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Emily O'Brien Interview

Emily O'Brien

Emily O'Brien plays Gwen on "Days Of Our Lives". You can watch this show on Peacock.

What inspired you to get into acting?

What inspired me? The earliest memory that I have was when I was young, and my parents took me to the local puppet show when we were in England. And these actors were up on stage, singing and dancing, and they had these hand puppets and they were having a blast and everybody was laughing, and I thought, "Are these people getting paid to do this for a living? This is incredible. If I could do that one day, I think I could be a very happy person." So that's kind of where the seed started.

I went to my teacher at school, and she let me start writing skits. So some schoolmates and I would write these silly skits about being archeologists in Egypt and trying to find this mummy, and all these silly ideas. At the end of the class, she would let us perform for an audience. That kind of just grew from there, and I realized how much I loved it. I never thought I'd really do it professionally. It was just really fun. I think that's the earliest memory was the puppet show.

What do you most like about playing Gwen?

Contrary to what other people might feel about Gwen, I actually love her. I think that she's so dynamic. I don't think that she's just this malicious person. I think she does what she does out of this need, this need to be loved. What she did to Abigail was all because she didn't have a father and she just wanted love and family. Now, it comes out the wrong way. However, I think that there's a lot of versatility in being able to play that and having such a dark history and seeing the trajectory from how she's grown and learned to kind of replace these feelings of resentment that she might have towards people.

I think she's making a shift now. If everyone's starting to watch now, you see Gwen's very different to who she was a few years ago, and I'm enjoying this journey. And I have a feeling she might crack again soon, but that's all part of the fun.

Did you have any input into the formation of your character? And if you did, what kind of input did you have?

I didn't really know much in the beginning. All I knew from the script was that she was in this mental institution with Claire. She bites her nails. So I used that. I ran with it and I used it. And then COVID happened, and so I stopped biting my nails, because that's just gross. I slowly began to develop something from there, and I didn't know if she was actually a mental case or not. So initially, I played it like she was, because I knew nothing about her.

But really, they're very open to allowing the actors to develop characters, and I think that maybe sort of gives them ideas that they can go off of and depending on how certain actors work together. I think it's all kind of this collaboration, and we're all kind of figuring out where to go together, really.

Is it fun working with Greg Rikaart again?

No. He's awful. No, Greg is great. It's been so surreal being back, not only on the same show as him, but being matched with him in this way. We just have such a wonderful rapport and such a natural dynamic. We work so well together, and we are always constantly bouncing ideas off one another and just enjoying the game and enjoying our time together. When he and I do scenes together, it's like I've left with a hanger in my mouth because we're smiling so much, our faces hurt.

Do you have a favorite character to do story lines with?

I would say right now, probably Leo or Matty Cakes, as I call him. I also loved working with Paul Telfer. Working with Xander is always great.

I know I would love to work with Jackee. I haven't worked with her yet, but I think she would be such a blast to do a scene with, or two or more than two.

Yeah, but I would really say front and center, just the absolute silliness and having fun every day would be Greg. Working with Greg, working with Leo. He's just his quips. He's just got these incredible monologues that he just pulls out of nowhere that are so laden with all these social innuendos and pop culture, and you kind of go, "What are you rambling on about?" Somehow it makes sense and ties into the story. Yes, it's really good fun.

Do you think that people judge Gwen too harshly and/or she's misunderstood?

Definitely. I think that the people that maybe like Gwen resonate with her because they can understand where she's coming from. Maybe people that are able to see her vulnerable side and have empathy for her. Or maybe you've gone through a similar situation where they didn't have a father growing up or somebody didn't really love them deeply. I think she's always misjudged.

It's hard because I read all these things about how they'll never forgive her, "I'll never forgive her" however there are murderers on the show that have been forgiven. So why not give Gwen a chance too? She hasn't actually murdered anybody, because Abigail's aunt was an accident, or so that's all I know as of now. So Gwen hasn't actually killed anyone, so let's give her a bit of a break.

What would you say the most challenging aspect of playing a character like Gwen is?

Initially, I thought it was being likable. That was all I wanted. I wanted people to like her, and so I wanted to make sure that I was garnering empathy from my audience and layering it and texturing the scenes with, again, this place of love. I just wanted to give depth to the character.

And now, I think the hardest thing about playing her is maybe playing a straight character, because I'm not used to that. I think I prefer playing all her layers.

Aside from Xander, do you see Gwen wanting to be involved with anybody in Salem?

Gwen's a naughty, frisky, little salacious woman. She can't be single forever. She can't be following around Xander forever. Stay tuned...

If you were to make up your dream storyline with Gwen, what would you have her do?

I'd have her be the female version of Stefano, fall into power and wealth and money and take over Salem and have whoever she wants, she lives in whatever mansion she wants. Maybe she could also get possessed by the devil and have that sort of power, and hypnotize everyone in Salem to be her zombies. However, that world would all come crashing down on her, of course, too. That would make an interesting story, I think.

Do you remember a scene on Days that was particularly challenging to film?

Yes. I think the most challenging scene yet, there's two, actually, was where you find out that Jack is her father and that whole storyline where she's in the Salem Inn. She tells him where she came from and that she was neglected her whole life. That was very difficult for me because it was the first time as an actor that I was allowing that side of me to come out on the show, and I didn't know what people would think of it. Gwen had been very kind of dark and edgy and strong. So that was very difficult, and I was so nervous and I felt very vulnerable. I wanted everything to be authentic.

