Think daytime soaps are dead? Try telling that to the more than 400 fans lined up three hours early last weekend outside the Mall of America Rotunda to secure autographs from “Days of Our Lives” cast members.
It didn’t hurt that one of the newer actors on the 52-year-old NBC series, Billy Flynn, hails from Minnesota, where he struggled to find his footing before taking over the role of die-hard romantic Chad DiMera in 2014 and earning a Daytime Emmy nomination.
Before the mall mayhem got into full swing, Flynn, 32, opened up about his real-life drama, why he got booted from a Minnesota school and where he likes to overindulge when he comes home.
Q: You’ve taken a pretty unlikely path to stardom. What was your first job at Warner Bros. Studios?
A: Finance. I was terrible at it. I don’t think I ever finished a report. I was too busy watching Hulu. When I was at St. Cloud State University, I walked into the counselor’s office and asked what paid the most. He said, “Finance,” so I said, “Cool. That’s my major.”
Q: But you worked in finance in downtown Minneapolis before coming to L.A. You must have had some talent for it.
A: I talked my way into it. Acting.
Q: Was it inspiring or frustrating to be on a major Hollywood lot, even though you weren’t there as an actor?
A: It was frustrating. I used to walk around at night and see all the actors on set, but I learned from watching them, particularly the people on [the Showtime series] “Shameless.” I watched how the cameras moved and how to hit your mark. I was taking acting classes, but there is stuff you never learn until you see it on the set. It was pretty wild, man.
Q: Why didn’t you pursue acting from the get go?
A: I went through a phase where I was kind of a troublemaker. Got kicked out of St. Francis High School [in northern Anoka County] for slapping the principal in the head. He told me I was never going to be anything. I literally licked my hand and slapped him and I was gone. I took the GED and got into the first school I applied for, where I got more serious. I’m Irish. I love to party. But St. Cloud is where I learned how to play hard and work hard.
Q: Did the “play hard” part include the Red Carpet nightclub?
A: Oh, I’ve been booted out of there many times. Some of my best buddies worked there so I could drink for free. All my boys are still here. We were out at Sneaky Pete’s last night and I went right back to my Minnesota ways. Coors Light and whiskey. I feel like I need an IV.
Q: How did you make the transition out of the finance department at Warner Bros.?
A: I quit after a year to dedicate myself to acting. I was kind of homeless for a while. I was living on a friend’s sailboat right up to when I got booked on “Days of Our Lives.” Everything I owned was in my Jeep. Overnight, that gig changed my life.
Q: But before that you starred opposite Melanie Griffith in an episode of “Hawaii Five-O,” right?
A: Well, that’s one of those things that look good on a bio, but actually I was on a boat across from her. I had like five lines and I was terrible. But I was really broke at the time. They flew me out to Hawaii for a week and gave me a $300 per diem. I almost cried. I went to a restaurant and ordered all different kinds of food because I was so hungry.
Q: How did being from Minnesota help you through the hard years?
A: There’s a work ethic here in which you just do the job and you kind of dare to chase the dream. You have the attitude that if you just grind it out, you’ll eventually get a break and hope that you’re good when the chance comes. I have so many friends that now say, “I saw what you did and because of that I quit my job to do what I really want to do.” My friends keep me grounded. We make fun of each other all the time. What’s funny is that they watch the show. I never thought they’d be watching a soap.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge of being on a daytime soap?
A: We move so fast. You get one take. You leave every day knowing you could have done a better job. But it’s like a class. You always know you can change this or that the next day.
Q: I suspect there’s also still a stigma attached to being a soap star.
A: It’s so odd, because so many great actors have come out of soaps. There’s also this thought that we don’t have the time to do anything else. But I’ve got two movies coming out this year, including a remake of “DOA” from Stephen Sepher [“Heist”]. It’s my first lead in a movie.
Q: Do you still get excited about being an actor or have you become jaded?
A: I still get butterflies every time I drive onto the lot. If you lose the stars in your eyes, you’re done.