No matter how conniving or manipulative Nicole Walker has been since she moved to Salem, there is no denying that she’s been through more heartache and tragedy than should be legal, even on a soap opera. The character could have easily been one-note—a shadow of former villains—but Arianne Zucker has both infused sass and heart into her alter-ego that has made her one of Days of Our Lives‘ fans’ favorites.
First brought on to the show to romance good guy Eric Brady (first played by Jensen Ackles; now, Greg Vaughan), Nicole (Zucker) quickly proved herself capable of more. Daytime Emmy nominee Zucker consistently rakes in the accolades for her portrayal—and should be a sure thing for a nomination (and possibly a win) come this year’s ceremony.
On a recent visit to the home of the 50 years and counting daytime drama, we caught up with Zucker to talk about all of those emotional story lines, what it was like auditioning for the role, and making out with some of daytime’s hottest men.
Glamour: You’ve been on Days of Our Lives for just about 20 consecutive years. What do you remember about your audition?
Arianne Zucker: It was about three and a half months before my first callback. I remember they were on a nationwide search when they used to do those. I happened to go to a wedding with my boyfriend at the time, and a junior agent there saw me and was like, “Is she an actress?” So this guy, we started talking, and he sent me out for a couple soaps. I was going to school at Pierce College and taking my pre-vet courses there. I happened to get this Days audition, and I was horrible!
Glamour: What makes you say that?
Arianne: I was just so nervous because I wasn’t ready yet. For the callback, which was like four months later, I went back in to read for casting director Fran Bascom, who sent me to producers. Then I met Jensen [Ackles].
Glamour: Did you do a screen test with Jensen Ackles?
Arianne: Yeah, and they sent me eight pages of dialogue the night before to see if I could memorize all the dialogue. I was the last [screen test] that day, and I remember seeing all the other girls [there to screen test]. They all kissed Jensen in the scene and were like, “He’s such a great kisser!” I was like, “That’s where you failed ladies! That’s where you failed!” You get so caught up in kissing a cute boy, you forget you’re auditioning for a show. But, yeah, I got it!
Glamour: Was Jensen your first scene partner?
Arianne: Yeah, first scene of the day.
Glamour: So, what was your first impression of him?
Arianne: He was so sweet and so helpful. I was nervous. I remember, my first day we were out in Salem Place, when we used to have the outside set, and it’s winter. At that time, we shot episodes only two to four weeks ahead instead of six months. Anyway, they want us in the winter coats, and I’m in khakis, a long-sleeve shirt, and an apron. We do all our scenes, and then I hear, “Arianne, don’t leave the set. We need to do your scenes all over again.” Like, announcing it, and I thought, “Ugh, that’s embarrassing. I was that bad.” But instead, they just changed my wardrobe and put me in a miniskirt, tied my little shirt, and took the apron off. I was like, “Oh, I get it. I see where we’re going with this.” That’s kind of how Nicole got that little reputation.
Glamour: Did you ever have a crush on Jensen?
Arianne: Yes, of course I did. [Laughs]
Glamour: Did you guys ever date?
Arianne: No, no. We’d go out as a group and have a great time at dinners, Halloween parties, that sort of thing. It was a lot of fun.
Glamour: So why didn’t you date?
Arianne: Well, I had a boyfriend at the time. So, we didn’t date, and then he ended up leaving the show and getting, Supernatural. He’s been on there ever since.
Glamour: When was the last time you talked to him?
Arianne: I don’t know, probably 10 years? Maybe on the phone? Yeah, it’s been a long time.
Glamour:When you think back over the years, what story line was the most fun to play?
Arianne: I absolutely love working with John Aniston. When our characters were like the comedic act—you know, married but hate each other—the lines that they gave us were so much fun. His delivery is amazing. He’s just a wonderful man. I really enjoyed that part, and again, how much I learned from him. [The current story line] is really, really, emotionally charged. So is the baby-switch story line, because I don’t think anybody thought it was going to last two years. It was just a gift, and it involved a lot of people, which was nice.
Glamour: What story line gave you the most anxiety?
Arianne: When Nicole had to seduce Victor and was in lingerie and all these little things. John Aniston was so intimidating to me, and I had to be sexy and dance around him. I didn’t know myself like that at that age. I was a very naive, very, very naive 23-year-old. I was so uncomfortable until I wasn’t, and it took me months to figure out how to be sexy! At least to me. I was a nervous wreck. I was awful.
Glamour: And on top of that, it’s Jennifer Aniston’s father. [Laughs]
Arianne: “Hey Jen, what’s up? I’m seducing your dad! Not doing a good job of it!”
Glamour: Have you ever met her?
Arianne: I haven’t, but when Kyle [Lowder] and I were still married, he was on Friends and said to her, “You know, my wife plays your dad’s wife on the show.” She’s like, “How old’s your wife!?” [Laughs]
Glamour: You’ve gotten to work with so many cast members over the years. What’s one of your favorite behind-the-scenes stories?
Arianne: Oh, my gosh, we used to work here really late, and when we had time, we’d watch everyone’s screen tests [from years ago]! My favorite one was Brian Datillo’s. That’s a goody. We’d grab the VHS tapes and bring them downstairs, and we’d all sit down together and make fun of our screen tests. It was so much fun!
Glamour: How are you most like Nicole, and how are you most different?
Arianne: I think now that time has gone on, I have infused Ari’s personality with Nicole’s. Some of my wispy little “Woos!” you know, one-liners—sometimes I can throw a little bite in there ’cause it’s fun. I love Nicole. I always feel bad for her, and I’m in love with her. I think what’s happening is myself and her are blending because I want her to do the right thing. She’s now so much more emotionally charged, and I’m a very mushy person in real life. I love to laugh, so I try to put some of that in her because there’s really no ending to a soap opera. So, my arcs are always, I take two weeks worth of scripts and give myself my own arcs, so I never get bored.
Glamour: I like that. That’s an interesting way to look at it.
Arianne: Yeah. But I think as far as the devious things she’s done, it’s because she’s a survivor. When I was a kid, which is why I started my non-profit, I was one of those kids that was just in survivor mode. I still had great parents, but I just made bad choices. That’s what this character did. I go back and go, “Is stealing a baby crazy?” But, my reasonings I gave her were all Ari.
Glamour: Do you have that impulsiveness she has, or do you stop and think things through?
Arianne: I was more impulsive when I was younger, and I acted a lot faster. Now, I’m like,”Hmm, you know I’m gonna hold off on that for a second. Just let it all soak in.” So I definitely wait a lot more now.
Glamour: You’ve gotten to make out with some of the hottest guys on daytime. Please tell me you enjoy that.
Arianne: It’s, you know…God, it is fun. I mean, don’t get me wrong.
Glamour: Thank you for admitting that. I hate when people say, “Oh, it’s so technical.” I’m like, “Oh, just shut up.” [Laughs]
Arianne: It’s fun, especially because you get to know someone’s personality. When it comes to the work, you go, “Ahh, this leads to a story line or a future or drama.” I love my job so much, so it’s great to get those new stories.. And even with ladies, I find chemistry with anyone! The play is the fun part.
Days of Our Lives airs weekdays on NBC. For more behind-the-scenes action, check out our Days of Our Lives hub on Glamour here, and the Days 50 book is available here.
Photos: Jessica Radloff; NBC/Days of our Lives; Trae Patton/NBC