All Photos: Alan Mercer
Thaao Penghlis was born and raised in Sydney, Australia to Greek parents. After high school, he moved to New York City. While studying art history and fashion he was encouraged to pursue a career in drama by acting coach and theater director, Milton Katselas. Thaao made his stage debut in the critically-acclaimed play, ‘Jockeys.’ He has appeared in several movies, television shows, and travels all over the world, including such places as Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and back home to Australia.
Thaao Penghlis first appeared to daytime audiences in 1981 on ‘General Hospital’ during the Ice Princess saga when he played the role of Victor Cassadine. After his character was written out of the show, by being taken to prison, he was cast as the villainous Count Tony DiMera in the NBC daytime drama ‘Days of Our Lives.’ Thaao returned to daytime in his one-time role of Victor Cassadine of ‘General Hospital’ from January 30th 2014 to March 4, 2014. He has also been a regular on ‘Santa Barbara.’
Thaao starred in the 1980's revival of ‘Mission: Impossible,’ which was filmed in his native Australia. Thaao Penghlis' role as actor, makeup artist, and voice impersonator Nicholas Black in the revival was a counterpart to Martin Landau's "Rollin Hand" and Leonard Nimoy's "The Great Paris."
In 2003, Thaao was nominated for the ‘Soap Opera Digest Award’ for ‘Favorite Return’ for his return to the cast of ‘Days of our Lives.’ He left the show in the fall of 2005. He returned to Days in May, 2007 to reprise the role of the dastardly Andre DiMera. He also began reprising the role of nice guy Tony DiMera in July, 2007. Thaao was nominated for "Outstanding Leading Actor" at the ‘Daytime Emmy Awards’ in 2008. In 2009, Thaaos' character was once again written out by having him die. In 2010 he returned to stage acting, performing in New Jersey's Cape May Stage Theatre.
Thaao enjoyed tea for two with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, carried the mythical Gloria Swanson into a Hollywood acting class and fitted Robert Redford for a suit. The former career diplomat pursued the curious and complex path of an actor's life to fund his unyielding desire for spiritual & exotic travel. His newest book, ‘Places: The Journey of My Days, My Lives’ will be published this Jule 2014. With the fervor of an archeologist and the passion of a seeker, Thaao takes readers with him on spectacluar adventures as he crosses Egypt's Sinai Desert, ascends Mt. Moses, is cleansed in a remarkable and shocking ritual in Havana, crashes in a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings in Luxor and navigates the behind the scenes drama of daytime television, often more sudsy and tumultuous than what appeared on screen. This compelling and candid memoir weaves his deep Greek and Australian heritage with Hollywood escapades and captivating spiritual journeys to places few travel. Thaao is currently back filming on ‘General Hospital’ right now. A self-described citizen of the world, Thaao makes his permanent home in the hills of Los Angeles, California.
AM: I’d love to hear about your upcoming book Thaao, like where did you get the idea from?
TP: I thought to myself, where did the idea of my journeys come from? I think it came from the director of a play called ‘Class’ I did on the east coast. The director heard about my journeys so he suggested I do ‘an evening’ where we invite people and it will be a support for the theater, so I said, “OK.” Suddenly it dawned on me, “What was I going to talk about?”
AM: Are you able to remember all your journeys?
TP: It’s easy to recall my journeys but when you are on the spot how do you tell stories? How do you make it interesting? So I made a list of all the things I wanted to talk about. We filled the house with what we thought was an hour and fifteen minute show, but it was now two and a half hours.
AM: Where do you even start?
TP: I remembered Cavafy, the poet who had the story of Ithica. This is the poem Jacqueline Kennedy wanted recited at her funeral. It’s about one’s journey in life. This is about my journey and the beginnings and where I’ve reached so far. So I began talking about it. I knew the poem by heart and started like that, going into my journey to Israel.
AM: I bet you have some amazing stories from there.
TP: That’s where I was surrounded by Mossad agents who thought I was a terrorist. I embarrassed them by cutting to the chase when they realized I was a celebrity there because of NBC.
AM: I bet they were feeling foolish.
TP: I stopped wearing black when I went into airports after that. So the idea of the book came from going on these journeys.
AM: Had you written before?
TP: I had written eight short stories because I was going to do a series with Discovery. Cut to two years later and I have written twenty-five chapters. My publisher heard about my stories of meeting people like John Gielgud, Lillian Gish and Robert Redford and when she heard about my journey from Australia she told me I had to write it down.
AM: So did you write a short version of what became the book?
TP: I ended up writing a twenty-eight page story. It was amazing to recall.
AM: Who will be able to relate to your book?
TP: We all want to journey somewhere. Some people are couch travelers, but there are others who really want to get into it. I call them the great lovers of life. They are the ones who really want to go into the unknown. That’s what the book is about. It’s about all the spiritual journeys I have had.
AM: What is the title?
TP: The title of the book is ‘Places’ and I love that because it’s not a word you ever use on it’s own. It took me a year to get a meeting with the publisher because she was so busy.
AM: Did you have the book already outlined in your mind?
TP: I didn’t really know what the concept of the book would be until I wrote my journey to America, then everything else fell into place.
AM: Did you write about your time on 'Days Of Our Lives?’
TP: I had a bad taste in my mouth from ‘Days’ because of the way they always killed me off so violently, but my publisher told me I had to write about it, so I said, “OK.” How do you tell a story that didn’t feel complete?
AM: So how did you start this part of the story?
TP: My voice mail had a message from the show’s producer and I knew that was never good news, so instead of listening to it, I went to Cuba and went with a Babalawo priest of the Santaria religion, which originated in Egypt in ancient times.
AM: Yes I have heard of them before.
TP: He told me I had a knife in my back and he had to cleanse me. I didn’t understand what he meant so he stripped me naked and got a chicken to absorb all the negative energy.
AM: That must have been a unique experience.
TP: It was an amazing experience. The chicken died in his hands absorbing the negative energy that was put on me.
AM: Did you feel uplifted after this?
TP: Oh, felt so light afterwards. Then he told me I had much to look forward to and I had much to confront. So I called back the producer and he told me the usual...that I would be dying again. So I thought this would be an interesting way to get into the story of ‘Days.’ Most of the book deals with my journeys to the Middle East and those dangerous situations.
AM: Weren’t you ever scared in your travels?
TP: I could have been killed so many times but I never thought about death.
To learn more about Thaao Penghlis visit his web site http://www.thaaopenghlis.com/id2.htm