In November 2009, I attended the Day Of DAYS event and spoke with Joseph Mascolo, who came in at #43 on the 50 Greatest Soap Actors of All Time list. In this interview, Mascolo explained how he perceives Stefano's nefarious deeds, as well as why the fans still clamor for him after 27 years on the show.
We Love Soaps: Mr. Mascolo it is such an honor to meet you. At events like this, do fans ever blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction? Do people ever address negative things to you as Stefano?
Joseph Mascolo: No. This is one thing I don’t know if I should be prideful about or not. But no one has ever come up to me in a negative sense. If anything it’s the opposite. They’ve come up to me and said, “We love what you’re doing, keep doing it.” I’ve worked at trying to make him palatable. He’s lived over 20 years so I guess it works.
We Love Soaps: And he’s “died” over 20 times!
Joseph Mascolo: Well he doesn’t ever die. That would be kind of weird. Soap operas get stupid sometimes but not that bad. He doesn’t die, he disappears. That’s the reason why he has the code name “The Phoenix.” Pat Falken Smith was the person who created Stefano, brilliant woman. I came from the theater and wanted to do plays every chance I got. At that time Burt Reynolds had a theater down in Florida, I went down and did a play there very year. She came up with the idea that when I left or disappeared for any reason, and I came back, I’d have that code name because he’s rising from the ashes. That’s how that came about.
We Love Soaps: Why do you think people root for Stefano despite the things he does?
Joseph Mascolo: A couple came up to me just before and said, “We don’t care what you’re doing, just keep doing it.” I feel it’s the fantasy of Stefano. To have that kind of power, to own half the world. To pick up a phone when Nicole is on a plane and saying, “Bring the plane back.” When you have that kind of power it’s a fantasy. It’s also the idea of being able to do something outrageous and get away with it. Everybody would love to be able to do that. To say whatever they want to say to anybody and not be bothered by that. That’s the fantasy.
We Love Soaps: Psychologically I think you’re right, he taps into a drive we have to be able to get away with things and not have to pay the consequences. How do you relate to Stefano?
Joseph Mascolo: I relate to him as an actor, that’s it. I’m always trying to find ways to keep him at least as interesting and alive as possible. That, especially in daytime, is not easy, there’s an awful lot of repetition. I approach it every day as a different moment and going with that moment. And you have to believe in what he does. I truly believe what he does and why he does it. It isn’t just something to do, there is a reason for it. That reason is what feeds me as an actor, trying to make that work. If it works for me it usually works through the screen.
We Love Soaps: How do you keep Stefano alive and vital after all these years?
Joseph Mascolo: As I said, there are certain things you can draw within yourself. But then you use any damn thing that works. That’s why I’ve assisted on the character doing everything from so-called “bad” to “good.” You never know what this guy is going to do tomorrow.
We Love Soaps: In your mind, why does Stefano do these things?
Joseph Mascolo: First of all, one of the most important things in Stefano’s life is his family. He wants to leave a legacy. He has the money and the power to do it. So everything he does, as far as he’s concerned, is for his family, to keep them prosperous and together whether he’s there or not. That’s really his basic thing. As far as he’s concerned, that’s a positive. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody unless they get in his way. That’s why this whole thing going on now is so devastating. He has one son left and he’s very important to him. He’s been in a deception [the baby switch]. He didn’t like the idea of the deception in the beginning. But when he saw what he thought would be the results he went along with it because he thought it was good for him. His heart is in the right place, he just goes about it the wrong way.
We Love Soaps: That’s the tragedy of Stefano, it’s very Shakespearean. The more he cares about his children, the more they die. And he’s had quite a few die.
Joseph Mascolo: You hit it on the head. It’s Shakespearean tragedy.
We Love Soaps: In his heart he’s had many loves. He loved Daphne, he loved Marlena. Is it possible that he’s having real feelings now for Kate?
Joseph Mascolo: I think so. I hope so. Because she and I have had a long history. She came into this Salem, because of Stefano. We have a long history. I wasn't thinking of it that much, but the audience really loves the idea of these two characters being together, at least that’s what they tell me. Although he manipulated her into this [marriage], Stefano had been without a woman for too long. He had them all over the place and then I don’t know what the hell they thought, that he was senile? I think that part of it is important, to see that part of his life, his emotions. Some of the things we’ve done with the script, some of the things I’ve inserted, his feelings for her are more positive than negative. He knows all the idiotic things she’s done, and he’s laughed them off. They’re both laughing them off now, and I think that may draw them a little closer. Which would be a good thing.
We Love Soaps: I’m enjoying that, unexpectedly.
Joseph Mascolo: That’s what other people are saying as well. So if we can keep that going on a certain level it will be fun. One thing I’ve always said to people: You have a couple, they get together. They get married. And the romance goes right out. I’m always saying, “Why don’t you show these people happy for a little bit before screwing up their lives? Show what happiness can be, and then when it gets screwed up it’s more tragic.”
We Love Soaps: You have a long career in television, theater, movies, when are we going to get to read your book?
Joseph Mascolo: You’ve got me now. You’re the third person, outside of here, who has asked me that. I don’t know what to say. I’m a book nut. I have such an admiration for good writing. The interesting thing I’ve found is that I’ve had two completely separate lives. I was a concert musician, I’ve got that whole life playing with the Metropolitan Opera. Then here in the theater. I’ve had two lives, I’ve worked with some of the greatest people in the world, and I don’t ever think about it.
We Love Soaps: I will buy it, I’ll tell you that.
EDITOR'S NOTE: To watch the full video of this interview press here
To read more interviews from the Day of DAYS, click on the following links:
Bill & Susan Hayes
Peggy McCay & Louise Sorel
Damon L. Jacobs is a Marriage Family Therapist practicing in New York City, and the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve". He is re-imagining a world without "shoulds" at www.shouldless.com.