Back in April of this year soap fans learned that Melissa Archer had been pink-slipped by Days of our Lives. The actress, who shot to daytime drama fame playing the role of the feisty Natalie Buchanan on One Life to Live, came to the NBC series to play Serena Mason, a former flame of Eric Brady’s (Greg Vaughan). Serena had a back-story with the former priest while both characters were living and working in Africa.
Archer, who made her DAYS debut in early December of 2014, will exit the Salem canvas in the coming weeks, and since DAYS shoots six months ahead of their airdates, Melissa completed her time with the series back in early spring of this year. But now for the first time, Melissa breaks her silence in this exclusive interview with On-Air On-Soaps to address: how she was let-go, what went down behind the scenes on her last day, if she was a casualty of a renewed focus for the series 50th anniversary push, and the writing regime change at the top, her DAYS experience with her co-stars, and the ups and downs of being a working actor in Hollywood, and in particular, in the world of soaps.
As for Serena’s storyline – there was definitely an “elephant in the room”, literally! Archer’s main story surrounded trying to get her hands on an elephant statue that carried within it blood diamonds. Viewers then learned her connection to Paul Telfer’s Xander, and that this once seeming viable love interest for Eric was actually not on the up and up. After all of Serena’s secrets finally came to light, she was hell-bent on making sure Eric did not end up with the love of his life, Nicole (Arianne Zucker)! And this week on DAYS, she tried to decimate the duo by going to Nicole’s fiancé, Dr. Daniel Jonas (Shawn Christian), to tell him that the two had sex! However, her plan went sort of south, when she saw Daniel’s reaction to the news.
So, now what’s a girl to do now? In this candid chat, Melissa previews: the final leg of her DAYS storyline, addresses her mighty fan base who have stuck with her through thick and thin, takes a look back at Serena’s Salem relationships, and even weighs-in if she would jump at the chance to work again with exiting General Hospital, and former One Life to Live co-star, Michael Easton (Silas GH & John OLTL). Here’s what Melissa shared.
Nobody who is a fan of your work wants to see, or hear that you were let-go from a show. So, how did you find out that you were leaving Days of our Lives? How did it all go down, and who had the responsibility of informing you of this decision?
MELISSA: I found out after work one day. They called me up to the offices, and our producer Albert Alaar told me the show would be moving in a different direction, and that I would be done in four weeks. He was very pleasant the way he related this to me, and to be “fired” was actually a pleasant experience. It didn’t feel like a “firing”, it felt more like a lay-off with the way the storyline was going, and that there were a lot of changes happening behind the scenes. In the end, we were complimentary towards each other. I had so much fun working on the show, and Albert was saying how much they enjoyed me and my work. This wasn’t obviously anything about me, it’s just business. I have been around long enough to know how it works. (Laughs)
You had been on OLTL as Natalie for many years, and I am sure it was not easy to hear that you were being given the pink slip at DAYS. However, you seemed to come out of this feeling OK about the whole experience.
MELISSA: I was OK. I think it’s one of those things, and I say this, and I hope I am right about this. I like to see the whole picture in things, and it’s not about me. Granted; wouldn’t it be great if we could all go out and get an acting job that lasts for a million years? Sure, it would be great, but that’s not the business I work in. I was very fortunate to work on One Life to Live for ten years. That doesn’t happen with every acting gig. A lot of what we do is job-to-job-to-job, and if you take it to heart, and take it personally, I feel you are setting yourself up for a lot of pain in this business A lot of what we do is job-to-job-to-job, and if you take it to heart, and take it personally, I feel you are setting yourself up for a lot of pain in this business. It’s just the way it works. and you have to go in knowing that. The best advice I was given when I started on OLTL was from Mark Derwin (Ex-Ben). Mark told me never look at your time on the show any longer than your contract cycle. Back then I was 21, and I thought that seems very sad – you get your first contract and it seems like you’re going to be on a show forever – but he was right. It happens a lot in our business, and in order for the show to stay on they have to change story, they have to do things, and take stories a certain way, and if something makes the whole picture better then they are going to do it. That is what they should do, because we are an ensemble. I had such an amazing time on DAYS. Everyone was truly incredible, including the powers-that-be. I could not have been happier, and felt more at home. I enjoyed it. I felt it was mutual, and so that was good, too.
