From Webster to Days of Our Lives: The roles of Alison Sweeney
Ever since she booked her first commercial for Kodak as a kid, Alison Sweeney has never lost that girl-next-door persona. "It's something I hear a lot," admits the 44-year-old actress, who became a household name in the late '80s when she was cast as Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives. "That's one of the things that's always been so clever about Sami. She wasn't the vixen. She was just so desperate to make everything turn okay and then it would all go so horribly awry." On the eve of her next Chronicles Mysteries movie for Hallmark called Helped to Death (Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. ET) Sweeney humbly looks back at her 37-year-plus long career. "I'm a working mom and I'm married to a cop. I feel like a lot of other moms out there," she admits. "I try not to get caught up in the whole Hollywood-ness of it all."
After breaking into the business with a Christmas-themed commercial for Kodak, Sweeney nabbed a role with a decidedly darker tone: she played a very young abuse victim on the ABC comedy. "I remember my mother having to explain it to me and how serious the subject was," recalls Sweeney. "It was the first time a sitcom had ever addressed the real social issue of child abuse. My character was being molested by her teacher and Webster (Emmanuel Lewis) realizes that something's not right and goes to tell his mom and dad. They brought in a counselor to talk to my character and help her understand that it isn't her fault and that she didn't do anything wrong. It was really powerful."
'St. Elsewhere' (1985)
"I think the episode was called 'Santa Claus is Dead'," remembers Sweeney. "I was one of the kids at the hospital when Santa Claus gets rushed in and he's dying. He's in the ER and all the kids are freaking out that Santa Claus is sick and what's going to happen to Christmas? I remember my mother telling me that it's not really Santa Claus, that Santa Claus lets other people dress up as him to prepare for Christmas. I mean, she had a whole story mapped out for me."
'Tales from the Darkside' (1988)
Sweeney guest-starred in an episode called "I Can't Help Saying Goodbye." "My character had a nasty habit of going into a trance and saying goodbye to people. Then they would die. Her mother dies and then her boyfriend, and then her sister's boyfriend dies. One could argue she just had foresight, right? Other people would say, 'Oh I think she was killing people.' It airs like almost once a year. People always Tweet or Instagram me when they catch the episode. That show still has another life. It's kind of funny."
'Days of Our Lives' (1987, the audition)
Sweeney was a huge fan of the NBC sudser when heard about the chance to audition. "I was a junior in high school and my dad was really serious about my academics and my going to college. He thought I should take a break from all the auditioning and focus on my schoolwork. So I remember really selling him on this idea that, well, I won't audition as often but there's this one I really want to do 'cuz it's my favorite show. Just one more time! So I went in and auditioned for [former casting director] Fran Bascom. She was so nice to me in the room! I had a screen test two days later. I got to go to the studio in Burbank and screen test with Patrick Muldoon. I had such a crush on him that I blushed bright red. The producer at the time said that was a big part of how I got the job. I was able to stay at my school and I would film in the afternoons. For my senior year, I was applying to colleges like normal. My dad was really serious about it, even though I had a three-year contract with Days. I took my SATs and toured colleges. We went to Northwestern, where the dean of the entertainment school pulled my dad aside and said, 'Please don't make her do this. Kids go to four years of college to have the opportunity she has. When she gets fired, we'll accept her but don't make her give up this opportunity.' I'm so grateful. That turned my dad around!"
"It was written into Friends that that Joey [Matt LeBlanc] was a character on Days of Our Lives. It was just so funny. [The DOOL cast] would always watch the episodes and laugh over who we thought Joey was doing an impression of [from the cast]. We all had our suspicions. It was so fun. They even made a reference to Jim Reilly, who was the head writer and who wrote my character of Sami into the show. They even had a spoof of him on Friends. I was asked to play the role of Jessica. It was just hilarious to play the role of a bitchy soap star."
'Fear Factor' (2002)
Sweeney was one of the original celebrity guest stars of the dare/stunt show that routinely required contestants to eat -- or lie in a bed of - creepy crawly insects. "There were these Madagascar hissing cockroaches -- like, they were huge -- and I had to lay down in this coffin-like thing. I actually lost. Because I was the slowest, I was going to be eliminated. But because it was for charity, host Joe Rogan said if I ate three worms they would let me stay in the game and play the last round. I remember thinking, '[then head of daytime] Sheraton Kalouria got me out of work on DOOL so I could be there today. I cannot let him down and not finish this challenge!' Joe said, 'If you don't do it, we'll just cut it out. No one will ever know.' I was like, 'that's the dumbest thing I've ever heard, everyone will know!' So I choked down these worms. They were sour and salty and grainy, like sand. It was really disgusting. My kids still tease me about to this day."
'The Biggest Loser' (2006-2015)
Like several of the shows she ended up joining, Sweeney was also a fan of the extreme weight loss show on NBC. "One day, I was ironically leaving the gym when I checked my phone and had a message from the executive producer inviting me to host the show. I was floored and excited. I was still working at DOOL so I had to navigate that situation with [DOOL EP] Ken Corday. I'm so grateful to him. When you are in and it, and seeing how hard the contestants work, I was so invested in them and their journey. I'm still friends with a bunch of them who stayed in touch. What that show did was to help people have a conversation about how to be healthier. We can all use more of that. It's about taking care of yourself, being important to yourself. The other important message was how it's never too late! We had grandparents and former athletes and people who had never worked out. You can always start today to take one step in the right direction."
'Days of Our Lives' (1993-present)
Sweeney will always be a part of the NBC sudser. "I was on consistently from 1993 to 2014. And then I left and had the big goodbye. Then two years later, they were doing this storyline in which my son, Will, was going to die. They asked me if I would come back to be part of the funeral. I remember being so upset about the storyline and the idea of it. He was a legacy character. You didn't have to kill him! Then they brought me back a year later because it turned out Will wasn't really dead and we had to find him. It was outrageous. I was so happy to come back and do that story so I said, 'if you ever have any fun ideas, let me know. My door is always open. Since then, we have mapped out my availability because I have to keep a schedule clear for the movies I produce for Hallmark."
'Chronicle Mysteries' (2019-present)
Sweeney's relation with Hallmark began in 2013 with the movie Second Chances opposite her DOOL colleague Greg Vaughn. She later parlayed her fascination with true crime into movie franchise for the channel about podcaster-cum-amateur sleuth. She plays a podcast host named Alex McPherson. "That's what is really happening right now. These armchair detectives are out there, solving real-life crimes. I thought it would be really fun to mirror that." Her next one centers on a self-help guru who operates extreme physical challenge retreats. But someone ends up dead at one. Is it possible that person could have been murdered? "My character is absolutely not convinced it was an accident. It seems like the police are not going to investigate so she has to look into it and figure out who would have wanted him dead. Alex is on the case!"
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