Thom Bierdz Interview: Daytime's Lone Wolf on God, Art, Facebook and Y&R's Jeanne Cooper
Image attributed to Thom Bierdz
Noted for being the first openly gay actor on daytime television, Thom Bierdz is best known for portraying Phillip Chancellor III on The Young and the Restless. In 1989, shortly after he left the show to pursue film roles, his youngest brother Troy, a paranoid schizophrenic, beat their mother to death with a baseball bat. Bierdz recounts that experience and his own journey to forgiveness in a memoir entitled Forgiving Troy he penned about 20 years after the tragedy.
For several years, Bierdz has become a successful artist. He has captured landscapes, animals, portraits, his beloved dog Deen and more in vibrant, beautiful colors and is commissioned to paint past or current pets, couples and wedding pictures from people around the globe.
“Jeanne is the consummate performer. Here’s why I am so in awe of her. Not only has she been a breadwinner and supporter of her family for years and years and decades and decades and a wonderful actress, but off the stage, she is extremely accessible and makes herself available to any fan as much as any producer. She just doesn’t favor one over the other. But when she gets on stage, she’s very warm and makes very wry and funny comments, sometimes using profanity, between scenes that totally relax everybody. You wouldn’t expect Mrs. Chancellor to be like that. She’s not Mrs. Chancellor, but she’s really a well-tuned, well-liked professional. Wow.”
Bierdz can currently be seen guest starring in the hilarious new web series Old Dogs & New Tricks that premiered July 30, 2011.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Good morning, Thom. How’s the weather there at your beautiful mountain retreat?
Thom Bierdz: The weather’s great today! It has been a weird week because we had a real cold front come in which was somewhat unexpected because it has been so nice. But now, it’s just beautiful. It will be a sunny day for sure.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How far are you from the smog of Los Angeles?
Thom Bierdz: Ninety miles east.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you ever feel isolated there, or do you enjoy the solitude?
Thom Bierdz: I do feel isolated, and I love it this way. It’s so private. It’s amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The last time we spoke, the subject was primarily Forgiving Troy, which tells the true story of your mother being beaten to death by your brother Troy. Your personal journey of forgiveness was amazing.
Thom Bierdz: Thank you.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will the book be turned into a film?
Thom Bierdz: There are no plans for that at this point. I think it will be, but right now, there is no particular party that has taken it on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): If you could choose anyone in the world to play you, who would it be?
Thom Bierdz: Colin Farrell.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is Troy doing?
Thom Bierdz: He calls on occasion. He’s doing fine. The prison system’s psychiatric unit is a good place for somebody like him. His needs are met. Troy’s got a small world, which is probably comfortable for him. I’ve got a small world. It’s comfortable for me. He’s on medicine. He’s doing okay.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your artwork is just phenomenal!
Thom Bierdz: Well, thanks.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When did the serious interest in painting begin?
Thom Bierdz: Probably about ten years ago when I had an ex lover who showed my stuff to a Beverly Hills gallery. They really liked it, and he was really excited. He said, “Thom, you could actually make this your career.” That was something I never thought about. But I have made it my career since then.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What sort of feeling do you get after completing a painting?
Thom Bierdz: It has changed since we last talked because since then I’ve pretty much only been painting portraits. I’ve been commissioned to do that … portrait after portrait after portrait. So there’s a different feeling of finishing one of those than when you just sit down not knowing what is going to happen, and this art brut or expressionism piece emerges, and then that’s exciting. It’s instant gratification. It’s complex because then I think, “Oh, wait a minute. Oh, that’s going on inside me? Oh, that’s what that is?” It’s really fun, and I’m sure it’s healthy to empty my brain like that, but when I do portraits, there is a different satisfaction because I’m just so excited that I can do the likenesses so well.
I know that people really love a portrait of their past dog or their wedding picture, and I know that they’re going to have it over a fireplace and be looking at it the rest of their lives. It makes me feel good that I can do something like that that is important to other people. So there are different feelings.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you enjoy painting portraits more because your clients are so satisfied?
Thom Bierdz: Well, the portrait stuff is work because it’s hard to do. Realistic stuff is hard to do. Something that is supposed to look a certain way is hard to do. It’s much more fun to not have to make a black spot there or a red spot there exactly right. It’s much more fun not to do that. So it’s work, but it’s work I enjoy so much because here I am in my mountain cabin surrounded by green trees, listening to Turner Classic Movies all day, getting up, eating my favorite foods and playing with my dog. It’s a great job.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there any specific films that inspire your creative process?
