Friday, July 8, 2011

Thom Christopher's "Hawk" Is Soaring, The WLS Interview Part Two

In Part One of our interview with Emmy-winning Thom Christopher, the beloved soap legend discussed his cult following as "Hawk" from the sci-fi NBC series BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY, as well as how this theater trained thespian found his way to daytime television.  In Part Two below, we discuss his commitment to helping others with HIV/AIDS, his chemistry with Tonja Walker on ONE LIFE TO LIVE, as well as Carlo's "homoerotic" desire for Cristian (David Fumero) on ONE LIFE.  

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Aside from your acting you have been involved on the Board of Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS. 
Thom Christopher: Please tell folks this isn’t over.  It’s an organization that truly is a shield between the enemy AIDS and humanity.  Tom Viola and everyone in that office kills themselves working so hard.  It is an extraordinary organization.  It’s mission is magnificent.  From its inception it has always given from the heart.  It’s incredible. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: We were so sad to hear that this was ABC Daytime’s last year participating in this.
Thom Christopher: Yes, I’m sorry that happened.   Mickey Dwyer Dobbin and Paul Rauch were so good to me and letting me tie in Broadway Cares with benefits. “Night and Day” was the name of an early benefit I did in 1993. I had the idea of taking actors who were on Daytime, who had appeared on Broadway or Off-Broadway in musicals, and recreating their numbers.  It was spectacular.  ABC was so supportive.  It was a tremendous success.  Only compassion love and understanding provides a defense in the presence of this enemy.  We must never lose track of that.  I think the mission of Broadway Cares fulfills that.  My fear is that the idea there is so much medication might make us slip. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: That is where my prevention work comes in.  I do education and outreach about HIV Vaccine Trials in New York City, that are intended to prevent the spread of infection. 
Thom Christopher: I’m glad you’re doing what you’re doing.  For years I spoke in prisons.  I was doing volunteer work with The Fortune Society.  I would say to women, “It is your right to fight this monster.”  You can’t let it sleep.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Why did Carlo Hesser catch on with audiences?
Thom Christopher: I think at that point it was the storylines, the relationship with Renee, the fact that the writers had courage.  The joke was always that someone would say hello to Carlo and he would answer for the next two pages.  I spoke in monologues, they don’t do that anymore.  It was wonderful.  Paul [Rauch] made this wonderful human who happened to be corrupt, but he thinks he’s not.  Carlo is an outsider.  The great thing about doing “heavies,” or bad guys is to always go for the humanity.  Think of the most evil of people.  If I played Machiavelli he would be played with a man of such incredible tastes, of gentleness, of fondness. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Can you relate to being an outsider in your own life?
Thom Christopher: Yes.  And I was 50-years-old when I went on ONE LIFE.  Yes, I can relate to that.  But I think it was also courageous of the writers to have a bald headed man, and a woman like Renee, and subsequently Tonja Walker.  There was sadomasochism in that relationship.  The idea of a mature sexual love being portrayed in a very erotic way was wonderful.  I loved it.  Later to work with David Fumero was incredible.  When actors trust each other it reads.  I can can sit in the theater, or a film, and say, “They are trusting each other,” or “they are having a problem.”  It’s that one little added step that you walk, that you make a move that turns into inspiration.  You do that little thing...Lawrence Olivier called it “dancing on a razor blade.”

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: You and Tonja had so much chemistry.
Thom Christopher: I have to say, I mean it from the soul, I say it over and over: If an actor looks bad in a scene with Tonja it is your fault, not hers.  She makes you look good.  We had a trusting relationship that likes of which I have had with nobody.  I’ve not had an acting relationship like that with anyone but her. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What makes Tonja so special?
Thom Christopher: It was an absolute trust because we knew what we were doing.  We could look into each other’s eyes and know that she wasn’t happy or I wasn’t happy, and we would stop.  There were times when we would stumble, get off the script, stumbling with lines.  She would feed my lines right on the air. She would look right in my eyes with “Don’t worry Baby, I’ve got ya.”  That is absolute trust.  I make the analogy that I know that if I came in the door on cue and there was a nail sticking out that made me trip, she would come in the room in character and pull me back and continue the scene.  There were times we were off script and Paul said, “Don’t stop the camera, keep this rolling.”  That to me was the ultimate compliment. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was the experience on LOVING like?
Thom Christopher: I had  a great time on LOVING playing Dante.  He was an Arab, playing an American, playing an Arab.  I loved it.  Again, everyone trusted, and they let me go with it.  I had a great time with Christopher Marcantel (Curtis Alden) who I put in a cage.  He also let me do what I was a lot of give and take.  He knew I was going to be throwing it out to him and I knew he would be throwing it out at me.  There was a wonderful trust.

