Drake Hogestyn played John Black, among many other characters, on DAYS OF OUR LIVES for 23 years before his character was written out of the soap last year. Fans have anxiously been waiting to hear about his next role. It turns out he's landed on indie soap REALITY BYTES, being developed by Tristan Rogers and Kate Lang, in the role of Jerry Parker. Hogestyn isn't the only member of his family working on the project, stepson Ben Hogestyn was previously cast as Jacob Kaplan. In this exclusive interview with We Love Soaps, Drake Hogestyn talks about his new gig and what he's been up to since leaving DAYS.
We Love Soaps: Fans are really excited to be able to see you again, on a computer screen this time, on REALITY BYTES. What do you know about the web series movement that's happening right now?
Drake Hogestyn: It seems like it's gaining traction. My son's girlfriend, Danica Stewart, has been involved in several of them, one of them was from Antonio Banderas. I'm familiar with the format of it. And it's just the tip of the iceberg. It's becoming more prevalent and obviously the way things are going to go. The biggest thing is getting people on board and being able to find them and getting the word out there. And that's what we're going to try to do with REALITY BYTES.
We Love Soaps: What is your history with Tristan? You both were on daytime soaps dating back to the '80s. Have you known each for a long time?
Drake Hogestyn: We met through personal appearances, going back 20 years. We did shows across the country. I think the way I got to know him best was when we were up in San Francisco and doing a show there. We had an hour layover so we went in to grab a beer and there was an Australian rules football game being played. We sat there and talked Australian rules football and got to know a bit about Australia. Through the years we've kept in touch and I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Danya, who was casting for the show, asking if I would come on board. I was honored by the request.
We Love Soaps: Speaking of sports, you were a baseball player early in your career.
Drake Hogestyn: I played professionally for the New York Yankees organization. I had been drafted earlier by the Cardinals, but I turned that town. I was going to continue my schooling in the medical field. But it's hard to turn the Yankees down. That was a big dream of mine and I was very fortunate to get a couple of years in. If I hadn't been injured, you never know how the career might have gone. But that's just the way it goes.
We Love Soaps: What do you know about your character (Jerry Parker) on REALITY BYTES?
Drake Hogestyn: Creating a character is always a challenge, but in this particular case I'm going to be ask to bring a character to life. He was a real-life hero to many and that in itself is especially daunting. I'm up for the task but I'll also be very respectful of the writer's interpretation of this man's reincarnation. From what I understand, the man was a state trooper who died a very young and untimely death, and left a lot of people behind. He was one of the all around good guys and quite a prankster. I'm honored to be asked to bring this man back to life with the help of Kate Lang, the writer.
We Love Soaps: Your son, Ben, is also in the cast, and fans were happy when that was announced as well. Have the two of you worked on any projects together in the past and will you share scenes together on REALITY BYTES?
Drake Hogestyn: I don't know if we'll work together in REALITY BYTES. In the script I was sent initially I do have some interaction with his character. Ben and I have not worked together in the business before. However, he was asked to come in to read for the role of Brady on DAYS OF OUR LIVES years and years ago. We had tested numerous people on the east coast and west coast. It was his senior in high school and he had a girlfriend who was from Italy. She had invited him for a senior trip to visit her homeland and he went. That was when the producers came to me and said, "We're having a hard time casting Brady, don't you have an 18-year-old? Why don't you bring him in?" I said, "He's never acted before." I remember our producer at that point said, "Well, we have a lot of kids who've never acted before. When is he going to be done?" I told them a week's time so they sent him the material to see if he wanted to come in and read for it.
At that time he really wasn't that interested. It wasn't until he came to the set more frequently and started to interact with a lot of the kids on the show - mainly Kirsten Storms and Jason Cook and that group. In fact, he dated Kirsten for a while. He became more and more interested in what he was around his whole life - the acting genre - so he studied for a number of years and slowly started entering the business. I'm very happy with his progress. I'm really excited to be working with him on this project since we'll do some scenes together.
We Love Soaps: One reason why We Love Soaps supports these indie soaps so much is because it's truly a writer's medium and the shows aren't impacted by network interference or focus group results. There are a lot of great stories being told in this medium.
Drake Hogestyn: You're probably going to give me more information about this than anyone else. I like the idea of there not being a lot of interference and not too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. Kate [Lang], the writer, was very open about my input and any mannerisms I can bring to the character. It does sound like there is going to be a lot of collaborating which is very refreshing. They're open to suggestions. I'm sure they want the most successful show they can put out there. I think they've got a great start so far.
We Love Soaps: I think that goes back to the early days of soaps before focus groups came along when 12 people would say they don't like a character and it was assumed a million people felt the same way.
