Read an Excerpt
All the Days of My Life (So Far)
By Alison Sweeney
Kensington Publishing CorporationCopyright © 2005 Alison Sweeney
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Like sands through the hourglass so are the days of our lives ..."
* * *
I've been serenaded by that opening mantra of Days of Our Lives for more than ten years now-and loving every minute of it. Since that January morning in 1993 when I walked onto the set of Days for the first time, I've taken a wonderful ride that is as exciting today as it was a decade ago.
For more than a third of my life, the Midwestern town of Salem has been home, and let me tell you, it's never been dull. Because you're reading this book, you're probably a Days fan, and perhaps even a fan of my amazing character, Sami Brady. I've been so lucky to play someone like her who millions of viewers love-or, to be more accurate, often love to hate.
Admit it-there are probably dozens of Sami moments that are indelibly imprinted in your own mind. She has survived a brutal rape, struggled with bulimia, given birth to a beautiful son, spent some terrifying moments on death row, kidnapped and tried to sell her own baby sister on the black market, was stranded at the altar (how many times now?), fought repeatedly and viciously with her mother (and just abouteveryone else in Salem!), lied about her son's paternity, and slept with her older sister's fianci. All in a day's work! Yet through it all, Sami's still standing, still scheming, still devious and dangerous, and still winning the hearts, minds (and, let's face it) the animosity of the six million fans who watch the show each week and seem barely able to survive without their daily fix of Days. As the NBC Web site recently said, "Alison Sweeney has become pretty good at playing bad."
I know what it's like to be a Days of Our Lives "addict." Before I joined the show, I was already happily hooked on Days. I had started watching the show during the summer vacation before the ninth grade, and once I returned to school in the fall, I set up the VCR each morning and taped every episode without fail. When I'd watch the show, it was the perfect way for me to "chill out" after school. The day-to-day turmoil in Salem provided the perfect escape from my own real-life dramas at school. Days was (and is) absolutely habit-forming.
So when I was chosen to play Sami in 1993, at the age of sixteen, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. And in many ways, I still do. The writers of Days have created a character that you can't stop thinking about or trying to figure out. Even if some viewers don't want to admit it, many of them relate to her, even though she certainly isn't the most angelic character on daytime television.
While some Days watchers are absolutely baffled by Sami, others love her and are proud of being a "Sami-Fan." I am well known for surfing the Web and stopping by to visit and post at Sami-friendly sites. Still, hardly a week goes by when someone doesn't ask me skeptically, "Do you really like playing Sami?" In fact, I love Sami. Okay, she does the kinds of unbelievably crazy things that are so outrageous. But admit it, she behaves the way that most of us have wanted to at one time or another, but never had the nerve.
Sami's saving grace is that her behavior-the good, the bad, and the ugly-comes from a genuine place. It's a product of her love for the people in her life, her own insecurities, and her unwavering determination to go after what she wants. You have to respect that about Sami. She's definitely someone who millions of people identify with and even secretly admire, even when her mean streak is creating havoc throughout Salem.
Okay, I admit it-there are moments now and then when Sami even makes my own skin crawl. At times, I even wonder what it would be like to play a heroine who warms people's hearts and souls. I may look like someone with "girl-next-door wholesomeness" (as TV Guide once described me), but I certainly don't play one on TV! So I get plenty of letters and e-mails from fans who need to get things about Sami off their chest. Almost to a person, there's very little holding back.
But that's what makes playing Sami so interesting. She's a character who everyone has an opinion about-and I think I've heard all of them from fans who stop me on the street or interrupt me between bites at restaurants. Some offer warm hugs, telling me how much they adore Sami. Occasionally, however, they'll give me a good tongue-lashing, or (in one unforgettable moment) swing a purse at me in disgust over Sami's eccentric behavior. Viewers have told me that they've actually thrown things at the TV screen when Sami becomes more than they can bear. The most common refrain: "Sami's a real bitch!"
Through it all, I still love portraying Sami. I think she's so much fun. At the same time, I adore every one of my fans, whether they love Sami or hate her. This book is for them and for you.
