Sonia Blangiardo remains one of the hardest working directors in the daytime soap community. She has received Daytime Emmy Awards for her work on “One Life to Live,” and “As The World Turns.” She even went on to receive a nomination for the web series, “Tainted Dreams.” A New Yorker by trade, Blangiardo moved out to Los Angeles, and is again taking the soap world by storm by directing at “Days of our Lives.” We had the chance to speak with her about coming to direct the NBC soap, as well as her work doing “Winterthorne,” and “VIRAL.”
Na’Vell J. Lee: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I still cannot believe we haven’t yet until now!
Sonia Blangiardo: I know! It’s just the way life is sometimes.
NJL: Well, we are rectifying it now, and there is so much we have to talk about. I don’t even know where to begin!
SB: It’s all for the bigger purpose. We’re just doing something that brings us all together again. It just breaks my heart that we are not all booking things like we used to, even ten years ago. There are all of these great people out of work. We’re all just trying to find the next, not necessarily big, thing. Again, the genre is not dead. It’s just the way it is being brought to people. I packed up the car, moved out here to California, and trying to find work for people that aren’t working anymore.
NJL: “As The World Turns” was my life for about, off and on, 25 years. Even though we heard of “Guiding Light” being canceled first, I think I broke down when “ATWT” was announced. This was something I grew up with as a child. It was very hard, not just for me, but for the daytime community as a whole. We lost all of the New York shows, and that hurt me more.
SB: This was why I did “Tainted Dreams.” I wanted to bring something back to New York, No, it will never be what “All My Children,” “One Life to Live,” or “ATWT” was. Just bringing the work there that gets our community back together was great. There IS work in New York. However, we’re shut out. Being part of a daytime community doesn’t translate. Whether or not we can do it is irrelevant. It has been very segregated. So, it is what it is. However, I do miss New York. The city is a part of you. I had moved out here to LA with my writing partner where we just want to create shows, and get to produce them from wherever. However, you have to be here. It breaks my heart that New York is so unscripted whereas LA is so scripted. It’s just the way it is.
NJL: Agreed. It has been this for maybe about five, six years now?
SB: I believe so. I think that when the last soaps went off, it really showcased how there was nothing here in New York. You can do reality as a producer or director. However, it’s hard to get in. I get it. People with talk show resumés are dying to get into soaps. The powers that be go, “They don’t understand this beast.” I tended to disagree, but was in no position of any kind of authority at the time to say, “Let’s give them a shot.” Production is production. If you work well, and have good instincts, everything translates. Everything is storytelling. That’s not the perception that is out there. It’s basically, “Primetime people can only do primetime,” or “Reality people can only do reality.” It’s funny when you take an outside look after being isolated for twenty years in a protective business.
NJL: I hate that stigma that daytime has from different parts of the genre. It’s like a sore thumb that sticks out when you hear people from entertainment/primetime televison frown upon it. Plenty of actors started out in this genre, and it is seen as the red-haired stepchild. It’s the toughest genre to work in. You have actors doing 70 to 80 pages a day, 5 days a week. This does produce some of the hardest working people in the business. It aggravates me, as a fan, that the term, “Soap Opera,” is frowned upon, even though it was here not just in daytime, but in primetime dating back to the 1970s. It’s upsetting.
