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October 2011

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Arianne Zucker/Jason Cook Interview: Soap Stars Make 'LifeCHANGE'

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Arianne Zucker & Jason Cook

Emmy-nominated actress Arianne Zucker has partnered with her ex-Days of Our Lives co-star Jason Cook, to create the philanthropic website and online documentary series LifeCHANGE.

Set for takeoff in the summer of 2012, the LifeCHANGE series will offer its six participants the opportunity to travel, build new relationships and experience the warmth that results from helping others in need, while overcoming challenges, tests and obstacles on their path to self-discovery.

“What we’re looking for right now are people between the ages of 18 to 25. A little early on in my own life I was a little lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what adventures I wanted to go on in that time frame of my life. I was trying to figure out who I was. I know there are many people who feel the same way. That is such an important time in your life. It really builds who you are and builds your character.”

Participants will be carefully selected upon review of their two-minute online video submission and questionnaire explaining to the LifeCHANGE team why they would like to take this chance. Episodes will be made available to the general public on the LifeCHANGE website.

The LifeCHANGE team: Cook – Director and Executive Producer, Zucker – Creator and Executive Producer and Todd Zucker – Creator and Executive Producer will work closely with Derrick Boles, founder of the mentor organization L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. 1st and Nicole Hayes, L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. 1st’s Media and Production Services Director.

Known for her character’s long list of occupations and aliases and long-standing feud with Sami Brady (Alison Sweeney), Zucker portrays Nicole Walker on the NBC daytime drama Days of our Lives. Since 2008, Cook can be seen on ABC’s General Hospital as Dr. Matt Hunter, the brilliantly talented but arrogant surgeon and brother of Dr. Patrick Drake.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jason and Ari, thanks for taking the time today.

Jason Cook: Good to talk to you. I’m actually at the airport waiting to board a plane so I can only talk for a few minutes.

Arianne Zucker & Jason Cook

Arianne Zucker & Jason Cook (Photo by John Paschal)

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, let’s get right to it then. I understand the idea for LifeCHANGE came from Ari.

Jason Cook: Yeah, Ari called me up a couple of years ago with the idea that she wanted to do a philanthropic show to pay it forward and to help make the world a better place. We’re talking about young adults 18 to 25 who are at that critical juncture trying to figure out what the hell to do with their lives. In the short time it took for her to explain it, I was already on board. It just took all the right pieces to fall into place and, here we are starting to shoot. It’s awesome. That was about it. Ari called me, said she had this idea, and I thought it was an awesome thing.

There is a lot of negative reality TV, and this was an opportunity not only to do something great but also have it be a TV show where you could invite the audience. I think people need a pick-me-up because of where the economy is right now. They need a feel good show and that’s what this is.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ari, how did you come up with the idea?

Ari Zucker: Do you have an hour and twenty minutes? Just kidding (laughs). I can remember when I was a little child and always very emotional to the pain of people and animals. I felt badly for individuals outside of the life I grew up in. Mine wasn’t perfect, but I always felt I had this positive influence in my life, and I wanted to do the same things for people who maybe didn’t have those opportunities.

I talked with Todd, my brother, about creating something that was educational and positive. My brother is a vice principal and has been in education for about 15 years. He and I discussed what we could do to make a difference. We wanted to create something long term, so LifeCHANGE came about because I saw the impact on families, especially in Boise, Idaho where everything is family oriented. When you’re in a big city everything is spread out.

When you take your family on vacation, instead of just going to Tahiti, go do a build in Mexico. Your children learn a lot more about you than they would if they were just off surfing. They could learn and understand how to give back and how to apply that in their daily lives. That’s what we really wanted to accomplish. It took us a while to come up with a formula, but now we’ve done that.

It was 2007 when my brother and I started putting it together, and now it’s becoming a reality. Todd is also writing a curriculum that goes beyond just the show itself. Right now we’re working with correctional facilities to help first time offenders have a chance. Some kids are born into not having an opportunity in their lives at all, and we want to be able to help these young individuals have a clean slate in life … the cleanest they can possibly have. It’s very exciting for us. During this experience, we’ve really seen how many people want to be a part of making a difference in the world and be a part of LifeCHANGE.

