Soap Opera Digest

“I just assume at some point during the run I’ll have to take my shirt off.”

How Paul Telfer landed in Salem as the town’s resident baddie.

- by Janet Di Lauro

When it’s time to taunt and terrorize the citizens of Salem,

DAYS’S current go-to guy is Paul Telfer, the toned Scot with the super six-pack who plays Xander


“I’ve been pretty much carrying all that weight,” cracks Telfer, admitting that he’s not one of those actors who hems and haws about shirtless scenes. “I think a lot of us say things like that so we don’t come across super-vain, like, ‘Yeah, I work out all the time, and it’s not a big deal for me to take

my shirt off.’ It’s not so much that it’s no biggie, it’s just because I’m not on contract, I usually get a few weeks notice prior to coming back on the show. I just assume at some point during the run I’ll have to take my shirt off and behave accordingl­y, easing back on the carbs and the beer a little bit. If you keep yourself in relatively good shape, it should be enough to just feel confident enough.”

Besides, keeping in optimal physical condition is something Telfer is used to. “It’s always been a part of my career,” he notes. “My first two jobs I basically played strippers. Then I was in a big gladiator [TV] movie [SPARTACUS], and then I played Hercules. It’s kind of half my career at this point. So you just have to own it.”

Telfer’s been owning it at DAYS since he debuted on the soap in 2015, originally as Victor’s henchman, Damon. The powers-that-be wanted him to do more, so they created the role of Victor’s black sheep nephew Xander and offered Telfer a contract. “I had to really think about it, obviously, because as much as I love to work, it is a big commitment and you’re not really free to do much of anything else,” he explains. “But it made a lot of sense at the time, because my wife [stage actress Carmen Cusack] was working in California, which isn’t often the case. She’s usually in Newyork or some other market. So I said, ‘Let’s just do it and see what happens.’ ”

Then, fate intervened and Xander’s promising journey came to an abrupt halt. “It was right before the 50th anniversar­y,” recounts Telfer. “There was a change of head writers, at which point Xander was taken off of the canvas and replaced by some veterans that the fans adore. I understood the reasons for it, but it still was disappoint­ing because I was hoping to have a full year of work.”

However, DAYS didn’t permanentl­y sever ties with Telfer. Upon letting him go, they informed him they weren’t killing Xander off and would love to have him back from time to time. “I remember saying to them that that’s kind of ideal; that I’d love to be in a situation where I come in, do interestin­g things, and then leave,” notes Telfer, calling it a “mutually beneficial arrangemen­t. Even when Xander goes away for two or three months, there’s still all this continuity of story related to the aftermath of whatever he just did or was involved in. So there’s still a residual presence on the show. It’s a very nice situation. I’m really happy with it. Plus, it allows Xander to

stay really dangerous and interestin­g, because there’s no time to soften him.”

For Telfer, who’s portrayed his fair share of bad guys, it’s become the road more effortless­ly traveled. “I always say I like playing heroes, too, but I think the lazy actor part of me knows that there’s a way of doing villains that’s kind of easier,” he concedes. “It can be very hard to sincerely convey heroism or deep emotion with certain types of material, whereas a malevolent and evil character with material that isn’t necessaril­y, like, the most realistic in the world ... It’s very easy to imagine an evil person looking in the mirror and talking to himself about how great his plan is. It gives you permission to do things that you’d have to kind of restrain otherwise. It’s definitely a lot of fun, for sure.”

So, too, has been Telfer’s remarkable journey from his native Paisley, Scotland, to gainfully employed actor in the States. “It’s weird, huh?” he acknowledg­es. “Well, there are a few of us. Gerard Butler is from Paisley, and so is Tom Conti. Paisley is kind of like the New Jersey of Scotland, suspended between a much larger, more culturally recognized metro area. It makes sense that people would want to get away from it.”

Having a father who was a salesman helped, as the family “would just follow along wherever he went,” notes Telfer, who found that “school plays and sports teams are a really handy way for the new kid to kind of integrate. The first point of entry was to join the drama [team], join the choir, get on the rugby team, the football team or whatever team. Through all of that you start to notice little skills and talents.”

As Telfer got older, he opted for theater over sports, “even though I was good at [sports] and pressured to do it,” he says. “But if I had to choose between rehearsing for the school play or getting up at the crack of dawn to run laps to play rugby, I would just do the school play.”

In retrospect, it turned out to be a wise decision. Telfer went on to attend the University of Kent at Canterbury, where he graduated with First Class honors in Film Studies, and later spent time at NYU studying drama at the affiliated Atlantic Theater Company. Eventually, he went back to the U.K., found an agent “and started a career doing terrible British cable where I had to take my clothes off,” he confesses. “But that was a way in. My plan was always to try and get back to the States, because I felt like it was unfinished business.”

After less than a year in London, Telfer booked the USA Network miniseries SPARTACUS, followed by the NBC miniseries HERCULES, at which point, “It just started to make more sense to be here,” notes the actor. “Carmen’s from Texas, and we both had it in our heads to try and get back to the States at the first opportunit­y. When it really happened, Carmen was off to do Wicked in Chicago and that made an excuse for us both to go. ‘All right, let’s do it.’ We pretty much have been over here ever since. We’ve

lived here properly, in terms of having a mailing address and everything, since 2008. And we’ve been living in L.A. since 2010. I love the U.K. and I miss my family and friends, but they all seem quite happy to come to California and visit.”

Meanwhile, Telfer’s quite happy to come and go at DAYS whenever the opportunit­ies arise, and delve into other projects in between. His latest is Green Fever, a film about a medical marijuana grower and his pregnant girlfriend who fight for their lives when dangerous criminals enter their property to rob them. The project is currently in post-production and ready to be submitted to film festivals. “I co-wrote it with a friend [Danny Acosta] and starred in it and produced it,” shares Telfer. “I’ve written stuff before that didn’t get produced, and I’ve written plays that did get produced, but this is the first time writing a character for myself that I got to actually play in the movie. I mean, who knows if anyone else will like it, but I’m really proud of it. It’s purposely not for everybody. It’s kind of R-rated and just a nasty little crime thriller.”

If you’re wondering about the character Telfer is playing, think Xander ... on steroids. “I’m the vicious psychopath that’s come to take their crops,” declares Telfer with a chuckle. “It’s fun to play a daytime psychopath for a few years and then be allowed to go play a movie psychopath. It just felt like all the chains of good behavior were taken off.”

 ??  ??
 ?? CHRIS HASTON/NBC ?? (Xander Cook)
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 ??  ?? The Shape Of Things: The actor is often cast in period pieces where he takes his shirt off, like this 2015 episode of ABC’S ONCE UPON A TIME.
The Shape Of Things: The actor is often cast in period pieces where he takes his shirt off, like this 2015 episode of ABC’S ONCE UPON A TIME.
 ??  ?? Lady Of My Heart: Telfer has been married to Cusack since 2012.
Lady Of My Heart: Telfer has been married to Cusack since 2012.
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 ??  ?? Home Boys: Telfer is close with fellow Scot, OUTLANDER’S Sam Heughan. The duo met while filming Young Alexander the Great in 2010.
Home Boys: Telfer is close with fellow Scot, OUTLANDER’S Sam Heughan. The duo met while filming Young Alexander the Great in 2010.

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