Alex Casey chats to Suzanne Rogers, better known as Maggie Horton from Days of Our Lives, about what it’s like to be on a soap opera for 42 years and counting.
It’s a very weird thing to be sitting in your dressing gown in Auckland, waiting on the phone to talk to a soap star in LA who is well into her 42nd year on Days of Our Lives (DooL to its fans). I was getting connected to Suzanne Rogers, who plays matriarch Maggie Horton on the long-running salacious soap. After five minutes listening to clicks and whirs, – which I assumed were being made by her robot butler as he or she traversed her mansion to bring her the telephone – Suzanne chirped on in. “Hi Alex!” she sang, “I love your country, I love Australia. I’m crazy about Melbourne, Sydney – all of it. I just love your area.”
It was a confusing start for sure, but a perfectly skewed introduction to the Days of Our Lives world where nothing is exactly right. Women cradle huge glasses of wine at 8am. Characters get trapped in aeroplane toilets and mooshed under inflatable liferafts. There’s hauntings, resurrections and possessions. It’s supposed to be filmed on Earth, but might as well be on another planet. The distinct lack of natural light is a definite tell. But no negging, I’ve been watching Days of Our Lives, and I’ve been loving it. It’s hard not to get sucked into the vortex of perpetual drama, and even harder to leave.
I had 15 minutes with Suzanne, a tiny blip on her DooL radar (which by the way, is almost twice my whole lifetime). Talking to her, what I found the most interesting was her language use around her character. Suzanne Rogers was ‘I’ just as Maggie Horton was ‘I’. It would often take me several moments to determine whose story she was telling. After 40 years, the lines have got to blur a bit. But, by the sounds of things, Rogers isn’t going anywhere soon. Unless they kill her – again.
Congratulations on 40 years on Days of Our Lives, that’s tremendous.
Thank you very much, we also just won an Emmy for Best Show. And another one just two years before that. It’s really exciting, I mean the show is just great. We have a big soap following in New Zealand, I was last there in ’99 and I tell ya, the fans were phenomenal.
How does it feel to be the show’s longest-serving star?
I’m just happy to be a part of such a wonderful organisation. I love my job, I’m so excited to get a script every week. It doesn’t feel like 40 years because I’ve enjoyed every moment. I think that’s the trick to any job – if you enjoy what you’re doing it will just fly by.
What was Days of Our Lives like back in 1973? Did you know what you were getting yourself into?
I went under contract in 1974, and didn’t really know what I was signing up for. I had done theatre and musicals and commercials. I had done a few nighttime things but nothing major. I really didn’t know too much about soaps, so I thought I better start turning the TV on and seeing what it was all about.
I immediately loved the genre, how you were flying by the seat of your pants all the time. You have to concentrate, you have to know exactly what you were doing, you have to get your lines out perfectly, and fast. And above all, you have to be professional. It was all up my alley.
I’m glad it suits you, would have been a slog if it hadn’t. You must be pretty comfortable with your character by now, are there parallels between Maggie and Suzanne?
I know Maggie pretty well but it seems like, every time we get new writers and new storylines, it’s always an adventure to see where your character will go next.
I think the main similarities between us is the constant need to dole out advice and help people. That’s definitely me. Years ago, I [Maggie] stayed in the background and let my husband be the lawyer, and now that I’m married to Victor Kiriakis it’s a more even-footing. You know – I [Maggie] own a business, he owns a business – we’ve both got our own money. He’s been married a few times and all his wives have wanted him for something. Whether it was money, power, whatever. I didn’t need that from him, which I think he liked. I think that’s all very different from my real life, and I [Suzanne] love it.
Having had a character with you for so long, is it hard to switch off at the end of the day?
Not really, what’s hard sometimes is having a very emotional day. You have to psych yourself up to do that. When I come home I’m wiped out, absolutely exhausted. On Days of Our Lives you really have to run the gamut of emotions. Once you get your hair and makeup and wardrobe on, you have to have built yourself up for that emotional scene in that time. It’s very intense, I’m often put through the ringer.
It’s a tight schedule as well. The earlier call is about six in the morning for fittings and hair and makeup, then we’re out to block out the scenes with a director. We start shooting around nine, till quarter to one. There’s another page of the shoot schedule, if you’re on both sides you’ll be shooting all day. Those are the days that if you don’t bring lunch, you don’t eat. It’s important to remember that although it is a wonderful job, it is still a job. You’re expected to do what you’re supposed to do, there’s nothing cushy about it.
What are some of your favourite plot lines from over the years?
When I started on the show it was the red shoes [writer’s note: I have Googled this and I don’t know what it is, can some die-hard still-living fan get in touch?]. Then I was a surrogate mother, which was interesting. Obviously I didn’t want Mickey [a former husband] to die, but that’s how it was written. Then a new man came into Maggie’s life after all the years, which was exciting. He keeps me [Maggie] on my toes, and I nail him to the wall occasionally too. It’s a good mix, it’s just like life.
I can’t believe you haven’t mentioned the time that you got buried alive in a sarcophagus!
Oh God, I could have done without that one. That was not pleasant, because I have a tad bit of claustrophobia. As soon as I got in there I was like “ooohhh no”. It was a real genuine fear that you see on screen, not acting at all. It was also tough when I first started on the show because my character was on crutches. That was hard for me because I was previously a dancer. I had to figure out how to run a household on crutches.
Have there ever been any storylines that you think are too unrealistic, or do you just roll with it?
Possession storylines are a little hard to take sometimes, for sure. There was another time that they killed ten of us and then brought us back from the dead. We actually believed our characters had died, all of a sudden a year later they brought us all back. The show definitely has a way of breathing new life into its characters – literally. Days of Our Lives is constantly walking a fine line but – believe me – the audience lets us know if they don’t like something.
In New Zealand, our longest running soap character is a doctor on Shortland Street called Chris Warner, do you have any advice for him?
Listen, Chris. I hope you love your job, I hope you love doing what you’re doing. Obviously there will be days that you aren’t revved up, but it’s your job to make it work. I hope he stays on and I hope he continues loving what he’s doing as much as I do.
Feel free to watch Alex and Duncan chatting below about the mad world of Days of Our Lives in more bemused detail: