This interview was originally published in the February 2, 1997 issue of Soap Opera Digest
YOUNG AND RESTLESS’s Heather Tom Comes Clean About Growing Up Fast In Genoa City — And In Real Life
Heather Tom is sitting cross-legged on the couch in her YOUNG AND RESTLESS dressing room as she suffers through a THIS IS YOUR LIFE moment. She has been reminded that five years ago, she told Digest that her dream dates were Tom Cruise and Charlie Sheen.
“I said that?” she gasps. “No. I can’t believe I would ever say that.” The truth was printed in black and white on February 4, 1992, so tom is forced to concede a certain culpability. “I must have been kidding,” she laughs. “You printed it, but I think I was being facetious.”
More likely, she was being 16. Tom (now 21) is the first to admit she’s done a lot of growing up. Today, her dream date is a real guy. “His name is Jep Hill,” she grins. It wasn’t love at first sight. “I’ve known him for a long time, and I didn’t much care for him. But he kind of matured, and I did, too. When I met him again last January, I was like, ‘Who is that?’ Yum!’ Someone said, ‘That’s Jep Hill.’ I said, ‘My God, what did he do to himself?’”
They live together in Tom’s apartment. “We didn’t mean for that to happen,” she says. “It was a temporary thing; he needed somewhere to crash. I was like, ‘Why don’t you stay with me until you find a place?’ Ten months later, here we are. Not to say it will stay like this. He may end up getting his own place, I may end up moving in with him. Who knows?”
The no-nonsense approach is one of Tom’s greatest strengths. It proved a lifesaver in 1988, when her parents split up. “I grew up in a pretty nice family, and that went to hell in a handbasket,” she observes. Mom Marie Tom relocated from Seattle to L.A., bringing Heather and twins David and Nicholle, all aspiring thespians.
“We had about $2,000, and my dad was nowhere around,” she recalls. The situation was complicated by the fact that Marie, a speech therapist, couldn’t teach in California because of red-tape technicalities. “She had to get her master’s degree in order to work here, so basically, she went to school. I was faced, at 13, with having to support my family [through acting].”
Today, Tom is amazed they survived. “We were like, ‘Oh, well, we’ll do it.’ And we were fine. My brother did six episodes of a series, and that got us through the summer. He did a play, and that got us through September. I did an episode of WHO’S THE BOSS, and that paid for another month’s rent. That, along with what my mom was making doing part-time work, kept us in business.”
Tom laughingly recalls the job she had right before snagging Victoria. “I was selling cookies in a cookie store. I had to lie about my age; I told them I was 16.” She made $4.25 an hour and hated the cookies, “but the clothes I bought were my most prized possessions, because I felt like I really earned them. Every two weeks, I would get my check for $80 and I’d be like, ‘Wow.’” Tom was relieved when Y&R came along. “I was blindly enthusiastic when I started,” she admits. “I used to float into work; getting scripts was like getting Christmas present.” It was, she admits, a funny situation: A legally emancipated minor, Tom was working adult hours, but she was so childlike that the crew “would stop swearing whenever I got on-set.”
Today, epithets fly in her presence, and she knows the job is just a (really great) job. And there are other signs that Tom is an adult. Physically, she looks older. (“I’m finally losing the baby fat.”) Emotionally, she’s better equipped to deal with family matters that were off-limits in her first interview. One subject is her father, whom Tom hasn’t seen in years. “We’ve spoken a few times. I think he probably sees me and Nicholle [Maggie, THE NANNY] on TV, and keeps up with us that way.” Tom isn’t holding a grudge: “I have told him that if he wants a relationship, he can have one. But it has to start [in the here and now]; it can’t go into the past.”
Tom doesn’t have time to look back. When she’s not acting, auditioning or spending time with loved ones, she’s studying at UCLA (“If anyone asks what I do, I say I’m an intern at CBS”), working charity gigs or producing plays, like the upcoming Gila (she’ll speak sign language with Phyllis Frelich), with her theater company, The Creative Outlet.
“I have to take time to make sure I can do everything I commit to,” Tom muses. “I’m one of those people who says, ‘Yes” to everything. Sometimes, I get spread thin and things fall through the cracks. I used to have an excuse: I’m busy. ‘Well, we’re all busy, Heather,’ as someone reminded me recently. From now on, I want to take responsibility for my actions.” Except for those crushes on Sheen and Cruise. “If I said it, I said it,” she sighs. “But I must have been kidding.”