The TV Watercooler had the opportunity to chat with The Bold and the Beautiful star Matthew Atkinson about his new storyline on the soap, where his character Thomas has begun having conversations with a mannequin that resembles his ex, Hope (Annika Noelle).
Atkinson dives deep into his character’s mindset, explores the complex family drama – and trauma – that Thomas and Steffy (Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) have experienced as well as his working relationship with Scott Clifton, who plays his character’s rival, Liam.
Thomas was said to be getting some therapy from Taylor. He was supposed to be doing better! That’s clearly not the case now is it?
It’s not exactly the case. I mean, he’s definitely been talking to his mom, but she’s not helping very much it seems! [Laughs]
The Hope Mannequin’s been speaking to him. Thomas has been really struggling mentally. It seems that Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang) has been the only one who has actually said that while his father (Ridge; Thorsten Kaye) and sister (Steffy; Jacqueline MacInnes Wood) have really clued in that something is wrong with Thomas.
I think Thomas is doing a pretty darn good job of keeping what he’s struggling with under wraps. The way I see him, or the way I at least have portrayed him, he is a very much an artistic genius in certain ways when it comes to his work, but that leads a little bit to having some issues.
We have a lot of artists that we see have inner demons that they try to struggle with. That might be a reason that leads them to be such great artists.
At least that’s the way that I seem him and the way I’ve portrayed him. He is very must sort of an artistic genius in a lot of ways when it comes to his work. That leads a little bit to having some issues. We have a lot of artists that have inner demons that they’re trying to struggle with and that might be a reason that leads to them to being such great artists. I think that’s a part of Thomas. It always has been and always will be.
All these characters are seeing him. Yeah, he’s struggling but I don’t think it’s uncommon for them to sort of see him in a prolonged state of being an intellectual who is just trying to sort things out in his head. Maybe they are chalking it up to that? Obviously, this is coming right off the heels of some other issues that were very public for him.
I could see why Steffy would be really worried right now considering the things he’s saying and how he’s acting, but at the same time, I don’t think this is way too far off as to who Thomas is. Sometimes you’ll see this very upbeat and energetic personality that comes into the room where he’s very sure of things. That is Thomas. But at the same time, I think it’s regular to see him pondering the artistic state of the dresses or whatever it is that he’s creating. So, to see him in that state, I don’t think that it’s totally unusual.
But you will see characters that are sort of realizing [that something is going on], like Steffy. They have a very close connection and I think that she’s noticing that something is off. Hope also notices that something is off as well, but they both could just be justifying it in their heads.
What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this story? A lot of your co-stars are also acting opposite mannequins and dolls, but they are actually just stand-ins.
It’s very unusual. I’ll say that it’s actually a whole lot easier [than the stand-ins] because I’ve done a couple of those scenes. I believe it was with Scott Clifton [who plays Liam] and Thorsten. Thorsten was supposed to basically be right here, like three feet away from me, and they had to for a couple of lines, stick a mannequin in for me to talk to because we were too close due to COVID rules. It’s very hard to talk to something that isn’t hearing you or intellectualizing what you’re saying or feeding off of you and you can’t even feed off of them. Even in short bursts. That was very difficult, to turn and talk to my dad but I’m talking to a doll and it’s not responding. It’s very weird. I had to kind of create that [back and forth] in my head.
Versus now, I’m talking to a doll. Thomas is talking to a doll who isn’t supposed to be real. In a lot of ways, it actually makes the job a lot easier. It’s very weird and uncomfortable. But, it would be weird and uncomfortable for Thomas to be hearing a mannequin talking to him. He knows that it’s not okay. He knows that something is off, that something is wrong here. I think that makes the job a lot easier in a lot of ways.
And you’re dealing with Annika Noelle (Hope) who is feeding the lines there as well, right?
Yeah, so Annika is always close by. She’s usually 15 or 20-feet away. Sometimes a little farther. She has a tougher job because she has to vocalize what the mannequin is saying, but she’s so far away and I need to hear her. She’s having to raise her voice a little bit and having to project that to me but also staying in “mannequin character.” That seems very, very tough. All I have to do is respond and react to in the frame of mind that is in Thomas’ head.
It must be pretty surreal. Here’s a mannequin that resembles your co-star.
It’s very weird. You know it’s not Annika. It doesn’t look like Annika if you know Annika really well. But, if you look at it, you know that it’s Annika. It’s very weird. It’s enough not like her to be creepy, but enough like her to know it’s her.
When things are well lit and I’m looking at it, it’s creepy and weird. I don’t feel like I’m looking at Annika. It’s like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Something has taken over Annika’s body. It’s not her anymore and I know something is off!
I will tell you a story though. It was an interesting time. I was walking through the stages and passed by what used to be Vinnie’s apartment set. It was all dark because we had just gone done shooting a scene in a different area, so they had all that lit up. I was walking by that set and I’m walking to a different part of the stages and looked over and on the couch, the mannequin was there, and it scared the crap out of me! I thought Annika was sitting there, reading her lines in the dark. It was very creepy. It was not moving. I looked up and said, “Oh God!” And then I realized that oh, that’s the mannequin. They just left it there. Okay. It’s very weird. It was like a scene from a horror movie. In certain lighting, you can confuse it with Annika going around acting creepy all over the stages.
