Out of the gate, Days of our Lives Billy Flynn (Chad DiMera) had one of the fastest rises in popularity of any young actor in the soap genre. Flynn had extra added pressure being a recast, and taking over the role of Chad after it was played by another actor (Casey Deidrick) who was extremely well-liked. Although it took a bit of time to re-establish Chad back on to the Salem canvas, and with a story that would allow Billy to show his acting chops … once things took off there was no stopping what would follow.
Put in a love story opposite Kate Mansi’s Abigail, fans of the NBC daytime drama series named the couple “Chabby”, and in a riveting triangle and story arc, Abigail’s then fiancé’ Ben Weston (Rob Scott Wilson) turned serial killer, when his jealous rage got the best of him delivering for months high-stakes drama that ultimately led Chad to save the day for Abigail and her baby! Fast forward a few months later … bombshell! Viewers and Chad finally learn that he is the baby daddy to little Thomas, not Ben. After a DiMera-style brainwashing attempt, true love triumphed. Chad can now try to make a family with Abby and his son. But will it truly happen for the long term? Can Chad ever find true happiness, or will his twisted family ties set out to spoil everything he has gained in his life?
On-Air On-Soaps sat down with Billy Flynn for this very forthcoming and candid interview to talk about: his whirlwind success on DAYS, how he has managed to infuse the character of Chad with so much complexity that viewers can’t wait to see what the guy does next, being a younger leading man in daytime, and his thoughts on the departure of his on-screen partner, Kate Mansi and why their chemistry worked so well. Billy also chimes-in on what he thinks of the bad rap the soap genre gets from the rest of the entertainment world, and what he has learned during his almost two years in daytime. Finally, Billy weighs-in on his chances for a Daytime Emmy nomination, and opens up about the woman that changed his life … his beautiful fiancée, actress Gina Comparetto. Always one to talk straight from the heart, here’s what Billy had to share!
Did you know when you initially came on to DAYS that you would be put in this younger leading man capacity on the canvas?
BILLY: When I was cast, Marnie Saitta (DAYS casting director) explained that this character would potentially be a leading man, but that was when James Scott (Ex-EJ) and other actors were still here. So, I had no idea if that would happen. My character was written as a cocky kid who came to town. I wasn’t playing leading man material from the start. I go back to the scene with Abby in Will’s apartment, because of the context of that scene. I think that was the beginning of when people started looking at Chad, and Abigail as this modern day supercouple in the making, or couple to root for. I think that is where the audience, and the producers, and writers saw the sparks. It was the moment where people saw me in a different light on the show, and that is when I started to be written differently. There are not a lot of guys who can play the strong masculine type, but who can also be vulnerable. I think that is always the strength in one’s work.
Speaking of the strong masculine types who can vulnerable, who are your favorite leading men right now in Hollywood? Whose work do you admire?
BILLY: I think Leonardo DiCaprio is my favorite actor, and I would say him over Daniel Day-Lewis only because he will do only one film in five years. With Leo, he does maybe one or two films a year. He is still a movie star, but he has lost someone of the anonymity that Daniel Day-Lewis has been able to keep. Leonardo is still believable every time he steps into a role. He is brilliant, and you as the audience buy into it. I would also say Tom Hardy is one of my favorites, and Michael Fassbender. I also think Eddie Redmayne is brilliant. What’s nice about Eddie is that it almost seemed that he came out of nowhere, even though he had been working a long time. It’s very different for an actor who started in England. They have less blowback on their career path. When I told my parents that I wanted to be an actor at 16, they were like “Don’t be ridiculous.” But when English actors tell their parents they want to pursue acting, they go into an all arts school, because it is such a social acceptable thing over there.
Can you watch your work back on the air shows?
BILLY: I can watch my work, but I am never satifisied with it. You can ask our producer, Albert Alaar. When I am done with a scene, even if people on the crew told me they liked it, I will walk away and nitpick what was wrong. This genre sets you up for that, because you only get one take, and maybe only four hours of preparation time to do a scene without even knowing you’re blocking. And then they throw blocking in, which sometimes doesn’t make any sense at all. You think to yourself, “Why am I going over here?” (Laughs) Then you are supposed to memorize 70 pages of dialog. But what I have grown to be able to do is bring the subtlety in my performance behind the eyes. It’s not always good on daytime, because there isn’t enough time to perfect scenes. But I have always come to the table thinking, “Why can’t we in daytime strive for that kind of work.” For instance, if I am not emotional in that moment in a scene that might call for tears, I won’t cry. These are lessons I have learned while being on the show. I had this scene where I was supposed to cry over EJ’s ashes, and be vulnerable. It was just the most atrocious, and fake-crying performance I ever saw! It was then that I promised myself I would never do that again.
