Southern California is brimming with bombshells and beauties, but one sunny starlet, Kate Mansi, is taking on Tinseltown with grace and style while retaining her deep-rooted values and kind spirit. Born to an Italian/Irish family that likes to work hard and play even harder, Kate grew up in the Sherman Oaks area of Los Angeles where she excelled at academics and performance art. Classically trained in ballet, modern, and jazz dance, it was during high school that Mansi switched gears and decided to pursue acting, declining a dance scholarship in New York to remain on the West Coast where she could pursue her newfound passion. Promising her parents that she would attend college while following her dream, she enrolled at Pepperdine University in Malibu where she studied film and public relations. Just after graduating from Pepperdine, she landed her first guest role on the CBS hit show How I Met Your Mother and is now settling in to her latest role as Abigail Devereux on the legendary daytime drama Days of Our Lives.
Upon joining the show in March, Kate has become a fan favorite and was recently recognized by Soap Opera Digest as one of the Most Promising Young Soap Stars. Much like her onscreen alter ego Abigail, Kate is devoted to her family and friends whom she relies on to stay grounded while navigating the ever-changing world of daytime TV. After her parents’ divorce when she was young, both parents remarried and Kate’s family unit expanded to include 7 siblings on one side and 6 on the other, not to mention a few four-legged friends along the way. Kate has also maintained close friendships with eight of her best gal pals from High School, whom she also considers family. They have worked hard to stay close and connected to one another throughout the many transitions of their twenties, and Kate is fiercely loyal to these ladies who she says, “don’t let you get away with not being true to yourself and are there for you at your best and worst and in between.”
Another person who has been instrumental in Kate’s life—and success—is her father Jeff Morris who she calls her “rock.” “I think it’s safe to say he is the best dad a girl could ask for. He is always making me reach for the next level and to learn and grow from my mistakes,” she says. His motto for her has always been to “Bite off more than you can chew and then chew it” since she tends to be a bit of an over-thinker. Perhaps it’s her Virgo nature or her own drive to succeed but his advice continues to motivate her to reach for the stars and accomplish all of her dreams.
Accompanying the petite actress on all of her adventures is another petite little lady, Leighla May, her beloved pup and best friend. She met Leighla May while at Pepperdine and it was love at first sight, even though she had always been drawn to larger dogs like her Labrador Annie, who was too large to live with Kate while she was in college. The two have a tight bond which was made even stronger when Leighla May was kidnapped from the Hollywood Hills home they were living in. In an effort to sell Leighla May, she was taken from the home by a gardener and, if it wasn’t for her fearless mother Kate who located her just in time, they may have been separated forever.
Happily reunited, the actress and her pup spend quiet time hanging out with Mansi’s boyfriend and his Golden Retriever, who she admits stole her heart before he did. Although he is a surfer and she is not a fan of surf and sand, the two complement each other perfectly, sharing the same core values and of course, a love of dogs.
We recently had a chance to spend the day with Kate and Leighla May who were accompanied by her devoted dad Jeff. Thanks to her wonderful publicist, Ashton Lunceford from Platform PR, we secured one of the most beautiful locations for our photo shoot and subsequent interview at the private Cielo Winery in Malibu. I must say that this was one of my favorite interviews thus far with LIFE+DOG. Kate is not only beautiful and talented, she is one of the most down-to-earth actresses we have met and a true joy to be around. We spent the day talking about everything from dogs and family to values and the challenges of being on one of the longest-running daytime shows.
Following the shoot we all headed down the mountain to enjoy a glass of wine and continue our conversation. It was such a pleasure to get to know Kate and her father, who is one of the coolest dads and nicest guys we have encountered. There is such a mutual respect and adoration between the two that it is hard not to be inspired and, after meeting Jeff, it is easy to see where Kate gets her charm and positive outlook on LIFE. Kate’s personal motto is “just love.” Just love—period, no exceptions! It comes from her strong faith and belief that it’s God’s most important commandment—above all things, love one another. “I’m nowhere near perfect but I try to exercise this principle in my day-to-day life because I believe the world would certainly be better off if we all spent more time loving, encouraging, and supporting one another.” We couldn’t agree more and we hope that you all enjoy our chat with Kate Mansi as much as we did!
Kate Mansi on LIFE:
LIFE+DOG: How did you get into acting? Did you always know you wanted to act?