In the video interview we did together when you first came on to DAYS, you revealed you did not know much of what the plans were for the character of Serena, and what the initial intent of your storyline would be.
MELISSA: I did not know when I first started. I did not know where the story was going until the elephant stuff, and we had been talking about it on-air for quite a bit. So, I went to Lisa de Cazotte, who was the producer at the time, and said, (laughs) “Can you tell me a little bit about the elephant and what is going on?” And she told me that it was about blood diamonds.
Did you suspect that inside the elephant statue were hidden blood diamonds? What did you think was going on? (Laughs)
MELISSA: The only reason I suspected it was what could be small enough to fit in the elephant statue, and because of the Africa link in the storyline. Then, I found out where I was headed with that, which was an interesting thing. The most difficult part of playing Serena was finding the moments of truth, and what she actually felt about Eric (Greg Vaughan) vs. her agenda. Was her agenda for her own selfishness, or was she afraid? Perhaps, it was a little bit of both? I don’t really know other than the choices I make. As the actress you kind of read along and go, “Oh, O.K. Maybe that’s not where it’s going,” but I tried to make her feelings for Eric sincere. Sadly, Serena’s agenda, like any of us when we have something else in mind, hurt the ones we love the most.
Fans were thinking, with the announcement of you coming to DAYS that you were actually going to be a real viable love interest for Eric. Is that what you were thinking you were going to be?
MELISSA: Yes, I did. But it was fun to have this other agenda, and have these other things going on. It’s always fun to play a bit of a devious character. I wanted to balance her, and I did not want her to be an evil character. I just wanted her to be true to whatever she was, and in the moment her selfishness, or fear, and or both, were outweighing the good at times. I think her decisions and choices were questionable.
People were clearly not digging this elephant statue story. Did you get the sense that viewers, and the fans were not into this story?
MELISSA: Yes! A couple of times on Twitter someone tagged me on something, and then I knew. I am not going to lie, I was not surprised. When you have a character that comes into a main family and is about to hurt that main family member, or that well-loved character, the fans are going to be protective, as well they should be. That is part of storytelling. There are characters that come in for a storyline purpose and fulfill that.
Do you think there has been a change from the DAYS fans perspective on the character of Serena, where they have come around to liking her a bit more? If so, what do you think was the turning point?
MELISSA: I do think so, and pretty much it happened after the story came out and all the characters knew what Serena was up to, and then the story started moving. She didn’t have to hide who she was anymore because the truth was out. Serena was no longer playing this game where she had to pretend, and for the most part at that point, being herself. I think ‘herself’ is a lot more interesting to play, then when she is trying to hide. There were so many months of her hiding, and so many months of things that none of the other characters were seeing. It was obvious what she was doing, to some extent, since the beginning, I could see why it became frustrating at some point to the viewers. The reality is, as in life, people just want to know the truth. So now that the characters know, and she is getting heat from them, I think the audience then sees some of her vulnerable side. I think you can see some of her tough side, too. As an actress there are more things to play with, and it’s more interesting, because she is not hiding behind a facade anymore. I have just noticed more people commenting that they have started to like the character.
Playing a villain on a soap opera is always a challenge for an actor, so they aren’t just playing it one note, or as a stereotypical “moustache” twirling baddie. What do you think is the key to playing a bad, or misunderstood girl successfully?
