We Love Soaps: In the short time you’ve been playing the role of Stephanie, she has been through a lot.
Shelley Hennig: A lot. Starting with the broken heart of Jeremy...
We Love Soaps: Who lied to her about human trafficking, and those countless trips to Vegas.
Shelley Hennig: It was a lot of fun. I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed the hot tub scenes. How cool was that?
We Love Soaps: Did you ever get nervous about those scenes?
Shelley Hennig: No! I was dancer so I was used to not really being clothed. We’d wear leotards, or tights, or not tights. I’m fine with all that. It was fun, and different. I never really expected them to bring an actual hot tub to the set.
We Love Soaps: Then soon after that Stephanie was in more of a realistic storyline.
Shelley Hennig: Yes. She was raped. As ironic as it sounds, I’m glad that happened because it was a chance for me as an actress to show the viewers what I had to offer, as well as to prove it to myself. I studied really hard in New York. When I first came on [DAYS], it was all about the sex. So this was a perfect chance for me to show what I had.
We Love Soaps: Did you feel you had to prove something to yourself?
Shelley Hennig: Of course. I think anyone in their profession is always trying to prove things to themselves, as well as to others. I think it was more for myself because I didn’t grow up saying I wanted to be an actress. I was a dancer. This whole thing just fell into my lap and I wanted to be great it. I didn’t want to just be good and do these roles where I play this sexy little vixen who just makes out with guys. So the fact they gave me that storyline, I was really happy about it.
We Love Soaps: How did you approach playing the role in that story?
Shelley Hennig: There are different ways. It’s kind of secretive, [but] you use certain things. I’ve never had to go through something like that so you use other things that brought in that same guilt and disgust, desperation, and shame. I would pull from my imagination a lot. Noel Maxam was one of our directors and producers and he was great. He would just say one word and I was there. But I broke down the scripts and did what I learned in acting school. It was 5,4,3,2 - camera. I had to pull if off and I did in one take.
We Love Soaps: It wasn’t only the rape she was dealing with, it was remembering it after she had been drugged and date raped. She wasn’t initially aware it happened.
Shelley Hennig: Yes, she was brushing it aside. It’s weird to think back to that story, it’s been two years now.
We Love Soaps: Stephanie’s mother, Kayla, had also been assaulted, under different circumstances.
Shelley Hennig: I think most soap opera characters get raped.
We Love Soaps: And that’s a problem I have. As much as I love DAYS, I don’t like that every woman in Salem has been sexually assaulted in one form or another.
Shelley Hennig: It completely changed my character too, which I liked for awhile. Then I started to miss that devious Stephanie [that] had always been adventurous. Then she got really boring, she had a lot to deal with. I’m hoping a little bit of Steve comes back in her.
We Love Soaps: What would it look like to see the Steve Johnson come out in Stephanie?
Shelley Hennig: Hopefully we will see in the next couple of months. I think she’s battling being her mother and being her father. Stephanie has all these morals, and she’s perceived as this good girl. But she’s been through so much it’s starting to go out the window. She cannot be that good girl anymore because she’s not going to get what she wants. A part of her starts to use a Steve mentality, thinking, “How am I going to get what I want?” It may cause some morals going out the window. But there’s still that genuineness and vulnerability that she’s battling in her own head.
We Love Soaps: Which is what she gets from her mother.
Shelley Hennig: Yes. There’s a vulnerable side, and a “I have to get what I want now” side. It’s like Steve and Kayla mixed into one.
We Love Soaps: If you could go back two and a half years to when you started on the show, what advice would you give yourself now?
Shelley Hennig: I just look back at the first episode. I had to cry that first day. I thought, “How am I going to do this, how am I going to do this? How am I going to cry?” And then I start crying before they call action. The idea of me not being able to cry made me cry. When I booked the show I was still in school. I had a month left, I came here on vacation. I had to relocate and start shooting two days later with pages and pages of dialogue. It was extremely overwhelming.
You could tell that I had memorized in a certain rhythm, in a certain pattern. I can’t believe I’m telling you this. If you look back you can see it’s kind of fake, but there’s a vulnerability in there. It was just about me calming down and getting comfortable with that amount of dialogue and having that calmness on the set that Steve [Nichols} and Mary Beth [Evans] helped me with. They would calm me down. Mary Beth would see me on the side and say, “Just breathe. You’re talented. You’re going to kill this scene.” And then Steve, you’d just have to look at him and [sighs]. I had this great connection with both of them. I miss them so much.
We Love Soaps: We do too. I have to say it was during the date rape story that I finally could get behind your conception of Stephanie.
Shelley Hennig: I was getting messages from people saying, “I know this isn’t real, I know this is just a character, I hope you haven’t been through this, but I have. And I want you to know that the emotions you brought to that character were so dead on. It helped me.” That was pretty crazy. [Pause] I’m getting teary-eyed here.
We Love Soaps: That makes it all worth it.
Shelley Hennig: Totally! Because we do put ourselves through a lot of emotional distress. My body doesn’t know the difference. I know the difference. When I leave here I know I don’t have this crazy life as Stephanie Johnson. But your body doesn’t know the difference. So I’ll go home and get indigestion from crying so much or a headache. I think Rachel Melvin [Chelsea] is the same way. She would put her heart and her soul into every scene. And that’s the way I am. I can’t do it half way. It’s all or nothing.