Hitting a High Note - TV Guide
NADIA BJORLIN GOES FROM GEEK TO GODDESS ON DAYS OF OUR LIVES
Busty, big-boned and broad-shouldered, Days of Our Lives's Nadia Bjorlin enters a Hollywood coffeehouse radiating the kind of feminine robustness that hasn't been in vogue since the days of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe.
She is, quite simply, breathtaking. This is due not only to her exotic DNA (she's Swedish on her father's side, Persian on her mother's) but also to her subtle yet unmistakable air of confidence. Bjorlin is a stark and welcome contrast to the interchangeable, chopstick-thin, still-in-search-of-themselves young actresses who dominate the soap world.
She's also a far cry from the character Days hired her to play. The NBC youth-appeal serial — looking to address intolerance and peer pressure among high school kids — introduced Bjorlin in 1999 in the role of Chloe Lane, a sad, sour, Goth-garbed chubbette who bounced from foster home to foster home and found her only joy and salvation in singing opera. The misfit character, nicknamed "Ghoul Girl" by the kids at Salem High, would blossom over the course of a year into a stunning and rather affable dude magnet. Until then, Bjorlin required one hell of a reverse makeover.
"When I got the job they didn't tell me this was an ugly duckling-swan story line," says Bjorlin, over a cup of herbal tea. "I just viewed it as a great acting challenge. I liked that Chloe was sort of cool and weird and wasn't one of those soap ingenues who wake up every morning looking beautiful." Still, Chloe was a true test of Bjorlin's self-esteem. "They frizzed and greased my hair, bushed up my eyebrows, gave me Coke-bottle glasses, put me in black baggy clothes to make me look as heavy as possible and then shot me with a wide-angle lens," she says, clearly relieved those Days are over. "Oh, I had fun with it. I got used to it. But sometimes I'd go, 'Now, wait a minute. This is my first major national television gig and I'm looking like this?'"
Though seemingly plucked from obscurity (her only film or TV credit before Days was the Ricky Martin video "Shake Your Bon-Bon"), the Newport, Rhode Island-born Bjorlin was in fact quite credentialed. One of six children, she was raised and schooled internationally — she speaks Swedish, Farsi, French, Russian and Italian — and was onstage from the age of 7 singing and playing classical piano, flute and harp (her late father, Ulf, was a world-renowned composer, conductor and EMI recording artist; her mother, Fary, is an interior designer and painter). As a teen, Bjorlin won first prize at opera competitions in Italy and the United States, and graduated in May 1999 from the Professional Children's School in New York City. A few months later she was in the running for Chloe.
"Finding a great young actress who was also a trained opera singer wasn't easy," says Days casting director Fran Bascom, who held a nationwide talent hunt that lasted two months. "Still, I have a feeling [the Days execs] would have wanted Nadia even if she wasn't such a spectacular singer because there is something so wonderfully sweet and open and special about her." Adds Kevin Spirtas, who plays Bjorlin's TV stepfather, Craig: "Nadia knows where she's at and where she's headed. She has great inner strength."
The audience agrees. Bjorlin, one of the rare young suds stars who is taken deeply to heart by viewers young and old, says, "Kids write and tell me that they watch my character and don't feel so alone. The older ones say they wish they'd had a role model like Chloe when they were young." But didn't Chloe's miraculous transition to swan send out a rather funky message? After all, darned few freaks and geeks are blessed with a gene pool as sensational as Bjorlin's.
"No, actually, I think it's a rather sweet message," she insists. "It gives a little glimmer of hope to everybody. It's not about exterior beauty but about what's inside. It's about the importance of being different." Besides, she notes, Chloe remains the butt of jokes long after her beautification (last summer, her classmates posted nude photos of her on the Internet). "I'm glad Chloe continued to be persecuted. The kids still think she's weird. It would have defeated the purpose of the story to have her suddenly turn popular just because she was pretty. That would have been the wrong message."
Chloe is currently torn between two potential lovers—the blindly devoted, puppy-doggish Philip (Jay Kenneth Johnson) and the edgy, studly Brady (Kyle Lowder). But Bjorlin, who shares an apartment with her mother and her 22-year-old brother, Ulf Alexander, a fledgling actor, swears that she's dateless in real life. "My mother is not standing at the door with a shotgun," says the actress, laughing and shaking her head pathetically. "I sit at home on Friday and Saturday nights. This is the truth."