brady, the 19 year-old Texas native understood that he wasnít just playing any of character, he was portraying a Brady...a member of a very rooted family tree. Although he was new to the soap world when he walked onto the DAYS set in June, he knew that all eyes would be focused on him and his interpretation of Roman and Marlenaís son and Samiís twin. "From day one, I was in the thick of things," he recalls, "When youíre a Brady, youíre connected to just about everybody."
In his first few weeks on the show, Ackles was thrown into scenes with everybody who is anybody on DAYS, including such heavy hitters as Deidre Hall (Marlena), Drake Hogestyn (John) and Eileen Davidson (Kristen/Susan). "Itís a humbling experience to work opposite such well known actors," he admits, "but I feel like Iím learning from the best."
LESSON ONE: CHEMISTRY
Ever since Ackles set foot in the studio, he diligently has been studying the acting techniques of his seasoned co-stars; however, his initial lesson in the craft came from his father, Alan, who makes his living as an actor in the Dallas area. Although Ackles performed theater in high school, the teen planned on attending Texas Tech to study sports medicine rather than performing. His life took a different course when an agent and manager discovered him at an acting seminar in Dallas and recruited him for roles on SWEET VALLEY HIGH and the sitcom MR. RHODES.
Then, when DAYS was searing for a young blond guy to play Samiís twin brother, Acklesí agent sent him in. He spent the next several nerve-racking days audition for the role. "The first screen test was with a bunch of guys," he remembers. "Then it was cut to five and then three. "By the end," he concludes, "it really came down to who had the best chemistry with Alison Sweeney (Sami)."
Apparently, producers noticed the onscreen give-and-take between Ackles and Sweeney, and decided to give the fledging actor a chance. "Alison and I really hit if off," he says. "I found it so hard to believe that such a nice person could play such an evil-spirited character. It gave me a lot of respect for her."
When DAYS offered him a contract, he put off college plans - temporarily, he insists - and, with his parentsí blessing, moved from the Lone Star State to Tinseltown. "In couldnít turn this offer down," he says. "I think I would have always wondered what might have been."
LESSON TWO: PSYCHOLOGY
After Ackles accepted the role, he was told he was Samiís brother returning to Salem after a long hiatus in Colorado. In his first weeks of taping, he know very little about the character and, like viewers, was curious to find out whether Eric would be a carbon copy of his conniving twin. "It would have been a lot of fun to play a sinister role, he admits, "but I consider myself a pretty nice guy and playing a good character is more true to my nature."
And, it turns out, to Ericís, "He wants to protect his family, but heís very held back," says his portrayer. "There are definitely some skeletons in his closet, but at this point I donít have a clue what they could be"
Eventually, Eric will have to unpack his emotional baggage, too. Ackles views him as good-natured, but understandably reluctant to get too close to people considering the Bradyís bizarre history of bad luck. "It was a blow for him to come back to such huge problems," he notes. "His dad is dying, his mom is in love with another man, and his sister is all screwed up. Itís overwhelming."
LESSON THREE: MATH
While Acklesí onscreen family relations are immersed in perplexities, his offscreen life is an open book. Its simple equation: a close clan + a strong upbringing by good parents - his humble attitude. Itís not in his nature to "go Hollywood," as his buds in Texas tease that he has. "They keep saying that Iím going to change, but I donít want to," he says. "I want to stay the person I was brought up to be.
"Iím grateful to be here, but to be honest, Iím more grateful for what Iíve had before this all started."