MELISSA: You have to make them human, and every ‘villain’, unless they are a psychopath has a level of humanity in them. Sometimes, it’s just that deep down the character is a scared little child inside, and the only way they can cope is being the big bad bully. There are so many aspects as to why a person does it. It is similar to One Life to Live’s Natalie. She used to do a lot of dumb things, but when she did them, she was very passionate about it. It didn’t make it right. It just made it about what she was comfortable with doing in a situation, because of what she felt, especially when she was younger. And that goes for Serena. She is older and wise, and slightly more mature, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have that deep-seeded need for love. Those decisions that she makes could all be very selfish, but that is not because she is a bad person.
Did you enjoy working with Paul Telfer (Xander)?
MELISSA: Oh, my God! I love him! I think he is amazing. I love his accent, and he is gorgeous! With Arianne Zucker (Nicole), I felt like she and I had made good frenemies! We had so much fun, and she was a great scene partner. We would have great banter all the way to the end! I think the whole Xander coming in and doing what he was doing with Nicole, was also a nice little fun thing for everyone to get all worked up about! (Laughs)
What do you think about where Serena’s relationship with Xander (Paul Telfer) ended up?
MELISSA: I would have loved to have seen more dealings between the two of them because I actually think they had a really interesting chemistry, and a love/hate relationship. As much as she feared him, there was something very enigmatic about him, and it was hard not to be attracted to the danger a little bit, which is what originally attracted her to Xander. I just feel if Serena didn’t have a soft spot somewhere for him she would have stabbed him! She would have done what she dreamt about doing. I also thought if the story had not ended, I would have loved to have seen a Bonnie and Clyde type relationship develop between them – if Serena got angry enough and decided to go back to the dark side and stayed there. I thought that could have been really fun. There were a lot of ideas I had, until I found out it wasn’t happening. (Laughs)
What happened when the cast, and in particular your on-screen partner Greg Vaughan found out you were done at DAYS?
MELISSA: They were bummed, especially the ones I worked with all the time, but they are all veterans too, and yes, Greg Vaughan was bummed, but he has been through this himself before.
Was it hard to form that on-screen relationship with Greg Vaughan, when no one had ever previously heard of a relationship that Eric had in Africa with Serena Mason?
MELISSA: No. It was easy to fall right in, and have fun with it and just play.
For a long time on One Life, you and your cast mates felt like you lived under threat of the show being cancelled, which sadly it ultimately did. What was the feeling on set at DAYS while you were there?
MELISSA: I think this is the difference: when you are on a show for a long time like OLTL you are concerned about what is going to happen with it, whereas with DAYS, I didn’t have the length of time there. I wasn’t worried about the future of me, or the show, and I really went to work there to have a fun time. I hadn’t thought about going back to daytime until they called. I went and got to have a good time, and meet new people, and see old friends.
There had been a report posted at Daytime Confidential that their sources revealed that your being let-go was well in the works before new DAYS head writers, Dena Higley and Josh Griffith took over the writing duties at the show. Is that true?
MELISSA: I honestly could not tell you. I was not told, until I was told. It could have been in the works, I don’t know. At the end of the day, there were no problems, there was not a beef. If it was Josh and Dena who wanted me gone, I also don’t think it was personal. I did work under Josh and Dena’s writing regimes on One Life to Live at different times during my time there. So if it was their storyline change, or the NBC network that decided it to make the change, I don’t know, and it’s OK. Nobody did it to be mean to Melissa. That’s all that matters to me, and I know that. It sucks, but at the same time, it doesn’t. We all know and see there were certain parts of Serena that weren’t working. It just wasn’t. I don’t think that’s me. DAYS shoots so far ahead they don’t get to see how it’s playing with the audience until it airs, so maybe once they saw the episodes they wanted to make an adjustment, or maybe it’s because the show wanted to bring back a lot of characters from the past, and they had to make room in the cast. There are so many reasons people get let-go. If I was called into an office and told, “Melissa, you have been doing A, B and C and D, and we don’t like it” (and that never happened) then I may be upset. But, I was on the show for a short amount of time, and I had a blast.
So, just how close were Serena and Xander back in Africa?
