Entertainment

ICYMI Tom Degnan Interview – Soap Opera Digest

Despite his long list of film, TV and stage roles, Tom Degnan looks back at his time on AS THE WORLD TURNS and ONE LIFE TO LIVE with great fondness and pride. “Working on a soap fosters an atmosphere of what I call creative community that you really don’t find anywhere else in show business,” points out the actor. “You really do count on each other. Some of my best memories about WORLD TURNS and ONE LIFE, apart from being on two iconic shows, and sharing the stage and screen with incredible talent, were those special moments of going from the dressing room to the soundstage and talking with your fellow actors along the way.”

Although Degnan became well-acquainted with soaps in his childhood (“My mother and her sisters were huge fans”), he never imagined working on them, or even becoming an actor at all. “I did plays when I would go to summer camp, but it was never anything serious for me,” he admits. “That is, until I went to the University of Notre Dame as a business major. I was a jazz musician in high school, so my plan was to take an intro to jazz music as a fine arts class, but I missed my registration time and ended up getting into a theater class where they offered extra credit if you auditioned for plays. So I got cast in one but I was god-awful, and still it was one of the most enjoyable experiences in my entire freshman year. From there, I was sold and kept taking more theater classes. Next, I settled in at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for grad school and after my three years there, I moved to New York City to begin my career as a professional actor.”

After one independent movie and guest appearances on three prime-time series, Degnan tried out for the role of Tom and Margo’s wayward son on ATWT. “When I tested for Adam, I read with Billy [Magnussen, ex-Casey] and he couldn’t have been a more welcoming guy,” he enthuses. “There were a couple of other actors there and he worked with all of us to make us feel comfortable before we went out there. When I got the part, Billy and I met outside of the studio and got to know each other and we became fast friends.”

Degnan bonded with his soap parents, as well. “I have so many warm and funny memories with them,” he smiles. “I had this great scene where there was tension at the dinner table with the Hughes family and when we were supposed to move to another part of the stage, Scott [Holmes, ex-Tom] and I stayed behind and ate the food. We all felt like family at that time. I also had a lot of fun working with Billy, Alexandra [Chando, ex-Maddie], Van [Hansis, ex-Luke] and Marnie [Schulenburg, ex-Alison]. We were a bunch of young actors but a really great group.”

That gig eventually ended, but daytime wasn’t done with Degnan. “My manager told me there was an opportunity for me at ONE LIFE TO LIVE but they weren’t saying who the character was,” he recalls. “I tested with Gina Tognoni [ex-Kelly], who is amazing. They put me in the same dressing room as Josh Kelly, who played Cutter, and I remember thinking, ‘This is either going to be really good, or really bad.’ When I first walked in, I don’t remember what he said but he made me crack up and I thought, ‘Okay, this guy is gonna be in my life forever.’ I still see him, J.P. [Lavoisier, ex-Rex] and Tuc [Watkins, ex-David].”

Degnan’s soap mom, Erika Slezak (ex-Viki), made a lasting impression. “She was intimidating but in the best way possible,” he relays. “She definitely had presence. You had to bring your A-game when you worked with her but at the same time, she was very maternal and really cared for everybody who worked there.”

After wrapping up OLTL, Degnan has kept busy ever since with acting jobs. A marriage to Erin Cummings (ex-Ann, B&B) followed by a harrowing odyssey that ultimately led to parenthood (see sidebar) has only brought deeper meaning to his life.

And, yes, Degnan would consider another encore in daytime. “I would never rule out a return to soaps,” he affirms. “I was incredibly lucky with the first two soap roles I had. I attribute the successes I’ve had in my career from what I learned on both those shows. They have the best fans and the best people working on them. I was blessed.”

Worth The Wait

After their marriage and move to Los Angeles, Degnan and Cummings were anxious to start a family, but life threw them a curveball — and it was a doozy. “Two months later, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer,” he shares. “It was an unbelievable shock to both of us. She went through six rounds of chemotherapy and about a year of Herceptin treatments. As anyone who’s been touched by this horrible disease can tell you, it’s really hard to watch someone you love go through this. Wanting to take the pain and the exhaustion away but you can’t is a very helpless feeling and it really, really sucks. We were lucky that her doctors and the staff at UCLA had a game plan and she was able to come out on the other side.”

The couple then tried to conceive naturally, without success, so it was on to Plan B. “Around the time she was diagnosed, we had the foresight to do some egg and embryo freezing,” Degnan explains. “So we had conversations about IUI [intrauterine insemination] and IVF [in vitro fertilization] but the effects of the chemo made it impossible for her to carry a baby. There was a brief period when I grappled with the thought that maybe we weren’t meant to have children and that was very tough to think about.”

Plan C began to formulate. “We started discussing surrogacy and that took us on a journey that started the summer of 2020,” Degnan recounts. “It’s definitely not inexpensive, and the company we worked with in Boise, Idaho matched us with a surrogate, who is still a part of our family. We love her dearly. Finances aside, it’s a tough process because while you’re going through it, you’re not with the person who is carrying your child.”

However, the Degnans were right by their gestational host’s side when she gave birth. “It’s like you have this whole other part of your heart that you never knew existed and the second your child comes into the world, that part of your heart just fills up,” he marvels. “You just suddenly have so much love for this little human. It’s been a real trip just watching him develop over these past few months. He’s amazing and such a joy to us but he’s going through his ups and downs of sleep right now, or should I say I’m going through my ups and downs of sleep right now.”

Cummings has taken a proactive approach to these huge obstacles; she hosts a podcast called Kappa Kappa Cancer: Your Guide to the Sorority You Never Wanted to Join, as well as serving as the brand ambassador for the Baby Quest Foundation, which provides financial aid for infertility procedures. “I’ve thought often about the journey that my wife and I have been on, and despite the challenges, it’s very easy to have gratitude,” Degnan sums up. “As hard as that road was, we had such a wonderful group of family and friends who really helped us along the way. I look at it as you’re climbing a mountain and at times it’s arduous and steep, but one day you’ll get to the peak and be amongst the clouds.”

JUST THE FACTS

Birthday: September 24

Born In: Bucks County, PA, but, “I grew up in Southern New Jersey, just outside of Cherry Hill.”

Former Soap Roles: Joey, ONE LIFE TO LIVE, 2010-11, and Adam, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 2009.

Relationship Status: Married to actress Erin Cummings since July 2, 2016. “I told myself I was going to be very stoic but the minute I saw her in her wedding dress, I lost it and cried like a baby.”

The Prequel: “We met at a backyard barbecue and became friends. It never entered our minds to actually date until 14 months later, when something just clicked and we were like, ‘Maybe this is worth a shot.’ ”

Flop The Question: “I very carefully planned a scavenger hunt for my proposal but it still went off the rails. She’s very good at getting things out of me, so she already knew I was going to propose. She would say, ‘Can I have lunch with my agent on Thursday?’ Finally, I said, ‘I need you Saturday from noon to 6.’ On that day, she ended up getting behind schedule and by one of the last stops, she told a friend, ‘I’m gonna kill him.’ Luckily, she ended up saying yes.”

Men In Black: Former co-stars Billy Magnussen (ex-Casey, ATWT) and Josh Kelly (ex-Cutter, OLTL) served as groomsmen.

Son Rise: The Degnans welcomed a son last November. “There were a couple of names that I was thinking of like Christopher and Matthew, but Erin was adamant about Thomas Francis Degnan IV and I remember thinking, ‘Man, that’s a lot of name,’ but there was no changing her mind.”

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