Jason Cook: I’m back, had to check my bag and pull some of the camera equipment out.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jason, you have a front burner storyline right now on General Hospital. How are you juggling that and your work with LifeCHANGE?

Jason Cook: It’s really simple. I cut out sleeping, just totally nixed it (laughs). We try to juggle and fit everything in like now we’re doing this conference call, and I’m getting ready to board a plane any second (laughs). The show has been very flexible with me since I’ve been there. They’re continuing to work with me, so it has been fine.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You met Ari on Days of our Lives?

Jason Cook: Yeah, about 11 or 12 years ago. We met in ’99, right Ari?

Ari Zucker: Yeah ’99.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were basically a daytime newcomer, Jason, before joining Days. Did the two of you become fast friends?

Jason Cook: Yeah, I think we did.

Ari Zucker: Absolutely. I didn’t have the luxury of being in that storyline with everyone, so I think eventually we kind of hung out. Everybody hangs out with everybody on Days. I met my husband on the show as well. I played his step grandmother, so I was definitely in a different area, but I know we did have a blast when we were able to hang out and have a good time.

Jason Cook: It was a very special time.

Ari Zucker: It was a special time.

Arianne Zucker & Jason Cook

Arianne Zucker & Jason Cook (Photo by John Paschal)

Jason Cook: At that time, we were all about the same age, and it really became very family centered, much more so than where I work now. It was kind of like lightning just struck at the right time. It was a good thing for the show and a good thing for all of us personally.

All of us – Ari, Kyle Brandt, Kirsten (Storms), Nadia (Bjorlin) – we’re all pretty much in touch and are friends. We’ve been to each other’s weddings except I haven’t had one yet, so no one’s been to my wedding (laughs). But, I was at Ari’s wedding and saw her and Kyle (Lowder) get married, so we were all close for years. It is a very special time in my heart for sure, and I made lifelong friendships. Working together on this is awesome.

Ari Zucker: I hate to toot my own horn, but I think we just work well off each other, you know? That’s really hard to come by. Jason knows what I’m looking for, and hopefully I get done whatever he needs. It just really works well. I think so Jason, don’t you?

Jason Cook: I definitely think so. We touched base on something this morning, and we were on the same page without even getting into too much detail. So, it has been pretty fluid, and I’m so stoked to begin shooting.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is LifeCHANGE exclusive to the Internet?

Jason Cook: No. It’s actually a multi-platform show, so there will be Internet components, and there will be a serial show that is distributed on television. We’re talking to different networks right now.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I understand there will be six participants in the beginning?

Jason Cook: Right now we’re going to Boise to pick up the first young adult for the show. We’ll be traveling around. We’re going to New Orleans, to London, and probably do one in Los Angeles since that’s our hometown.

We’re going to pick these young adults from all these different places and will be doing mini arcs with some of them. The last one or two spots will be picked from online viewers of the show which is an important part … and Ari will tell you more about it since I’m ready to fly to Chicago. Ari, I’ll see you in Boise.

Ari Zucker: All right.

Jason Cook: Pleasure talking to you.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Thanks Jason, have a safe trip. Ari, Jason was talking about choosing the young adults.

Ari Zucker: Yes. What we’re looking for right now are people between the ages of 18 to 25. A little early on in my own life I was a little lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what adventures I wanted to go on in that time frame of my life. I was trying to figure out who I was. I know there are many people who feel the same way. That is such an important time in your life. It really builds who you are and builds your character.

How many college students do you know that pick one major and then switch it because it’s not really what they want to do? In this economy they could graduate with a master’s degree and end up working at Starbuck’s because they can’t get a job in their field. Everybody has a story. What we want to do for this time frame is create confidence, a sort of security in the idea that they can better themselves or find out what their gifts are as individuals.