Kate Mansi: I always knew I wanted to be in the entertainment industry but I sort of stumbled into acting accidentally. My dream as a kid was to be a “triple-threat”—dancer/actress/singer (which was literally my response when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up). My goal was to be a dancer on Broadway. I never had any experience with acting until my high school theatre teacher (Bill Garrett) encouraged me to audition for the fall play my senior year. I did so to get the extra credit but ended up booking the lead role. That process was the first time I discovered the world of acting, and it changed my life. The idea of slipping into a character’s skin and exploring the world through their eyes was, and still is, absolutely exhilarating. I instantly wanted more of it.
My mother (who had a career as a dancer before becoming a theatrical agent) begged me not to get into the business. She said to me, “If you can do anything else in the world and be happy, do that. But if you absolutely can’t imagine having a career doing anything other than acting—then go for it—but it won’t be easy.” I declined my dance scholarship to a performing arts college in NYC later that month to stay in LA and attempt to pursue a career in acting … with the promise to my parents that I would simultaneously continue my education at Pepperdine University. I knew I had found my calling, but unfortunately knew next to nothing about it at the time. For the next couple of years in college while I wasn’t going to school, I threw myself into studying my craft and took acting classes three nights a week in Hollywood. During my time at Pepperdine I booked a few commercials, did some print work, and an episode of How I Met Your Mother in 2008. I tested for several shows and then I booked Days this past year and have been so excited to really get started at achieving my dream!
L+D: When you joined the cast of Days of Our Lives, how did it feel to join so many daytime legends on a show with such history?
KM: 46 years and still going—talk about history! I am honored to be a member of the Days of Our Lives family not only because of its legacy but because this really is the best time to be on Days of Our Lives. The genre of soap operas has obviously been struggling lately but Days has made it their mission to return to the original days of the show. The reason people started watching was for a show that centered on adventure, heroism, romance, excitement, and family values, which it has seamlessly returned to! They’ve brought back several of the original cast members that gave the show its legacy, created new sets, and the new writers are committed to making the show what it once was. This change came about when I was well into my time on the show and I can honestly say the difference is palpable—a sense of team effort, excitement, and dedication to our work each day.
L+D: When you joined the cast as character Abigail Devereux, you replaced another actress who had been in the role for years. How did it feel to step into someone else’s shoes?
KM: I was definitely nervous the fans would be resistant to the character recast … we all know how loyal those soap fans are! I made the choice not to watch any of Ashley Benson’s scenes as Abigail because I didn’t want to merely mimic another actor’s choices. What really worked in my favor was how the writers made the decision to mature Abigail and write her with a more feisty side which I believe really made the transition from one Abigail to another much easier for the fans to accept.
L+D: What do you think sets Days apart from other soaps?
KM: I think Days has something no other show has which is why it has lasted so long. It’s that mysterious “it factor” you can’t quite put your finger on that keeps you coming back for more.
L+D: Your character’s mother and father are Days legends. How has it been working with them?
KM: I’ve only started working with Matt recently since his return this September, but we really hit the ground running with some intense father-daughter scenes. My relationship with Matt is great but very different than mine and Missy’s because of our storyline—his character abandoned Abigail and that’s a delicate thing to handle as an actor. I really wanted to honor the storyline by giving everything I had to those scenes with the hope of reaching people who have similar personal experiences, and offering them a sort of release or sense of understanding. For that reason, I kept my distance from Matthew in the beginning until I got in the rhythm of working together and understood his character more fully.
Totally different experience with Mamma Missy. She has taken on the role of “mom” to me on and off screen as we have become extremely close friends. We actually have several mutual friends and she lives up the street from my family home! Missy is an amazingly generous actress with a strong work ethic. She is truly a joy to work with—a team player and incredibly inspiring.
I’m blessed to work with both of them now and witness the famous Jack and Jennifer duo!
L+D: What is your favorite thing about being on Days of Our Lives?
KM: The surprise of finding out where the writers are taking your character next. Getting to my dressing room and finding new scripts on my couch is like Christmas morning—I can’t read them fast enough!
L+D: Daytime TV is a fast paced, demanding job. How do you handle the pressure and demands?
KM: My ultra-organized Virgo tendencies come in handy, I won’t lie. But truthfully, I LOVE being busy so it is actually a perfect fit! What I struggle with is down-time and forcing myself to unplug and do nothing for a little while!
L+D: What’s a typical workday like for you?
KM: My current storyline really determines my workload at the time. For example, right now Abigail is involved in several different storylines so a typical workday has an early start and a late end … sometimes three episodes in a day! When the storylines are lighter I will go into work around 6 and sometimes be out by noon—which is awesome because it still leaves time for a workout and some playtime with Leighla May! No matter what the workload is though I have one ritual I love to do to unwind … play some good music, pour myself a nice glass of cabernet, and cook!