How long have you been on the show? The fan response has been absolutely incredible in such a short time. Do you feel you have been able to steer the direction of Chad, as well as the audience’s perception of him? Do you see your ascension in popularity the perfect storm of a combination of things, including the storylines you have been given to play?
BILLY: In April of this year, I will have been filming for two years, but airing for a year and half. I think what has transpired is kind of a perfect storm, maybe. On daytime, you see a lot of guys being masculine with their jaws clenched. If I am feeling weird in a moment, because I feel it’s ridiculous, I will find the humor in it. When you start to feel more comfortable with a character you start to put your own personality into it.
When you found out that Chad was going to be brainwashed by Andre (Thaao Penghlis) and you would have to play these scenes with your head strapped to a chair, and your eyes popping out, what was your initial reaction? The purpose of this was, of course, to throw a monkey wrench into the short lived happiness of Chad and Abigail (Kate Mansi).
BILLY: I was not happy with the way that it was done, and I have expressed that before. I didn’t understand what the brainwashing did to service the story. I saw the script, and the way that I looked at it I realized I had to commit to the material completely. A person being brainwashed can be absurd. But goddamnit, I am going to play brainwashed! I am sitting there looking at four blanks screens that in post-production they are going to put a bunch of images of Belle (Martha Madison) and Abigail, and other things. You are being told you are not in love with somebody, and you are supposed to chase somebody else. You’re strapped to this chair, and you have to fight things that a “normal” person might do in the situation, like shut their eyes and not watch the screens. Brainwash over! Well, we don’t have things to hold my eyes open, and so I have to keep my eyes open for the scene to work. As an actor, you have these problems to overcome, but you have to commit to it. By the end of the scene I realized Thaao was doing such a brilliant job of being so menacing. I had tears rolling down my eyes by the end of it. So I played it as: “OK, you are going to see Abby being ripped right out of Chad.” Thaao gave me some great notes. At the end of it, Chad is saying Abby’s name as she is getting ripped out of his brain. Then I had to figure out how to walk around being brainwashed, yet still being yourself. So now you have no relationship with this person, who you just saved from a fire, and yet she is the love of your life. I chose to play that Chad had certain ticks. Chad was inside this locked room, if you will, with the brainwashed Chad on the exterior. You saw that certain words snapped Chad back into a certain posture. Chad mumbles. To play the brainwashed Chad I slowed down my speech a little bit. I made sure when Abby was in the scenes, I never made eye contact with her. But you would also see my eyes tick if I did!
What did you think about the scenes where a brainwashed Chad goes about trying to seduce Belle (Martha Madison)?
BILLY: I don’t think I could have played that scene any less charming, and I played it almost robotic. I knew the writers had written that for me. I didn’t necessarily like it, but this is how I’m going to portray it. I have to play that Chad has no love for Belle. The audience in that scene saw a guy doing what he was being told to do. I will say the lines like they were programmed, almost like they were things that were fed to me, and in that scene it wasn’t that Belle wanted to be with Chad. She was kind of rebounding off the fact that she couldn’t be with Phillip (John-Paul Lavoisier) for the night. What was good about that whole scenario was Abby coming in and trying to save Chad, even though he was so cold to her.
The New Year’s Eve episode was nice timing though to resolve this story arc, and for Chad to snap out of it, already! (Laughs)
BILLY: It was good that just in time for New Year’s Chad snapped out of it, and remembered his love for Abby.
Let’s discuss the cabin fire, and Killer Ben (Rob Scott Wilson) attempting to set Chad and Abigail ablaze. What did you think about how those scenes were set up? Chad was to play the hero in this scenario.
BILLY: I agreed with a lot of it, but my biggest struggle with it was, for instance, with how everything Rafe (Galen Gering) and Chad did together to find Abigail, you are just not going to have Rafe be around to help Chad in the end. Chad just trekked up to the cabin in the snow alone! He breaks in, but then he gets knocked out with a tap to the back of the head. Then, they sort of immobilized the hero of the story with Chad being tied to the bed for two episodes. That was the only part I was sort of unhappy with. Chad had already gotten into a huge fight with Ben and lost. I almost felt to get knocked out again so soon after the first time … it almost felt like a kick to the hero of the story. So, then it almost seems not heroic anymore. I don’t mind playing a weak character, as long as it’s done in the right way. That being said, everybody committed so hard to that story that it was very good. From the 50th anniversary standpoint, I think what we have done since has been even better. I think what’s coming up is really strong, and Chad and Abby’s relationship has grown so much. I think it’s honest, and heartbreaking. And, if I was ever going to get nominated for a Daytime Emmy, I would say the stuff that is coming up is the strongest for me, personally.
