Days of Our Lives Star Arianne Zucker On Creating A Career Beyond TV

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

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… Volunteering, to me, is huge. Because you’re not only giving to other people, but you’re really inspiring yourself. So, I co-founded a non-profit, Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps, with my brother, Todd, and I want to continue to build and grow that non-profit. We do outreach for kids between the ages of eight and seventeen, allowing them to think for themselves and create their own belief systems. We’re all so busy learning from our teachers, mentors, and parents that it takes us so long to figure out our belief system. Sometimes, it takes us to reach our forties to really go, “Wait. I don’t believe that. Rather, I believe this because of my life experience!” So, we want to help kids that age create their own belief systems. Of course, you still have to abide by the rules and your parents and things like that! I’m continuing to develop the non-profit.

I had the distinct pleasure of talking to Arianne Zucker. Five-time Emmy-nominated actress Arianne Zucker has played many roles, but she is best known for the character of Nicole Walker on NBC’s hit daytime drama, “Days of Our Lives.” Arianne played the role from 1998–2017 and 2018-present. Zucker has aired in over 1600 episodes, multiple movies, and new media programming giving her 1000s of hours of experienced screen time.

Arianne began her career in modeling when she was 16 years old. She soon traveled to Paris, France, after winning her first modeling contest. She traveled to Australia and Japan, landing in New York City. During this time, Arianne also booked several national commercials such as Mazda Miata and McDonald’s.

During her career on Days of Our Lives, Arianne also began to generate work in primetime television by landing the role of Brenda Collette in CSI: Miami (2006). Her work was noticed by writer Karen Harris (General Hospital, All MY Children), and she was asked to play the role of Winnifred Marshall in “Life in General” (2008). As the web series began to become popular, “Devantiy,” an Emmy-nominated web series, chose Arianne to guest star as Julie Regis (2013) as the uptight sister of Andrew Regis, the ruthless jewelry scion. In 2018, Arianne won an Independent Series Award for her role as Clara in “Ladies of the Lake.” Zucker also has been fortunate to play different characters in multiple Lifetime movies such as “Killer Assistant, Web Cam Girls, Ex-Wife Killer, and His Perfect Obsession.

In the year 2016, during the presidential election, Zucker found herself in the center of a controversy with the then-Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and Billy Bush over some unsavory words said about women known as “The Access Hollywood Tapes.” Keeping her composure, she aired on Anderson Cooper and wrote an Op-Ed for CNN. Without allowing these circumstances to change her or what she strives for in her career, Zucker continues to move forward.

While in between acting jobs, Arianne keeps herself quite busy. She co-created the non-profit organization ARROW-HEART Adventure Camps in September of 2007 with her brother Todd Zucker. The organization operates out of a small town in Weiser, Idaho. The camp enriches teens’ lives through outdoor adventure. ARROW-HEARTS biggest adventure so far was creating a short documentary on the camp in South Africa in 2012.

Zucker has found success in opening a Life Coaching business called “Aloha Life Coaching” with her fiancé Shawn Christian. Choosing the path as a creative mind coach, life coach, and positivity advocate began in 2019 when the world experienced the COVID-19 pandemic. The gift of listening, absorbing information, and supporting clients with the tools to get to the root of HOW they can shift their mindset to a proactive way of living is the main focus of Ari’s style of coaching. “When we value change over our current situation, we begin to create the life we imagine.”

Arianne, thank you so much for joining us. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share with us your origin story and the story of how you grew up?

Yes. I grew up in Chatsworth, California, so I’m a valley girl. If anybody saw the 1980 movie Valley Girl, that’s where I’m from.[Laughs] Yes, it’s a good movie, and I had a really fun life. My parents tried to make our summers really, really fun. So, we grew up water-skiing, and I was fortunate enough to still be able to horseback ride when you didn’t have to just go around a little circle at a farmer’s market. My dad would take me on pony rides, and I ultimately fell in love with horses when I was three. My dad would take me on these pony rides, and he used to smoke a pipe, and he would light the pipe, and I, for the very first time at three years old, just grabbed the little reins and took off and went riding [Laughs]. So, that was my immediate love for horses. My entire life, I’ve loved them. I grew up in the same house my whole life, and my parents tried to provide the best kind of life they could for us.