The Hope Mannequin will be telling Thomas to get rid of Liam. Liam can be sanctimonious a lot of the time where some fans could actually be rooting for the Hope Mannequin. Are you Team Mannequin or Team Liam?
Well, as far as to the extreme of killing Liam, no I would not be on that team. [Laughs] Because I love working with Scott too much. I love giving him crap. The Thomas and Liam scenes where Thomas can just rail on Liam and everything he does wrong – because he’s got valid reasons to do that – I love those scenes. It would be nice to have a little bit of time where we could have Liam ponder the mistakes that he’s made and the issues that he has. It would be nice at one point in time for Thomas to get the upper hand and have everyone realize that Thomas is right, and that Liam is kind of screwing with these two women. That would be nice. But I wouldn’t want to go to the extreme of Thomas killing Liam or attacking him that way.
We did get a scene recently where Thomas did call him out and compared him to Ridge, bouncing between two women.
Yes. It’s very true what Thomas is saying. He’s said it before. He’s railed on him many times. Sometimes in the wrong state of mind and sometimes in the right state of mind. But, every time that Thomas does it, you can’t argue with what he’s saying. Even during rehearsal, it’s funny to have Scott respond as Scott sometimes and we just give each other crap.
Other times during rehearsal, I’ll be railing on Scott and he’ll be like “No, you’re right. I’m a jerk. Sorry!” Because it’s true! Everything Thomas is saying is actually revealing how screwed up Liam is. No matter how much he is the hero of our story right now, I think people see through that and go, “He’s not much a hero. He’s screwing with these two women’s lives!”
I love shooting those scenes [with him]. It’s so much fun.
It looks like a lot of fun. You mentioned in another interview that Thomas could be have paranoid schizophrenia?
This got taken [out of context] and ran with. I said in an interview that the only thing you could describe what Thomas is dealing with is paranoid schizophrenia. That does not mean he actually has paranoid schizophrenia. What he’s suffering with, the hearing of voices and what he’s perceiving in his reality from this mannequin can only be described as that. There might be one or two other things.
I spoke with a psychologist about this recently and went through the symptoms to see what he’d be dealing with and what this could be and what’s going on here so that it could inform me on how to play this character. Mental health is a huge conversation topic that people should talk about some more. Any storyline where we are able to open up that conversation is a good thing. It’s not just people in psych wards who suffer from these things. Beyond that, there’s a lot of people suffering right now due to COVID and mental issues of their own. I know plenty personally. I think it’s important to be empathetic to that and have that conversation.
I can’t say for sure that that is what Thomas is suffering from, but I can say that those symptoms are very much emblematic of that. We don’t know yet. It’s kind of up in the air and we’ll find out soon.
Thomas hit his head again last week. He also had quite the fall last year as well.
He’s taken a lot of tumbles, hasn’t he? Yeah, he got pushed off a cliff. He hit his head, then he was all scraped up. He got pushed into what we thought was a vat of acid, but it turned out to be cleaning solution. Now he dropped his phone and hit his head on the way up. He’s fallen again.
After the conversation with Liam, obviously, you could see something very disturbing is going and physically he is not right. It’s beyond his mental state. He’s definitely suffering from something that is more than just him going a little nuts. I think it will be important for everyone to pay attention and for everyone to find out exactly what is wrong with Thomas. I think that soon enough, we’ll have some indication and the fans will go, “Oh, okay.”
There are a lot of theories out there right now and that’s good. When I first found out about this storyline, I wanted it to be more of a psychological thriller where you don’t know what’s happening and you are trying to piece it together, but you don’t know what’s going on until you eventually find out.
Douglas (Henry Joseph Samiri) will soon be back on screen. He’s quite the scene-stealer! Especially when he found out that Phoebe was Beth.
He’s a scene-stealer in every scene he gets in! He can’t put that face in the scene and have him not steal that scene. It’s not possible. I love, love working with Henry. He’s the sweetest, cutest, and most fun little kind. Lately, we’ve had to hunker down on who we are allowing on set and for how long. Especially with children, we want to be as safe as possible and make sure that not only Henry, but his parents feel very safe coming back to work.
We’ve been slowly bringing other characters back in. It was just our lead actors [at first]. We had very strict rules and we still have strict rules. I think it’s great that we’re getting a little bit of Henry back, as well as other characters. Especially since I’ve missed that kid so much!
Speaking of other characters… Where’s Vinny? Thomas could also use a friend. He supplied Steffy with those pills. Thomas still has to confront him about that.
First of all, yes – Thomas does need a friend. You are right! Secondly, it’s interesting that Thomas never found out that it was Vinny (Joe LoCicero). Thomas doesn’t necessarily know. I think that there’s a lot of drama that could happen there between these two guys that are basically best friends. We’ll see what happens! I love working with him and so hopefully we’ll have some scenes coming down the pike. I can’t give anything away! [Laughs]
Steffy has recently had her opioid addiction and now Thomas is struggling with his own stuff. It seems that a lot these problems can be attributed back to the triangle their parents had with Brooke. Taylor’s (Hunter Tylo) absence right now is really felt. When will the “adults” realize that this is kind of their fault?
