Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thom Bierdz on "Forgiving": The WLS Interview Part Three

In Parts One and Two of our interview with Thom Bierdz, the acclaimed actor discussed the real-life tragedies described in his best-selling biography Forgiving Troy, his return to THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS this week (from March 15-19th), and the power and healing of forgiving others.  In Part Three, we discuss the pressures of being a closeted actor in Hollywood, his "audacity" to express himself, plus his limited return to Y&R in 2009. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: When did you decide to be completely out about your sexuality?
Thom Bierdz: Even as a kid I knew I would be. I had a conversation with God at about age eighteen.  I said, “God I know I’m going to be famous and I know I’m going to be gay.  Is that alright?” I always knew that at some point I would be out.  It was around 2000 that I came out.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was it like to be so popular on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and not be able to express who you truly are?

Thom Bierdz: It was hard for me because I’m not that good an actor, I’m not that good a pretender.  I’m not a good liar, I’m not a good faker.  I’m good at being outside the box.  It was difficult for me to not give my full self.  Other actors do a great job at it.  They are fine being in the closet and that is great.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did you want to come out while you were playing Phillip in the 1980s?
Thom Bierdz: No.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Did anyone ever tell you not to?
Thom Bierdz: Yes, my representatives did not want me to.  But I wasn’t going to at that point.  Although I did bring my boyfriend to THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS Christmas party.  And there was another time that I was dating the florist for our show.  So my cast mates knew I was gay.  There is still something different in the soap industry, they do not out their actors.  That is great, that is fine, but it is funny.  Unfortunately, there are very few soap actors who the media find worthy of putting on TMZ or ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, or even on the tabloids.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: With the invent of TMZ and social media it has become much harder for public people to keep their private lives private.
Thom Bierdz: But they still are. There are huge stars that everyone knows are gay and are closeted.  They have good publicists.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Do you think the fact that people in general have to be more accountable for their actions on the Internet is a helpful thing?
Thom Bierdz: No.  I mean, this is America, and people get so mad and upset if someone says something that is not politically correct.  But everyday people have been saying these things as long as they can speak.  If a movie star says something they are on trial.  Even Charlie Sheen.  I think that at some point we will realize that these people we put on pedestals are human, and not always at their most evolved.  Most people consider them Gods only to be picked apart.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Have you ever been pedestalized and picked apart?
Thom Bierdz: In small relationships, yes.  I’ve never been that famous that I have been picked apart on a huge news show.  I don’t remember what it was like when I was first on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS.  Since then I’ve been honest about my flaws.  Nobody could possibly put me on a pedestal because I’m such a work in progress.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You have been so open about your struggles, even your surgeries.  Why?
Thom Bierdz: I want to contribute.   I want to be at service, I need to give something.  I heard a long time ago that the only thing you can give people is who you are because they can get everything else somewhere else.  The only thing I can give somebody is myself.  I wasn’t that good pretending to be someone else.   Plus I’m so amused by my audacity and the things I constantly do.  I crack myself up.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Like what?
Thom Bierdz: Like right now I’m single and dating.  The people I approach and how I approach...I’m used to my friends cringing and being embarrassed.  But I like that I don’t stop where most people do.  I’ll pull over on the street and ask a stranger out.  Most people wouldn’t do that.  I’m amused with myself.  Life is bigger than I’ve made it so far.  I’ve made it bigger.  I don’t know how you assess that as a therapist.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Remember, as a therapist I don’t search for fault in others.  I start with strengths and move forward from there.  I don’t give my opinion unless it is asked for.
Thom Bierdz: It’s hard for me to resist giving my opinion.  But I do it out of respect.  I never think I know more than anybody but I often say what I think without thinking too much about it.  As a matter of fact my New Year’s resolution is to “edit.” This is at the advice of a lot of my friends.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Privately or publicly?
Thom Bierdz: Both.  Like I’ve shared so many things on FaceBook.  They say, “Thom that is just not appropriate.”  But I respond, “You don’t get it!” If I was just a fine artist I would be a lot more inclined to share my every thought than I am being an actor who is worried about my employers and being hirable.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Say that again?
Thom Bierdz: I’m an actor and an artist.  Every actor I know, every celebrity on TV, is very careful about what they say because they don’t want to alienate a potential producer of viewer.  Artists have the freedom to do that.  I’m an actor and an artist, so I’m caught in between.  That is something I’m still dealing with.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Two years ago, THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS reintroduced Phillip Chancellor in a traditional Friday cliffhanger, much to the surprise of its audience.  Unlike most plot twists, this was not publicized or “spoiled” ahead of time.  How did your return come about?
Thom Bierdz: I adore Jeanne Cooper.  She’s a good friend.  I know she’ll be there for me at any point.  I went to her 80th birthday party, and there were a couple of people there from the show.  Then within a couple of months I was in talks with the producers about coming back as Phillip, as a gay man, who faked his death because he was gay.  And then we kept it a secret.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: This story aired during the summer of 2009, it was a very big deal, and then...nothing.  Phillip was soon out of town.  What happened?
Thom Bierdz: I can’t answer that.  I don’t have that information.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Was it a surprise for you that Phillip didn’t get a love story or a long-term story?
Thom Bierdz: No they were very upfront with me about how many episodes I would be in for those six months.  In my head I thought it would be more than that.  But it wasn’t.  Now I look back and see how many characters they have.  I’m a supporting character and this point and they have so many characters to use.  And that’s why they have been number one for so long, the audience is really invested in all the family members.  I love that.

I think I’m just a person who is impulsive and fast in my life, but not everyone else is like that.  So when you take a business like the THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS who are so proven and studied in what they do, they are not impulsive.  They are not fast.  So I understand their process.  I’m glad I was able to connect with my costars after twenty years.  It’s really cool because I’m a different person now.  I see how they are different, and not different.  It’s really cool to see how people care about you so deeply after twenty years.  It wasn’t just a job.  Remember, I’m this kid from Wisconsin.  Being on a soap opera was huge.  I mattered to them, they mattered to me, and they still matter to me.  That part was unpredictable to me.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So many of those first scenes in the hospital were with actresses you had worked with before such as Jeanne Cooper, Tricia Cast, and Jess Walton.  What was it like in between takes with this family of yours?
Thom Bierdz: I will tell you that I have a different relationship with each one of those ladies.  It is very special and it is different.  It’s all good.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Please come back for our final part in which we discuss the struggles of being an artist versus actor in society, as well as the pressures of looking young in the entertainment industry.  

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist now accepting new clients in New York City.  He is also the author of the popular book "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve," currently available at For more information about scheduling an appointment, please email him at [email protected].

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