Can you share with us the story of how you found this particular career path as an actress?

Oh, yes. Most people probably want to smack me for this, but I kind of fell into it. It was also during a time when it was a lot different. It was a little easier, looser, and not so stressful. When I was younger, I started modeling, which was still back when they had scouts. They had people going out, looking, and bringing in people they thought would be right for modeling. I was roller-skating in Venice Beach with some friends, and of course, someone stopped me and asked if I would like to come in and have an interview at this modeling agency. So, of course, I had to go home and ask my mom. I was 16 at this point.

And she said that I could do it as long as it was not during school. So, it had to be summers or breaks, and she was not a hundred percent thrilled with that industry. My mom’s more science side than creative. [Laughs]. Fortunately, she let me do it, and when I was 18, after high school, I took off to Paris. I won a contest. I was runner-up, went to Paris, and started my career modeling.

And then, I was ready to stop working in that business, as it’s not the friendliest business. It’s hard, especially when traveling out of town, or to other countries, and you have to learn their ways.

I’m happy there’s a lot to learn, and I learned a ton. My mom armed me with knowledge before I traveled abroad which I’m grateful for.

When I returned to the states, I wanted to be a veterinarian and specialize in equines, so I started taking my pre-vet courses at Pierce College. During that time, I happened to get an audition for a few soap operas, and Days of Our Lives was looking for a model type, and I got the audition. I was terrible. Absolutely terrible. I didn’t get it, I didn’t hear anything back for about four months. But I guess they didn’t find their person. They called me back and asked if I would come in and ultimately went to producers, went to test, and got the job. I’m still on the show twenty-four years later! [Laughs] So, that’s how I got into the business.

But I am a hard worker. When I was in high school, I went to night school so that I could work during the day during my senior year. Things did not fall in my lap. I had to learn about acting, and get my education. When I started Days of Our Lives, I thought it was great. I was so excited, but then I realized okay, I got the job, but I ultimately have to keep the job. You have to have fans. I mean, the way it works is- if fans aren’t into your character, it’s over. The writers have to want to write for you as well. So, I had been in acting class from the time I got the job until I had my daughter. My daughter’s 12 now, but I didn’t stop, and I got my education that way, as far as an actress is concerned. This way, I can stay consistent if I have other auditions. I really learned a lot because soap operas are the best place to learn as an actor. Now I’m still going strong, and it’s a wonderful job! I get to do what I didn’t realize I loved doing, and it provides some really exciting things for me.

It has stretched me into creating another career, not just by myself but with my fiancé of being of service to people — because that’s really what we do on camera, right? We’re creating feelings, emotions, and connections with fans. I thought, what can we also do as a business to create that as well? So, we created a life coaching company called Aloha Life Coaching. We do the same thing, helping people find their emotions, passion, purpose, and dreams. We help them create a life that they truly can imagine or have imagined.

It’s all unfolded quite beautifully in the last 2 years. So, it’s nice. [Laughs] It’s a lot of listening. It’s different from a therapist, who focuses on something different. We don’t focus on the past. We don’t hold on to it or anything like that. Rather, we take where you are now. We help you figure out where your insecurities are coming from. Then we move forward. It’s about moving forward, you know, discovering what stops you so that you can really go forward. For example, someone may say, “My cousin used to tell me I was a rat forever, and it really stuck with me, and now it’s held into my adulthood. How do I remove that and move forward, so I have the confidence as a young man or woman to not take things so personally?” Words affect people so heavily, and if you put value on negative words, then that’s where you’re going to live, right? But if you put value on something positive and proactive, that’s where you’ll live.

We’ve had the company for two years now, moving into year three. It’s exciting.

