In recent heartbreaking scenes, soap vet and Daytime Emmy winner, Judi Evans (Adrienne) has gotten the opportunity to shine, and there is much more to come for viewers of NBC’s Days of our Lives. And let’s face it; if you are going to hand the ball to one of your cast mates, it’s stalwart Evans, who can bring the depth, the sorrow, and rooting factor to the audience at home.
As the story goes, Adrienne recently learned she has breast cancer. It all came about in dramatic fashion as she was about to marry the man she loves, Lucas Horton (Bryan Dattilo). But, wait! Is he the man she loves? Enter Adrienne’s ex, Justin Kiriakis (Wally Kurth), who comes to the realization almost too late that he wants another chance on love with her. What’s a girl to do? Unfortunately, fate intervened as Adrienne, in the midst of having to choose which man to be by her side, became seriously ill, and now is in for the battle of her life.
On-Air On-Soaps caught up with Judi to talk about the importance of the breast cancer storyline, but also how she has managed to throughout her daytime career, inspire and touch so many people with some of the most difficult story themes to tell from: rape to weight, and others in-between.
Find out below what Judi had to say about her soap opera leading men, what she is most concerned with in the telling of Adrienne’s breast cancer storyline, and what she hopes DAYS fans will take away from Adrienne’s journey, and much more.
When DAYS first brought to light that Adrienne carried the same gene as her mother for breast cancer, it took a long time until the series got this story to a place to tell it. Did you know they were 100% going to tell this story in its totality back then?
JUDI: It was a while back. I think they were thinking about it, and I was very excited. I started doing a lot of research, just in case. I was so excited, because it is a great story to tell, and it’s a story that can’t be told enough.
But there was this length of time where it was simmering, and then they finally told it, which is great to see you have a major storyline!
JUDI: I wasn’t sure if they were going to go into the story or not, but the writing is so good. What I love about the writing on the show under Dena Higley and Ryan Quan is that there is no rush. It’s not, “let’s just tell this story.” There is a build to it and a history there. I thank them for laying the seeds of it and then letting it blossom beyond this. I think it is great storytelling. I prefer that I not know what’s coming up for my character, then it’s a surprise to me. I get excited as I would as a viewer when I get the scripts. It’s just a matter of trusting in the writing and allowing it to grow.
You performed a very emotionally raw scene where Kayla (Mary Beth Evans) tells Adrienne she has breast cancer after she returns from the church, and it’s in front of a room of family and loved ones. How did you feel when you left the set that day after filming that pivotal moment?
JUDI: The only thing I thought when I walked away from the scene is, “I just hope I did the women who go through this justice.” You never know. I have never been through something like this personally myself. I have had friends who have had breast cancer, my mom had cancer, but I don’t know what it is personally like. So the only thing I can hope when I walk away is that I hope that I, and the show, and the writing, did the women justice.
Adrienne is so strong for everyone else, and always taking care of them. Now with her health crisis everyone is saying to her, “Let us take care of you for a change.” What did you think of that acknowledgement in the writing?
JUDI: I loved that. She is the mother hen. Adrienne loves to take everyone. I love that her first reaction was to run, because she is so used to taking care of everyone else, and now it’s “Oh, no!” We all have our moments where we are not at our best, and we don’t make the best choices. I love flawed characters. Adrienne is a good girl, who always tries to the right thing, not that this is a flawed thing, but maybe it was not the best choice in that moment. She was just going to run and ignore it, and hideaway and stick her head in the sand. Even though it was only for a moment, I love that the writers gave her that opportunity, and it was human.
Adrienne missed her last mammogram check-up. Did she miss it because she knew she had cancer?
JUDI: There might have been that at a subconscious level, but she also had been very busy with everything that was going on. She is thinking “It’s fine … if I just ignore it. See …I am fine … now I don’t feel so fine.” It’s an inner subconscious struggle that we all have. And plus, at times our lives get busy, and we forget the important things we are supposed to do, even if it’s a matter of life and death. Personally, I am a month over due for my breast exam. I know I need to go, but sometimes you get busy, but you’ve got to stop and make time for that. I think that is a good lesson for me and the character to learn, because I think it’s something everybody goes through at some point.
This story looks to be “slow burn” and will take time to tell. Since DAYS tapes six months ahead, you know how a chunk of this will play-out, since you have already shot it. What can you say about what’s to come?
