Gordon Thomson celebrated fifty years working as an actor. This is an impressive accomplishment for the theater trained, Canadian born actor who performed Shakespeare on the stage before becoming best known to television audiences as Adam Carrington in the 1980s primetime soap opera Dynasty. But Gordon Thomson has also enjoyed numerous roles in film, primetime and daytime. After Dynasty ended its network run in 1989, Gordon Thomson was cast on the daytime drama Santa Barbara as Mason Capwell. In addition, he appeared in the webseries Devanity and Winterthorne. I recently spoke to him. Read what he had to say below.
What did you enjoy most about playing Adam Carrington?
“That’s a very good question. There’s nothing I didn’t enjoy about playing Adam. I never played a part like him before or since. Ten years before I played Adam, I was playing Jesus in Godspell in Toronto with an extraordinary company which has become legendary actually. Adam was unique. All parts are unique. I don’t care if it’s a weekly rep in the mousetrap which I’ve done or Adam Carrington or Doll’s House or whatever. Every part is unique and exciting to play unless you’re a dud of an actor and I’m not. Adam was very easy to embrace because first of all, the introduction was with one of the best character actors of her time, Lurene Tuttle is her name. She played my grandmother. When I walked onto the set, my first response when I saw her was ‘my God, they’re doing this up well.’ I thought they hired a superb actress with whom I can work. I’m not sure if that was in their intention or not. It got me off to a very spoiled start. She was absolutely wonderful and that remains, oddly enough, my favorite from all the years and scenes I did on the show because of its content. It was extremely well written. It was simple, direct. It had a wonderful reveal. It was a lovely surprise in the course of the scene. From there, it just seemed very few variations in the pleasure I took. I didn’t care for raping Kirby. That was very difficult. Kathleen Beller is a wonderful actor. At the time she had extraordinary long hair and I was terrified of hurting her. But she said ‘go ahead, do what you have to do’ and I did. I didn’t hurt her, I don’t think. She was great to work with under very difficult circumstances. It’s a long rambling answer but there’s nothing glib about the pleasure I took in playing Adam. People sometimes ask me what Adam and I have in common and my only response is that we look alike. That was all we had in common unless you want to get into the nitty gritty of every adult old enough to vote. We all have dark sides. We all have things that we wish we didn’t have to cope with. I was also very lucky because they wrote pretty well for Adam. I think that he was the most interesting part for a man on the show frankly from beginning to end. I was very glad that I had, at the time, sixteen years under my belt mostly in Canada, almost entirely in Canada, working in all media (theater, illusion, film, musicals, revue, radio) everything because I was well equipped as an actor technically to deal with getting around with what was often inadequate lines. You couldn’t toy with these toy lines but you could improve the actual dialogue with a little snip here or there. Adam was challenging. He was deeply unpleasant. He was very sexy. He was, in his way, mesmerizing in the way I understand snakes can be. I can’t stand snakes. It was wonderful to play somebody who was very juicy. He had all these facets. The only part that was more fun to play was Mason on Santa Barbara. We’ll get into him. But Adam was a huge treat to play. I guess it’s a very large compliment when people say ‘Gordon has made it a specialty playing dark characters like Adam.’ Well, I haven’t. He was the only dark character I’ve played. Adam was a treat and a half. You don’t play qualities. You play the man and you don’t judge him. That’s what I did with Adam. I didn’t judge him when he tried to kill Jeff with the paint.”
What was your biggest challenge in playing Adam Carrington?
“My test scene with Joan. I thought to myself they laid every single trap that a bad actor could fall into. I thought they had written this to test me. How good is this guy. Joan thought that I was far too old to play her son and she was right. But we did the test and she realized that I knew what I was doing which was nice because I did and so did she. Joan is very good actor. Sometimes people forget that. It was a test of my technical skills, how can I avoid these pitfalls and that was the scene I remembered the most because we did it twice, the test and our first scene together.”
Dallas returned to television in 2012 as a new version. Would you like to see Dynasty return to television?