A Show Business Tale
In this book, you'll read my story. It is not only an account of my ten-plus years at the Burbank studio where Days of Our Lives is taped. It is also about my life offscreen-the good fortune that I've had and also how I've navigated over both the ordinary and extraordinary speed bumps that can derail you if you're not careful. Of course, from the outside looking in, it may seem as though I've had it all. Since my midteens, I've starred on one of TV's most popular daytime soaps, I'm living out my lifelong dream of being a successful actress, and both fans and critics have been generous with their compliments about my acting. Time magazine once called Days of Our Lives the "most daring drama" on daytime television, and Sami and I have been right in the middle of it for more than a decade. No complaints at all! In fact, sometimes I can't believe it!
At the same time, as I've moved from my own adolescence into adulthood, my life and my problems have been no different than those of so many other girls and young women. Problems with friends. Concerns about weight. Balancing work and play. Being pulled in every possible direction, and not always the right ones. Discovering my inner self, exploring my beliefs, and shaping my values. Along the way, there has often been a disconnect between the storybook image of a TV actress and what the real world dishes out. Yes, I've been lucky to have a wonderful show business career and a so-called glamorous life. But guess what? Most of my life is just like the lives of millions of other girls and women-confronting insecurities, coping with shyness, dealing with everyday anxieties, at times preoccupied with the way I look, and (of course) obsessing about the number on the bathroom scale. For better or worse, I've done it all in the public eye, where the smallest piece of gossip can make its way into the tabloids and ruin your day.
As I write this book, I still feel young, and like I'm just starting out in some ways. At the same time, I know that I'm somewhat of a "veteran" on a network soap. I've done the math, and I've been on Days for more than a third of my life. And, if I'm still there at age thirty, it'll be exactly half of my life! But I still think of myself as a kid, and if you had seen my best friend and me at a recent Bon Jovi concert, you would have thought we were fourteen-year-old groupies. I can giggle and gossip with the best of 'em, and I never want to take myself too seriously or feel as though I can't do youthful things (like visiting Disney-land-the "happiest place on earth").
Of course, it has been interesting growing up in L.A., which may be a little crazier than finding your way into adulthood in many other parts of the country. But I think most of the societal pressures and standards aren't that different, no matter where you call home. How well I remember high school, where it always seemed that other girls had the perfect bodies and the perfect lives-perhaps because they were on the cheerleading squad or dated the cutest guys in the class. Sounds a little shallow and superficial, right? But those are the kinds of things that are important when you're a teenager. Years later as an adult, when you look back with a little perspective and maturity, you can see that no one's life is perfect. Everyone has challenges, and the issues that once seemed so important often become insignificant.
Hollywood's Weighting Game
In Hollywood, many of life's pressures become exaggerated, and they can become suffocating if you let them. Take weight, for example. That's right, that scary scale can affect your mood for the whole day or week or.... In a high-profile industry like show business, you can't escape the fact that most young actresses have waiflike bodies and wrist-sized waists, and have never met a diet they didn't like. I've met most of those same diets, too, and have been taken hostage by a few! But let me tell you, I've never felt much affection for any of them. Of course, America devours diets and the hottest new diet book on the block with infinite enthusiasm (do the names Atkins, Sears, and Ornish ring a bell?), and for as long as I can remember, I was often consumed with my weight, even though I was never terribly heavy. In high school, during those times when I tipped the scales at a little more than I'd like, I might find myself overcome with doubts that I just wasn't pretty enough or that I wasn't going to be attractive to boys (welcome to adolescent anxiety!).
On my home turf-Hollywood-dieting has been taken to another level. For many actresses, it has become an obsession that borders on the maniacal. I won't say that I've never bought into this "Honey, I Shrunk the Actress" mindset. In fact, for many years, even though I was never obese, I tried fitting into a culture that reveres lean, angular bodies in women, and for a long time I really became fixated on my weight. In this book, I'll tell you about my struggles-how I became one of the sweating masses crowding into trendy health clubs in L.A. ... how I went on a dozen or more absolutely crazy diets ... how I ate only fruit ... tried not eating after 5 P.M. ... ordered meals that were prepared by nutritionists and delivered to my door. But nothing worked very long. Absolutely nothing.