JUDI: I feel it’s told very well, and from a very real standpoint. It is not reality; it is a daytime drama, so as real is certainly possible. I hope women who have gone through breast cancer will feel that it’s treated with the respect it needs to have. I feel that way, and I hope the audience joins me on that.
Adrienne did not look well when she was in the room at the church with Lucas and Justin, following her wedding going south. This was while she was trying to decide which man to be with! In fact, she looked quite sick, and no one noticed even at first!
JUDI: No! Your body not being well will do that to you.
What did you think how it was written for Justin to bust into the wedding to try and stop it, and then profess his love for Adrienne?
JUDI: It’s a classic moment. I loved it. It’s supposed to be a drama, and what better drama than you are about to marry the man you love, and your ex husband, who you will always love, shows up at the nuptials. And … who doesn’t want to be fought over by two men. I mean, really!
When Adrienne was in the hospital after she collapsed, she was talking with Marlena (Deidre Hall). She admitted to Marlena she couldn’t really make a choice between the two men in her life. Is that true … that she could not make a choice?
JUDI: Yes, and no. She made her choice, and even though she is sure in that choice, all of this came on, and it’s the farthest thing from her mind now. Now, she doesn’t know, and there is so much going on that takes precedent that she is not wanting to make the choice she made, because she can’t even deal with it right now. All she is thinking is dealing with the cancer, and getting better.
I thought she chose Lucas while in the hospital?
JUDI: She never said the word, but I think Judi thinks that’s the way Adrienne was leaning, but again she can’t do this right now. She is still torn. There is a part of her that will always love her ex-husband and trying to deal with that. Sure, she still has feelings for Justin. She had the chance to tell Justin that, and she didn’t. The choice is there, but there is a part of her that is not 100%.
Could it be that she refused to make a definitive choice, because she doesn’t think she will be alive, or that no one would want her now?
JUDI: I don’t think Adrienne thinks like that. She is OK to be on her own, but she does love both of them. She has to figure out whom she loves, and who she is in love with. There is still a lot of grey for her around: ‘Who am I in love with?’
But does she feel as a woman if she had a double mastectomy, that Justin or Lucas wouldn’t love her?
JUDI: What if she does have to have that? From the research I have done that is a huge, huge, thing for women who are going to have a mastectomy, or had them, and that is: “Will my loved one want me like they did before? There is now a part of me that isn’t there, and I don’t look the same.” Adrienne would think, “I know they love me for me, but that’s still part of me.”
If she were to have to have a double mastectomy, would her choice long term really come down to: ‘Which guy would handle this better?’
JUDI: That’s a really good question. I think there is that element of, “Would anyone be able to handle it?” I am excited about the twists and turns, and the journey that they all go through, and the people that are connected to them as well throughout this story.
Stephen Nichols, as Patch, sheds those tears so movingly in scenes. He did again when he learns his sister has cancer, and they share some moments together. What was it like to have that sibling touchstone during this story beat?
JUDI: There was a long time there that Patch and Adrienne did not share any scenes together. I love that Dena and Ryan did not forget about our relationships, and friendships on the show.
DAYS has been missing that emotional heart-tugging story, and the breast cancer storyline is an issue of the times we live, and is relevant to women who watch the show. Will we be crying for Adrienne on this journey?
JUDI: I hope you will cry. I hope it’s entertaining for the fans, and as actors, we want to touch people’s hearts and souls. As an actor, there is no greater joy then knowing what you did affected someone whether they laughed, cried, or got mad.
You have now played three memorable characters on daytime soaps. On Guiding Light, would you say that Beth’s rape was the most important storyline you told? You have told several social issue storylines throughout your career on TV.
JUDI: There were so many social issues on Guiding Light. As for Beth, she was raped and then there was a period of time when she was blind, as well. It was a family-oriented and relationship-based show and so was Another World, and so is Days of our Lives. I don’t know if it was the most important story, but I got a lot of letters from people who had gone through that, or were going through it while at Guiding Light. They would tell me that watching someone go through that helped them. Again, what greater joy to know you could touch someone, or help someone through your performances.
What would you say was Another World’s Paulina’s biggest peril?
JUDI: Loving Jake, and not loving Jake. For her, it was more about relationship issues than social issues. While at AW, I did play a weight storyline, and it was something I have obviously going through, too.