Then there was that gory fight scene between Ben and Chad. It was one of the most violent and graphic ever witnessed on daytime, but so dramatic, and so well choreographed!
BILLY: We did those scenes in one take! They had stunt doubles that were going to do a second pass. It was a bloody mess on screen, but it looked good. Losing a fight is never awesome, but what I took from it was what it added to Chad’s character. Since I came in I have gotten very lucky with how I have sort of sculpted Chad’s growth. I wanted people to hate him at first; because that was the only way I could get people to not think about the old Chad. I wanted them to have some feeling, or some reaction. I opted for having people say about Chad: “I don’t like him. He’s smarmy. He’s a prick.” But then I wanted to layer it. The audience feels like they have seen Chad go from this little s**t to this man who is in love. I wanted the viewers to feel like they have gone on this journey with Chad from the very beginning, and I think they have. I feel very fortunate, and from that I am now instilling in the character that Chad doesn’t ever give up. Ben would hit Chad, and he gets back up, and it takes a bit longer. There was a part of the scene that was cut, when he smashes my head into the bed, but Chad grabs him and says, “I’m not going to quit!” And then he bashes my head against the bed that one final time.
The on-screen relationship and chemistry you were able to forge with Kate Mansi was truly special. Why do you think it worked so well?
BILLY: I got lucky. Sometimes on soaps you can bounce from relationship to relationship on the show, and not have chemistry with anybody. Whatever it is that we had, it just worked. I tested with Kate two years ago. I don’t think they knew where they ultimately wanted to have the characters end up. They went through Abby being paired with Ben, and Chad being paired with Jordan (Chrishell Stause), but when they saw the chemistry between Kate and me, I think they decided this is how they were going to go. It’s like any other relationship – you fight, you get along, there are things you don’t agree on as actors, and it’s up and down. We both work in different ways, and in the end we connect. We just sort of get their by going our different routes, and when your characters are written a certain way, and you have been together awhile, you kind of know how your scene partner is going to do something in a scene. It almost mirrors a real-life relationship where you can almost finish the other person’s sentence. That being said, both of us as actors have been able to surprise the other a lot in our scenes, which is nice, too! I think our scenes have had a lot of little moments, or nuggets within them that the audience appreciates.
Kate announced she decided to leave DAYS. You had spent such a great deal of time working with her. and creating the love story of Chad and Abby. How did you find out she was leaving? Did she come to you and tell you? What will you miss about working with her the most?
BILLY: Well, I think there was a process to her leaving. Once it was decided Kate was going leave in December, she came to me and told me. Kate had her reasons. I believe it was a really hard decision for her to make. I believe prior to that, her contract was up in September. The way they were going to round out the story didn’t work, or she didn’t feel right by having it end that way. Kate stayed another three months, I believe, which was really great of her. It was very selfless, because the story we were able tell in those three months was crucial, amazing, and heartbreaking. In the end, I think she was happy with at least that, or I hope she was. The story that we (as in her and me) told together can’t be duplicated. We shared our own experiences that I won’t have with another Abigail, or whatever the producers choose to do. I am happy for Kate, though. She’s moving on. It’s on her own accord, which knowing Kate; she wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s going to be fine. The mark Kate left on the show will be hers, and forever.
On soap operas, it is very important for the actors to keep the integrity of their characters in scenes. They are almost the guardians of their alter egos, even though the writers created them. What do you think about the work that is being done currently in this genre?
BILLY: I tell you, some of the soap actors blow my mind. My perception has completely changed about soap actors since coming to Days of our Lives. I was a broke actor eating black beans, eating two meals a day, living on sailboat. I remember thinking; I was still never going to do a soap if it came up. I was trying to figure out, why are these people soap opera actors as opposed to just an “actor”? I had these negative thoughts. But then you come in, and you see how these people work here, and it’s incredible. I have seen how movie stars work, and I have seen primetime TV stars work. They could not do what some of these people in our industry can do. The soap genre has birthed a lot of our A-list stars today. There is still a connotation of the soaps as the red-headed stepchild of the industry, and yet three or four of the top movie stars right now started on Australian soaps. So when somebody says to me, “Oh, you’re just a on a soap,” I say, “Really? Put your number one client in a scene with me doing 70 pages of dialog a day with no preparation time, and let’s see who is a better actor.” I think we are in a generation now where a lot of the lead actors on the CW right now have come from the soaps. You have Chris and Liam Hemsworth, and Margot Robbie, and these people were on the Australian soaps: Home & Away, and Neighbours, and they aren’t necessarily better than American soaps. Now true, they do shoot on location. (Laughs)
Are you worried about a “soap stigma” moving forward with your career?
