Soap Opera Digest: Let’s start at the beginning. Was it always the plan to kill off Charlie?
Ron Carlivati: Yes. Oftentimes, we start stories not knowing where they’re going to end up, but this is a case of once we conceived the idea of who was the father of Allie’s baby and who raped Allie, that this character would ultimately be killed for it. So that was part of the whole pitch, that Tripp would be implicated and then there would be this long-lost brother and then he would start to date Claire and in the end, he would be exposed and ultimately killed because I felt that he was not really redeemable as a character and you were not going to root for a rapist, Todd Manning [from ONE LIFE TO LIVE] notwithstanding.
Digest: Mike Manning, who played Charlie, was embraced from the get-go. Did that give you any second thoughts about killing him off?
Carlivati: Look, in a way, that’s part of it. You don’t want to say, “Oh, let’s cast somebody bad because he’s going to die.” You want people to be invested, so we looked at a bunch of guys to play Charlie. There were actually a lot of good candidates in there and Mike came into that search a little bit more toward the end of it and we all liked him right away. I remember people going, “He’s great.” And I was like, “Yes, but don’t forget: He’s going to die.” So yes, when you see the initial feedback online and people are like, “Oh, I like this guy,” or, “Oh, he’s cute,” you’re thinking, “Oh, God.” Because you know where it’s going. Mike knew it was short-term from the beginning and he’s a lovely guy and a lovely actor. If the person playing Charlie wasn’t a good actor or wasn’t appealing, you wouldn’t care. So, yes, I’m sure there were some people who were disappointed that we “wasted” this guy. I saw a response to the character right away, which was great, but my heart kind of sank. And I was already thinking, “Well, maybe he’s got a twin brother.” I never thought about changing the story. I always knew that I didn’t want to redeem the rapist; I wanted him to die, and it’s tragic because we did play a lot about his backstory and there is no excuse for somebody doing something like this but you felt for him. You saw that he felt unloved and I think that haunted him his entire life.
Digest: So, how did you go about building this mystery?
Carlivati: What was great about this story was that almost anybody in town could do it. You have everybody in Claire’s family and everybody in Allie’s family, and then you have the backstory of who Charlie is, so you have Ava and Steve and Tripp and Kayla. So really, almost everybody on the canvas has a motive to want this guy dead.
Digest: Who is the No 1 suspect?
Carlivati: You will see it shift, so on one hand you could argue Allie, who had buried this memory, had accused the wrong guy and then finally remembered who really victimized her. You would think her, as his worst victim, would be the one who has the most reason to want him dead. And then you have everyone surrounding her — her parents, Lucas and Sami. You think, “If somebody did that to my child, I would kill them.” Then you’ve got the grandparents. You’ve got Kate in there as somebody I wouldn’t mess with as Allie’s grandmother. John is somebody who is related to Claire and to Allie, and both young women have been victimized by this guy. John is someone who has been volatile in recent months as a result of his aneurysm. Plus, you have Ava, who is an interesting suspect because you would think on one hand, who would kill their own child? But she never bonded with this child from the beginning. When she lost Steve and she lost Tripp, she was in a depression. She had been drugged by her father. He pushed this other man onto her to get her out of her funk but it didn’t work. So they handed her this baby but she never really bonded with it and loved it, yet she’s his mother. And then she finds out what he did and she feels horrible. We gave her a line where she’s like, “I’m the one who brought him into this world, maybe I’m the one who needs to take him out,” and that sums up her motive and how she feels in this situation.
Digest: What goes into it for you in terms of tracking the story?
