Published September 13. 2012 4:00AM
Things have changed dramatically since Drake Hogestyn first joined "Days of Our Lives" 28 years ago. And we're not just talking about how his character - who can't recall his identity - has cycled through multiple personas, from The Pawn to John Black to Roman Brady to Forest Alamain, and on it has gone.
The soap world as a whole, too, has undergone a sea-change. With audiences fractured by cable and other outlets, daytime dramas have been rethinking all aspects of production - from storylines to cast size to scene lengths - and have been cutting budgets.
It was financial belt-tightening that caused Hogestyn and the other half of the John Black-Marlena supercouple, actress Deidre Hall, to be let go. They last aired in January 2009.
But when NBC decided to do a "reboot" of "Days of Our Lives" in mid-2011 in an effort to revitalize the show and lure back some lapsed viewers, the network brought in some former superstars - Hogestyn and Hall included.
"It's nice to be home again," Hogestyn says.
Fans can meet Hogestyn and seven other "Days" cast members when they come to Mohegan Sun Saturday afternoon for a free Q&A and autograph session. It's part of the casino's Signings & Sightings series.
The other actors who will be here are: Kristian Alfonso, Shawn Christian, Lauren Koslow, James Reynolds, Blake Berris, Camila Banus, and Suzanne Rogers.
Hogestyn has done his share of personal appearances over the years, and he says, "We've always been a generational show. I've done personal appearances where I will see great-grandmothers and grandmothers and mothers and little children. (Watching the show) is family time. It's, like, 'We're going to sit down here for an hour, we're going to plug in, charge up and enjoy a chapter in this book for an hour and forget about the reality and the B.S. in our life.'"
Acting wasn't Hogestyn's first career. He was a professional baseball player, manning third base for one of the Yankees farm teams till a 1978 injury. On a dare, he jumped in on a Columbia Pictures national talent search and segued into acting. At one point, though, Hogestyn hit a bit of a career wall and was all set to give up showbiz before "Days" came into his life.
He was going in for what he expected would be one last audition, for "Crazy Like a Fox." Casting director, Doris Sabbagh, though, pitched him "Days."
"She starts describing the character of John Black. Out of my briefcase, I pulled Robert Ludlum's 'Bourne Identity.' I was halfway through the book. I said, 'Are you talking about Jason Bourne?'" he recalls.
Indeed, that's exactly where the "Days" team got the inspiration for the character. When Ludlum wouldn't give the okay for them to use the name, they kept the initials - John Black rather than Jason Bourne - and they kept the idea of a spy without an identity.
"It's been an amazing adventure, and it really expands you as an actor," Hogestyn says. "They give me so many different characters to play. You can do so many things. It's not being locked into one character for 28 years."
While the role has changed over the decades, the work schedule has changed even more radically. Back in the day, Hogestyn recalls, 90-hour weeks weren't uncommon. Now, the schedule has been tightened to save money. The actors are usually in at 8 a.m. and out by 5:30 or 6 p.m. They shoot for three weeks and then have a week off. What that translates to: They are shooting seven to eight hour-long episodes a week.
"So it's a lot of work in a very short period of time," he says. "It's not uncommon to see the schedule come up, and you've got three shows in one day. Sometimes, they'll line them up - all your scenes together - and you might have 21 to 24 scenes. You come out of that day with your head spinning, let me tell ya."
Since 2011's reboot, "Days" took another turn this spring. A new headwriting team was installed, and some of the actor show who came in last year were jettisoned. Hogestyn and Hall, though, appear to be safe.
And another player has been brought back and put into the John-Marlena mix. Eileen Davidson hash returned as her "Days" alter ego, Kristen Blake, the foster daughter of archvillain Stephano DiMera who had been presumed dead.
"It's a very interesting storyline," Hogestyn says. "She comes back, and John's accepting her at face value. She says she's changed, but there are some indicators that's she's back for something more. So right now, it's been very interesting. We're happy to have (Davidson) because Dee and I are now in a very strong storyline, and that's good. The audience is really going to be onboard with it."
"Days of Our Lives" Signings & Sightings, Saturday, The Shops at Mohegan Sun; group autograph signing 1-2 p.m., followed by a session 2:30-3:30 p.m.; public Q&A 2-2:30 p.m.; free; mohegansun.com.