Generations know Tommy as the actor and leading man behind the iconic “Ponyboy Curtis” in The Outsiders, or “The Reaper” in “Criminal Minds.” From Elizabeth Taylor and Francis Ford Coppola to Steven Spielberg and Patrick Swayze to Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield, Tommy has worked with the best in Hollywood on his journey through more than 240 credits. Along with memorable roles in classic films such as Red Dawn, The Hitcher, and H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, he’s portrayed legendary figures ranging from Baby Face Nelson to “The Hillside Strangler,” Kenneth Bianchi. He’s appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man, Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, and Gettysburg. He currently has multiple TV shows and films in production.
When the entertainment business all but shuttered in spring of 2020, holed up like the rest of us, Tommy did what he’s done professionally since he was 14: He followed his heart, and got to work. With a story in his head for a music-related film project, he grabbed a guitar, and started writing characters not for the screen, but for his own songs. The shift in artistic discipline ignited a “creative awakening” for Tommy, one that sounded, sonically, a lot like where his own story started.
Tommy grew up riding in a Ford Pinto with his bull rider-turned-stuntman father — from town to town, rodeo to film set. Often, he’d sleep on the floorboard while other cowboys shared a ride to places like Nephi City, Utah, or Sisters, Ore. By the time he was 14, Tommy was roping and riding. He was on a path to become a stuntman, performing fights and falls and riding motorcycles. As a teen, he twice earned California Junior Rodeo Association Champion in the All Around Cowboy category, while performing his own stunts in films and TV shows.
But beginning at 16 in Spielberg’s legendary E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Tommy’s blossoming acting career meant leaving behind stunts and steers for the better part of four decades.
“When I was younger, I was embarrassed to some degree with my rural background, and I struggled with it,” he says from his recording studio in Nashville. “But I later realized that where I was from was secretly my super power. What I was hiding and denying was my strength.”
It was music that brought the Gen X performer and Hollywood icon back to his cowboy roots.
A band featuring some of Nashville’s top musical players, including Sweepy Walker (grandson of Country music icon Bill Walker) and Broadway staple, Zachariah Malachi, provide the precision muscle to Tommy’s authentic, road-worn vocals on catchy, character-driven songs. Rounded out by famed producer Dean Miller (son of legendary Country artist Roger Miller), Tommy and his band are reviving a sound that has since been absent from the time of its forefathers The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
“I really miss that sound, and I think there’s a place for it again,” he says.
Tommy’s unique ability to draw-in and delight audiences between songs with surprising and relatable stories gives him and his traveling show a built-in advantage. Whether in seated concert halls or raucous venues, his show evolves, and changes based both on the audience, and the details of his unfolding life and career.
“When I’m acting, the more personal I can make a moment, the more universal it is. It’s the same when writing a song,” he says. “The deeper I go into the darker corners of my soul, thinking no one will understand, the more I’m heard, the more people relate.”
From blue collars to red carpets, rural to urban, Tommy’s life has straddled seemingly disparate worlds.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on both sides. And I believe I could be a bridge,” he says.
“We need to move forward and be the best we can be as people. And I feel like there’s a voice there and a place for me to help find some comfort.”
Because whether it’s acting, music or rodeo, Tommy says, the goal is always the same.
“As human beings, we all just want to connect,” he says. “I want to connect. The audience wants to connect. We’re feeling something together.”