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So, you probably have many fascinating stories and experiences. Can you share with us some of the most interesting stories that have happened to you since you began this career?

I’ll start when I was younger. I think some of the stories I have were when I did try auditioning, and I was a mess. I was falling over myself all the time, and I know this happens to many actors. You think you’re prepared; you think you’ve got this job, and you are really good when you’re acting with yourself in front of a mirror. I mean, crying or whatever the scene calls for. I can’t tell you the number of stories where I would walk into a room and I would literally forget everything I had studied. I’ve had to walk out a few times, completely embarrassed, and I couldn’t believe it because I worked so hard on it. How do you get through that? So, there are some adventures to get through that process.

I remember that I used to have to audition for agents. Not all actors did, but I did. I was very green, and I was auditioning for this agent and had to prepare a monologue. I walk into the room and feel like I’ve got it! But then, of course, I’m sweating and start getting sick to my stomach. I walk into the room in front of four agents and completely blank out! And I’m trying to muster up something. They were very sweet. In general, they want you to do well because they can see people who struggle. It’s uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable for everybody. So, they were really encouraging me, and they said, “Honey, it’s okay. You can read it from the book if that makes you more comfortable” And I said, “I can’t even see!” So I left. It’s terrible, but you get through those moments. That was probably very early in my acting career.

But I would say the strangest thing, and I guess the most interesting thing that ever happened, was that I woke up one day, and life was going as life goes. Then, I get a phone call saying, Hey, did you do something with Donald Trump? Did you work with Donald Trump? I forget the exact questions, but I was thinking that in 2005 he came on our show, and I hosted this whole thing. So, you know where I’m going with this…

As far as me personally, my whole world unraveled in such a strange way in like three to four days. I’m a pretty humble person. I do acts of service. I volunteer and do tons of stuff where this kind of attention is not normal for someone like me. And I did not quite know how to handle it, and anything can happen in your career. You don’t know. So, I would say that being the girl in the Access Hollywood video is probably the strangest thing. There are interesting comments from people attacking you on one side and then supporting you on the other. I’m going, “I just worked with the guy and got paid to work with him. I don’t know anything!” So, it all depends on how you choose to handle it. I feel like I handled it with grace and was able to move on with my life.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a funny mistake that you made when you were first starting, then the lesson that you learned from it?

I’ll probably stay along the same lines of not feeling confident. The stories I just told you about having a lack of confidence. I don’t know how many funny mistakes there are. I’ve been pretty consistent with my work.

I’ve done funny pranks at work, for sure, because I like to keep things exciting. We played many pranks. This was when we had more time on the show. Now we’re like this well-oiled machine where you get one rehearsal and one take. If you mess up, you can do it again, but we pump out scenes like crazy. But when I first started the show, we were able to have some fun and things like that. I was so naughty. I would do things like I’d see a scene that I might be in, but I was typically the villain, and this couple was getting married, and my character was in love with this character. I asked, “Can I be outside the church, looking through the window in a wedding dress?” They’re like, “Why would you be in a wedding dress?” I said, “Because! What if the groom says no. I’ll be ready?” So I had to go through producers and do this whole “board presentation of why Nicole would do this.” Then I show up in somebody else’s scene at a rehearsal in a body bag. This person was in a body bag, and I came out of the body bag instead. I’m like, “HELLO!” and the producers would say, “Ari get outta the body bag!” So, when we had a little more money and time to fool around, I would just do funny little things and pranks.

From an actor’s point of view, I always try to tell people that what I learned from all of these mistakes or messing up on my lines or feeling like there’s so much pressure on me is- always know they want you to do well. They want you to succeed. They don’t want you to mess up. They don’t want to recast you. They want you to do it! That’s why they hired you. You will be fine if you can remember all those things, remember why you do what you do, and why you love acting. And if you hate it, get out of it and do something you love! [Laughs]

I tell young actors when they first come on the show that whatever they need, I will help them. If you don’t know the sound guy’s name or you need to know where the office is, just ask me anything, and I will help you. One thing I’ve learned is- to pay it forward, pay it forward. It’s like a volleyball, you have got to set, and then the other person strikes. It’s the same thing. You have got to learn how to help the other actors so that the scene becomes about the entirety of the show because really everyone’s goal is to create an incredible show, not just you, individually. That’s how I like to teach when they come on the set.