BILLY: I am hoping when it is my time to move on, I won’t run into that. Look at Thaao Penghlis. He has been around forever, and he has done a lot of different things, as a lot of these actors have. It’s interesting, even when you are talking to an agent, or manager they will be like, “Oh, he’s on a soap? I’d rather take on a guy who has had five lines in a movie, then someone who is a lead on a soap!” Are you crazy? Soap operas do provide an opportunity though for someone who is green to get better, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just like in any other career. I was a financial analyst before. I got hired by a great company with top of the line business school people. They gave me an opportunity, and I sucked at it, which is why I’m not there anymore. My passion was always acting.
Looking at your body of work of 2015, what were some of the moments you were most proud of?
BILLY: I am proud of certain moments, but I always come back as an actor to the scene with Abby in the apartment where Chad tells her he loves her, and there were such tears in it too, but it was a place in my acting that just hit me, and a place I was never able to get to before. That moment caught me off guard. It truly felt like my first honest moment that I had on the show, so far. I also liked when Chad learns he is the father of Thomas. As the character, Chad has always wanted a child. Previously, he had baby Grace, who had passed away and who he never really knew. Chad is this flawed character, who has always desperately wanted to be a part of a family, and he has never truly had one. He is just a guy who wants to be loved, and to be able to be loved.
Now Chad is the father to his baby boy, and that makes him even more endearing to the audience. All and all, the writers have set the character up pretty well for the near term.
BILLY: For the character, I thought it was beautiful. As long as he has Abby, that is his number one. Chad loves Thomas, but he also loves Thomas because he is a part of Abby. You will see all of that play out in the next six months. It was love that pulled Chad out of the brainwashing, and introducing Chad to his son. I remember doing those scenes where he is pulled out of it. I have this gasp for air, and I say to Abby, “How could I do this to you?” It is scenes like that, or the apartment scene I mentioned before, that I always go back to my personal life and think of my fiancée’ Gina, and how I would feel saying terrible things to her, or in the baby scenario. It would break my heart. You will see in the next six months, if you see emotion and love coming from me, it’s Gina who is behind it all, while still staying in context of what the moment I’m playing is about.
What does you fiancée think of your performances on DAYS, and that you have to make out with women on camera?
BILLY: Gina is an actress, and she gets it. It’s never easy when you see the other person living in this other world. She said to me, “When and if you choose to move on, you’re not going to be out of work for very long.” She is a huge supporter, as I am of her.
Why is Gina the one for you, and the love of your life?
BILLY: I had a girlfriend when I was 16, and I was a really troubled kid, and I was in a foster home when I was young. For whatever reason, she got me out of this mess, and it was more like an escape for me – not that I wasn’t good to her, but I was young. We were together for like 4 or 5 years. She went to this college. I ended up following her there. I wasn’t a good boyfriend, but I wasn’t ready to be one. Cut to: after we broke up, because I wasn’t ready for a relationship as I wasn’t a faithful guy, I realized later I wasn’t in love with her. However, I didn’t realize that the time, because all I knew was this relationship was coming crashing down. So I promised myself I would never lie to somebody again, and I wouldn’t ever to that to somebody again till I was ready to settle down, and give my heart to somebody. I went through eight years of not having a girlfriend, and not being in a committed relationship, or even doing anything more than dating. I remember the first time I saw Gina. I thought I would like to go out with her. It took me two years to even ask her out, and I knew her that long. I sent her a text saying, “Happy Birthday.” She texted me back, “It’s not my birthday!” But then it was her birthday and I asked her out, but I knew she was the one. Then we dated a few times and my insecurities held me back, and I was working a lot. So, I kind of used that excuse just to not see her. Then DAYS had a long summer break last June, and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. So I texted her and said, “I have a month off. I would like to see you every single day, if that’s OK.” And I have seen her every day since; she took all of the doubts I had about myself being in a relationship right out of my mind. It’s been just so nice and easy being with her.