MELISSA: She did have sex with him back in Africa. Eric was going back to the states to become a priest, and he went off on a job before leaving. Serena and Eric had known Xander for a while, and he was doing some charity work, and they started hanging out. Xander was fun and exciting, and she was having to deal with the love of her life going to marry somebody else – the priesthood! So she decided to have fun, and Xander was fun, and then he started whispering in her ears about blood diamonds, and I don’t think she knew exactly what was going on at first!
Serena was supposed to be a medical journalist after all, correct? So, she was supposedly in Africa doing good things for the world? This was confusing to me. (Laughs)
MELISSA: Yes, but I think again, when you are young and hurt you make dumb decisions. I am not saying, or advocating by any means, that it’s OK to do anything with blood diamonds. Obviously, none of us should think that’s OK. With that being said, the character did what she did. I don’t think she did it to be mean and hurtful, and it wouldn’t affect Eric at all, had the elephant statue not gotten into the equation.
Do you think Serena is really in love with Eric?
MELISSA: I can tell you with 100% certainty that everything Serena felt for Eric is true.
Serena is really pissed off right now, because after bugging the confessional, she has what she thought was a confession on tape that Eric (Greg Vaughan) and Nicole (Arianne Zucker) had sex together … and she wants to keep them apart!
MELISSA: She is hurt and angry, because she thinks Eric and Nicole slept together in that boiler room. And even though Eric had dumped her, it was more finding out that he had feelings for Nicole this entire time, and essentially that is who he really wanted. That probably hurt deeper than just the “sex act” in Serena’s mind. For her, that was just the ‘icing on the cake’ and “See, I knew it!” moment. That is what has been bothering Serena all the time, and that is most probably why she didn’t like Nicole.
What did you think about Eric’s reaction to discovering Serena’s part in the blood diamonds scheme?
MELISSA: He was angry, and justifiably so. But what is hard is, from my love of my own character, whether other people feel that way, or not, I felt like Eric didn’t really want to hear her out. Yes, Serena lied, but there was a lot to all of those lies, such as trying to protect Eric. I do not advocate, or agree with her decision. She used someone, and did fall in love with that person, yet continued on that path of not being honest. The reality of it is: if Serena had been honest about the situation several months before, Eric would still not have understood and their relationship would have ended a lot sooner. It was a “catch-22”. It took a lot longer than expected in order to protect him from possibly being murdered. That was her biggest motive, and the money in her bank account didn’t hurt. (Laughs). I have never believed it was as much about the money, as it was about being concerned for his safety, and hers.
This week on DAYS, Serena went to Daniel (Shawn Christian) armed with what she thought was intel that would blow his relationship wide-open with Nicole. But it didn’t go exactly as she has planned. Dr. Daniel’s reaction was quite unexpected!
MELISSA: Yes. Daniel, of course, reacted completely different than the way Serena thought he was going to. He was calm, and he was angry with her for trying to cause more issues. I am sure he was pissed about it, but he chose to take a different way with it, whereas Serena was angry and vengeful. Daniel was forgiving, and about trying to figure this all out.
Was Serena hoping that by going to Daniel, and exposing Eric and Nicole’s supposed tryst, that Eric would then come back to her?
MELISSA: I don’t know what she was hoping to gain by it, except to tell Daniel that “You just proposed to this woman, and she is in love with another man.” She may also be thinking, “If they want to be together, then they should be together. Let’s get it all out in the open.” There wasn’t a lot of thought on how this is going to affect anyone tomorrow. It was about how is this going to affect me today? It was a selfish move. Serena is seeing red.
So next, Serena decides to leave Salem?
MELISSA: Yes. Daniel tells her to get out of Dodge as it’s best for everybody, and she heard him. She thinks maybe that is the best thing to do, and so she decided first to go to the Brady pub and see Mrs. Brady (Peggy McKay) to tell her goodbye. Serena really likes her a lot. Mrs. Brady was always really nice to her, and probably hates her at the moment. (Laughs) Serena just wants to say goodbye, and to give her a special note to give to Eric. Then something happens to Caroline! She has a health crisis, and Serena is trying to revive her, and calls for help.