Carlivati: We always try to make it so people have the opportunity to do it, so we had to construct it in such a way where we orchestrated a timeline where you didn’t know where certain people were at that moment and they could have been killing him. Ultimately, as the story unfolds, different suspects come to the fore, so for one moment, the spotlight is on one character, and then maybe a week later, the spotlight is on somebody else. So we had to map out the whole night, and this is what happened and maybe this person had a confrontation with him and then maybe this person did. I remember when GENERAL HOSPITAL did the “Who Killed Susan Moore?” story, something like 10 characters had gone in and had an argument with her before. I was like, “That must have been one busy parking lot outside her apartment.” So you always have that to consider: How do these people not all run into each other? That’s why you have to construct a timeline, of maybe this person came and they had an argument, and then maybe this person came and that happened. So once you have that map, you can go, “This week, we’re going to focus in on John,” or, “This week, we’re going to focus in on Allie,” and see where they were that night. Of course, you do build these moments in the time leading up to it, “I could kill you for this.” So a lot of people made threats in front of other people that they’ll remember later.
Digest: As a writer, what is it like to have this kind of vehicle to tell story?
Carlivati: It’s fun, especially if you know who the killer is and you time out when we’re going to reveal it, so it does give you a framework to tell story. I know eventually, I’m going to expose so-and-so, but along the way, when we do, “This week we think it’s Sami,” it’s not just about did Sami kill Charlie or not, it’s about the relationships: Does Lucas try to cover up for Sami? I’m not saying that’s going to happen; I’m just giving an example. It becomes more about the relationships between the characters and who’s going to try to protect who and who’s going to try to implicate who along the way. Of course, everybody hated Charlie, so you have to wonder, “Why are the police so anxious to find this killer?” You think they’d be like, “You did everybody a favor.” Sometimes it helps if the lead detective was Charlie’s father or whatever; it helps to have somebody crusading for the victim. In this case, the whole town hated him, so Rafe, why don’t you just look the other way [laughs]? But he’s a good cop so he’s going to find the killer.
Digest: This story is really multigenerational and utilizes so many fan favorites.
Carlivati: That’s what was so great about it, that the story necessitated using not just our young people, but really the legacy characters and the vets on the show. It is a family story. At the heart, it is about what happened to Claire and what happened to Allie and you have these core characters from core families and that is so wonderful to be able to play pretty much everybody, and the people that the audience wants to see in this story.
Digest: Did you bring Alison Sweeney (Sami) in specifically for this story?
Carlivati: I’m always happy to be able to write Sami. It did work out pretty well for us that she was available when we wanted to do this story. It is Sami’s daughter that was raped and we felt Sami was the kind of person who would take the law into her own hands if somebody did that to her child. So she is a prime suspect in this from the first moment she arrives in town. So that was great. I don’t want to bring Sami back to sit on the couch with Marlena or something. I want her to always come back with a bang. Possibly literally.
Digest: Was it hard to choose a culprit?
Carlivati: I definitely think it’s a challenge when you go through the cast and go, “Well, who did do it?” You go character by character and you go, “Wow, they had a really good reason.” So many people had the motive and so many people had the opportunity that we really wrestled with, “Should it be this person? Should it be that person? What would happen if it was this person?” And finally, I hit upon an idea of who I wanted it to be and we just started to build around that.
Digest: Can we expect twists and turns?
Carlivati: Yeah, totally. Suspicion falls on different people at different moments and when that happens, it seems like they must have done it, they must be guilty. But we know that not everybody could be guilty unless it’s Murder on the Orient Express.
Digest: How long will this play out?
Carlivati: It’s one of those things where it’s a judgment call. You want to have fun with the story and the different suspects but you don’t want it to go on so long that you don’t care anymore, so it’s a two- or three-month arc. You want to give the story some air, but ultimately you realize, “I’ve gotta keep moving it along every week and eliminating people until we get a satisfying answer.” Which I hope you will have at the end of it.
Digest: Last question and it’s a biggie: Your father, Ron Sr., is a big DAYS viewer. Will you tell him whodunit?
Carlivati: He will say, “Who killed Charlie? Wait, don’t tell me,” before I can get to the answer [laughs]. He will ask, but he won’t let me answer the question.