By Ellen Byron, Soap Opera Digest, 1990
Timothy Gibbs is intense. Very intense. He takes long, thoughtful pauses before answering questions. When he finally answers, he speaks in sentences so articulate they need nary an edit. He's quick to flash a dazzling smile when he's enjoying himself, but if he doesn't like a question, boy, does he let you know it. If Santa Barbara had tried casting through the Sierra Club, they couldn't have found a more perfect person to play mercurial environmentalist Dash Nichols, head of the Blue Sky Brigade.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Gibbs declares as he settles into his seat at The Daily Grill, a casual Beverly Hills eatery. He's not kidding. Dash Nichols was the first soap role he ever auditioned for. However, it was far from his first acting job. Gibbs has been a performer since he was thirteen. "I worked pretty steadily through high school," explains the twenty-three-year old actor, who was born across the street from the NBC lot where he now shoots Santa Barbara, and grew up near the Malibu Mountains in the west end of the San Fernando Valley. "I spent two seasons on Father Murphy, which was a spinoff of Little House on the Prairie," Gibbs elaborates. "I went on to do The Rousters, a short-lived show where I played Chad Everett's son. And I played Ted Danson and Mary Tyler Moore's son in the film Just Between Friends when I was eighteen."
Being a child star means sacrificing normal childhood activities. Why did Gibbs do it ? "That's an interesting question," he muses. "I was pretty young when I got into it, so I can't say that it was for any other reason but fun. A lot of child actors are pushed into it by their parents, but my parents didn't even want me to get involved although I had their support once they agreed to let me give it a try." Gibbs, the youngest of five siblings, is the only actor in his family. His dad, Ray, is a retired pilot; his mom, Paula, has her own jewelry business; one brother is a co-pilot for a major airline; the other is a helicopter pilot. "I'm not a commercially licensed pilot, but I've kicked around flying a little bit myself," says Tim. "It was just never a career choice for me."
Bitten by the acting bug, Tim continued to pursue his career after his high school graduation, pausing only to take a few correspondence college courses through the University of Nebraska. He scored small roles in films and TV. Just before Santa Barbara, he guested on Father Dowling Mysteries and did a two-hour remake of Police Story.
Still, as with most actors, there were dry spells. In fact, Gibbs was waiting tables at a hot Hollywood hangout called The Ivy when he landed the role of Dash. "It came down to the point where I really needed to get a steady paycheck," he shares. "I also needed the steadiness of that job. It provided a structure for me." Offering a regret few other actor/waiters would share, Gibbs says with sincerity, "I'm only sorry I was there as short a time as I was." Working at The Ivy did give Gibbs a chance to serve some of Hollywood's biggest stars from Sly Stallone to Steven Spielberg. His favorite celeb ? "George Carlin," Gibbs reveals. "He's very kind. He made an effort to make us feel comfortable around him. I enjoyed his presence." Gibbs bristles when asked to name his least favorite customer. "No one was that difficult that I can remember, and if anyone was, I certainly wouldn't tell you," he states matter-of-factly, adding, "It's not my style."
Tim was literally in the midst of a shift at The lvy when his agent called with the good news about Santa Barbara. "My reaction was to give my last table two free bottles of wine,” he laughs. "I figured I'd go out in style. They loved it, but the management didn't.” Growing serious, he recalls, "I had to leave the restaurant and go outside because I was hyperventilating and shaking from excitement. I took a deep breath and looked at the sky. Then I looked at the other guys I worked with, who were all hardworking actors as well, and I got this rush of feeling very fortunate and happy. I can't even describe it now. It was a big deal. A very big deal."
Suddenly, Gibbs's attention is diverted when a beautiful blonde appears at the table. His eyes light up and he breaks into a huge grin. "Hi, there," he says and introduces his girlfriend, Kathy Shawber, an actress and dancer. "She was in the neighborhood for an appointment," Gibbs explains. The couple exchange affectionate small talk and Tim invites her to pull up a seat, after checking to make sure it's okay. Gibbs and Shawber have been together for two years, but their personal history goes back much further. "We first met when I was thirteen and working on Father Murphy and this lovely young lady was working on the show as an extra," he remembers, beaming at Kathy. "We became friends, but when the show went off the air we parted company and didn't see each other again until we ran into each other at a local watering hole in the Valley. When she walked in, I had no idea who she was, I only knew she was beautiful and I wanted to meet her. But I'm very shy, so I didn't approach her. Her friend approached me. It was a pathetically high school scenario. But we've been together almost every day since. Kathy is my biggest concentration offscreen. We're in love."
On-screen, of course, Gibbs's priority is Santa Barbara. "I'm getting an education that is unbelievable," he declares. "And I'm very lucky to be playing a character who's involved with as serious an issue as the environment. A lot of my persona is Dash's persona. He's exciting to play because he's passionate about what he does and he's an educator. If he's played properly, you can actually learn from him." Is he enjoying the experience ? "Enjoy is not even the word. To say I'm merely enjoying it would be short-changing you and your readers. I'm lovin' it !"
Euphoria aside, Santa Barbara does have a reputation for introducing new characters with a big splash, then dangling them from thin storylines until they're abruptly dropped. Recent victims of this downside include Peter Love (ex-Ric), James Healy (ex-Derek) and Steve Bond (ex-Mack). "That's out of my control," he points out. "You could be a leading man on a soap, getting two hundred letters a week, riding in limos, and six months later you're sitting on your ass in the unemployment office wondering where your next job is and that's the truth... It's like the old saying, "I do not want what I cannot have.” I can't have a guarantee that I'll be on the show (for an extended period of time) and I don't necessarily want one. I'd be lying if I said I'd be happy remaining at Santa Barbara for the next ten years of my life, because I wouldn't be. I'm happy remaining there for the next several years, if that's the case. But I believe no matter what field you're in, whether you're picking up garbage or taping a show at NBC, you have to aspire beyond what you're doing."
Gibbs pauses for a moment. Unconsciously clasping his hands as if in prayer, he searches for the right words to articulate his aspirations. "When I tell you what my goals are in the business, I risk a tremendous amount because it seems people don't take you very seriously," the actor explains. Then he smiles, shrugs and lightens up. "But seeing as I don't really care about that, I'll tell you anyway. My goals are pretty high. They include developing my writing skills and directing. I've been saving some dough and trying to get a short film made that a very close friend and I wrote. But," he hastens to add, "My acting career is number one and I believe it will always stay that way. My job is to entertain people and keep their interest, and that's all I want to do right now. If I can do that, I'll be happy."