It’s hard to imagine daytime TV without Deidre Hall, but after playing Marlena Evans for more than 40 years, could she imagine not being on Days of Our Lives?
“It’s funny, nobody’s ever asked me that … and I don’t know!” Deidre, 71, exclusively confesses to Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “I just get a flooding sense of relief when the show is picked up every year. I joke with my castmates that whenever I pull up to the studio security gate with my key card, I hold my breath for a moment, and think, Oh, it opened — I guess I get to come in today!”
While Deidre’s personal dramas (four divorces, her inability to conceive) have paled in comparison to her Days plotlines (demonic possession, hysterical amnesia), she’s eager to talk about one — her late mom’s blindness, caused by wet age-related macular edema [wet AMD] — in the hopes of helping others.
“Today we have all kinds of amazing treatments,” she says, encouraging people to visit looktoyourfuture.com to help identify symptoms. We spoke with Deidre about her sons, David, 26, and Tully, 24, what she learned from her marriages and why she’s led “a charmed life.”
Scroll down to read our exclusive Q&A interview with Deidre!
You’ve been on Days for most of the last 42 years! What keeps you there?
It’s always such an honor to be invited back year after year. I’ve been able to do all kinds of storylines, from deeply moving and tender to the outrageous possessions — which will be on my tombstone, I’m convinced — to these humanitarian and multigenerational stories. And it’s possible because we have actors from when you were born to [vets like] John Aniston and Suzanne Rogers.
So, no longing for a prime-time series?
I did a show called Our House with Wilford Brimley [in 1986-’88] and hadn’t done a nighttime series for a long time. I forgot the length of time you sit and wait! I thought, I don’t think I can do this. I’m used to going in with 40 pages of dialogue I look at the night before and I lock down in the makeup chair. We might get one rehearsal, or none. Talk about flying by the seat of your pants, having your heart in your throat and all your creative juices right at your fingertips! I love, love, love this medium, and wouldn’t change it for anything.
What are some of your other passions?
My mother, who had five children and worked a good part of that, was the most extraordinary, powerful and strong woman. In 1997, she began to have eye problems. But they didn’t have a really effective treatment for wet AMD then, so she eventually lost almost all of her eyesight. Today they can sometimes roll back part of the eye damage, which is breathtaking. If you have blurriness in the center of your vision, maybe seeing lines, blind spots and some washed out colors, you need to get to your eye doctor immediately. They can help you — my mom, not so much — but today, we are in a better place.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in a very small town in Florida. For a time, I wanted to be a hairdresser because my mother’s best friend was one. They’d get together, smoke Pall Malls and play cards. That looked like heaven to me! When I was in college, I took classes to become a therapist.
Then you started modeling and acting on a summer trip to L.A. …
I worked a lot [on TV shows] out of Universal, as all little cute blondes did in that day. We’d get a casting call saying, “We need a nurse. It’s a day’s work.” There wasn’t any sort of raw ambition, but I got kind of fascinated by it and ended up doing a recurring part on The Young and the Restless to see how that ensemble works.
How’d you get Days of Our Lives in 1976?
I got a call about a character named Marlena Evans, possibly for a short-term contract and “Would I like to come and read for her?” — and I did, with some very recognizable women. My agent called about a week later and said, “You got the job,” but I was so persuaded that 10 recognizable actors must’ve turned it down and there must be something wrong with it. So I turned it down!
My agent called back two weeks later and said, “What’s wrong with this part?” I said, “I love it. I just thought I wasn’t somebody they thought of first.” She said, “No, no, you were their first choice.” So I took it, and it’s been over 40 years.
You’re also one of the few actors to play yourself, in a 1995 TV movie about having kids via a surrogate. Why’d you do it?
I spent two years doing in vitro trying to get pregnant, and finally my doctor said, “You are out of the baby business,” so we looked at surrogacy. The film was a great joy, but casting was too hard. We had footage of when my son was born that we wanted to use, and it wasn’t going to work having another actress play me and then have [the real] me in the birth room.
How did that experience change you?
In the moment that baby is placed in your arms, it doesn’t matter how they got there. When David was born, the doctor cut the cord and handed him to me, and I remember saying, “If anybody ever tries to hurt you, I will kill them” … at a rational moment. [Laughs] When a life comes into this world, the air in the room changes.
What are your sons up to now?
Tully took a little break and he’s going back to college, and David’s been going to college in Paris. He graduates in May.
You had David and Tully with the same surrogate and your fourth husband, Steve Sohmer. Do you have any regrets about your previous marriages?
A friend of mine says, “You’ve got a bad picker,” and I think that’s not entirely untrue. But when I look at the growth in my life, everything got me to where I am. I was going to school in Florida and a marriage got me to California, so that opened a few thousand doors! I’ve taken lessons [from them] and still have [some] great friendships.
Do you think you’d get married again?
No, no interest.
How is this time in your life?
It’s the best time ever … until the next time! I’m so sublimely happy. My kids and my family are in good shape, I’m healthy. I do a job that I love. I have people and a home that I adore, a garden that I like growing. It doesn’t get any better, and I’m beyond grateful.
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