It’s really gracious of you to do that. I’ve heard stories that a set could be very stressful, but it sounds like you make sure everyone’s comfortable.

I feel like I was born this way. I’m kind of that advocate for the people. You know, especially just in my little environment. I guess I like to walk into a room and feel like if I were the boss of this company, this is how I would want to treat people because I would want people to work for me forever!

It’s funny. I worked at a children’s gymnastics school for seven years. When I booked Days, I still worked at this job because I just wanted to ensure that I held on to a job that was still paying the rent, just in case. And my boss at this kids’ gym said, “I want you to be here. The kids love you. The parents love you,” and this went for every coach there. I took note of that and paid attention to how he treated us and others, and I wanted to emulate that as I got older.

So, every industry iterates and seeks improvement. What changes would you like to see in the entertainment industry going forward?

Ooh, you got an hour? [Laughs] I really believe changes are always needed. We constantly, not just in our business alone, but as humanity, keep circling the toilet. We keep repeating history and don’t seem to be learning from our lessons. I feel it’s a little bit the same in the industry. The industry has a tendency to swing so far in one direction and not balance out.

I would like for people to be able to have conversations. I would like to see people work on the sensitivity portion of their brain and put a value on words that will be productive. There are so many people who absolutely believe that words hurt, and they absolutely do if you allow them to. So, if we start taking the onus off being so sensitive and instead being solution-oriented, then we can have a much bigger conversation, and a lot more things would be accomplished. That’s what I would like to see. I think we set an example, whether we like it or not. You have to remember you’re human. You’re not just a celebrity. It’s the famous line — with great power comes great responsibility, and it couldn’t be truer. So, I’d love to see that aspect, especially with what I do in my second career. I observe all the time how people put a value on a negative word.

Arianne, you have such impressive work. What are some of the exciting things you’re working on now, and what do you hope to work on soon?

Well, I’m excited that I’m still working on Days of Our Lives. [Laughs] It’s such a wonderful show. I do love the program, but I am still auditioning.

Also, I’m in the middle of writing a little reality show. I am working on producing a true-crime story and also a Christmas story. We are still in the early stages of developing those, which is exciting. I never thought I’d be on the production side of things, but you run into people that believe in you!

I’m also continuing to expand our life coaching business, Aloha Life Coaching. We were all online, and my fiancé works with many people worldwide. Now we have an office, so we can also do in-person coaching in Westlake Village, California. I’m also a mom, and I continue to help my daughter enhance her life goals. I co-founded a non-profit in 2007 with my brother called Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps. It runs out of Weiser, Idaho. We help teens gain confidence and their own belief system by helping them find their true nature in nature. So, lots of things are going on.

As you know, Days of Our Lives is one of the most popular shows of all time. In your opinion, what do you think it was that made Days of Our Lives such an enduring cultural phenomenon?

The show started in 1968. The way it was told was so family-oriented, and it still is. Of course, you have the good families versus the bad families, who are always stirring up trouble. But what it really did is if your mom was watching the show, it really went down from generation to generation. I think that’s what made it so special because now it’s not just a television show. It’s now a tradition for your family, and that is what makes it so special. So, when we do fan events, you hear, “Well, I’m a third-generation Days of Our Lives fan,” or “My grandmother started watching when I was young.” I think that is why the show is so special, especially ours. And it really kind of forced people to sit down and find the time to watch the show.