SB: I think it boils down to the way we tell stories. When the genre was created maybe 50, 60 years ago, 70 dating back to radio, you turned up stories for these characters. That became unrealistic over the years. However, our audience accepted the fact that Viki had a twin daughter when Jessica was born with different fathers. As ridiculous as these stories are, the fans accept them. To the outside world, they mostly feel, “It’s not dark enough,” or, “It doesn’t have depth. It’s ridiculous.” What they don’t understand is that you have 30 characters you have to turn out story for, day in and day out, for five days a week. That’s why I have been saying for ten years, easily, that the genre is not dead. It will never die because people will always be invested in character driven situation stories. They’re invested in what happens to that person. The formula was getting stale. It HAD been getting stale. You cannot think you are going to write Shakespeare for 30 characters in a 5 hour programming block. That’s my opinion. I do hope that the remaining shows will stay on the air for many years to come. I wasn’t expecting “AMC” or “OLTL,” that’s for sure. Once they did “GL,” I knew “ATWT” was next. It was literally a year, and ironically, I directed that day we got canceled. I have the weird directing days, it seems. I directed the day George W. Bush got re-elected, and the most tragic one was I directed the day after everyone learned of Benjamin (Hendrickson). Can I tell you, it was gut-wrenching to be there, and seeing everyone’s complete sadness.
NJL: That must have been rough to go in and see that.
SB: It was unfathomable, and a surreal moment when everyone found out. I wasn’t as close to him as others had been. I had only been at “ATWT” for a couple of years, but what I did know of Ben was that he was a class act and a great person.
NJL: The fact that you are now directing at “Days of our Lives” right now is very exciting simply because of where the show is heading. Can I tell you that ever since the Daytime Emmys back in April, you could see the excitement in the actors’ faces about what was coming for the show. Jen Lilley, specifically, mentioned that she is reading the entire scripts.THAT made me excited, and something that was needed. Case in point, I mentioned I love the change with Robert Scott Wilson, who plays Ben. Him being the Necktie Killer has finally given him something to do, as he has not done anything since he came onto the show.
SB: Robert will not disappoint. He rose to the occasion. I can’t wait for everyone to see where he goes with the character. I worked with Rob on “AMC.” When we cast him, we knew he’d be great for the role. However, the character of Petey Cortlandt was fluffy, and nothing really. Rob was great, though, and very professional. Now, everytime I work with him, I tell him, “You were great today. You blew me away.” He’s so humble and appreciative. He wants to do the best, and tries so hard. He’s dedicated, and I adore that boy. He’s awesome, and I am glad everyone else can see how good he is, because he knew he could step up to the plate.
NJL: I did read what Robert had to say in a recent “Soap Digest” interview about the change of the character, and how excited he was to play it out. I’m proud of him for doing this, and showing more depth to Ben than we ever saw when the character was first introduced. I definitely want to see more for him.
SB: I have to tell you, I have been reading breakdowns for 25 years. When I first started, they immediately sent me breakdowns. I started maybe a month after the new regime began. Albert (Alarr) had asked me to come in and observe to get a lay of the land. He then gave me a show a few weeks later. I literally couldn’t wait, and reading the breakdowns is a part of the job. I would sit on the couch and literally gasp when reading them! I can’t believe they are doing what they’re doing! To shock ME?! I mean, I thought I was un-shockable at this point! (laughs) They have taken some bold chances that are going to pay off! They will make you feel, cry, and laugh. I can’t say enough good things about the show. It’s exciting that a show CAN do that, and turn itself around. It’s just excellent stuff.
NJL: Do you think, with the four shows that are left on the air, they don’t want to task risks or bold moves that will shock the viewer? I feel a show may not want to do something shocking or explosive because fans may not like it.They keep it close to the vest, because soap fans are vocal. If something happens that causes a character they like to leave, etc., they coin the phrase, “I’m going to stop watching.” A part of me feels shows do not want to tackle such risks because they are afraid of the backlash. From what I am hearing about “Days,” though, I don’t think they are afraid to push the envelope.
