It’s Jay Kenneth Johnson’s third act as the privileged Philip Kiriakis on Days of our Lives, a character he began playing in his early 20s, resumed when he was in his 30s, and is now tackling again at the age of 43.
Jay Kenneth Johnson Looks Back
“There’s been a beginning, a middle, and now this,” summarizes Johnson. “This is the third phase.”
Same Old Philip
Needless to say, he’s a more confident actor. “I guess you could say that. I’ve been doing this for just over 20 years,” he points out. “I would say I still have the same enthusiasm now as I did then for the job. I always have a good time. It’s just different storylines.”
Although older, the Philip that returned to Salem in 2020 isn’t much wiser or different from the one who debuted in 1999. He’s still cool, cocky, and constantly finagling his way in and out of trouble.
“It feels about the same. He’s been messed over,” says Johnson, referring to the predicament Philip is in with the gambling debt he owes to the Vitali crime family. “Something happened a few years back. He came back to Salem with a plan to take hold of this dad’s company, the family’s company. He’d been eyeing that.”
That plan included laundering mob money through Titan Enterprises. Johnson’s been enjoying the shady business aspect of the storyline. “The scenes are pretty charged, and there are [high stakes],” notes Johnson, who immediately began fighting for control of the company with his cousin, Xander (Paul Telfer). “Philip kind of wedged himself in there.”
Johnson easily took to Philip’s instant rivalry with Xander. “There’s good energy to work with. [Paul and I] talked a little bit and worked on our scenes together off set,” explains Johnson, admitting that he immediately “looked forward to working with” his new nemesis.
The Danger Zone
The whole situation imploded when Xander figured out Philip’s machinations and shut down his money-laundering operation. However, it put Philip’s life in danger as the Vitali clan plotted his demise, or, at the very least, a major beatdown. It was déjà vu for Johnson, who remembers having his character’s life threatened before due to his gambling debts.
“That’s how I came [onto DAYS],” points out Johnson. “Philip was beaten up, and they found him on the ground. Those were my first scenes. There were two muscle guys, two wise guys, who beat him up.”
DAYS Gone By
Thrashings aside, Johnson has a lot of fond memories from his initial run on Days of our Lives. “I remember the trips,” says the actor. “We used to do something in Orlando, a fan event. That was always a good time. We did a lot of those events and were really in touch with the fans.
“For storylines, I remember the Last Blast dances,” he continues, referencing one in particular where he had a red syrupy substance poured over his head to replicate blood in an homage to that Carrie sequence. “We shot that scene first thing in the morning, and I was kept in that blood for almost 12 hours. So that was a long day.”
Another memorable misadventure was a big blaze at the Kiriakis estate. “The mansion caught on fire, and I had to jump out the window,” recalls Johnson. “I remember the fire was turned up, and I could really feel the heat.”
There were lighter, more fun moments, too, like a location shoot in Catalina. “We did some scenes there that I remember. The water was really clear, and you could see straight to the bottom,” notes Johnson. “We also had a big jungle set at the studio. It was like half the stage. There was a cave setup and wind fans. That was a cool storyline.”
But, no doubt, the most memorable plot of all was the front burner Philip/Chloe/Brady triangle. Not only did it divide DAYS viewers into Phloe versus Broe supporters, but it was also the subject of numerous soap magazine covers.
“That was a big storyline, and we worked a lot… five days a week,” says Johnson, referring to himself, Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe), and Kyle Lowder (ex-Brady). “We had a good time. I received a lot of mail. We all got a lot of mail from the different sides and the two [fan] camps.”
To be sharing the screen with Bjorlin again, now, has been a delight for Johnson. “We worked together a lot from 1999 to 2002, and we worked together again, last September [on the DAYS web series],” recounts Johnson, admitting there’s a natural chemistry between him and Bjorlin. “I hope we still have it. I’m sure we do. It’s always been easy and a lot of fun working with her.” Days of our Lives (DOOL) airs weekdays on NBC. Check your local listings for airtimes.