“I know I would. We all would. The last time we all got together, almost all of us, was for an autograph show in January of last year here in Los Angeles. We brought it up. Al Corley, Jack, LeAnn, Kathleen, Pamela Sue and I…we all had lunch together which was wonderful. I was so thrilled to see them all thriving. Anyway, we talked about it and I heard that two people were against the idea. I thought that Esther (Shapiro, the creator of Dynasty) was against it. But it turns out that Al communicates with them all the time. Al is now a film producer. He has produced several films. Anyway, Al said that Esther is all for it. The problem it turns out that Sumner Redstone’s company owns Dynasty and he’s refusing to release it. Everyone I talk to wants to do it. Joan, Pamela Sue, JJ (John James), Tracy Scoggins, Jack. The only person that doesn’t want to do it is Emma Samms but luckily we have two Fallons and one of them would love to do it. Around the same time we appeared on an afternoon chat show with Christina Ferrari. I don’t know the name of it. I did some cooking and we all got together talked about who we would be if we came back. John James and I would clearly be running Denver Carrington and Pamela Sue would say and me so Fallon would be in there running Denver Carrington. I don’t know where Steven would be. I’m not sure if Heather would be involved. I hope that she would be. I certainly hope she would be. The mind reels. Tracy Scoggins has decided that Monica and Adam (I think that they’re third cousins) would get married, they have a son and their son turns out to be gay. I think that for Adam, the homophobe of all time, having a gay son today would drive him nuts. He wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. That’s one story right there. Jeff and Adam, their mutual loathing would just grow with whose in charge of the company. Somebody said one of us is the governor of Colorado. I think Jeff won the election and Adam would demand a recount. Alexis would live in a penthouse in New York so she swans in and puts in an appearance. I don’t know how Linda would fit in but she would. I would hope that she would. That would truly be sensational. Alot of people would like it to happen. I know that the actors would. I don’t know who would be the head of writing it. Michael Caruso, perhaps. He knows as much about Dynasty and Dallas as anyone living. I didn’t watch the Dallas reboot. I don’t watch much television actually, but Michael said the problem with the Dallas reboot was that they didn’t use the history correctly. They disregarded some of the history of the show. They ignored facts with storylines that people who were Dallas fans would remember in minute detail. You can’t cheat an audience. You can’t deceive them when you’re dealing with an iconic show. Have respect for its past certainly build on it. I would love it if we did it and have Michael as a co-producer to mine the store to make sure nothing was cheated about the past on Dynasty because it’s a very rich one. We were very rich. We were all very beautiful, very screwed up. It was lovely to watch. I remember my first trip abroad for the show was to Norway. I had never talked to socialist journalists before. This young woman said something like (this was 1984), “Mr. Thomson, don’t you think it’s immoral to partake in a show that is so immoral in its output. It is showing the audience immorality. She went on and on. I said, ‘Excuse me, do you enjoy holidays.’ She said, “yes, of course. Everybody does.’ I said, “that’s what we provide, a hour of holiday every week. That’s what my job is.’ That shut her right up. I delighted myself. I said to myself, “Good thinking, Thomson. Quick on your feet ‘ (laughs). But it was the right answer. To assume anything else about the show was silly.”
You have appeared in both film and television. Which medium do you prefer?
“That’s a very tough thing. Each one has its huge pluses. For me it’s theater actually because in my generation the theater certainly (and sadly this is no longer the case) was where we all began. When I auditioned for the artistic director of the Stratford Festival in 1964 for the position of apprentice and I was longing for the job, he was wonderfully vocal about how much he liked what he heard and saw. He asked me about theater schools. The National School in Canada, which is a very good one. He rescued me. He said that acting is a little like carpentry. The way you become a carpenter is to be an apprentice to a master carpenter. That’s exactly true for acting. I got the job. I spent five months with a classical company. We did Henry IV, parts 1 & 2, Julius Caesar, a production of The Cherry Orchard directed by a man named John Hirsch. I was lucky to be in The Cherry Orchard and watch some of the best actors in North America and certainly in Canada, work on these great plans. I watched. I listened. I learned. The fencing coach was a man named Patrick Crean, a very sweet, old military guy. He was Errol Flynn’s stand in and stunt double for all the great swashbuckling fight scenes. That’s how good Paddy was. I’m talking about the beginning of theatrical life and working in one of the greatest buildings the Stratford Festival building. A thrust stage, about a thousand people. The reaction is immediate when you go on. It’s thrilling to walk out knowing that you’re giving the audience a unique experience every single time. When Olivier was about to work on a thrust stage for the first time in his life, he asked Plummer what it was like and Plummer said ‘you can’t lie’ which I think was a great answer. Because you can’t. Your back is to someone on stage every time and they see you. So you’ve got to tell the truth. This is a long answer, but for me, it’s the theater. I’m open to any kind of theater work. A friend of mine, Linda Thorson, is doing the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival. She just opened last Wednesday in The Taming of the Shrew. Linda and I worked together in the Arena Theater in Buffalo. I’ve known her for forty years or more. Anyway, she loves it. She’s thriving. I would love to work in the theater again. I love to work period. It doesn’t matter the medium. In acting, you have to tell the truth. The challenge of facing a bunch of people who paid their $25, $35, $150 whatever it may be to watch you and your fellow cast mates present a play or a musical, you owe it to them and to yourself to do your job as best as you can because you’re very lucky to do the job that you do. Acting is one of the few jobs that you do solely because you love it because there’s about a ninety-nine percent unemployment rate.”
