'Days of Our Lives' Greg Rikaart on the Leo-Xander Dynamic & Reuniting With 'Y&R' Mom Judith Chapman

Michael Maloney
Q&A NBC

We’re not supposed to be rooting for someone who resorts to blackmail, but viewers are simply loving Greg Rikaart’s run as ambitious Leo on Days of Our Lives.

The opportunistic flirt used the fact that Sonny (Freddie Smith) and Will (Chandler Massey) tried to kill him and dispose of his body to blackmail his way into the Kiriakis family.

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TV Insider chatted with Rikaart about what makes Leo tick, working with Paul Telfer, who plays Xander, the object of Leo’s affections, and reuniting with Judith Chapman (ex-Gloria, Y&R), who is coming on to DAYS as Leo’s mom.

We’ve seen gay characters on soaps before, but often they’re brought on to tell a social issue story: coming out, acceptance, etc. Leo’s rare in that he’s just out for himself.

Greg Rikaart: I wonder if in the past creatives who have put gay characters on television shows have felt a responsibility to not rock the boat by portraying [those characters as having] any questionable behavior. Maybe the expectation, socially, is that that would be irresponsible?

Well put. How much fun are you having playing this guy?

I think it’s pretty evident. I’ve been getting feedback from people saying it seems clear that I’m having the time of my life. I don’t think Leo’s taking [what he’s doing] too seriously. He’s having fun, too, which takes it out of the realm of a mustache twirling villain.

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The cast members of the popular daytime drama took over Universal City Walk on Saturday to talk about what's coming up on the sudser.

Paul Telfer (Xander) said, respectfully, that the trick to playing a bad guy on daytime is to make it fun and interesting.

I agree.

Some of Leo’s one-liners – like his response to Xander saying he’d need a stiff drink in order to sleep with Leo – got pretty racy. Are you surprised that they got on the air?

No. I’m not surprised. I suspect that the audience has been ready for [a story like this] for a long time.  I’m not sure why [the network] is OK with it now. Maybe it’s the added competition of streaming and off-network programming? Maybe they’re willing to take bigger swings now?

There’s been great fan reaction to this story and also Eileen Davidson (ex-Ashley, Y&R; ex-Susan/Kristen, DAYS) gave you nice nod on social media.

It’s all been really terrific. It makes me happy. It’s sort of like two sides of the same coin. Doing the work and getting to play this role has been so rewarding. It’s an added bonus that the work is being received so nicely by the audience and also by my peers. I adore Eileen and am such a fan of hers. [Her tweet] was high praise and a love surprise to get.

Is there a part of Leo that cares about Sonny — or is he just out to get what he can?

I would like to think that that’s he’s complicated enough that he can be motivated primarily getting what he wants. But I think he’s sort of savvy enough and emotional enough of a person that if the hand he was dealt was [that he was] going to stay in this marriage with Sonny, then, I think, for sure he’d find a ‘there’ there. When he was first on [the canvas] we saw him feeling elements of remorse when he was hired [by Vivian, Louise Sorel] to bring this guy down. He ended up having some feelings for Sonny. He may say this was my primary motivation, but Sonny’s a catch! Leo would then think he can make this work.

What’s it like working with Paul? He’s imposing!  

Physically imposing, for sure. Our first scenes together were him coming into the Kiriakis mansion in that damn Speedo! I’m like okay, I’m not going to consider myself in competition with him in any sort of way, but he is a puppy dog, super-smart, charming and fun, and such a good sport. We got pushed right into the deep end with regard to what our characters had to do. We didn’t know each other before our first day of shooting. It was a lot of fun. He’s a great guy.

'Days of Our Lives' Star Paul Telfer on Xander & Kristen Teaming Up to Create Havoc for Brady

'Days of Our Lives' Star Paul Telfer on Xander & Kristen Teaming Up to Create Havoc for Brady

The actor also talks everything from challenging fellow Scot Sam Heughan to meeting Judge Judy and playing Hercules!

There’s some great verbal banter between the two and the power shifts throughout the scene as to which character gets to have the upper hand next. 

Yes. There’s a part of that that I don’t think I even appreciated until I saw it on air. There were scenes where Leo gets into bed with Xander and it wasn’t until I saw it on air that Xander was completely toying with Leo by the end. What a great moment and chess move Xander made when he goes in for that kiss and then leaves [Leo hanging].

It leaves the viewers asking, ‘What’s next?’

Yes. I’m a big fan of Ron [Carlivati, head writer], what he’s writing, and the way in which he writes.

It’s been reported that Judith Chapman is coming on as Leo’s mom, Diana.

What a gift! This whole thing has been a gift. This is a cherry on top of a delicious cake. [Judith and I] have such a rich history and what we will play on DAYS is completely different [from what we did on Y&R], but it’s in the same realm of what we’ve done before. Accessing some of the complexity of our relationship was super-easy. There’s a chemistry between Judith and myself that’s been cultivated over the years. Getting to drop back into that has been beyond fun, and getting to see her on the regular and catching up with her in life has been really great.

Christian LeBlanc, Judith Chapman and Greg Rikaart on The Young and the Restless in 2006 (Monty Brinton/CBS)

Viewers often learn more about characters after a relative or close friend of theirs is introduced. As the saying goes, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”

For sure. To what you were saying earlier, power dynamics can shift within a scene. We’ll see that happening in significant ways with Leo and his mother.’

Days of Our Lives, Weekdays, NBC