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Return Of The Count

January 02, 1994|LIBBY SLATE

In 1981, Thaao Penghlis went head to head with Tony Geary's Luke Spencer as the diabolical Victor Cassadine on "General Hospital."

But it was as the suavely mysterious, sophisticated Count Antony DiMera, whom he played 1981-85 on NBC's "Days of Our Lives," that Penghlis left an indelible stamp on daytime viewers.

During his eight-year absence, Penghlis starred as master of disguise Nicholas Black in the revived but failed "Mission: Impossible" series, co-starred in such miniseries as "Memories of Midnight" and "Sadat" and had a brief run on the now-defunct soap "Santa Barbara." He returned to "Days" on Oct. 22. Last seen on "Days" disappearing into the fog, crying his wife's name, his character returned by opening a door and announcing, "I'm back," followed by a freeze-frame.

Upon hearing that the show's producers were interested in having him back, Penghlis, a Sydney, Australia native of Greek descent, orchestrated his return as carefully as that of his character. "I was looking for something to keep me in one place for awhile--I'd been traveling a lot," he says. "I wanted to meet with the producer, Ken Corday, so I dressed to the nines.

"Then I wanted to meet with the writers, so I dressed in another Armani suit. It was a game on my part, and on theirs, too. I wasn't coming back as an actor desperate to have a job. I like the idea of going from one (medium) to another."

After receiving $20,000 to choose his own wardrobe, a longtime habit, he reported for work. It took some time to rediscover the character's rhythms and responses, he says. He also discovered that the show had undergone some changes during his time away.

"We have one less rehearsal, so the show is faster now. Sometimes we shoot two shows in one day--maybe 14 scenes, back to back. You don't have time to do your best work. Occasionally, you say, 'I'm sorry, I can't go on,' or flub a line, so they have to stop."

With years of varied acting experiences now behind him, Penghlis is quicker to make suggestions to producers than he was the first time he played the role. He feels he has been emboldened by life experiences, which he refers to frequently as a "journey" both figuratively and literally: He climbed Mount Sinai, for instance, and has been supporting his mother through a battle against breast cancer.

"I look at things differently. I touch things differently," he says. "This year, with my mother coming so close to death, I've learned the fragility of existence. That wakes you up. The character is played more sensitively--I'm not afraid of feelings. When I do a scene with Alice Horton (the show's matriarch, played by Frances Reid), colors come out of me, of warmth, caring, respect."

Penghlis is now trying his hand at writing a non-soap project. "I don't know how much longer I'm going to be an actor--I get bored doing something too long," he says. "But some of the greatest experiences I've had were on 'Days.' "

"Days of Our Lives" airs weekdays at noon on NBC.

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