David Fumero was like that.  When Frank Valentini asked me if I wanted to bring Carlo back in a storyline involving a mind device, I immediately said, “I want to do it.  I love it.  But I have to ask you something.  If you are asking about mind control it can’t be "The Great Sebastian." It has to be homoerotic.  If you want to control somebody you have to control their mind.  And if you control their mind then you control their sexuality.” Frank said, “Hmmm, you’re awfully hippy dippy for me but go ahead.” 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: So from your angle, all those scenes between Carlo and Cristian were...
Thom Christopher: Homoerotic.  I said they had to be.  I told Larry Carpenter, our director, that that was where I thought these scenes should go.  He said, “Don’t worry about it, if it goes too far I’ll take care of it.”  Larry Carpenter is such an artist and such a gentleman.  He did almost all of the prison sequences and boat sequences.  He said, “I had a heyday with those scenes, they were brilliant on everybody’s part.”  Roger Mooney’s set, the camerawork, everybody was dancing the same dance.  We were all part of the same ballet.  I have letters from some of the background people that I cherish, some of the guys that were in that prison sequence because we were all working together, we were all going for the same objective.  Daytime is very exciting, I would never get that role anywhere else.  With the prison stuff Frank said to go with it.  The in camera bit happened when I would whisper in David’s ear so all you could see what was happening on David’s face, which was exquisite. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What did you whisper in his ear?
Thom Christopher: “I’ll have you do whatever I want you to do.”  I did push-ups on him on the floor.  It was wild, it was insane.  But that is how control works.  You can’t just announce, “I’m going to have mind control.” You’re not going to swing a diamond tiara in front of the their face and have them by hypnotized.  It doesn’t work like that.  It’s seduction.  You want to control someone you control their sexuality.  I’m corrupting you now, I feel terrible.

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What you’re describing makes so much more sense than the cartoonish one-dimensional mustache twirling bad guy that soaps so often portray.  We know they want to control people’s lives, or the weather, but we don’t really know or care why. 
Thom Christopher: When I was living out in California around 1985, somebody called my agent and said, “We understand Thom Christopher is living here now, doing nighttime work.”  They were going to have a detective who is a murderer who is a transvestite.  I don’t know if it was ever done. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: What was it like to be reunited with Paul Rauch on GUIDING LIGHT in 1999?
Thom Christopher: I loved it.  He took Dax and made him into something.  I had such a great time with the character.  I never quite knew what was going to be happening from day to day but I had a good time. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Dax's direction and focused changed a lot.
Thom Christopher: Yes, but I had fun.  That was a great romp.  I have been very fortunate in these roles.  Very few get these opportunities and I think that is because of the boldness of daytime.  There is a language in the writing of daytime.  Sometimes that language is brilliant and I will go to the grave defending it.  Sometimes it just works.  But you have to remember that people creating that language behind the camera are grinding this out every day five days a week, 365 days a year.  That’s enormous task go create a special literary language. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Especially when talented writers are stifled creatively by interfering networks and execs.
Thom Christopher: They are going with the mold.  They try to go with what will appeal.  But you go back to Carlo, and you look at me with Tonja Walker and Patricia Elliot.  It was like the Volcano Stromboli with Tonja, and with Patricia it was like a gondola in Venice.  These were the relationships that made the writing so wonderful. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: Given that we are nearing the end of ONE LIFE TO LIVE, has there been any talk of Carlo coming back to Llanview one more time?
Thom Christopher: I don’t know but I’ve certainly made it public I would love to be there for one last hurrah.  I haven’t heard from Frank but I would love it.  Just one more little dot on the character. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: In 2008 his daughter Talia showed up and ultimately had him drugged and found in bed with another man in Mendorra. 
Thom Christopher: Yes, that was strange.  I never quite got it.  It isn’t up there with me for the best of the best.  But then the boat sequences with David were excellent, they had us end up in South America.  That was the last time you saw Carlo. 

WE LOVE SOAPS TV: If you could go back to the beginning of you career in theater and give yourself a piece of advice knowing what you know now, would would that be?
Thom Christopher: That’s a brilliant question!  I think the first would be, “Keep your mouth shut.”  I’m just being honest.  The second would be, “You’re awfully good. Trust yourself constantly.”

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Therapist in New York City who specializes in treating  depression, stress management, anger management, ageism, and grief/loss issues. 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 or a speaking engagement, please email him at [email protected].

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