Drake Hogestyn: I guess it's a double-edged sword in a way. What some people didn't like about the internet was everybody being able to voice their opinion and hide behind a screen. Now these same people are the ones who will be tuning in watching these particular shows. This is the way it's going. There's no going back.
I have a very fond memory of when I started in 1986. Back then there only three or four networks anyway so we were carrying a 12 share. [Laughs] Those days are long gone. Suddenly it was about focus groups. They used to tell me stories about how they would have screenings and people would sit with a red button and a green button. Depending on who walked into the room, if they didn't like them [makes buzzer sound] it was the red button. I do think the audience dictated a lot of story. That can be good and it can be bad.
We Love Soaps: Your fans online have been so happy since your casting on REALITY BYTES was announced. How much of that feedback have you seen?
Drake Hogestyn: You know I'm one of those kinds of guys who doesn't really go online. I've never been on the message boards. I have to say my experience on DAYS OF OUR LIVES was the most positive experience of probably any daytime actor. I don't really consider fans to be fans, I consider them friends. I've done so many personal appearances over the years, and have a great network of people from coast to coast. It will really be rewarding to be able perform for them again and hopefully they will enjoy the character as much as they did [pauses then starts laughing] The Pawn, John Black, Roman, Romulus, Father John, John Stevens, Forest Alamain, what was the last guy's name? Ryan DiMera [laughs]?
We Love Soaps: I was an old school DAYS OF OUR LIVES fan and loved Wayne Northrop as Roman but when he left and you came on and they revealed you were Roman, I was really happy with the recast. Then when Wayne came back to the show, I was still on board with things, but by the time Josh Taylor, who I knew as Chris Kositchek, was playing Roman and Wayne Northrop was playing Alex, it was just very confusing to watch.
Drake Hogestyn: We had a scene where Marlena had amnesia and I think she was with Roman. We were sitting in the production room and the three of us professed our love to her. And we laughed because at one time we were all Roman. And even the three of us - Wayne Nothrop, Josh Taylor and myself - were looking at each other and thought we just have to get through the scene. You said it best yourself, it got a bit confusing.
We Love Soaps: One great thing about many of the indie soaps is that it not only allows for minority writers and producers to give their stories a voice, but the stories tend to be more realistic, versus having a microchip in your brain or stories that most of the audience haven't experienced or can relate to.
Drake Hogestyn: You make it sound exciting. Anything that can make it more gritty or real is what we fight for. If you followed my storyline on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, with the chips in the brain and Princess Gina, I had a grain of salt of truth in there to try to make those situations believable. But if you've got some outstanding writer and real-life situations, you can concentrate on the character. If it's character-driven, that will drive the story and plot also. That's what I'm looking forward to.
We Love Soaps: Do you write or have any interest in directing or producing?
Drake Hogestyn: Well, I don't know so much about the webisoaps, but my son and I have been creating some shows that are not in the scripted field. We had two projects [with a production company] - one was a game show, but because of a couple of the producers involved there were too many people to deal with; and we have another show over there that's going back to my baseball past. We're moving forward. We're not in the legal aspects yet. We had a two hour brainstorming meeting last Thursday. They're kind of changing the focus of the show a little bit to reach a bigger audience. They're not taking it to the networks, they're talking about the History Channel. My son and I are having a lot of fun brainstorming ideas and situations and playing the producer role. You know how it is when you put these shows together, they can move in a lot of directions.
We Love Soaps: Sounds great to me. Sports and soap operas are my two favorite things.
Drake Hogestyn: You and I are going to get along really well. I have a special place in my heart for these old scouts. They've found more Hall of Famers than anyone else. And you never hear about any of them. Most of them work on a shoe-string [budget] and might make at the maximum $18,000 a year, put 50,000 miles a year on their old cars and stay in fleabag motels. The quantitative analysis and all the computer work that goes into baseball now, especially since Billy Bean wrote his book in 2003 called "Moneyball," has lead to 108 scouts losing their jobs. Even if you look at the Yankee organization, they have Damon Oppenheimer as the new scouting director and Michael Fishman as the quantitative analysis director. Basically now the general managers are dictating to the field managers who they will be playing just through statistical analysis. That's what this show is about - the way the old scouts used to do it versus the way these Harvard/MIT guys are doing it. This production company loves the idea but want to turn it from a docudrama into more of a reality show.
We Love Soaps: Good luck with that. I can't wait to hear more about it. And good luck with REALITY BYTES.
Drake Hogestyn: Tell the fans it will be nice to refamiliarize ourselves with each other. I've been laying low the last year and a half and kind of just getting out now and making myself more visible.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on REALITY BYTES, visit the show's official website. Look for Drake's thoughts in the Final Four later today.