SB: I think the biggest thing for me is that if you are doing something for just shock value, you’re screwed. Whether watching or working on soaps, and the story becomes too plot-driven, it turns to, “I’m done. You are not staying true to the character.” That’s not saying the character can’t do outrageous things. No one’s to say, “Ten years later, the character can’t be bad, better, or reformed.” In answer to what I believe you’re asking, if it’s true organically to what the characters are doing, you can’t lose. I’ve never been a headwriter, or written on a soap. The last several years, I dedicated myself to writing. I even spent most of time before writing the script on character development. You need to know who these characters are, and then the script part is easy. I’d spend months on these character developments, as you have to stay true to them. In terms of taking a risk, when you’re writing, I don’t think most realize if the risk is good or bad. Everyone tries to do the best they can. As they are writing, you don’t know if you are going to anger some fans. Some of the best stories actually happened by accident, and became iconic. When at “ATWT,” I don’t think they realized how the Luke/Noah story resonated with everyone all over the country, and they really wanted to tell this story. It’s odd. Never having been in that position, I don’t know what they go through where they go, “What is too far? When do you risk alienating the fans?” Just tell a good story, and I believe “Days” is doing that. With any show, some people are not going to like something, and wonder how could they have gone there. With all that is said and done, the next six months is going to be amazing. Everybody will be shocked, and will want to see what happens next. Every day is something new.
NJL: We have a month and a half before Salem/”Days” will have the bicentennial anniversary. It will be a great time for the show, and viewers, as I didn’t think we would get to see the show celebrate the 50th.I’m glad we are going to hit that mark.
SB: It’s an amazing landmark, especially in today’s date. When I first met with Greg (Meng) and Albert, I mentioned to them that “Days” was the first soap that I ever started watching. My mother moved here from Italy, and learned how to speak English by watching the show. I remember waking up, and watching when I was two or three at the time. I didn’t know what was going on, but I would look at the TV and say, “Marlena’s pretty.” (laughs) However, that was how my mother learned to speak the language. She watched both “Days” and “AMC.” Ironically, “AMC” was the first show I ever worked on. Now, here I am, 25 years later, working on “Days.” It’s amazing how it all comes full circle.
NJL: Speaking of full circle, I loved “Winterthorne.” You got to direct that web series this year. It was a really great series. I know some would call me biased as I love Michael Caruso’s work, but it was such a damn, great show. It really brought out Martha Madison. THIS showed something from Martha that we never got to see. She proven herself to be a lead actress. I can’t say enough about Miranda Winterthorne. Now, we have both Martha and John-Paul Lavoisier coming to “Days” as Belle Black and Phillip Kiriakis.
SB: John-Paul and Martha’s chemistry was so instantaneous. You could not take their eyes off of them, and wanted to watch them. I mentioned to Michael that JP would be awesome for “Winterthorne,” and asked me to reach out. I messaged him, he responded, and it was that simple. When things are that easy, it was meant to be. It made perfect sense, and I know that they are amazing together on “Days.” While we may not see them for a while, they are just magnetic together. Martha is such a superstar. I adored working with her. She was professional, and wanted to do the best that she possibly could. Martha is a rockstar, much like my Alicia (Minshew)!
NJL: We all love Lish here, for sure!
SB: It’s funny, I knew Alicia before we even did “Tainted Dreams,” I met Martha before we started working on “Winterthorne.” We started shooting, and had that instant chemistry. It felt like I knew her forever, she understood what I was saying, and I knew where she was going. I let her do her thing, and she did amazing work.
NJL: The one thing I do love about Michael’s shows are the way they are filmed. The cinematography is amazing. it’s as if you are watching a film on your computer screen. Even the location shots were absolutely phenomenal.
SB: He’s a genius. I give him a ton of credit. He knows exactly what he wants. I was thrilled if I ever came close to giving him what he wanted. I respect Michael so much. There is no wishy-washy or wavering with him. He knew. He said, “I want every shot to be gorgeous!” Every detail, I can’t even tell you, even the nails! The thought that went through every little detail, that probably even the audience picked up on, was mind-blowing. This man and his wife, Barbi, who is also a rockstar, know how to do it and do it well. I met Michael at the Emmys last year, as we were both nominated in the same category. We both lost, but I got to meet him, and we struck up a friendship. He’s another one where I feel, “I’ve known you all for my life. You’re like the brother I don’t know that I want sometimes, but I adore you.” (laughs)
NJL: See, I also say the same thing, too, about him! Of course, when I say it, he will shoot me a message with a shank in his hand! (laughs)
SB: (laughs) Oh, my gosh, he is crazy! There is a collection of Sonia Blangiardo videos, where he talks in this New York accent. I’m watching, and going, “Do I talk like THAT?” (laughs) My friends love the Sonia/Michael videos! He is hysterical!
