Mary Beth Evans faces Days without her “husband” and best friend, Stephen Nichols
By Janet Di Lauro
For Mary Beth Evans (Kayla), the very thought of Days of Our Lives without Stephen Nichols was like apple pie without the á la mode….a kiss without a squeeze….simply unheard of! After all, Nichols is the only leading man she has ever known during her four-and-a-half year run on the show. So when he up and left Days this September, Evans not only had to bid adieu to her onscreen husband, but also adjust to backstage life without her best friend.
In this interview, Evans discusses real life without Nichols, soap life without Steve Johnson and the “the possibility” of leaving the show herself in the not-too-distant future.
JDL: What was your reaction when you first learned Stephen was leaving the show?
MBE: He told me before anybody [here]. I was just bummed out. Then, I thought all soap actors say they’re leaving and a lot of time they don’t. At first, I was selfish saying, “I don’t want you to leave,” because I didn’t want to be here by myself. Then, when I realized Stephen was really serious—when he told me he wanted to go and do other things—well, we can all respect that. All of us dream, in a sense, of leaving here one day and doing other things.
JDL: Did you worry about how his departure would affect your status on the show?
MBE: In the beginning, I was nervous about the story. I was nervous in a lot of ways. Someone was dying in Kayla’s life, but part of my life was dying, too. So I think it was a double-tough thing for me. Then, the producers came to me and said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got plans for you. Everything will be fine.” So far, I’m working more now than when Stephen and I were together…after we had the baby.
JDL: Did you agree with the way the writers handled Kayla’s reaction to Steve’s death?
MBE: There were some scenes that said, “No crying.” At first, I was reading it as—they don’t want me to cry. I thought, “This is ridiculous.” So I was just barking at everybody, “I’ve got to do it this way!” Then, I realized what the writers meant was not to have me be a sobber….to pick the moments [I cried], basically. So it wouldn’t be just a wailing situation. It really worked out well. There was one little scene after Steve died where I crawled up on his bed and just laid there. That was something I felt that I would want to do if it had happened to me. And [the producers] were great about it. They let me kind of sneak these things in.
JDL: Would you have preferred to show more heart-wrenching emotion?
MBE: If this had happened to my husband, I know I would just lay on the ground and sob. But I guess that doesn’t really happen to people. I guess they get their acts together. You always hear about people who don’t break down. And everybody wonders, “Why haven’t they cried yet?” I think Kayla feels if she lets go and starts crying, it’s over. There was one scene where my mother (Caroline, played by Peggy McCay) tries to hug me, and I’m like, “No, no, no.” I remember right before my own wedding my mother came into the room and was about to start crying. I said, “No, get out of here. Don’t make me cry.” I think that’s the thing with Kayla, too. Also, the days of Steve’s death, everyone went back to Kayla’s house. I had 40 pages of dialogue talking to everybody., I thought, if this was me, I’d be up in my room with the door closed saying, “I can’t talk right now.” But it’s not really drama to see a door closed and hear that. I did try to play that [feeling] in those scenes….that Kayla really wanted to be behind that door.
JDL: How did you get through Stephen’s last day of taping?
MBE: Stephen was more emotional than I was. I didn’t feel like he was really leaving…or maybe I just felt like he’d already left. I wasn’t sure. I felt like I had gone through so much [onscreen] that I was over it already….before it happened.
JDL: Did the two of you exchange “parting gifts”?
MBE: As usual, he gave me a gift and I didn’t give him one. He always gives me these beautiful gifts. He gave me a beautiful picture frame and a really sweet card that said we had to make a deal to see each other once a month. I think I kind of felt if I gave him a gift, it was as if he was really leaving. I thought I’d rather just take him out to lunch….do something like that, so we’d just be continuing our [friendship]. I didn’t want to give him a farewell present.
JDL: What’s it been like for you around the set without him?
MBE: Every day that Stephen and I ever worked together, which was every day that we ever worked, we would spend the whole day together. We’d either go to lunch, go to exercise, or go do things. So now it’s kind of weird. It’s sort of like I’m on a new show. I’m having scenes with different people, lunch with other people….I find myself catalog shopping more, instead of hanging out with him and running lines.
JDL: What’s your reaction to the fans’ response to Stephen’s departure and your decision to stay with the show?
MBE: It’s tough because [some] fans are very supportive [of Kayla on her own]. Others think that I’m a traitor not leaving with him. But it’s not my choice to leave. People don’t always understand that this is a job like every other. If a co-worker leaves, what are you going to do? I only hope that the show handles [Kayla’s future storyline] right, does it justice and that fans accept whatever happens. But this show is geared toward couples. And I will eventually be put with someone else.
JDL: What would you like to see happen to Kayla?
MBE: I feel, probably like someone feels when somebody really dies. I feel up in the air. I have no idea at this point what’s coming at me. When I come in each day, I just try to make that day work—even if I don’t understand the scenes or don’t agree with them. I think at this point [the writers] are trying to figure out what to do with me…what kind of stories will work.
JDL: Are there any leading men you’d like to work with?
MBE: I’ve been having a lot of scenes with Charles Shaughnessy (Shane) and Richard Biggs (Marcus). They’re pretty logical people for me to have scenes with, and they both make me laugh at lot. Charlie always makes me laugh, because he says everything so seriously, but you know he’s laughing on the inside. I know them very well, so they’re easy to work with. Now Billy Warlock’s back. We’ve always had a great relationship. Kayla and Frankie together would be hysterical, wouldn’t it? Like Mrs. Robinson. Even though Billy and I are around the same age.
JDL: Would you like to see Kayla emerge into a strong character on her own?
MBE: I think Patch and Kayla were very popular as a couple, but I think as characters, by themselves, they were popular too. I hate to think that any woman or any person is half of a couple. I don’t see why I can’t go on and be fine [alone]. I’m not worried about that.
JDL: What about Kayla’s goody-two-shoes image?
MBE: I’ve never felt Kayla is a goody-two-shoes. She’s a nice girl, who does the right thing, but I don’t think that she’s a Pollyanna. It would be great to have her snap and turn into a crazy woman. That would probably be interesting. Or maybe she could become a cruise director on The Love Boat….
JDL: Have you given any thought to leaving the show yourself, when your contact expires?
MBE: A lot. But it’s hard. I don’t know. I have two small kids at home. I do want to go on to other things…eventually. I have to make a decision soon. I’m very happy here. [If I left], it wouldn’t be because I’m not happy.
JDL: What would you like to do next?
MBE: People used to always ask me that and I never said, “I want to go do movies,” because I thought every actor says that and it sounds silly. But when I go to the movies, I think, “God, that’s what I really want to do.” I’d love to get some really good material and do one or two [movies] a year. It would be a fabulous life. I could be home with my kids [most of the time]. But then, you do have to go [on location], and that’s tough. So I go around and around about it. I’m not that keen on going to do nighttime. I don’t think there’s much difference between nighttime and daytime.