Right, yeah, I think that would be incredible. I love working with Hunter. I got to work with her briefly when I first came on to the show. She’s been gone for a while. I’d love to have her back. I think everyone would love to have her back. I don’t know necessarily the reason why she’s not shooting with us right now, but I definitely would agree that this would a great time for her character to hop on a plane and fly over and help her kid out.
You’re right, these issues with Steffy and Thomas very much come from the same innate place. They didn’t have a stable family life or a stable home. Like what you said earlier with Thomas talking to Liam, he saw this growing up with two women. As soon as Thomas brought up the kids, Liam said “Don’t go there!” The reason is because Thomas has to say this. It’s very important because Thomas is the effect of what he’s doing. Not having his parents around as they should be. Not having his father committed to one woman. That’s what has created an intense need in Thomas to create a family – and to an excessive degree, Thomas has. Seeing Hope as this person to replace Caroline, who is now gone. “I don’t want my son to just have one mother.” There’s a lot of issues there that we could go into. The main point is him trying to create this family for Douglas that he never had. That’s just one of the multitude of issues Thomas has had. He’s lost his sister [Phoebe].
And the same is true with Steffy. They’ve both suffered through a lot of these things. That’s why I’ve said that these two characters are not twins but are [still] connected on such an innate level. What may not be the most interesting scene between Thomas and Steffy could well become very interesting because of all the subtext. I think that Jacqui is brilliant at bringing that to the table and I hope I play a good part in that. That’s why I love doing those scenes with her, especially when she’s [Steffy] suffering. For a long time, it was Thomas suffering, but when she was going through the opioid addiction and Thomas was seeing what was going on with her and feeling that – in those moments, even though they weren’t the biggest thing that happened in the episode, there were really connected moments between those two characters. I love working with her. That was so much fun to do.
You took over the role of Thomas Forrester over a year ago and you’ve obviously done your research. Have you taken a look at some of Thomas’ past storylines that might have intrigued you and thought, “Hey, I wish I had a chance to play this storyline”?
It’s interesting because I came on this show with a preconceived notion of what Thomas was and who he was, based on his character and what he had done in the past. Some of these things are “soap things,” where he pushed Rick out of a window, and he fell! [Laughs] Set a house on fire! These are the sort of things where you go “Okay!” Any other sort of show, you’d go “Wow, this character is pretty extreme!” In a soap, it’s not necessarily extreme – it’s just that its par for the course!
These characters are all very, very screwed up. It’s always interesting to go into a character like that. I didn’t know the direction it was going to take. The way that Brad Bell [executive producer and head writer] took it, you know was sort of very dark for a long period of time. Thomas was suffering with his inner demons and all of his insecurities and they all become public was so much fun.
It’s nice to be the superhero character. It would be nice to be Liam. To always know what’s going on with people, even though you have no reason to know and to be right every time and to always be seen as the good guy. That’s great. Romance is also great and creating chemistry between two characters. But I feel like the psychology of creating a character, what they are going through and what they are struggling with is sort of the most interesting time in drama – for me. It’s been a lot more fun for me to play Thomas and dealing with these psychological problems – where it spawns from, where it’s going, and what he’s suffering from right now – versus being the good guy.
You know, there may be a time where that flip flops. Who knows? I don’t think Thomas will ever be a “good guy” – he’s always going to have an edge to him. Thomas is always going to be the guy who is ready to punch Liam. But at the same time, we could have a situation where Thomas had to deal with his mistakes, and everyone realizes that Thomas has kind of been right all along. We’ll see!
We’d love to see it.
The Bold and the Beautiful recently celebrated a huge milestone – the show has now produced over 100 episodes since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, not all shows could make it work. We’ve heard of Netflix cancelling shows. It’s been a huge undertaking and your team must be so proud of all the hard work that’s gone into this.
Thank you. It’s definitely not me, but I’m super proud to be part of this production. We were the first production back and we’ve created a lot. We’ve gone above and beyond as far as safety measures and how things must go. We don’t want to shut down [again]. We don’t want to have to deal with that because there’s a lot of people’s livelihoods that are depending on this. A lot of people aren’t at work and if we can create a production situation where other productions take a look and might successfully be able to do that as well. That would be amazing.
So, to be part of that and to be able to see my friends – who sort of my family – on the show and be able to work and get back to our lives, even though it’s a little weird, it is necessary. I’m really proud to be part of it.
Thank you so much, but it’s really nothing to do with me. It has to do with everyone in production, including Brad. We have plenty of people in the healthcare industry who are testing us on a regular basis to make sure we are being as safe as possible. Everyone in the cast and crew are doing their best to maintain that. It’s definitely a group effort and I’m very proud to be part of it.
Photos courtesy of The Bold and the Beautiful; JPI Studios.