Thom Bierdz: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That’s my favorite film, and it just played this week. I think that’s the best film ever. My boyfriend was visiting, so I said, “Oh, you’ve got to watch this!” He didn’t like it as much as I liked it. To me, it’s an extremely realistic portrayal of dysfunctional relationships where they’ve got these backhanded comments and repression and co-dependency. It’s just a psychiatrist’s dream (or nightmare) to listen to that film. Every line is great, and it totally makes sense. I’m a huge Sandy Dennis fan, always have been.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You can see some of that dysfunctional stuff on Facebook (laughs).
Thom Bierdz: I pretty much stay away from that, but yeah, I can certainly see it (laughs). Do you participate in a lot of Facebook drama?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Not intentionally (laughs). I like the fact that you can reconnect with people from your past, and then we also use social media to promote several professional ventures, but some confuse “self-promotion” with “bragging.” Have you found that to be true?
Thom Bierdz: Well, I do the same thing. I’m constantly self-promoting, but that’s what I do. In no way am I putting anybody else down, in no way am I saying that I’m better than anybody else, and I’m sure you’re not doing that either. It is just self-promotion. I don’t see a problem with it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You can definitely reach the entire world on social media, and there is also the chance of running into a very few that wish to upset the applecart.
Thom Bierdz: I usually think that hurt people hurt people. When somebody all of a sudden shows up on my page like a new friend, and they’re just so negative and trying to hurt, I think that he or she is a damaged person, somebody who would be in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? They’re going to find their drama and try to hurt somebody. You just unfriend them at that point. But I usually don’t take it personal.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I believe that usually that person is unhappy with themselves, so they lash out at others.
Thom Bierdz: Totally.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You ask your Facebook friends at least one question every day. Do these questions just pop in your head?
Thom Bierdz: Yeah, the questions just do pop up. It’s stuff I think about and want to share.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The other day, you asked, “What do you think makes you interesting?” Let me ask you that question.
Thom Bierdz: I think I’m pretty entertaining because I’m not very conventional at all, so I’ve really sought out my own particular path. I usually don’t think like the majority of people. I think people find my questions interesting because it’s coming from a different place. It’s coming from a non-conformist.
That’s probably what’s most interesting about me, the fact that I’m not going along with groups. I’m just choosing to think for myself more because I totally believe the universe is set up in a way that anything is possible, and that’s what I’m continuing to go for. Does that sound arrogant?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Not at all. “And on the 8th day God was sarcastic.” I need some help in understanding that Facebook post (laughs).
Thom Bierdz: That just occurred to me yesterday, so I posted that. If you believe the world was created in six days, that would’ve been very difficult. When I’m doing huge projects, sometimes things get so complex that I get sarcastic even with the computer or whatever. So it just occurred to me again to personify God and give him some human qualities.
I think it’s really interesting how a lot of people that follow certain scriptures think God had certain human qualities. Like, you should fear God because he’s mean. He’ll punish you. Then I think, well okay, what about God’s sex? Wouldn’t he have sexual feelings? What if I pictured God naked? People get really upset, but all I’m doing is saying, “Look, let’s just question the authenticity of your belief system. Is it limited or is it not limited?” God being sarcastic was just a funny thought to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I remember in the book you discussed being raised Catholic.
Thom Bierdz: Right.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is your faith today?
Thom Bierdz: I believe in God. I just don’t believe in religion. I don’t believe in organized anything pretty much. I believe in the Law of Attraction. I believe in God. But as a gay child growing up in the 60s and 70s, religion was a horrible thing. To make me think I was dirty and shameful was a horrible thing, and I still have bitterness toward that. That’s why I rebel against that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about your film that has something to do with the mid-life crisis of a gay soap star (laughs).
Thom Bierdz: I’m real excited that with this amazing computer technology we have. We can make a complete movie by ourselves! Even though I’m an isolated man, I have just finished making a 90-minute film completely by myself. I worked the camera, edited it, wrote it, and I played all five characters. So I’m real excited to look for a distributor now. It’s really funny, and I enjoyed doing it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your boyfriend wasn’t interested in co-starring?
Thom Bierdz: No. This really wasn’t about a mid-life crisis. It was about me being visited by the “actor self” from Hollywood. My mid-life crisis had nothing to do with love or boyfriends or anything like that, so they’re not really included in the film.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Interesting (laughs). Is getting married something you might want to do one day?
Thom Bierdz: Again, I’m a non-conformist. I really don’t understand. To me, it’s absurd that 20 year olds look at each other and say, “I want to marry you.” They get pregnant and have kids. They say stuff like, “I’m going to love you forever … just you.” To me, its nuts! I can’t believe anybody would do that! How do they know how they’re going to feel in 10 or 20 years? Oh, my God.
