Alison Sweeney Interview: Multitalented Actress Talks Hallmark's "Christmas at Holly Lodge" and "Days of Our Lives"
Image attributed to Ricardo Hubbs
Alison Sweeney is best known for her portrayal of Samantha “Sami” Brady on the NBC daytime drama Days of Our Lives, a role she has played under contract with the show since 1993. Her highly anticipated short-term return to Days, reprising her 21+ year role of Sami Brady, airs October through December 2017.
Sweeney has released both fiction and non-fiction books and hosted 13 seasons of NBC’s inspirational series The Biggest Loser. Other TV appearances include St. Elsewhere, Tales from the Darkside, Friends and Fear Factor.
“I’d much rather talk about the causes I love. I work with the American Humane Association, and I do a lot of work with Feeding America and Stand Up to Cancer.”
Since 2015, Sweeney has appeared in the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries film series Murder, She Baked, based on Joanne Fluke’s books. Christmas at Holly Lodge is her third project that she’s sold, executive produced and starred in for the Hallmark Channel. The movie stars Sweeney, Jordan Bridges and Sheryl Lee Ralph, and premieres Sunday, December 3, 2017, at 8/7c on the Hallmark Channel.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ali, Christmas at Holly Lodge is a concept you developed with Hallmark, so tell me a little about the movie and your character.
Alison Sweeney: It was just a really wonderful project to work on because I wanted to celebrate the idea of Christmas for people who don’t have a family to come together to create their own family with friends and people that they love and want to celebrate the holidays with to honor the spirit of Christmas in that way. We came up with this idea of a character named Sophie who owns a lodge, sort of a heritage from her parents. They had family and traditions that have to do with the holidays every year, so she grew up with that kind of love, family and friends around her.
After her parents passed away, Sophie maintained those traditions, and those friends come back every year, and she continues to run this little lodge right by a beautiful, big ski mountain. She runs it on her own. It’s just a really fun, beautiful story about friendship and Christmas, and in walks a handsome stranger and true love.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have a couple of very talented co-stars in Jordan Bridges and Sheryl Lee Ralph. I’m a fan of Jordan’s from his role on Rizzoli & Isles. Had you worked with him before this project?
Alison Sweeney: I had not worked with Jordan before this, and I was thrilled as well because he was so wonderful in Rizzoli & Isles, and it was great to have that opportunity. He’s so funny, charming and lovely to work with, so I was very lucky.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You have a female writer (Melissa Salmons) and a female director (Jem Garrard). Was that a nod to women’s empowerment?
Alison Sweeney: Yeah. Exactly. I am always looking to work with really talented people, and I have found that these two women in particular are continuing to impress me, surprise me and blow my mind, you know? I love supporting people who are creative, talented and love what we do, and the fact that they happen to be women is exactly how I feel it should work. I don’t believe in discrimination. I believe in finding the best person for the job, and these women absolutely are that.
Melissa Salmons is a fantastic writer. I met her at Days of Our Lives, and when I had the opportunity to engage a writer and become an executive producer myself and hire a writer, she was the first person I thought of. I wanted to work with her again. So I love the opportunity to work with her as a writer. I met Jem Garrard up in Vancouver, and she’s just so impressive to me. She’s a young female director who just has a really talented vision and a wonderful way with the actors. I think she did a beautiful job on this movie.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You’re producing and starring in this movie, but are you concentrating more on work behind the camera these days?
Alison Sweeney: Yeah. I think, for me, developing the projects that I have an opportunity to work on, is really my passion. I remember telling my dad, when I was four years old, that this is what I wanted to do with my life. Now, I am doing it (laughs). I love finding scripts or helping to create scripts that challenge me or are exciting or are stories that I can get behind from the beginning, follow them all the way to the finish and see them turn into these movies. It feels like a miracle every time.