So, how did you propose to Gina? Were you nervous about it when the time came?
BILLY: I had gotten the ring when we went back to Minnesota for Gina to meet my parents for the first time. I had actually gotten the ring from a person my mom had set me up with. I told Gina I had to leave for awhile, and I went to purchase the ring, and I came back. I was so nervous for like a month thinking, is she going to love me forever? Those were the things that come up a month before you propose, where you go through this weird phase. My best friend came in town for my birthday, and we picked him up from the airport, and we all went out, and we all had a bit much to drink. So the next day she was slightly hung-over, but we had made plans to go to the beach. Then we came home that night, and we got into this bickering match about the fact that she was giving me a birthday present, but she hadn’t wrapped it yet, because she hadn’t had time. I was like, “Baby, you said we were going to do this before my friends come over, because I don’t want to be opening presents around them, and I don’t want to be rude.” And she was like, “Well, I just didn’t’ have the time!” I thought, now is the time to propose! She was still in her sweats, her make-up was half done, and it was such a perfect moment. I was in the other room and I said, “I love our life.” She said, “Me, too.” I said, “Would you come out here for a minute?” I then got down on one knee and proposed! It was the exact moment it should have been. But the moment that got me was when she called her mom to tell her, and how emotional she was. It was such a beautiful thing to see. It gets me every time just thinking about that. She turned my life upside down. I think that is what has helped make Chad easy to play, because when I started to put myself into Chad that is when Chad started to really grow. I came in playing this façade, but as soon as I started putting some heart in to the guy, things changed. In soaps you are living this character’s life, and it’s not called Days of our Lives for nothing! (Laughs). Now, I try to put as much as I can of myself in Chad every day.
You have submitted yourself in the Lead Actor category for this year’s Daytime Emmy race. If you were to receive an Emmy nomination, would you see that as the capper on a great year?
BILLY: I would love it, but I don’t think I deserve one more than anybody else. Here is my thing with the Daytime Emmys … for so many years it’s been like this boy’s club. You have the three biggest shows: The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital. I think the last time DAYS even got a Lead Actor nomination was with James Scott. So, it’s the same people almost every year, but that being said, on DAYS we have had a lot of great performances this year, but I don’t think I deserve it more than anybody else on the show. I think it would be nice for DAYS to get that kind of recognition, because of the political agenda where it can seem like you have to have appeared on all four soaps to even get a nomination. DAYS even got a lot of slack for tying for Best Drama Series last year, and that’s ridiculous. I have seen the other shows. I think Justin Hartley (Adam, Y&R) is really good, and he deserves a nomination this year. There is nobody on DAYS that is not just as good. I would be super-honored if I get a nomination in the Lead Actor category, and would be OK if I didn’t win. For me, it’s just about the work. I am just so humbled and honored to have the opportunity I have here at DAYS. If I get a nomination that’s great, but for some people getting a nomination for them means the world. I don’t think that way. If my peers think I did good work that is great. But if not, I have my people around me, and my fiancée who think I am doing pretty good, and that’s alright with me.
In closing, we cannot forget the fans! They have rallied around you, and have fallen in love with you, and Chad. Again, it’s very impressive how you have been able to in a very short time win them over, and captivate them. Congrats on that!
BILLY: I can say, if I don’t get a nomination the fans are going to have a s**tfit! (Laughs) I went from 3,000 fans to a lot on social media in short order, and it’s been crazy. I try to chirp back, and talk to the fans on Twitter when I can, and Thaao and I have had that fun banter back and forth. Now if I was in a film I would try to be more reclusive, because you are trying to get the public to buy you as a certain character. But we are not winning Oscars here. We are doing the best work we can, and in soaps people fall in love with who you are as opposed to your character, sometimes. I just try to give the fans on social media as much of me as I can, because I am really honored that they even care about me, especially from where I started. If they take the time to write me on Twitter, it’s one response back to someone. I don’t understand why more people don’t take the time to respond. The whole thing is cool. It’s pretty awesome where I am now from back when I was living in Minnesota, and so confused. I am in a great place. If nothing else ever happened, I could see me staying at DAYS for a number of years.
So, what have you thought of Billy Flynn’s progression in playing the character of Chad DiMera? What do you think about the sentiments he shared on the exit of Kate Mansi? What were your favorite scenes so far featuring Billy? What did you think about what he had to say about the talent pool in the soap genre, and the often “perception” of those who work in the medium? Do you hope Billy lands a Daytime Emmy nomination for his work? Share your thoughts on our interview in the comment section below!