INTERVIEW: Matthew Atkinson talks Thomas' decline on The Bold and the Beautiful

Posted Friday, November 06, 2020 9:08:43 AM

It started with obsessing over Hope. Now it's turned to romancing a mannequin. How far will The Bold and the Beautiful's Thomas spiral to the dark side? Portrayer Matthew Atkinson opens up about his character's can't-miss mental health journey.

Halloween has come and gone, but the creepy storyline in which The Bold and the Beautiful's Thomas (Matthew Atkinson) connects with a mannequin that looks like Hope (Annika Noelle) is just getting started. Viewers can look forward to watching the character continue to lose his grip on reality in the weeks ahead, because the writers have plenty in store for Thomas' mental decline and his relationship with Hope Mannequin. But Atkinson teases that many fans might be very surprised when they learn exactly where this storyline is going. After all, as with any good psychological thriller, things aren't always as they seem...

Soap Central: Let's dive right into Thomas' life at the moment, because this storyline really has people talking. How would you describe where Thomas is at right now?

Matthew Atkinson: Well, he's definitely going through a really tough time. Obviously, he's suffering with something, and it's not a good thing. He's trying to figure out which way is up. That's the best way to put it.

Soap Central: How did you find out that the writers were going in this direction?

Atkinson: I sort of found out with the scripts. One day, Annika called me and told me that they were making a mannequin that was going to look like her, so we kind of guessed that that's where it was going to go. Brad had hinted in an interview that they were possibly going to do something along the lines of having a mannequin in the story because we got so much publicity for using mannequins to talk to as eye-lines or in certain scenes with actors when the actors weren't able to kiss another person because, obviously, the rules surrounding COVID. And we got so much publicity off of that, that Brad said that we might have a story that involved a mannequin [on a different level]. And once I found out that the mannequin was Hope, I realized that Thomas was probably going to be the one talking to a mannequin, just based off of Thomas' general history. [Laughs]

Soap Central: Did your thoughts about the storyline change from when you first heard about it to now, as you're playing it? Many people initially thought, "Well, that's wacky." But we now see that it has the potential to be more of a serious storyline that deals with mental issues.

Atkinson: Yeah, originally, I was tentative about how the writers were going to write it -- if it was going to be campy and goofy or if it was going to be serious. And it sort of started taking a turn to a more serious route and I think that there's something important to be talked about there, about mental health. And not just Thomas'. There are a lot of people suffering right now with issues surrounding mental health, and... it's one of the things that's seen almost as a taboo topic; people don't want to talk about things that they're suffering with, whether it's anxiety or schizophrenia, whatever it could be, any sort of issue that is in that area. We sort of shy away from talking about it, and I hope that in one way or another, maybe we are able to inspire people to start talking about those sorts of things -- especially now with COVID and with so many people being isolated. I mean, isolation is one of the worst things that a human being can go through, and a lot of people are suffering -- maybe not with long-term consequences, but definitely short-term consequences that are affecting their mental health in a negative way. So, I think talking about it is always a good thing. And as far as Thomas goes, yeah, he has definitely had some issues in the past, and he's obviously suffering with something now. What it is specifically, we have yet to find out. But we do know that something obviously isn't right, and it isn't something that Thomas has suffered with before. So, it'll be interesting to see how fans react when it all plays out.

Soap Central: Steffy [Jacqueline MacInnes Wood] suggested to Finn [Tanner Novlan] that perhaps Thomas is unstable because of their parents splitting up and/or their sister, Phoebe, dying. But some viewers think it goes back further than that, even, to maybe his mother, Taylor [Hunter Tylo], dying and returning from the dead -- or any number of other things in his past. Where do you think Thomas' issues stem from?

Atkinson: His issues probably come from a combination of about 50 different things! [Laughs] And I think the fans are right in a lot of ways, specifically Phoebe's death and the splitting up of his parents. Both are huge factors in the things that I've addressed, as far as playing the role and doing the work. But at the same time, this is a situation that is seriously unprecedented, and it's very hard to justify even based off of those historical things. Because the issues that he was dealing with, you know, like trying to obsessively make this family happen that he thinks would be best for everyone, that was backed up by his parents splitting up and him knowing the repercussions that can have on children, not having two parents in the same household. But now, I think you have something completely new, and I think it's hard to pinpoint exactly where this is coming from. I think it's going to be interesting to see, because I think there are going to be a few people that are surprised about why this is actually happening.

Soap Central: Do you think that Thomas will ever be able to come back from this? And if so, what would it take?

Atkinson: Yeah, I would say so. Right now, what you're seeing is this guy is struggling. He's hearing voices, he's going through what can only be described as paranoid schizophrenia, and that's something very serious. Why this would happen out of the blue? We don't really know yet. But I think given the fact, well, you can watch Thomas struggling with this, and this isn't something that he's creating; it's something that he's suffering with. He's obviously not going around trying to make this situation happen, making the mannequin talk to him or anything like that. He's sort of hearing these things in his own brain, so he's suffering with, "What does this even mean?" Because from the get-go, he knows something is wrong. He can tell, and he can see that he should not be hearing a mannequin talk to him. He's trying to keep his grip on reality. And I think because of that, you'll see that this is maybe something Thomas is suffering with and not something that he is actively doing. And if someone is suffering, well, you can't really blame a paranoid schizophrenic for hearing voices, right? You just have to kind of empathize with him, and I think because of that, he is a character that is definitely redeemable in these moments, because it's not his fault that he's suffering with this.