Sounds insane, doesn't it? It really was a sad and pathetic way to live, diet after diet, year after year. Frankly, I get exhausted just thinking about it. Yet more than once, casting directors told me that I didn't get a particular role-perhaps for a "Movie of the Week"-because "you're just too fat for the part." Ouch! Yep, they really can be that brutally honest!
But here's the real tragedy: After a while, I began believing them. I absolutely hated myself when I glared at the scale and it glared back at me with unwelcome news. There were even a few times when I felt such despair that I wanted to throw up my hands and say, "Forget Holly-wood! Maybe I'll do something else with my life. I don't need this agony." There were desperate moments when I just wanted to stop at Krispy Kreme on the way home from the studio and curl up in bed with a dozen doughnuts instead of the next day's script. But as you'll read, "giving up" on my weight or anything else just isn't who I am.
Before we go on, let me make this clear: This certainly isn't a diet book. As I tell my own story, I'm not going to advise you on what to eat and when to eat it. Far from it. A nutritionist or dietician can handle that much better than I can. But I hope you'll find some inspiration when you read about my own turning points, finally overcoming the struggles with an issue that got too much of my attention for much too long. Whether you live in California or Canada, New York or New Mexico, we all watch the same television shows and read the same fashion magazines, which leave most women thinking that we shouldn't have eaten that yummy slice of cheesecake the night before or allowed our jogging shoes to collect dust in the closet. US Weekly, Women's World, VH1, Entertainment Tonight and E! Entertainment have documented my own dieting efforts. Even so, diets no longer dominate my life 24/7. And with a more relaxed attitude, my excess weight really has disappeared and certainly isn't the issue it once was.
But still, let's be honest: Wherever I go, people are always talking about losing weight. It's been over five years since I went through my own significant weight loss, but still I can hear their words echoing through my mind-"How many calories is that?" ... "No, thanks, that food isn't on my diet." ... "Does this outfit make me look fat?" ... Then there's my favorite, sometimes said with tongue in cheek: "Don't you absolutely hate her-she can eat anything she wants."
It's an insane way to live!
Fortunately, as I'll describe in these pages, a lot of my actress-friends and I have developed a much healthier outlook, recognizing just how ridiculous the weight game can be. We're very clear that the attention on our waistlines and the bathroom scale can be curses for Hollywood actresses and women everywhere. But I'm also clear about another thing: Since I had my first Kodak moment on a TV commercial when I was just five years old, acting has been my dream. I'm good at it. I'm certainly passionate about it. It's what I know and what I love. So I've made a conscious decision to remain strong, fight back, and try to stay above the fray and the need to fit the stereotypical mold of the perfect actress with the perfect figure.
Yes, I've waged a lot of internal psychological warfare over the years, and I've tried shifting the focus away from the scale and more toward leading a happy, healthy, fulfilling life. Of course, I still watch what I eat, and I'm always weighing my options when I'm reading a menu or shopping in the supermarket. But as you'll read in this book, I'm not the fanatic I used to be. I know that my body type will never allow me to look like the next Kate Moss or any other supermodel, for that matter.
But here's the amazing part of this story: The producers of Days of Our Lives have never made an issue of my weight. I'm so lucky to work for people who are so supportive. Whether I've been a little overweight or just right, they have only been interested in creating a great character who fans love-or hate! It really hasn't mattered what I weigh.
Years ago, when I joined the cast of Days of Our Lives, I never could have imagined that I'd be sitting here, over a decade later, having gone through adolescence and young adulthood in the public eye and still having the privilege of playing Sami. So many soap characters come and go quicker than you can strike the delete button on a scriptwriter's computer.
Excerpted from All the Days of My Life (So Far) by Alison Sweeney Copyright © 2005 by Alison Sweeney. Excerpted by permission.
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