Of course, it was made for commercials and selling at-home products for housewives who were home all the time, and then it just sort of rolled into this thing, and soap operas really created prime time. But Soap operas are still around for a reason! They’re the base of so many things happening now in many successful shows like Game of Thrones. It all stems back to soap operas. So, anybody who likes to make fun of a soap opera, go ahead and make fun of a soap opera, but all those other shows you love, well, that’s because of us, so you’re welcome! [Laughs]

I defend being on a soap opera because the truth is, it’s not easy. We’ve had film people come and ask, how do you do this every day? How do you memorize that many lines? We do 60, sometimes 70, plus items a day. That’s six pages within each item, anywhere from three to six pages, and it’s a lot. So, I like to have people really understand what it means to be on, to work that hard, and for the shows to be so successful to run this long. When fans are watching us love what we do for a living, that makes them want to watch more. So, as an actor, you always have to create something new for your character. I’m not one of those actors that would say my character would never do this. I’m like, why not? We change all the time as people. Why wouldn’t my character?

I don’t know all the nuances of your character, but you mentioned that she was a villain. Is your character still a villain?

No, she’s not, which is interesting. She started out as a very lost character, and she really ended up being from the wrong side of the tracks as the character developed. Sadly, her father used to drug her and put her in porn. That’s her backstory. [Laughs] I feel like I was able to stay on the show and have longevity for this character because I always found her heart for everything, even in bad situations she put herself in. She was constantly looking for stability and love. She would do outrageous things, drink, and hurt people along the way, but then the regret afterward was huge.

Then she goes into a place where she wants to have a family, but then she gets shot. Of course, now she can’t have children. I have such empathy for this character. She eventually loses two children and can’t carry a baby to term. I’ve slowly developed this very emotional state and carry all my emotions in Nicole’s eyes.

So, she went through this huge lifelong transition, which I thought was pretty amazing and cool. The writers took this girl and turned her into a woman. I like playing a villain because the villain is what creates so much story for everyone. However, I love the lessons learned from this character. So, I’m hoping maybe she will come back as a “good” villain! [Laughs] I don’t know what that means, but…

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I can imagine being on the set with the same people for 20 years. You’re probably closer than the family. What’s that like?

It is like I go from home to home. Going back a little bit to what we were saying before, especially for someone who’s been on the show for as long as I have, this is my home, and I want people to feel welcome. Treat everybody as if they were my best friends.

I want to say that, with the exception of COVID, for the last ten years, I’ve hosted the Christmas party for the cast and crew. They’re on their feet all day long and working these crazy hours. Now, the last few years, we’d come in early, and I’d be done by noon, and then I could set up a whole luncheon for everybody. So, it’s just really important to me for people to feel comfortable wherever they are. Even when I go work on a different set, even if I’m not the lead actress, I always like to bring something bright and colorful. So, I’m always bringing something like crazy glasses, silly hats, or things like that. If I could just be a little shining light wherever I can, it certainly makes me feel good. [Laughs] Really, I’m getting a lot out of it by being that way, but if I can shine a light on somebody, I will do it.

This is our signature question. So, you have a lot of experience. You’ve been in the industry for a long time. Looking back, are there five things you wish somebody had told you when you first started and why? And if you can, please share an example for each.

A couple of things. I am raising a 12-year-old daughter. So, I definitely say a lot to her. [Laughs] “If I had known that when I was your age, life would have been so different!”

