Since his debut in 1981, James Reynolds has been upholding law and order in the town of Salem as crime fighter turned Mayor Abe Carver on NBC’s Days of Our Lives. Most recently, the actor spoke with our very own Judyth Piazza on her radio program The American Perspective, which can be heard at The SOP, and took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions via email from me:
GG: You and Abe Carver made television history as being the only African-American actor playing an African-American character for over 25 years. Did you ever think that’d be possible to be considered a “trailblazer” for other African-Americans actors?
JR: I never thought I would be the person to do it, but I am very honored to be that person. It is good to blaze a trail. You are always looking at fresh territory.
GG: 20 years ago this year, Generations debuted on NBC with Vivica A. Fox, Kristoff St. John (Neil, The Young & The Restless), Kelly Rutherford (Gossip Girl), and you replacing Taurean Blacque as Henry Marshall in which you earned an Emmy nod. What was it like to be on the first African-American daytime soap?
JR: I must tell you that being on that show was one of the great experiences of my life. I have been very fortunate as an actor. The opportunity to make history by being part of Generations is one I will always treasure.
GG: What was the difference between portraying Abe and portraying Henry?
JR: They are completely different men. I believe that Abe is more self assured than Henry although both men have a good sense of honor. Abe is a man of action while Henry is more “steady as he goes”.
GG: Generations was cancelled in 1991 yet still has a following today. However, during its two-year run, the show was last in the ratings. Why do you think Generations never caught on with the audience? It should’ve been given more praise and respect as being groundbreaking for having African-Americans in lead roles on daytime!
JR: Generations deserves tremendous praise. It suffered from many things beyond the control of the show itself. It was praised by critics but not supported by the affiliates. Truthfully, the audience was larger than all but 2 shows on the air today. I am constantly stopped by fans of the show. The audience was there. I blame the lack of courage and creativity of the local stations. Fear is always the enemy of change. Today, I believe, Generations would be a leading program.
GG: Days has gone through drastic changes in terms of storytelling in recent years. For instance, the demonic possession of Marlena Evans, the Salem Stalker, in which everybody was killed yet coming back via miracle, and so forth. How do the writers maintain Abe’s strong moral compass on the show throughout the craziness?
JR: It is necessary to have a character who is grounded in courage, honor, and truth. Abe is that guy. The center of the storm is always peaceful.
GG: Onscreen, you and Renee Jones (Lexie) are a supercouple. What’s your relationship like off-screen?
JR: Renee is the best. I could not have a better on screen partner. We share many of the same values and opinions. We have never been upset with each other.
GG: You’ve been married to Lissa Layng Reynolds for a long time now. What has been the secret of keeping your relationship strong?
JR: We were friends for years before we “discovered” each other romantically. As a matter of fact romance should always be there. You’ve got to work at it.
GG: Your son, Jed, is a student of the University of California in Santa Barbara. Any chance of him entering the “family business”?
JR: Jed is a graduate now. Yes, he is now working as an actor in L.A. He has also toured in a play to New York and Washington, D.C. In addition he is the head JV Basketball coach at the high school he graduated from.
GG: With the cancellation of CBS’ Guiding Light, ABC’s General Hospital centering on mobsters, and popular actors either let go due to budget cuts or put on recurring status as well as on the backburner, it seems that daytime has changed for the worse. What do you think of that?
JR: I would rather say daytime is evolving. Change comes and we must look for “new” it brings not the chaos.
GG: In terms of bringing conflict, escapism, and “love in the afternoon” everyday, do you also think that daytime should be more diverse in providing social commentary and topical issues such as the economic recession, as well as have more African-American actors in the forefront rather than in parts such as the “token” black, supporting friend? Why is it that African-Americans are being portrayed or written that way: “stereotyped” into “ghetto” roles as well as being offered the role of the bad guy?
JR: I have been a voice for daytime to be more diverse than ever since I said my first line. Days of Our Lives and The Young and The Restless are the only daytime shows that have allowed African-American actors to age along with their characters. You are correct: too often daytime relegates actors of colors to ancillary roles, recurring roles, under fives, and extras. The solution is simple. The will does not seem to exist. The audience just wants to see good actors portray interesting characters.