Looking back, what do you think about the decision to allow the producers to tell this sensitive weight storyline, which was so personal to you?
JUDI: It’s funny, because one of the producers came up to me, and it was after I had my baby. I gained 100 pounds when I was pregnant with my son. The producers came up to me and were hedging around, and they said, ‘Well, we are, um, thinking about, um, doing a weight storyline.” And I answered, “Thank, God, because I am certainly not a size 2 anymore. It’s my battle, and my struggle, and I would love to be able to play that on TV as well. Why not? That would be awesome!” Well, they were so relieved. A lot of people go through that, and I have struggled with weight my whole life, whether its 5lbs, or 50 lbs, or 100 lbs. I am glad they were able to tell it. I was more than willing to play it. I’m the first one to call myself out on anything. It’s a struggle I had since I was 12-years-old and a lot of people reacted to that story as well. And no matter how many times a person tells you they love you for your insides, I would go, “Yeah, but, what about the outside? “ It does matter, and all the psychological things that we put ourselves through because of it. It was nice to be able to play that. I certainly felt it helped some viewers from their response to how we told the story.
Lets talks about your leading men: Wally Kurth! What can you say about him?
JUDI: I love Wally. He is such a doll. We have been working together almost 30 years.
What about those dimples? Was that first thing you noticed about him when you met Wally?
JUDI: If anyone got mad at him, all he needs to do is smile! He can get away with murder with those dimples, and that grin. When I first met him, I saw that second. I first saw his eyes. I’m a smile person. So it was his eyes, that smile, and then I noticed those dimples and went, “Oh, look at those cute dimples!” We are good friends too, and it’s good to be friends when you are working together, because you always don’t have great days. Partnerships, and friendships are great to help you through your ups and downs, and in return help them with their ups and downs. We have built a strong friendship over the years.
Now, what happened when DAYS initially told you you would be paired romantically on-screen with Bryan Dattilo?
JUDI: Oh, my God. I had a crush on him since I met him at a charity softball game in the 90’s. I have known Bryan from working on the show, although we never had worked together. I adore him, and his humor, and he has lived life. Getting to know him better and having the opportunity to work with him has been a huge joy for me. It certainly added so much to me, personally. We found out we had a lot of things in common. He is hilarious!
Speaking of leading men, have you ever spoken with your former AW leading man, Tom Eplin (Ex-Jake) again?
JUDI: No. I heard of a couple of people who have run into him, but I have not seen hide nor hair of him.
What was it like working with Tom in those very dynamic scenes between Paulina and Jake on AW?
JUDI: We were certainly good friends, too. You could not be asleep on the job when working with Tom. You had to be on your toes the entire time, and that is thrilling. He was an amazing partner to work with, too. I can say throughout my daytime career, I have been very lucky, and very fortunate.
On Guiding Light, you had two leading men: Grant Aleksander (Ex-Phillip) and Vincent Irizarry (Ex-Lujack and Nick, now Deimos, DAYS). So now, what’s it like being with Vincent so many years later at Days of our Lives?
JUDI: Well, it’s funny. Vincent and I don’t cross paths on-screen. However, off-screen it has been so lovely to reconnect with him. He is a sweetheart, as well. Vincent is so funny, and so bright, and so well-read. He loves history, and when you sit down to talk to Vincent he is a very interesting man.
Is there a scene coming up in the next six months that you were most proud of your work in?
JUDI: I don’t think I ever walk away thinking “that was great”, because I always think I could have done better. I will say; there were several scenes with Wally, and Bryan, and Lauren Koslow (Kate), that in every scene I worked with them in I was very proud of their work. I can’t say that about my own, unfortunately. I am always afraid I am the weak link.
When anyone thinks of your body of work in daytime, it can definitely be said that you bring such an emotional heart to everything you do. When we watch your work, you are so present and emotionally available in scenes in all the characters you play. I think that is what makes you so special in this medium.
JUDI: Thank you, Michael. You are the sweetest. Happy holidays to you, and all the fans of Days of our Lives!
So, what have you thought of Adrienne’s breast cancer storyline thus far? Whom do you hope she ends up with … Lucas or Justin? Of the social issues Judi Evans has potrayed on the soaps, which has moved you the most? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.