L+D: What has been your favorite part of being on Days so far?
KM: I’ve actually spent some time reflecting on this question recently because I just passed the one year mark of my work with Days. The best part so far has been the day-to-day knowledge you gain just by being a contract player on a show. I’ve absorbed so much information and experience simply by being present every day and perfecting my craft as an actress and that is what every actor wants … a starting point!
L+D: Were you a fan of the show prior to joining the cast?
KM: Who’s not a fan of DAYS OF OUR LIVES? It’s Daytime royalty!
L+D: What is your favorite show(s) to watch on TV?
KM: There is never enough space on my tivo and my rule is to watch every show at least once! Some killer new pilots out that I am absolutely hooked on though are Revenge, Ringer, The New Girl, and Two Broke Girls; and I always dedicate space for my favorites: Parks and Recreation, The Office, Dexter, Modern Family, and although this probably brings my cool factor down … I love The Animal Planet and The Cooking Channel! (Specifically Victoria Stillwell’s It’s Me or the Dog and Everyday Italian with Giada! )
L+D: What is your dream role?
KM: I hope to someday play a role that requires me to really transform myself as Charlize Theron did in Monster, Natalie Portman did in Black Swan, and Drew Barrymore did in Grey Gardens.
L+D: Where would you like to see your career in 10 years?
KM: In ten years I would like to say I have worked at least once with the Coen Brothers and Woody Allen. I would like to have the opportunity to portray strong female characters and also dabble in some comedy.
L+D: Who inspires you?
KM: My grandmother—Helen Caldwell. She is strong and fearless. Nothing ever stands in the way of her dreams. I want to make her proud and live my life as she did—going after what I want with every fiber of my being.
L+D: What motivates you to take on each day?
KM: Life is a journey and every day is another piece to the puzzle! (I know that belongs stitched on a pillow somewhere but it’s the truth.)
Kate Mansi on DOGS:
L+D: How did you meet your dog(s)?
KM: She “had me at hello!” I was at Pepperdine University in Malibu, had just finished an Italian final early and had some time to kill. I went across the street to get a coffee and stumbled into the Malibu Pet Store to play with some of the dogs they had there. ATTENTION: I must pause here to note—this was a time in my life when I was uneducated about the dangers of pet stores, which I no longer support.
Living without a dog for that first year in college (my Labrador Annie was too big for the apartment’s requirements) just didn’t feel right. I felt like something was missing all the time—a true testament to the strong bond a pet provides. I played with some puppies and then on a whim asked to play with Leighla May. She was a little small for my type at first, an apricot bichon poodle who even in that little space in the window had so much character! She was destroying a fluffy pink toy and I knew it was a perfect fit—I hate pink.
She had spunk. She was kind, and most surprisingly for a little dog she didn’t make a peep! Just wanted to play! It was a match made in heaven! She visited my Italian class at Pepperdine frequently during the next years.
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do with your dog every day?
KM: Cuddle for an extra five minutes before I head to work in the morning! (Leighla is extra snuggly in the morning, which I love!)
L+D: What is your favorite thing to do in your city with your dog?
KM: Hike together at Fryman Canyon and then lunch at Aroma Café in Studio City. (They’re very dog-friendly there!)
L+D: What has your dog taught you in life?
KM: Leighla has been a constant reminder to not take life too seriously. Sometimes when I get overwhelmed with life’s details, she will feel my energy and beg for attention—that is my cue to step back and remember that nothing is too big to tackle and life is too short to waste worrying. Sometimes you’ve just got to take a break and have some playtime!
L+D: What is your favorite memory of your dog?
KM: My favorite memory of my Leighla May is the first time she felt the snow. She jumped in a pile of powder and completely disappeared! It took her a while to get her footing but watching her pounce around trying was both hysterical and adorable. That little thing never gives up!
L+D: Do you have a favorite dog-related quotation?
KM: “What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”
-Dwight D. Eisenhower
L+D: Does your dog have any hidden talents or special tricks?
KM: YES! Every time I travel and leave her with Grandpa Morris she shows me a new trick when I return! He recently taught her how to play dead when he says “bang bang” … sounds a bit twisted I know, but it’s hysterical!
L+D: If you could describe your relationship with your dog in just one word or a few words, what would that be?
KM: Loving. Loyal. Playful. (Everything I could ask for in a soul mate!)
