Thom Bierdz has been on both sides of the gay actor debate. He was in the closet when he first stepped into the role of Phillip Chancellor III on daytime’s The Young and the Restless 20 years ago, and he more recently had the rare opportunity to return to the role, once he—and the character—came out. Now a successful author and painter—and bachelor who’s looking for love—the multihyphenate reflects on his career and artistic vision, as well as tips on cosmetic surgery.
Why do you think there aren’t more out actors in daytime?
The gay actors I know have not explained this to me personally, so I am only guessing that they are afraid of losing their acting careers. When I began acting I was told by my reps to “stay in the closet” as it could hurt my career. So I did, and the pain of that secret kept me from enjoying the very success I was beginning to have. I left The Young and the Restless after three years. Fast forward two decades. After coming out I had a unique opportunity in 2009 to play the same part I did 20 years ago on Y&R, Phillip Chancellor III, who was straight. And now all these years later, as in my own life, the writers have brilliantly written Phillip as gay, and as a son, brother, father, with an ex-wife he adores. My character on the soap has been loved since he was born in the ’70s, and now viewers—even those who think they don’t know any gay people—know Phillip is gay and that the actor playing him is also gay; so they have to/get to experience Phillip as a multidimensional gay man who is as worthy of love as the other legacy characters on daytime.
How has your memoir, Forgiving Troy, helped you personally?
It helped me to see the turning points that capsized my brothers and mother. Deciphering this, I can avoid familiar pitfalls and remain productive. For 20 years I have fixated on why my brother killed, and what I have concluded is that people kill because they feel powerless—even schizophrenics like my brother Troy. I try to encourage people to feel empowered. When people email me to say they are frightened of their schizophrenic relative, I share that they need to find some way to empower them. I truly believe that empowered people do not kill. I have shared—bared—my soul and most intimate, embarrassing breakdowns in this book because it related to my brother’s dysfunction and him killing Mom. And it actually feels comfortable for me to be so exposed. I feel when I am sharing my intimate secrets I have a reason to be alive.
As a bachelor, what do you look for in a guy?
I have had the good fortune to have had many long-term relationships with some terrific guys, all different types. Physical attraction is important, but more so is chemistry, and you don’t know that until you meet in person. I always choose guys who are honest and kind to strangers. I operate my Facebook Thom Bierdz page and respond to every message whether it’s business-related or personal. I am ready to date and fall in love, so Facebook me!
What are some of your style and beauty tips to impress?
I know that when I dress to impress it usually backfires because I am trying to fit in. Trying to be someone I’m not doesn’t work for me because I tried for so long to be someone Hollywood wanted. I am totally a nonconformist these days, and rarely wear suits or fancy clothes like my TV character does. I find men desire me more when I am my most authentic, and for me I am most comfortable unshaven, with a flannel shirt, missing buttons, old leather jacket, jeans, loafers, paint splatters on my hands or face. So what are my tips? I know it sounds corny and cliché, but just be who you are. Style, like art, is very subjective. Be original. Ultimately, what people find attractive and sexy is confidence. There is nothing more attractive in my opinion than someone who has a genuine sense of who they are. Quality of character is more impressive than quality of clothes.
What cosmetic surgeries have you had?
I have had lipo on my neck and pec area and abs to make them more defined. I have had my ears pinned back, veneers on my teeth and great skincare and nutritional supplements as well as a little facial filler, cheek contouring and Botox. It is important to do just what will enhance you and not go overboard. I am happy with the results and it makes me feel better about myself as well as keeps me at my best for acting jobs.
Do you think cosmetic surgery is required for actors to succeed?
Look what is on every channel on your TV. Even the newscasters look like supermodels. The people in power hire who they think are great looking. It’s sad and it’s unfair; it’s unethical and unevolved, but ‘good looks’—which is so subjective—and sex appeal sells. Yes, I would say that some cosmetic surgery can help most actors stay hirable.
What inspires your pet paintings?
I have many styles of art on my website and didn’t know I could learn realism until I painted my own dogs. Since then, people have been commissioning me to paint theirs.
How do you determine what to paint?
Either the art collector has a very specific portrait in mind and we work on that vision, or a client shows me their room and says, paint a piece to make this room sing. I have done many abstracts or Matisse-inspired pieces along with Warhol repetitive images for people’s homes.
What inspired your idea to paint straight celebrities as gay couples?
In early November I was lying awake asking God to direct me—show me what to do with my life, because I still feel unsure. This was the time when all the gay-bashing and bullying was so prevalent in the news. Then it occurred to me that what I could do to help make a difference in the world was paint 30 likeable straight icons as 15 gay couples—because we have NO out gay movie stars or huge politicians. I painted Obama slow-dancing with a boyfriend. So my intent was to show the inevitable future when famous guys would be proud and out and married.
What led you to create the American Art Awards?
In 2006 I realized I could host americanartawards.com and not be the judge, but get galleries to do the judging. I now have 25 fantastic galleries across the United States who judge the art submitted to American Art Awards every year. They select 300 winners in over 50 categories. This year we are having a free category for bullied gay teens. My hope is to show America, in these expressionistic paintings, what bullied and gay teens feel and look like.
What are some of the submissions from gay teens like?
Haunting. I can recognize the pain and torment—you will too. We all used to feel that little and persecuted. Times have changed!