Soap Central: Many people would say that now is the perfect time for Thomas' mother to come back! He has this going on, and Steffy has also been having some difficulties. How would you feel about Taylor returning?

Atkinson: I would love that! As far as the story goes, it definitely makes a whole lot of sense, given her background and her expertise, and also her history of issues. She could be a definite source to help Thomas through everything that he's gone through in the last several years. So, that would be awesome! I would be very open to that idea. I loved working with [Hunter] when I first came onto the show, and it would be awesome if she came back.

Soap Central: Speaking of costars, it must be so strange to act with a mannequin. Not the easiest job, I imagine!

Atkinson: I've acted with a mannequin in two different contexts in the last couple of months. One is they'll put a mannequin in as an eye-line in place of a person that would be too close to you, so they couldn't shoot you in the same scene together, so they'll stick in a mannequin or something as an eye-line for you to talk to. So, three feet away from me it's supposed to be Thorsten [Kaye, Ridge]; he's playing my dad, and he's supposed to be close to me, but he obviously can't be there, so I'll turn to talk to him, but I'm talking to a mannequin like it's a real human being, like it's Thorsten. And there is a huge difference between that and then shooting these scenes. These scenes are actually really easy because Thomas is talking to a mannequin. He knows this is crazy, so your natural instincts are all dead-on, as far as, yes, it's very weird to be talking to a mannequin. But that only improves the performance, because it would be weird if a mannequin started talking to you and you were talking to a mannequin! [Laughs] So, in those scenes, it actually helps the performance as opposed to if the mannequin was actually supposed to be alive and actually talking; it would be very hard to create that.

Soap Central: The mannequin looks so much like Annika Noelle. Does that trip you out?

Atkinson: It's very weird! It looks enough not like her to know that it's not her, but enough like her to be creepy. [Laughs] Especially when you see it in person, from certain angles, it looks a lot like her, but from other angles, you're like, "Whoa, something is off here!" And I've said this before, but it's kind of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; when you're looking at it, you know that something is off about it, like, "There's something wrong here." You know it's not Annika, but at the same time, it looks a lot like her. But Annika is much more beautiful than that mannequin is!

Soap Central: As a writer, if you're going to write something like this, then you have to be able to trust that your actors are going to be able to pull it off. So, obviously, Brad and the other writers did think you could handle this. How does it feel to know that they trusted you with this material?

Atkinson: It feels really good. I think you're right -- you need to have someone who can pull this off, otherwise it could fall into that very campy category or be just plain weird. In a way, I guess it reinforces the work that I've been doing over the last two years. Hopefully they saw something that they like, and they were able to justify giving me [this story] and putting that weight on my shoulders. So, that feels really good. I've had a lot of conversations with Brad, and he's been very wonderful about how he speaks about my performances and how excited he gets with what I'm doing with the character. So, hopefully, they keep writing interesting storyline for Thomas, and hopefully I can keep doing as well as Brad thinks I'm doing!

Soap Central: The story has definitely sparked some discussions about the best "outrageous soap moments" in history. What is your favorite outlandish soap storyline from the past?

Atkinson: Well, there are certain things that we just don't talk about anymore, but there's one that I just love the idea of, which is Thomas and Brooke [Katherine Kelly Lang] on the island, where there was a plane crash, and they were stuck on the island, and they started eating the berries, and there was the question of if they dreamed what happened or if it really happened. I always found that so interesting, doing the research of Thomas' past and finding some scenes from back then. It's just so fun to go back, especially with this kind of history. Once you start working with these people and going back and seeing what they've done in the past, I mean, the amount of things that Brooke as a character has done that are either weird, crazy, or awful are very plentiful! So, it's fun to sit there in a scene while she's reaming Thomas out for essentially being crazy while she has a huge history herself of wrongdoing! [Laughing]

Soap Central: Brooke can be such a hypocrite! Funny enough, your current storyline -- whether you love it or hate it or fall anywhere in between -- will be one that is mentioned throughout the ages. You will definitely be in those B&B history books and in future conversations about the wackiest soap stories of all time!

Atkinson: I hope so! That's what's so fun about this forum. Doing soap operas is different than doing any other type of TV show. We're able to push the boundaries of reality in a lot of ways, because the drama is always so intense. You get these storylines, and depends on what show you're on, but I remember my first experience with soap operas was on The Young and the Restless [as Austin Travers]. I came on, and I think within three months, I had held a woman hostage, I married her niece, I had the cops chase me, I had gone to jail, and then married the niece, and then sometime later, it was revealed that the whole time, I was sleeping with her aunt! [Laughs] All these things happened in this short amount of time, and this is a forum where you can do that. Like, I came onto this show, and Thomas obviously did a lot of things. He's fallen I don't know how many times! He's gotten pushed off of cliffs, into vats of what could have been acid, he kept a baby secret, and this is all in a couple of years' worth of time. So, it's such a cool forum, that you're able to explore these stories with such intense drama in short amounts of time and play these characters. It's unusual that I would be able to do a film like Lars and the Real Girl with Ryan Gosling, where he's actually talking to a mannequin the entire story. That's very unusual that I would have the opportunity as an actor to play a role where I'm doing something like that, and yet, it's just another day on the job when it comes to shooting a soap. So, that's what's kind of cool about this forum.

What do you think about B&B's Hope Mannequin storyline and Matthew Atkinson's performances thus far? Where do you think the story will lead in the weeks to come? Do you think it's time for Taylor to come home to her children? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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The Bold and the Beautiful's Matthew Atkinson is back
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