I know we’re all born with something to give, whatever it is. We want to be able to help young adults find that. That’s why we picked that age range. Quite frankly, I think everybody can use the formula of LifeCHANGE, from the president to your grandmother. But, right now we had to pick an age range we thought would really be appropriate to get this moving, flowing, and going, and then eventually we’ll have different areas where we can make a difference all around the world. Again, this is a lifelong project for me. It will constantly grow, constantly build, and constantly change.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will you and Jason be choosing the participants?

Ari Zucker: And my brother as well because he is co-creator. We will all sit down together. It’s going to be tough. Everyone will have an amazing story. We’re looking at them now. It will be tough to narrow them down. Our goal is to eventually give everyone the opportunity, but at the moment it will be six at a time. It should be an exciting process, especially when we choose the six because we’ll be looking forward to really making a difference for them.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What type of challenges will they have?

Ari Zucker: We’ll be doing an emotional and a physical challenge. I’ll give you a small example. When I graduated high school, I won a modeling contest to go to Europe. I grew up in a small town and didn’t travel much. I left and took off for Paris by myself at 18 years old for two months, and I was scared out of my mind. I cried every night when I went to sleep because I didn’t have the tools or anyone to show me how to live in another country with a completely different culture.

The participants will be taught leadership skills, which are the emotional part, and then you’ll see the physical parts on the program. I won’t disclose everything right now. But, the physical will teach team building. If you’re working in education or in the corporate field, there’s always team building. I feel that you can’t get anywhere in life without a team. Nobody gets anywhere without help. They will learn to help others and be an influence while they are being influenced by others. It’s a very give and take program that we are creating.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If a network does not pick this up, will it be exclusive to the Internet?

Ari Zucker: We’ll absolutely have it running on our website. Ideally, like I said, this isn’t just about a television program. The media and television will be what will push us out there and make us known and available, for instance, to a correctional institution that may be looking for this type of program. In Boise there really isn’t anything out there like that.

We really want to be available to anyone we can help, and that’s the message we’re trying to send. It isn’t just about a TV show. This is truly about making a difference in people’s lives. It makes us a little more inviting, too, because it’s different.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The Internet is a great way to reach people, and it is also the future of television.

Ari Zucker: Yes. That’s where Jason’s expertise comes in for the platform of multimedia. I’m the passion behind the project and sort of the voice and the organizer. Todd and Jason have helped me realize something I’ve been thinking about since I was young. The two of them are really helping me get the process rolling. We’re just sort of doing it. We don’t know how. We’re just doing it (laughs).

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I asked Jason how he was juggling this project with his General Hospital duties. How are you handling LifeCHANGE and Days?

Ari Zucker: It is very busy. I have a daughter, a husband, horses, and dogs. It’s really about time management. When you really do something you love, you’re able to make it happen. My mother always said, “If you love it, you can do it.”

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are they giving you some time on Days to work on the new project?

Ari Zucker: I don’t know how much they know about the program. I mean, they know now. We actually have an auction that went up two days ago to help raise money for LifeCHANGE (that is non-profit). Our idea is to help these kids get to where they need to be. Next year we’re going to New Orleans to help rebuild the 9th Ward.

They are aware that I’m working on this, but I work around my schedule because I certainly can’t say, “Hey, I’m doing this. Can you rearrange that?” They have other actors who are busy with other projects. It’s a light schedule right now and I’m thankful because we’re in pre production for LifeCHANGE, but who knows where your storyline is going to go.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): True … maybe another catfight with Sammy (laughs).

Ari Zucker: Yeah, I hope so. I love working with my Sweeney, that’s for sure. We work three weeks on, one week off, and then we have a two-week break right now, so actually it really works. If I can’t get it done, Jason gets it done, and if he can’t get it done, Todd gets it done. Again, it’s that whole teamwork thing.

Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Ari, I wish you much luck in this endeavor.

Ari Zucker: I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with Jason and me. Without your help we wouldn’t be able to get the word out about LifeCHANGE.

© 2011 Smashing Interviews Magazine. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the express written consent of the publisher.

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