You were wonderful as Mason Capwell on Santa Barbara. I really enjoyed your scenes with Jed Allen and Nancy Grahn. Are there any aspects of your personality that you brought to this role?
“I think that frankly there are aspects that every actor brings of himself to every role that he plays because your tools are solely your imagination, your body, your face, your mind, your intellect. So yes, there were parts of me that were in Mason. Again, we looked alike. Lane Davies got the Emmy Award. I wish that I had gotten one because I worked my butt off. Mason was a chatty Charlie. I had about thirty-five pages of dialogue, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. That’s an enormous amount of dialogue. I don’t know how I learned it but I did. The writers knew that I could learn large amounts of complicated dialogue and that I could probably do it justice so they wouldn’t let up. I earned every cent I made on Santa Barbara and then some. It was probably the best part I had in front of a camera bar none. Mason was such a treat because he was every wonderful thing a man could be. He was intelligent. He was passionate. He was funny. He was mad about his wife. Susceptible to beautiful women. Certainly no saint. And juicy. I was lucky to play him. I remember John Conboy who was the Executive Producer at the time called my agent made the offer and my agent responded to it. I thought ‘I’m a primetime guy, what’s this daytime stuff.’ Fortunately we chatted and I thought ‘okay.’ I wasn’t busy at the time. Dynasty had just gone off the air the previous year. I was chomping at the bit to keep working. I’m glad I had the good sense to say yes. I knew Terry (Lester) off camera. But I never watched the show. I never watched Lane. I remember running into Peter Mark Richman at an autograph show. I mentioned Santa Barbara and he got snippy and snobby about the fact that it was a soap opera. I said to him ‘Excuse me, the writing is wonderful. I’m a classically trained actor of the Stratford Festival. I was really offended that he didn’t seem to appreciate how very lucky we as actors are to do what we do and to make a living at it. I was angry that he looked down on something as wonderful as Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara was a wonderful way to make a living.”
Have you ever considered directing?
“I haven’t. I don’t know if I could. I know that Pamela Sue is directing now quite a bit. She’s a very smart woman. You know what I think I’d be very good at because I’m a very good editor of material when I have to be, I think I would be an extremely good acting coach.”
You starred in two Michael Caruso projects, Devanity and Winterthorne. Can you tell me about your experiences working on these projects?
First of all, Michael will be, with any luck, the next Aaron Spelling I think. Michael has enormous energy. He also loves whatever he’s doing. He sought me out for Devanity. He wrote it with me in mind to play Preston Regis. Also he collected a very good group of people. I think that the web series format is going to become the face of entertainment. Devanity and Winterthorne were a huge treat. I enjoyed working with Andrea Evans on Devanity. I worked with her before. Martha Madison was a wonderful leading lady on Winterthorne. Face like a flower and a very good actor, a very good business woman and alot of fun. She said to me ‘you’re so wise’ (laughs). I said ‘what?’ I felt like a newbie everyday. Then I said to myself well, you are now older than John Forsythe was when Dynasty went off the air. How wonderful it must be as a performer to spend your 60s as the star of one of the most popular and iconic nighttime shows of the decade. That’s marvelous. John had a great life. When he died in 2010, we all attended a memorial service for him at the Hollywood Park. It was lovely to see everybody there. But John had a great life. He had a wonderful career, a wonderful marriage to Julie, two daughters that he was mad about. You can’t ask for more than that. Michael Caruso is working on something for Ken Corday, Ladies of the Lake. It’s a movie for television and he’s working very hard on it. It’s in post production as we speak. It’s a very long, arduous process. Winterthorne had wonderful virtual production value with its lighting and framing. That was done by a very talented man, Rodolphe Portier. Anyway, I would love for Winterthorne to come back. I’m now the Blake Carrington of that set (laughs). That’s fine with me.”
Are there any current projects that you are able to share with us?
“Nothing at the moment. Things are going to start getting busy towards the end of August, beginning of September so I’ll be auditioning for whomever wants to have a look. That’s my plan. There’s nothing immediate. Ladies of the Lake I’ve done. I’m not sure when that will be released. I would love to have another series.”