What was it like working with Peggy McKay?
MELISSA: I loved working with Peggy McKay! She is adorable, and so spunky. I love just running lines with her. She is a good actress, and she is funny!
What did your fans say to you when they heard the news of your departure from DAYS?
MELISSA: That is where it gets difficult. I was not allowed to confirm or deny anything, and then when it was confirmed I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. So unfortunately, I have not been able to make any commentary to the fans. The ones that do know what happened I have sadly not been able to respond back to. I feel bad about that, and that is just part of a business. I just want to let all of them know that their support means the world to me. I love that about them. I am so glad that those that joined me on DAYS came along, and it was a fun ride. I want them not to be mad. And the next place I land … come join me again!
And where would you like to land next … on a primetime TV series?
MELISSA: Film and primetime television is what I really want to do. I have loved being on daytime television, and who doesn’t want to do it all? I would have loved to have been on Mad Men, but that’s gone. (Laughs) That would have been awesome. Sons of Anarchy I would have loved to be on, but that’s gone, too! (Laughs) I would love to be on Episodes with Matt LeBlanc … Hellooo!
There has been major speculation, and then confirmation from the press, that your former on-screen flame at One Life, Michael Easton, is leaving General Hospital. Would you welcome the opportunity to work with him again on another soap, or project should the opportunity present itself?
MELISSA: Are you kidding? I would LOVE to work with Michael again! He’s a wonderful person, and an extremely talented actor. I’ve had the fortune of working with actors more than once, a few times, so I believe it’s a possibility!
How was your last day on the DAYS set?
MELISSA: It was very surreal. I got to do some fun scenes. And on my last day, I met Ken Corday (Executive Producer, DAYS). I had never met him! I went up to him, and he was so sweet and he said something like, “Kind of unfortunate that we are meeting today.” The crew was so fantastic, and they applauded when I finished taping, and it was sweet. I changed and said my last goodbyes to the people in the hallway, and that was it. I think the thing that was very difficult was knowing something for a long time, and not being able to talk about it. My fans know I won’t talk about storyline anyway to them. On One Life, I never talked about story, ever. I don’t want to be the actor who accidentally gave the story away, because what’s the point? You need to go watch!
We often talk in this genre about writers and actors in the soaps, and how they are both so important to bringing the characters to life that fans see every day on their favorite daytime dramas. You have now experienced two different soaps with different writers and how they work with their cast. What can you share?
MELISSA: First, it can vary show-to-show, and writer-to-writer. I feel like in daytime it is a lot less that you will have writers and actors communicating, unless you set up a meeting, and the only reason for that is to discuss specific things. At One Life it was a little different with Ron Carlivati. We had all known him for many, many years before he became head writer. It was so great when he got the position, because it was like our buddy got the job. But mostly, you never see the head writers; you might see the breakdown writers on occasion. Years ago, I heard there were head writers that would come into the make-up room and just observe and listen to the way people spoke so they could write for how they speak. I can see if the writers were so hands-on with the actors they would have actors coming to them going, “Why aren’t you writing for me?” When you have got that large of a cast not everyone can be front and center in storyline, and actors by nature are insecure. In regards to the two daytime dramas I have appeared on DAYS is different from OLTL, and even in their positions and job titles on the show.
In closing, and as one final tease from your time on DAYS — how was the ending of Serena’s story for you, that viewers will ultimately see come to its conclusion in a few weeks?
MELISSA: It was fun to play, that is all I will say – and that could mean a million things! (Laughs)
What do you think about what Melissa had to say about her time and DAYS and how she was axed from the series? Do you feel she was saddled with an impossible storyline to try to make plausible with the elephant statue/blood diamond scheme? Do you like the character of Serena more of late? Would you like to see Melissa appear on another soap, and if so, which one? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!