Nice guys don't always finish last

 By Lisa Hallett, Soap Opera Digest, 1991

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Gordon Thomson emerges from Santa Barbara's makeup department, freshly shorn and polished, nattily dressed in patterned sweater and slacks - ready to become Mason Capwell for the afternoon. He graciously apologizes for being a few minutes late, and scribbles a note to let the show publicist know of his whereabouts for the next hour or so.

It is immediately evident that Thomson is a true gentleman - polite, charming, considerate... possibly reared by Miss Manners and Emily Post combined. Television audiences already know him as intelligent, suave and witty - for seven years as Adam Carrington on Dynasty and for the past few months as Mason on Santa Barbara. True, Adam was a major meanie and Mason has his less-than-sweet moments, but Thomson is acting after all. It's a pleasant surprise that, in person, he retains his character's good qualities, while replacing the bad with the utmost of charm. It's no revelation that he is a sophisticate : it you're hoping to find out that the real Gordon lounges in his naugahyde recliner and nurses a six-pack while watching monster truck rallies on the tube, forget it.

Indeed, Leann Hunley, who played Dana Waring, Thomson's spouse on Dynasty, verifies his urbanity. "Gordon Thomson is a true gentleman, and I was the lucky actress who got to work with him. He always treated me like a lady. From the moment I met him, he went out of his way to make me feel comfortable and a part of the Dynasty family."

When Dynasty was abruptly canceled at the end of the 1989 season, Thomson took the interim period to travel - to Canada, New Zealand, Rome and England, among other places - mixing business with pleasure in various stage productions and a few European television projects. It was on a Wednesday evening last October, when he was doing an episode of Murder, She Wrote, that he received the phone call about taking over Terry Lester's part as Mason on Santa Barbara.

Gordon is the third actor to play Mason Capwell in two years - not an easy position in which to find oneself, "I've been acting now for twenty-five years, and I've learned a little - not a lot. One of the things I've learned is not to worry about what you have absolutely no power over," Gordon says. "There was no point in my reading old scripts, because those writers don't write for the show anymore. There was no point in seeing old tapes, because that isn't me. All I had to do, really, was trust that they hadn't made a mistake in asking me to play the part."

In a much-talked-about changeover, Thomson was introduced halfway through an episode of Santa Barbara. Now you see Terry, now you don't, and what's Adam Carrington doing in Santa Barbara ? The actor concedes, "It was a bit of a shock (for viewers). I think I'm probably decent casting, because it was a face that people were probably familiar with. I mean, I'm not remotely a star, but I'm a familiar face, and that helped - I think." Ah - he's modest, too.

Maybe that's why his fellow cast members were so quick to accept him into the fold. Nancy Grahn, who plays Thomson's estranged wife Julia, agrees : "He just sort of fits right in, without taking any guff from anybody. He's stern about what his intentions are and how he wants to play the part. He's been around the block a few times. Yet he is open and kind and very sensitive toward other people's feelings."

As for making conditions tolerable, even downright enjoyable, Thomson seems to have the key, Grahn attests. "He knows how to edit the dialogue a lot in terms of when he really feels something is inappropriate. He'll take a very nice, respectful stand. But, I mean, look," she laughs, "he's much more easygoing than I am. Terry (Lester, the previous Mason) and I used to go through the material and think, "Well, wouldn't it be more interesting if we took this road ?" We had a lot more to say about it. Gordon is much more accepting. Even if he does disagree with something, he'll find a way to make it work for himself."

To that end, Thomson made his unorthodox introduction to the show work. He didn't even mind it. His only beef about the timing was that he came in at the middle of a big buildup. Actors like good drama, and the situations leading up to Thomson's takeover were meaty - falling off the wagon, tensions leading to a breakup with wife Julia, jeopardizing Samantha's life. "I had to sort of pretend I knew what the hell was going on. I hadn't been around for the lovely, juicy stuff and that pissed me off a little. I thought, "Gee, why wasn't I pulled in two months ahead of time ?""

Even if Thomson had been recruited earlier, it's a sure bet he wouldn't have ever seen his performance - he says he never watches himself on television or in a film. "It's just hard to watch. I'm critical; we all are. But I'm not the one I'm ultimately trying to please. If I think I've done a reasonably good job - and I think I do because I've been doing it for so long - if I have very good directors, very good fellow actors and a very bright audience out there, and these people are investing a lot of money in this show, then if I'm not doing a good job, they're going to say "Excuse me, goodbye !"  So I have faith in that."

But for all his vows not to watch himself, when pressed, the dark-haired actor does admit to having viewed a few of his old Dynasty episodes. He is clearly fond of having been part of the one-time hit series and seems excited about a possible four-hour miniseries wrap-up in the works for later this year. While Thomson suspects the cancellation had more to do with power than it did with ratings or money, he has reason to revere the long-running primetime series - it gave him the opportunity to become, as he calls it, "a familiar face." Prior to landing the Adam Carrington role, he had struggled for seventeen years - mostly in Canada - as an actor. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal with an honors degree in English, he worked in theater, radio, television, film, musicals, industrial shows, revues and even catalog modeling. For tour months in the early 1980s, he was on Ryan's Hope. Then he got lucky with Dynasty.

After the series' demise, Thomson found that he was often typecast. "It's a bit of an albatross - I think that applied to everybody. All of us, without exception, owe our current status, whatever that is, in the business to Dynasty, in terms at sheer celebrity. At the same time, there is a stigma attached if you were a member of such a successful show. For all its popularity, the show was never critically successful. Had it been L.A. Law or Hill Street Blues or something like that, we probably all would have worked nonstop. But it was an eighties show. It epitomized the excess, the glamour, the peak of the Reagan era in this country. And that is as dead as the dodo now. Sociologically, and from the point of view of television, it's became a piece at history."

Despite his high praise for Dynasty, Thomson goes on record saying that "they didn't write as well for Dynasty as they write for Santa Barbara. Adam didn't seem to have much humor. Almost nobody did, except maybe Alexis." Mason, Gordon finds, is much more complex than Adam, while possessing many similar traits, and Thomson was more than happy to sign a two-year contract to play him. Still, prime time is an ideal situation for an actor, working seven months out of the year instead of daytime's usual twelve. "The money is comparable, but this is basically a nine-to-five job, with two weeks off every year. We often work Saturdays. I'm working much, much more. We earn our lovely wages, more than we do in prime time. That was a very jammy job."

In the meantime, when he does have some time to himself, Thomson plays father to a family of five dogs and a cat at his Los Angeles area home. Although he was married to an actress in Canada, they've been separated for more than seven years now, and Thomson is currently not involved with anyone. These days, "I read and see friends and cook," he says matter-of-factly. "Most actors are good cooks."

As content as he may profess to be right now, the lure of prime time is not a possibility to be ruled out. "I was going to say that I'm essentially lazy. I‘m not, am I ? Not when it comes in my work. But I'd like a job like Dynasty again, because I do love to travel. You're free to sort of do whatever. I'd like to play something that was a piece of cake," Thomson says, throwing his head back and laughing that powerful, unmistakable, actor's laugh. "I really would. I'd like to play something that was as easy as falling off a log. There's built-in tension playing people like Adam and Mason. I played Jesus in Godspell for six months a long time ago and there was built-in tension playing that because you played the spirit, not the men. You had to fake it in front of five hundred people eight times a week."

He takes a moment, than lets a relaxed smile come over his face. "I'd like to play a nice easygoing dad." In a sitcom ? "Yes," he shouts, loud enough to be heard by the program development department at NBC's Burbank Studios.