NJL: Michael is so adork-able. We all love that guy!
SB: I love Michael, because he loves this genre. For someone who didn’t have the background of working on a traditional soap, he is smarter and more insightful and focused than some of us who have been doing this for a long time. I think our union will be one that will last a very long time. I don’t see us parting ways any time soon.
NJL: Besides “Winterthorne,” I checked out, “VIRAL.” I love Melissa Archer and Jessica Morris anyway, so watching these two together in this comedy was such a treat.
SB: Thank you. That was a showcase piece. Brandon (Goins) and I came out here with scripts in hand. We both know we are novice writers. I do know that we are starting from the bottom up, but people said we need a showcase piece. People needed to see that the script wasn’t enough. Thank heaven for Melissa and Jess. We came to them with the idea, and both agreed to do it. We shot it over a weekend. My best friend, Teresa Cicala, came out from New York to produce it and put it together. It was so much fun doing this. Jess surprised me as I never saw her in anything comedic. I had more of a closer relationship with Melissa, so I know she can be a hoot. However, Jess surprised me. I went to her and said, “You make me laugh! You’re really funny!”
NJL: I don’t think I could ever think of the phrase, “I am woman, hear me pee,” without wanting to smirk a little bit. It was so much fun! Also, Robert Scott Wilson was in on this, too.
SB: Yes, I had to bring my buddies in. Both Rob and Eric (Nelsen) are best friends, and I didn’t know they hang out all the time. So, I said, “Awesome, you can hang out here.” (laughs) So, they did. The call time was 10 PM at night, as it had to be really dark when we filmed them. Poor Rob worked a grueling day at “Days,” but he said, “I’m there.” They were so hysterical and so cute! So, that’s the whole thing. With projects like “VIRAL,” it’s just great to bring in new talent. Barry Briscoe, who played Pierre, Melissa’s boyfriend on the show, I’ve known for 15 years. I cast him in “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” back in New York. He was brilliant in that. If we get an opportunity to get a deal, and the show gets produced, America will fall in love with him. He’s super talented, funny, and he’s a diamond in the rough.
NJL: Earlier, we had talked about Rob Wilson and how he has impressed you with the recent shows he has done. Is there anything/anyone to be on the lookout for that will blow us away?
SB: I sort of went in there green. I watched the show when I was kid. However, when I started working there, I had no idea who the characters were. I knew who the main staples were. I knew Kristian (Alfonso) from day one. She was so embracing. Also, they were excited to see a female director. It was so touching and sweet. They were like, “Oh, my gosh! You’re a woman!” (laughs) They were all so welcoming and happy to have me there, which was a really nice feeling. Everybody impressed me from across the board. Martha blew me away. Kate Mansi…that little girl is super talented. The stuff she has coming up with Rob is amazing. Kristian has amazing things coming up. God love her! You can’t help but cry with her with things that are about to unfold. Mary Beth Evans, as well. Wally Kurth, who I worked with at “ATWT,” is definitely a no-nonsense guy. He comes on and does his thing. The kids are great, too. The young teens are fun, talented, and beautiful. I really wish I had one bad thing to say about the show, but they are just hard working, embracing group of happy people. I worked on a lot of shows, and I’ve never had any, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” that I get here. The entire day is just so encouraging and warm. Coming into this as a virtual stranger, everyone couldn’t have been more nicer.
Also, follow Sonia Blangiardo on Twitter at: @SoniaBlangiardo.
“Days of our Lives” airs weekdays on NBC Daytime, and weeknights on Pop!