The second one was, obviously, the wedding. That was really hard. That was a full day of having to be in that mental space, and really kind of put myself in Gwen's shoes, and feel a lot of the triggers and the pain that she experienced. All eyes were on me in that wedding dress in Horton Town Square. It was mortifying, but was a great challenge. Those two definitely stand out the most.

Would you say that getting into character is easier on a soap since you play the character all the time, as opposed to a movie?

Yes and no. I think yes because I've been doing this now for a little over two, two and a half years, I think. So I'm really familiar with who she is. However, because the story is constantly changing, the character is changing with her and evolving. Whereas if you have a movie, you're able to see the beginning, middle and the end before you go into it. So you kind of know how to prepare yourself. so you can explore every avenue within that realm. Whereas with Gwen, I have no idea what's going to happen, so I'm limited. Also, there's a lot more time with film than we have many days on set, because we move so quickly.

That's a good question. I think it all depends. I think in the beginning it was difficult because coming in and being new, you're trying to gauge how people feel and you're trying to find what direction works. Whereas a film, yes, there's a lot of exploration that happens while you're doing the film, but at the same time. Again, you kind of have this idea and there's a lot of talking and there's a lot of rehearsal and there's a lot of working with the actors and trying to discover where to go and you know what the end result is. So really, that changes everything. Yeah, great question.

What aspects of doing work on video games are the most enjoyable for you, and are there any challenges?

I do voice and I do motion capture, depending on what the project is. The thing about doing voice is you get to use your voice as your instrument. You can create a whole character by using only your voice, which is fascinating to me. It can alter the way a character looks, a way a character moves, the age, whatever, through the voice. So I've learned a lot about how to use my voice as an instrument over the past decade.

The motion capture aspect of it I love because you get to be in this suit, in this mocap suit. You're out on the light stage, and you can see screens all around you and how you will look, basically, in the game. So I did the Lord of the Rings game over 10 years ago, I think. I could see myself walking on the stage in the suit. But when I'd looked and turned to the screen, I could see my character in a tight corset and a big petticoat. That would change and completely alter how I move and how I walk and how... We had some combat scenes that we had to do, and so if I take a tumble, how is that going to affect being in a corset?

Then lastly, the thing I love also about doing mocap is it's so freeing. You go in there, no makeup. You're not judged on how you look. You're not judged if you have gray hair, if you're older. It's all about how you move, how you perform, and what you can do with your voice. So it's like a new way of finding a character and developing a scene and using your entire body as an instrument without being judged. Especially as a woman, it's hard in this industry. When you're on camera all the time, there's this need for perfection. Whereas you don't need that in mocap. You can just be you and they're just using... Sometimes they'll use your likeness, but really, the main focus is your voice and the way you move. I love that about games.

Did doing work on video games get you any fans?

It did, yeah, especially recently. I've done a few Marvel games now. The biggest ones seem to be League of Legends and... What else? I did a game called Death Stranding. A lot of these games have major, major fans, diehard, devoted fans. So I've been getting some really great messages from fans all over the world. It's so nice to hear what they have to say about the game.

To be honest, I don't play any of these games. They go way over my head. I would be terrible, I think, if I tried to play. So I go online and I try and watch other people play on YouTube, and that's how I end up seeing how the scenes end up playing out. I wish I could play. I should maybe learn how.

What video game was the most enjoyable to work on and why?

It would be Saints Row, I think, because it's very crude and kind of brash. My character is this really off-kilter, dirty Brit who's come from the wrong side of town. There's a lot of F bombs and a lot of other bombs that she throws. Very, very tough and dirty language and I love it. We just sit in a booth and we all crack up together. It's a very good time.

How did you get so much work in that space?

Well, I connected with a group of people back in 2008. I was supposed to go in for a really small job. I didn't know much about the job, except for the fact that they wanted brunette, brown eyes and British. So I went in to read for them and paid me like a hundred bucks or something and they said, "Can you come back next month? We have a bigger project that we'd like to use you for."

Then that turned into something else, which then turned into something even bigger. And then before I knew it, I had been wearing the same head cams that they were using in Avatar and Benjamin Buttons, and I didn't realize it and they were testing them on me.

I worked with Paul Debevec, and he went on to win Academy Awards for his work. And they were taking my teeth molds and face molds, and I was doing the "Hey, watch out," on Grand Theft Auto. And they'd bring me in for little things. But then slowly, I built up kind of a rapport with them and before I knew it, I was doing games, and it was just from this random off job that I'd gotten in between gigs and it changed my life, really.

What's the best way for people to follow you?

The best way? I'm not really good with social media. In fact, if I put a post up: it probably takes me 30 minutes to get it up, and I always accidentally delete it or I've done something wrong or it crops off my head. So it's a chore for me to post.

I guess Instagram. I mean, Twitter, I'm kind of a silent watcher, just watching what Elon Musk has to say and what's going on with climate change and politics. I don't really engage. Yeah, so I would say Instagram. Then sometimes I miss a lot because it'll be days before I've seen what someone has said or written. So don't take it personally, anyone. I'm just really bad at social media. I'm trying to get better.

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