But I think it really satisfies that side of my personality. I’m also very Type A, and I’m really meticulous and detail oriented, so it’s hard for me just to be on a set where I’m not a part of all the decisions and all the meetings leading up to how everything got made, you know? I love being a part of the props meeting, finding the locations, hiring the crew, wardrobe, makeup and hair. I love being a part of every element that goes into these movies. It’s important for me to tell the whole story.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It’s hard to believe that at age four, you knew what you waned to do with your life. What led to the Kodak commercial when you were five years old?
Alison Sweeney: It was actually sort of a fluke thing and kind of a family story, but I basically ended up accidentally in a print ad when I was a little kid and my mom thought that was a fun day. She took me on an audition just for kicks because we live here in LA. So I just went on this audition, and I loved it. I had a great time, and then I happened to book the job, so I got to be there on set. The next thing you know, I started going to workshops and acting classes and getting a private coach. I just loved it from the first moment.
My mom got me an audition for Equity Waiver Theater, and I loved being there at the rehearsals. I was there memorizing my lines and also learning the lines of the grownup actors. I just loved to watch them work and see how it all came together. I never wanted to leave. I loved it, and as I grew up and kept doing it, my parents put a lot of strict rules on me to keep my grades up and said that if I wanted to be an actor, I had to get my education first. That had to be the priority. So I felt like I was the one who really wanted to act. My parents were never pushing me in that direction. It was always something I chose.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sounds like you were getting prepared for the fast pace of daytime drama and the role of Sami Brady.
Alison Sweeney: I spent a lot of time in auditions, so when I got the job, I was certainly so honored and lucky and grateful for the opportunity, and I wanted to do the best I could. But times have changed so much since I first started on Days. It has gotten a lot more difficult. At the time, we thought we were moving fast and having a lot to learn in one day, and now it’s like double what it used to be. So it’s kind of a funny thing. I really remember the old days, too (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sami last returned to Salem in 2015, to mourn Will’s death, and she cried a lot. Sami returned recently because Will is actually alive, and she cries a lot.
Alison Sweeney: Yeah. Exactly.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Was it difficult for you to return to such an emotional storyline?
Alison Sweeney: It was very stressful. It was really a stressful thing to worry about because I knew how important the storyline was to me and to the fans. I didn’t want to mess it up, and it’s been a couple of years. I felt out of shape. I worried beforehand like, “What if I don’t remember how to play Sami? What if I can’t pull out those emotions?” It’s not easy, you know. It doesn’t just hop out when you snap your fingers. It requires a lot of preparation and inspiration, I guess.
I was really worried that I was out of practice, and I might not be good at it. Then it just felt so natural, getting dressed and playing Sami and going out there and doing those lines. It felt like no time had passed. I was really excited to be back at work. It was really fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): On a lighter note, how do you keep a straight face in those scenes with Eileen Davidson as Susan Banks?
Alison Sweeney: She is hilarious. I mean, boy, it kills me, and it’s so fun to watch her do her thing. I really love it. She did make us all laugh, and it was hard to keep a straight face. I realize how lucky I was to work with Eileen because she’s very, very talented.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s Christmas like at your house, Ali?
Alison Sweeney: We love the traditions, all the decorating and getting the tree ready. We bake cookies for Santa. We open presents Christmas morning and celebrate with our family. It’s fun.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Actor, TV host, producer, director and author. What would you like to do next?
Alison Sweeney: (laughs) I think I’ve found my calling. I really love developing these movies. I have so much fun. Each one is its own adventure, and it’s a very unique experience, so I can’t ever get tired of it. I have some new projects I’m working on and developing hopefully for Hallmark, so I can’t wait for the next thing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you a political activist?
Alison Sweeney: No, very much not. I’d much rather talk about the causes I love. I work with the American Humane Association, and I do a lot of work with Feeding America and Stand Up to Cancer. Those are some charities I spend my time with. As my kids grow up, I want them to be aware of the work they do. I just love sharing that with them and giving them the opportunity to give back to our community as well.
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