Of course, I’m a child of a broken home. My dad left mom with four kids. It was extremely difficult for her, so I picked up on that. I think it’s absurd for anybody to promise something like that. I just can’t figure that out. But I think gay people should have the same rights of making those absurd promises as everyone else (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I have not yet watched an episode, but from what I understand, Old Dogs & New Tricks is basically about the romantic relationships of older gay men.
Thom Bierdz: Yeah. That’s a pretty accurate description. It’s equally as sexual as it is romantic because some of the characters are very slutty, so the show is very racy in those areas. My character is a sportscaster, and he has a boyfriend named Muscles, and they are working on their relationship. They’re meeting a few snags, which are being revealed right about now, so I won’t give it away.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there any big differences between acting in a web series and in a TV show?
Thom Bierdz: There really are not especially with this web series. There are so many talented people involved behind the scenes, so it wasn’t just one or two people that were running it. They have a scripts supervisor, several camera people, a director, producers, actors, lighting, makeup and hair. It was much more involved than I really expected from a web series.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I can’t believe The Young and the Restless has been on the air for 40 years. Any chance Phillip Chancellor III will return to Genoa City?
Thom Bierdz: I hope so. I can’t imagine that they would not do that. I have no idea, though. It’s not up to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): When you were on the show, did you ever approach the writers about giving Phillip a relationship storyline?
Thom Bierdz: Yes. Maria Bell said, “Thom, there is no issue as far as being gay.” I know that’s in her heart. She had planned that, but I believe she had to answer to a higher power that essentially nixed the gay romantic storyline probably because Y&R is so huge and airs in different countries around the world, some of which are not open to homosexual relationships. This is my guess at this point.
I really don’t know the reason. But I know Y&R has had tons and tons of gay fans for 40 years and gay support for 40 years. I think it would really behoove them to devote some of their five hours of airtime every week to a gay storyline. To me, it’s unfathomable that they have not done that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jeanne Cooper, who has played Katherine Chancellor on Y&R for about 40 years, was hospitalized recently in critical condition with a severe infection. Have you been to the hospital?
Thom Bierdz: I just told her assistant over the phone a few days ago to tell Jeanne that I love her. That’s all. I haven’t been there.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jeanne is obviously loved around the world judging from the thousands of “get well” wishes on her Facebook page and on son Corbin Bernsen’s wall. She has been called a “force of nature.”
Thom Bierdz: Jeanne is the consummate performer. Here’s why I am so in awe of her. Not only has she been a breadwinner and supporter of her family for years and years and decades and decades and a wonderful actress, but off the stage, she is extremely accessible and makes herself available to any fan as much as any producer. She just doesn’t favor one over the other. But when she gets on stage, she’s very warm and makes very wry and funny comments, sometimes using profanity, between scenes that totally relax everybody. You wouldn’t expect Mrs. Chancellor to be like that. She’s not Mrs. Chancellor, but she’s really a well-tuned, well-liked professional. Wow.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She has a wicked sense of humor.
Thom Bierdz: Yeah. But she’s a caretaker. She’s a nurturer. She does it for the good of the whole. Jeanne realizes she can bring what she has to the set, make everybody even more comfortable, and she does that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I wish her a complete, speedy recovery. Thom, I’d be remiss not to mention Deen, your loyal companion and top Chihuahua there at the mountain retreat.
Thom Bierdz: It’s funny because Deen and I just had eye contact. He showed me he wanted to go outside, so I opened the door, and now he’s outside. It’s too cold (shouts to Deen)! The sun’s not here yet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’d suggest everyone on Facebook flip to your page and check out your photos of Deen in different positions and sweaters. You have definitely given him an eclectic personality.
Thom Bierdz: Well, yesterday I put a beer bottle under his arm and took a picture of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Shameful (laughs). What are his favorite things to do there in the wilderness?
Thom Bierdz: He’s such a follower and such a great companion. Deen’s not like most dogs that want to run out in the woods or want to do dog stuff. He’s very complacent and low maintenance. He likes to go for a walk, but he doesn’t really tell me he wants to go for a walk. When I say, “Let’s go for a walk.” He goes for a walk. When I say, “Eat.” He eats. Deen’s just so easy. We did have a bigger dog, and I think that’s why Deen is such a follower because the bigger, older dog was the alpha at that point, but he died several years ago.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You know what they say, dogs are magnets for possible romantic relationships.
Thom Bierdz: This is Lake Arrowhead, not West Hollywood (laughs). It’s totally different.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You do have a little town there, correct?
Thom Bierdz: Absolutely, but it’s really just a beautiful, secluded mountain village. Deen and I usually go to the village in the mornings to get sun because my place doesn’t get sun until the afternoon. There are very few people at all in the mornings, so we pretty much get this whole secluded peninsula with shops to ourselves. I should take him down there today. We’ll walk, and he needs his nails cut.
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