Fresh off Gwen announcing that she’s pregnant with her brother-in-law’s child, The TV Watercooler got the opportunity to speak with Emily O’Brien about Gwen’s latest twist in the Deveraux family drama on Days of our Lives.
O’Brien discusses her return to daytime (she previously portrayed The Young and the Restless’ Jana), how she’s been embraced by her colleagues, and recounts the emotional scenes where Gwen revealed she’s Jack’s daughter.
Gwen was very mysterious when she came to Salem, we didn’t really find out what she was up to for a while. How much were you aware of? Did you find out her backstory when you got the script or did they tell your character’s motivations beforehand?
No! Absolutely, nothing. I got nothing! I got my first and second script and that was it. I knew nothing about her, except for the fact that she was in Bayview. I didn’t even know if she was really insane or not. I knew that she liked Ketchup, bites her nails, and creates a friendship with Claire [who was then played by Olivia Rose Keegan]. That was it! [Laughs]
Everything kind of developed from there – the story kind of moved from there and maybe they were deciding where to take her based on those [early] interactions that she had with Claire and Jake (Brandon Barash).
You’ve got the work cut out for you. Gwen’s come between Jack and Jennifer, Abigail and Chad, taunted Salem legend Julie Williams in the hospital, had a veteran character (Laura) die in her hotel room and now she’s pregnant with Chad’s child. She’s barely been on screen for a year and has done a lot of damage!
[Laughs] Yes, it is… I’m sure people hate my guts!
I’d definitely say you do bring some vulnerability to the character, which really does help. It must be fun playing bad through.
It is fun because it’s not just playing bad. It’s all intentional. It comes from a place of pain and yearning for something more. She’s kind of like a broken bird who is looking for love. In turn, acts out of desperation. Which comes off as evil, revengeful, and spiteful.
The scenes where we found out about Gwen’s backstory and how she grew up were beautifully acted. She was so vulnerable when she confronted Jack (Matthew Ashford). It was heartbreaking.
What was it like acting opposite Matthew Ashford in those scenes?
He has been nothing less than wonderful. He and Cady [McClain; Jennifer] together. I was very nervous about particular day because part of it resonated with me a lot and I felt very vulnerable to put a true part of myself on screen. I wanted to make sure that everything came from a really authentic place.
I had the script three days before [filming], and I was walking with it, cooking with it, had a bath with it. They knew how nervous I was about this because I wanted it also to be justified. I wanted the audience to feel that they earned that finally from Gwen. They had been waiting so long to hear about her life and why she was behaving that way. I didn’t want it to just be, “Oh here you go!” I really wanted it to affect people.
Matt and Cady were checking in on me. Emailing me. Matt would send me articles to get me thinking about things. They knew that certain aspects of it was very sensitive for me in my real life and how it was a real emotional trigger for me. They were just holding my hand every step of the way. They talked to me on the set and shared personal stories with me about their lives and things that we have in common. It felt very warm, and I felt very embraced by both of them. I feel really lucky about that. I did my best and put it all out there. I hope that audiences felt the same was as I did.
It really did come across in those scenes. I’m sure that the COVID safety protocols didn’t make things any easier. I’m sure after a scene like that, you just need a hug. There’s that factor to in place now.
Definitely. That’s definitely been an obstacle because we’ve have had to rehearse on-screen. We don’t have real, physical contact. It makes it so much harder because you don’t really know what’s going to happen until you are up there. So, I wanted to be sure that I was completely aware of the material and Gwen’s backstory. I wanted to make it as authentic as I possible could, even with all the obstacles that we had.
Your character Jana on The Young and the Restless also had a bit of a bad streak but it was explained away with a tumor. It was sad to see your run end on that show, but I know a lot of your fans are happy to see you back on daytime. Are you still in touch with anyone from Y&R and do you have any fond memories of that run?
Oh, I’ll always have fond memories of everybody on Y&R. I’m not really with many people but I have been in touch with mostly Christian LeBlanc (Michael, Y&R) and I saw Christel Khalil (Lily, Y&R) a few years back, and Tracey Bregman (Lauren, Y&R) as well. Not too much, gosh… That was 16 years ago when I started on that show. I was a baby! It’s been 11 years since I’ve left.
Coming back into daytime was quite a shock to me because I have been used to doing video games and motion capture mainly – that’s what I do now – so coming back into this realm and not having any rehearsal time, it’s really your duty to make sure that you direct yourself in a way and are fully prepared. It was so difficult for me the first day because I was terrified. Weirdly at the same time, it felt like jumping on the bicycle and feeling it again. It was so bizarre seeing the cameras and remembering what it was like. It was like it was in my bones again…instantly! I’m pretty sure I blacked out on my first day on set! [Laughs]
What has it been like acting opposite Marci Miller’s Abigail? There have been many catty scenes between Gwen and Abigail?
Oh, Marci is just lovely! I truly look up to her and she’s so beautifully vulnerable and ready to be vulnerable. She’s such a professional. She’s always so well prepared and open to ideas. I really enjoy working with her and Billy [Flynn; Chad] as well.
Your character is pregnant with Chad’s child…
Gwen has a decision to make… Is she keeping the baby? Will it remind her of her own story about how she came into the world with a single mother? Could history repeat itself?
You certainly will! You will see a lot of that in how the story unfolds. I will not reveal any more of that!
Will Chad find out soon?
Yes! He will!
Does Gwen have any other secrets?
Oh, of course! Gwen wouldn’t be Gwen without a secret, right?
Who would you love to see your character mix things up with across the canvas? Are there any potential romantic pairings? Someone, to help save you from the Deveraux family drama?
Well… you will get to see some of that, but I won’t be sharing with who! [Laughs] I will say that it’s been pretty fun.
As far working alongside another actor, I feel like I’m in a pretty good mix. I really like working with Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie) and I’ll be working with her a little bit more in the future. She’s so much fun on set to work with. She’s just a crackerjack and she loves to joke during rehearsal. We’re just having a blast!
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