  1. Number one. Communication, I think, is huge. Especially if you’re a mother, communication is key. Communicating and listening with people is a big deal. Like, I’ll talk to someone from Spectrum, and she’ll go, “Uh-huh. Yeah.” I’m like, “Wait. Can you not do that? Can you just listen for a second? So, I can explain my bill?” [Laughs] Listening humbles you, and it teaches you how to pay attention to your environment. Also if there is an issue, you can communicate properly and address it so you are not uncomfortable. Right? If you feel that you’re in an uncomfortable environment, you can take note of it, absorb it, and think about it before reacting to something.
  2. That leads me to the second one, to be bored. It’s okay to be bored! And the reason you should be bored is that sometimes your best ideas come from being bored.
  3. Number three. When I was a model, I heard so many horror stories of people, men, and women, being abused on a set. It’s really prevalent in the modeling world because there are no unions to protect you. There is a company that’s started — they’re called Model Alliance — that is really trying to create boundaries. But if you are in this industry, in the music industry, in the dance industry, whatever part of this industry you’re in, pay attention to your environment. If you’re traveling, do your homework, do your research, and pay attention to the area. Don’t just walk out at night when you are in an unfamiliar place. Always stay in a group. Don’t accept a drink from somebody else. You have to be careful, especially when you’re young and not paying attention because you can really get preyed on.
  4. Number four is about creating your own independence. Truly, if you don’t like something, say something! For example, if you’re in a room with someone who makes you feel uncomfortable, say, “I’m not super comfortable right now. Could you leave the door open?” Even if you feel like this guy, this person’s going to make or break your career, do you want to let yourself be abused in that way?
  5. Number five. This is one of my favorites. Someone else’s opinion is only one person’s opinion. Don’t let one person’s opinion deter you from who you believe you are. And these are all tools that we have to learn as we go. Don’t take one person’s opinion too much to heart. How many success stories have you heard where that casting director didn’t like a now famous actor or said, “you’ll never work in this business,” and now they’re working! The other thing is, if we’re talking about the entertainment business, some people have to work so much harder to get to that place. So just remember that no one’s path is the same. Success is not what other people think you have. It’s what you know that you have. So, when you’re successful, it’s not about your paycheck. It’s how you feel you are in your heart. If you believe that your paycheck is your success, you’ve got a long road ahead of you. When you start to understand the business and learn the ins and outs of it, know that it really isn’t personal. The business isn’t personal. It is business, but we take it personally, and it’s hard for people not to take it personally.

So, Arianne, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea can inspire.

Volunteering, to me, is huge. Because you’re not only giving to other people, but you’re really inspiring yourself. So, I co-founded a non-profit, Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps, with my brother, Todd, and I want to continue to build and grow that non-profit. We do outreach for kids between the ages of eight and seventeen, allowing them to think for themselves and create their own belief systems. We’re all so busy learning from our teachers, mentors, and parents that it takes us so long to figure out our belief system.

Sometimes, it takes us to reach our forties to really go, “Wait. I don’t believe that. Rather, I believe this because of my life experience!” So, we want to help kids that age create their own belief systems. Of course, you still have to abide by the rules and your parents and things like that!

I’m continuing to develop the non-profit.

My fiancé has created 18 courses for our life coaching company, Aloha Life Coaching, that teach all of what I just mentioned above. So, I will continue to build the non-profit along with our coaching sessions. I will continue to build these programs that, hopefully, will be put into a middle school in Idaho this year. If the program works well, we hope to implement it in more school programs. So, we’ll see how it goes.

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Amazing. We’re very blessed that prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world that you would like to have lunch with, and why?

Well, it’s funny that you say that. I have a podcast I’ll be picking back up again in the fall, and it’s called Inspiring Women Revolution. There are a couple of women that I’ve reached out to that I find unbelievably intelligent. I love the way they handle themselves on camera!

One would probably be either Harris Faulkner or Dana Perino. Dana, especially because she’s worked in the White House. I’ve got a huge interest after the whole Trump situation. It’s not about me being political. This is just about seeing women who hold themselves well, inspire other women, and continue to uplift them. I think that there are really amazing men in this world, too, that help uplift women. So, I don’t want to push them out of the picture, but as a woman and inspiring someone like my daughter, I think those two women would be ideal. I love their research and their way of being a journalist to that degree. It’s a lot. They inspire me in that way, where they make me feel like I can and will do similar things. That I can be that inspiring for others.

That’s amazing. So, what’s the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

So, I’m more prominent on Instagram, but my personal Instagram is @Ari8675. We also have our @Alohalifecoaching on Instagram as well. I have my website, which is www.ArianneZucker.com, and my work website, which is www.Alohalifecoaching.com. I don’t really go on Twitter that much. It’s a little too political for me. [Laughs]

Amazing. Thank you, this has been so inspirational, uplifting, informative, and educational.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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