by Cesca Janece Waterfield
To most television viewers, James Reynolds is better known as Abe Carver on the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” While he briefly starred in another daytime series “Generations” he’s played Abe since 1981, and recently shattered the existing record for longest-running African American character in the history of television, nighttime or daytime. Reynolds joined an illustrious list that includes Langston Hughes, Amelia Earhart, and President Dwight Eisenhower, when he was named a “Famous Kansan” by the Kansas Historical Society. Along the way, he’s earned Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
Reynolds keeps active by playing basketball and racquetball. He annually hosts a “Bowl-a-thon” in Los Angeles to benefit the National Asthma Center, and a celebrity basketball game to benefit public schools of South Pasadena. On Dec. 21, James and his wife Lissa will celebrate their 23rd wedding anniversary.
The way you came to theatre seems like fate.
I guess it is fate, you know. I certainly think fate lends a hand in many ways. I was majoring in journalism. It was sort of an idea that I’d go to law school, become in demand as a journalist, maybe work for the Washington Post. I’d just gotten done with the Marine Corp and I was sitting around with a friend of mine in the student union, looking at all of the attractive young women. I said, “How can we meet some nice girls?” He was a theatre major and he said that was the place to be if you really wanted to meet attractive young women. So that’s where I went, that night, as a matter of fact.
You wasted no time.
Just by chance, auditions were being held that night. It was fortuitous. If they’d been a night later, I might not have done it.
What is it like to be so strongly identified with one character?
It’s kind of interesting. I’ve been an actor now for quite some time. I’ve been lucky that Days is now into its third decade, it’s the fourth series I’ve had. I was telling somebody the other day that it’s been a long time since I walked out my door and a stranger didn’t know who I was. It’s been my whole adult life, so I don’t know any differently. What you hope you can do is bring enough truth to your character that people recognize certain aspects of it and enjoy it so that they continue to want to see it. When you play a character this long, there’s no way you can escape being identified with that character. You have to accept that.
How is your character Abe doing?
Abe’s an interesting guy. He’s now the Mayor of the town of Salem. He’s been a police officer for years and years. When I began, he was a sergeant on the police force. He and his partner and his childhood friend, Roman Brady, they were sergeants on the police force. He rose through the ranks and eventually became the Commissioner. He eventually resigned in order to run for Mayor to try and clean up the town from that standpoint. He’s a good guy. He’s a loyal guy. He’s strong. He’s courageous. He has all of those qualities that you want people to have. He might be a little naïve and kind of easily taken advantage of by people he likes and trusts. But essentially he’s a very courageous man. I think he is [a good role model.] I think a lot of his qualities are absolutely right. Like everybody, I think he has qualities that are less than they should be. But he is overall just a really tremendous guy.
To many viewers, Abe must feel like a part of their family.
You’re right. One of the advantages of soap operas truthfully is that we’re in living rooms every single day and so a lot of people consider us to be part of their family and look at us that way.
How is your own family?
My family is my wife, my son and I – there’re three of us. We’re very involved as a family. We’re very involved in our community and outer communities. We do a lot of work together, charitable work. I’ve hosted an annual basketball game for twenty years, in fact at a high school where my son is now the junior varsity coach. We have a theatre, the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. We do a lot of work for both our local and our greater national and world community; as much as we can. We’re very happy with it.
Tell me about your Theatre.
It’s Freemont Theatre in South Pasadena. This is our eleventh year. Initially, our intention was to do original theatre forums, and not necessarily just thought-provoking pieces, although that’s what we do a lot of. Our first play dealt with the Hollywood blacklist. We have recently done a number of plays that dealt with a number of controversial subjects and we’ve been very fortunate in that both the audiences and the critics seemed to like what we do. But we’ve had some comedies as well. We now share the theatre. Ray Bradbury has brought his company in as well and now take half the season, which has been very good for us, both in that we can have someone come in and rent the theatre from us, but also from the standpoint that we can concentrate on the productions that we do. It’s been a good outlet. It’s different from doing television. My wife runs it the day to day. I produce and direct a lot of the shows. My son is active. He just played Jackie Robinson in a play that we did about Jackie and a Russian detective in another play we did. We like a lot of diversity.
What’s coming up for you?
I’m negotiating a contract now with “Days of Our Lives,” so I’ll be there for three more years. That’s a good thing. We just have to sign the contracts. [Lissa and I are] leaving in three days to go on a tour of Germany and Kosovo. We’re going to tour hospitals on the military bases. We’ll be there over Christmas and New Years. That’s very important. We’re quite excited to be going to the Inauguration. I really love what I do. It’s hard work. I grew up in a small town in Kansas so I grew up working on and around farms. This is tough work, but it’s also a lot of fun. I feel very fortunate to make my living this way.
Have you ever been to Richmond?
I have! It’s been a long time, but I was in Richmond. I actually went to Richmond to play in a golf tournament. I can come back, right? It would be great.