WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did your role on ALL MY CHILDREN as Hillary come about?
Carmen Thomas: It was a special time of my life when I was on the show. I was in high school in Georgia and they were looking for an innocent ingénue for ALL MY CHILDREN. Kim Delaney (Jenny) was leaving and they wanted to have someone in that position when she left as the sweet ingénue or sweetheart. [Joking] I guess they couldn't find anyone innocent in New York City so I was put on videotape in Georgia and they saw it. They flew my mother and I up to New York for a screen test. [Academy Award nominee] Melissa Leo was reading at the same time a me, not for Hillary, but the part of Cliff's sister. I was only 15 but I got the part. I had a week to move from Georgia to New York City. It was quite a whirlwind and was like my high school and college. I finished high school with the equivalency while I was in New York and did the show during the college years.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: 15 is so young. Were you doing high school plays at that point? Did you know acting was what you wanted to do with your life?
Carmen Thomas: I had just enrolled in a performing arts high school doing musical theater. That's what took me to Atlanta, and it put me in the arena to be in that position. This agent came to the school when they were doing a film about Coach Bear Bryant's life (The Bear) and they were looking for a young actress to play Gary Busey's daughter. I got that part, and that's how I got connected with the agent. She had a relationship with ABC which lead to the videotaped audition which sent me to New York.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: It sounds like your parents were supportive to allow all this to happen.
Carmen Thomas: I'm an only child, and my parents were divorced, and it was really just my mom and me. It was like it was destiny because my mom had worked for Metropolitan Life and six months earlier they had asked her if she could transfer her job to their headquarters in New York City, but she said no. So when this happened, she asked if she could have her job transferred.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When they brought you to New York, did they know they were going to pair Hillary with Tad?
Carmen Thomas: I think they knew that.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Tad and Hillary became really popular right away with fans of the show.
Carmen Thomas: When I think about that time with Hillary and Tad's relationship, we never really had a chance to be together. It was so much of this unrequited love. When we finally got together, Michael [E. Knight] decided he was going to leave the show, move out to L.A. and be a movie star. They had to figure something out really quickly to have it not work out between us. And then I left before he came back. When I look back at old clips, I feel like I've grown so much as an actress.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Being so young at the time you started, what was it like working with veteran actors like Ruth Warrick and Louis Edmonds?
Carmen Thomas: It was just dreamy. First of all, they took such good care of me. Ruth Warrick was amazing. I moved from Georgia to New York City, and she showed up with pots and pans, and was just like a neighbor with how she helped us adjust. I never watched soaps as a kid and my dream was to be a movie star. I would set my clock for two in the morning as a teenager to watch old movies. Working with Ruth Warrick, having been in Citizen Kane and a movie star, was really exciting for me. And I feel so blessed that it was at the time when the soaps were done like a play almost. We did the whole script from beginning to end. We would all be there at 7:30 or 8 in the morning until 7 or 7:30 at night. Now they do a lot from set to set so you're mainly with people who are in your stories. Then, even though there were actors not in your story, everyone felt like a family.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: ALL MY CHILDREN was really popular at the time, especially here in New York City. Did you get recognized on the street a lot?
Carmen Thomas: Oh yeah. It was funny because Hillary was such a nice, goody-goody character. I would have fans who would wait outside the studio. Or people who would follow me and want to be my friend. I was from the South and didn't want to be rude so I would sometimes let a fan walk with me all the way home. I took some of the fans under my wing and became friends with them because I couldn't say no. Marcy Walker was on the show at the same time [as bad girl Liza] and old ladies would try to run her over and cuss at her.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: These days, with the internet, fans can give immediate feedback on stories and characters. What type of feedback did you receive back pre-internet? Was it mostly fan mail?
Carmen Thomas: It was a lot of fan mail. I would open it all and read it all. A lot of it was, 'Can you send an autographed picture?' So my mom and I came up with this idea of sending them a picture, but then asking them for a picture. I had pictures of all my fans. Now it's easy to see them. Since they started talking about Hillary [on ALL MY CHILDREN] again, I must have 10-15 Facebook friend requests a day. It was fun back then to get their pictures back in the mail.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you know who created the character of Hillary? I interviewed Wisner Washam recently and was wondering if it was him.
Carmen Thomas: I saw that! You know he was there, but it was really at a time that I heard Agnes Nixon was really involved. I think it was her.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So Michael E. Knight left the show, and at the time, it looked like he would have a successful post-soap movie career. How were you feeling about your place on the show at that point?
Carmen Thomas: Like I said it was like my college time. When he left, the writers weren't sure what to do with me. I think I really wanted the soap to be like a stepping stone. It was inevitable that I wasn't going to stay on the show. I knew this was going to be a time in my life and then I would go on. I can distinctly remember sitting on the set one day, and across from me was another set. I was watching the "young" storyline. Here I was 20 years old and watching actors older than me who were playing younger than me. It was the storyline with Lauren Holly and Robbie McNeill, who were Julie and Charlie. I remember watching and it was a story I had been doing a couple of years earlier. It was now repeating and I started feeling like, "I'm too old. I've been here too long." [Laughs] I thought it was time for me to go.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Speaking of Robert Duncan McNeill, he directs CHUCK now!
Carmen Thomas: We grew up together in Georgia. He lives about five blocks from me and we still keep in touch. It's such a coincidence we ended up on the show together. We did theater in Georgia together, then we ended up on the same soap, and now we're neighbors. He hired me for one of the shows he was doing a couple of years ago called WHAT ABOUT BRIAN.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Before you left the show, Hillary had another successful relationship with Mitch Beck. I remember liking that pairing too.
Carmen Thomas: He was this sweet guy. He was this motorcycle guy with leather meant to the bad boy. He was really a gentle soul and a lot of people liked him because he was really kind. But it didn't really seem to take off.
WE LOVE SOAPS TV: How did Hillary leave Pine Valley?
Carmen Thomas: It was during the writer's strike [of 1988] so it was kind of sad for me because it was like a non-event. It was like anyone with a pen was writing the show. I remember my last show, I felt like they didn't want people to know I was leaving. I was like, "Phoebe, I'm going to be going to Boston with Mitch." I was very nondescript. I was really sad because I had been on the show for a long time and wanted a goodbye. They let me rewrite it a little bit so I did say goodbye, but it was very quick so if you weren't watching the show that day, they were like, "What happened?"
I was acting but I didn't feel like I knew what I was doing. I had this hunger to study the craft and Shakespeare so I left the show and went to London and was there for about a year. Then I traveled around and did theater for quite a while. Then started the process of going back and forth to L.A. Once I started having kids, I became rooted in L.A. So it was really kind of a shock when the show moved out to L.A. I thought to myself that I needed to get in touch with people, but before I even had a chance to do that they started talking about Hillary again.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In Part Two, Thomas shares more thoughts on her time at ALL MY CHILDREN as well as her post-soap career.
For fans interested in seeing Hillary on ALL MY CHILDREN once again, here are a couple of key addresses to write to:
Brian S. Frons
President of ABC
500 South Buena Vista St
Burbank, CA 91521
Julie Hanan Carruthers
Executive Producer of AMC
4151 Prospect Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027