Gay fans of the long-running NBC soap opera "Days of Our Lives" were no doubt heartbroken when Sonny and Will were written out of the series.
Sonny (then played by Freddie Smith) and Will (Chandler Massey) were a gay "super couple" who had won the hearts of countless viewers.
But now, Sonny and Will have returned in a limited series titled "Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem," which is streaming on Peacock. There are five episodes to this series, which dropped on Sept. 6. Massey returns as Will, though Sonny will now be played by Zachary Atticus Tinker, Smith having opted not to return in part due to his recent move to Florida.
"Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem" will give fans a chance to see their favorite Salemites in a series of all-new adventures. Familiar faces from the "Days" universe will turn up in a variety of exotic locales such as Europe, Miami, New Orleans and Phoenix Arizona, where Sonny and Will now live. The first episode of "Beyond Salem" will see the couple facing new challenges, as Sonny suspects that Will may be having an affair!
Tinker, the new Sonny, tells SFGN that "Beyond Salem" is not the first time he's stepped into a role that had been established by someone else. He previously appeared on the popular soap "The Young and the Restless" as a temporary replacement for an actor who needed to take some time off.
"I think half the battle is already done for you when they cast you," Tinker said. "Because they cast someone who kind of looks the same and has the same general vibe, so I feel that the casting director has fought half the battle for you when they bring you into a role."
Tinker noted that there's also an aspect of reinvention when an actor is cast in an already established role.
"At the end of the day all you can do is do your best job with your version of this character," he said.
The actor sees Sonny as a simple guy who grew up in a complicated world.
"I think he sticks to his guns; I think he's honest," Tinker said. "I think honesty is probably the most important thing to him. I think he says what he means, I mean he's a very straight-up guy. There's no facade, there's no smoke and mirrors, what you see is what you get, he's going to tell you what he thinks, how he feels, and he's not going to pull any punches."
Tinker acknowledges that the on-screen romance between Sonny and Will is "groundbreaking," though he added that he would like to see the world get to a point where a gay couple is seen as just a couple.
"Their love is the same as any other love," he said. "In a gay relationship or a straight relationship, it doesn't matter, it's your person. The heart knows what the heart wants."
Massey, for his part, is excited to be stepping back into Will's shoes.
"The shoes are pretty comfortable at this point," Massey said.
The actor believes that Sonny and Will were written off the main "Days of Our Lives" canvas because it was "time for a break."
"They had been on the canvas for so long and had done so many stories," he said. "Sometimes you just need a break, and rest the character, and then come back, so it feels fresh again. It's a big cast, and you can't always expect to be in the limelight."
Massey sees Will as an average everyman type.
"He struggles to be happy," said Massey. "Obviously he's in love with his husband, and is gay, which is a big part of who he is, but it's not all that he is. He's just a human being."
He advises viewers that, though it might seem as though Will were having an affair in the first episode of "Beyond Salem," not to jump to any conclusions. In Salem, things are not always what they appear to be. Massey added that he could not give away any plot details.
"I'm wearing a shock collar right now," he said with a laugh. "If I say anything, then NBC zaps me. I'll say this: Will and Sonny are going to do things that you have never ever seen them do, no matter if you've seen every one of our episodes. It's going to be wild."
Massey admits to having been a little nervous about playing opposite a new actor, after having co-starred with Smith for such a long time.
"Freddie and I spent years building up a foundation and chemistry and were comfortable with each other, so I was worried that Will and Sonny weren't going to be the same," he said. "But Zach is an incredible actor, so that bridges the gap in a big way. He really stepped into Sonny's shoes about as well as you can ask for, so I don't think Will and Sonny are going to miss a beat. It feels very familiar, like the Will and Sonny of old, but also like a new spark."
The actor reports that he regularly gets letters or tweets from the gay community regarding his portrayal of Will.
"They would tell me that they watch this story with their mom or grandma, and they'd then feel comfortable enough to have a conversation with them about themselves and their truth," he said. "I was blown away by the impact this story had on some who watched. That was the single most gratifying part of the whole thing by far."
See Chandler Massey and Zachary Atticus Tinker as Will and Sonny on "Days of Our Lives: Beyond Salem," now streaming on Peacock.