L+D: What is your favorite thing about dogs?
KM: My favorite thing about dogs is how much sheer joy they bring to people’s lives. I also enjoy having someone to talk to who shares all my same opinions, listens well, and never repeats the juicy stuff!
L+D: Do you have a favorite breed or type of dog?
KM: I’m a sucker for boxers and Labradors! (I realize Leighla May is neither of those but I’ve had great experiences with those breeds … sorry Miss May!)
L+D: If your dog could talk, what would she say?
KM: I think Leighla May would be just like her mamma … chatty and cheerful! But if she could talk, her one track mind would most likely say “Ball?Ball?Ball?Ball?”
L+D: What song best represents your pooch?
KM: Layla, by Eric Clapton
“Layla, you’ve got me on my knees. Layla, I’m begging, darling please.
Layla, darling won’t you ease my worried mind…”
When Leighla May and I met, I had been feeling a little nervous with the transition to school and living on my own. Once Leighla was in my life, she instantly “eased my worried mind” … and still does.
L+D: Does your dog have doggie friends? What do they like to do together?
KM: YES! Her sister Annie who is a 13 year-old black Labrador, and my best friend Christina’s Golden Retriever Dakota, a.k.a. Koda bear, is her partner in crime in the snow in the winter! She has LOTS of friends at the dog park as well—particularly a Bull Mastiff that lets her play piggyback!
L+D: What is your “Dog History”? Have you always had dogs/pets?
KM: Animals have always been a big part of my family. Primarily dogs and horses though.
My father taught my sister and me to appreciate animals from a young age. Our first family dog was a boxer named Murphy—the goofiest dog with the biggest heart!
My sister Lexa and I were both allowed to have our own dogs when we turned 11. My sister who turned 11 two years before me got the opportunity first … I will never forget finding her first dog, a white Labrador we named Rebel … because he was one!
We looked for a puppy for Lexa for a while before we found Rebel, but when we found him, we knew he was the one. We went to the breeder’s house and there was a group of white lab pups she was offering us … but there was one little runt in the corner all alone that the owners had not brought to our attention. Even though I was young I still vividly remember my father inquiring about that runt in the corner and the owners responding with “oh you don’t want him—he can’t walk.” They explained that Rebel had extensive hip problems that would certainly cause problems for him as a full grown dog, so we would be better off choosing another, healthy dog. My father requested that we see him engage with other dogs and when they put Rebel in the mix of other pups he really did look like a hopeless case. Every time he tried to play with them his legs wouldn’t support his weight and he would fall splat on his chin. It broke our hearts. We knew he was meant to be in our family—we wanted to give this dog the most special life he could have despite the difficulty. Rebel passed away last year but for 14 years was the prize possession of our family. He lived a happy life walking, running, playing, and doing all the things the owners said he never could. He had heart, and such a playful spirit. He did have hip problems later in life (common with labs) but he rose above his challenges and that was an important lesson for us as young girls to learn and observe. My sister loved that dog dearly and he still holds a very special place in our heart as “the little pup that could!”
And then came Annie, my black Labrador (now 13) through responsible Labrador breeders. She was my first dog! It was my turn to have a dog and dad had explained fully that she was my responsibility. I remember feeling uber-cool to have something that was all mine! In that first week of having Annie I came home from school every day and she never failed to destroy something by the time I got home. My dad once said, “Look she just annihilated that thing!” Hence the name “Annie the Annihilator” was born.
L+D: What is your dog’s favorite toy?
KM: Kong balls, squeaky toys, and tennis balls … really anything that keeps her running around will do.
L+D: How has your dog changed your life?
KM: In too many ways to count. Essentially, she makes me a better person. (Please excuse the cliché but it’s true.)
L+D: Do you have a favorite charity and/or animal welfare organization?
KM: I have recently been learning more about the horrific results of animal over-population. My co-star Patrick Muldoon is the spokesperson for an incredibly innovative organization called 600million.org, which proposes a solution to the problem of over-population through an animal sterilization pill (led by Alex Pacheco, co-founder of PETA).
I recently participated in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s diabetes walk with Nick Jonas, Mary McCormack, and many others. I do not have diabetes but some family members and my best friend do, so I want to help in any way I can. I’ve walked with JDRF for three years now but this year was my first time raising money and being a celebrity guest which was such an honor.
Find Kate Mansi on Twitter @katemansi.
This article was written by LIFE+DOG editor Ryan Rice.
To read more from Ryan, visit his blog on our site.