Maitland Ward admits that, as a teen in the mid-1990s, she was “so enthralled” by her “Bold and the Beautiful” co-star Dylan Neal, a man seven years her senior.
But the actress, now 45, alleges to Page Six in an exclusive new interview that she believes her once guileless fixation on earning Neal’s approval was actually by his design.
“Looking back now, it was kind of a grooming situation,” she claims. “And not necessarily for him to ever, like, actually have sex with me or anything — but to do things to lead me on and become very attached to him and only him.”
Ward elaborates that she “didn’t see that” at the time.
“I thought it was like, ‘Oh, he really likes me, he thinks I’m so great.’ He was very much a pull-and-push kind of person,” she alleges. “He would lure me in and we’d do fun things together and then he would push me away and be like, ‘What are you doing? Why are you like this?’”
The new author details her experience with Neal, now 52, in her memoir, “Rated X: How Porn Liberated Me from Hollywood.”
After securing the role of Jessica Forrester on “The Bold and the Beautiful” at age 16, Neal, then 24 — who played heartthrob Dylan Shaw — immediately charmed her with his charisma and good looks. While their characters embarked on a forbidden romance on-camera, Ward allegedly found herself in a more complicated dynamic with Neal behind the scenes.
“It was such a strange relationship and it was my first time in Hollywood. I got the show on my second audition and he was older than me, but he came off as like he just wanted to be this big brother figure — but in an inappropriate way that I’m looking back on now,” Ward claims to Page Six.
“And I didn’t realize it at the time. I always thought there was something weird about me or I was bad.”
The “Boy Meets World” alum — who, in recent years, has found success as an adult film actress — claims that Neal was “very punishing to me if I ever stepped out of line in any way” and “wanted to be a guide for me in my career.”
As depicted in “Rated X,” Neal — who was dating his now-wife Becky Southwell at the time — allegedly went so far as to suggest how Ward should appear when her character lost her virginity on the soap opera.
“Dylan took my on-screen virginity … and it was something he talked about — no, more like bragged constantly about — and prided himself in,” she writes in the book.
“‘Big day,’ he said with a smile as I walked onto the set where it would happen — his college dorm room, after a party where we would both get caught up in something we weren’t supposed to. He kept commenting to hair and makeup how I was too done up, and I didn’t look sweet enough or innocent. ‘It’s her first time; you don’t want her to look like she gets around.’”
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The makeup artist pulled Ward aside to ask how she felt about potential changes. While the ingenue appreciated that her bright lipstick made her feel “womanly,” she conceded to Neal’s concerns and accepted a toned-down look for the crucial scene.
“They changed me so I would be more comfortable, which made Dylan more comfortable instead,” she writes.
To Ward’s surprise, her mother and father — stalwart Christians from suburban Long Beach, Calif. — were at ease with Neal’s increasing influence in their daughter’s life.
“My parents were comfortable with him. He was always respectful and dropped me off on time — though they never demanded a strict curfew if I was with him,” she writes. “I was surprised at how much they trusted him. My parents rarely trusted anyone, especially boys, with their daughter.”
Ward’s mother once told her that she “[didn’t] have to worry about” her daughter “being up in Hollywood alone” as long as Neal was around.
But mom and dad didn’t know the full scope of the pair’s relationship, Ward tells Page Six.
“He’d be very reprimanding, I guess, of anything I did. [He was a] reward-and-punishment-driven kind of person at the time. I wasn’t emotionally ready at all for that,” she claims.
“I was just new to Hollywood and I was like, ‘Wow, this sexy co-star of mine,’ and I was just so enthralled with this whole fairytale idea of it all. He really played into that because I was so young. I don’t know why he didn’t recognize that.”
Ward felt “mixed signals” from Neal amid allegedly intoxicating romantic interactions. She was terribly confused by the vacillation of adulation and censure.
“He really got off on me just worshipping him and the more he pulled me in and enticed me and we did very suggestive things,” she claims. “It was definitely not a platonic situation there. But he would then push me away and he would be very moody with me. So I was very reliant at work on his moods.”
Ward writes in her tome that a wakeup call came during a press interview that Neal encroached on.
“Once, Dylan sat in on an interview that I had with one of the soap magazines. He helped me answer all the questions, which I thought was cute, but the journalist later said how uncomfortable he felt for me having to sit there under Dylan’s watch while he gave what should’ve been my answers,” she recalls.
“‘It’s like he thinks he controls your mind and your thoughts,’ the journalist said, and it rattled me how disturbed about it he was.”
Shortly after, Ward realized that Neal was “responsible for my every move,” she writes. “Good or bad, they were his. And I gave that power to him so he would like me better.”
The return of Neal’s girlfriend, Southwell, who had been on an extended educational sabbatical in Japan, made it easier for Ward to distance herself from him.
Ward eventually departed “The Bold and the Beautiful” in 1996 — the same year Neal tied the knot with Southwell. (The couple, who share two children, is still married.)
“The show ended and he ended up getting married and we never spoke. I remember seeing him … right before I got ‘Boy Meets World.’ I saw him at an audition and he acted like he didn’t know me, really,” she tells Page Six. “And I haven’t spoken to him since.”
Ward, who went on to marry Los Angeles real estate agent Terry Baxter in 2006, hasn’t reestablished communication with Neal since releasing “Rated X” — but wonders if she might hear from him soon.
“I have a lot of questions for him, actually. Especially at the time, because he would be great. Like, he’d go to my school plays and he would take me places. We went on a motorcycle ride together that was quite romantic and then he pushed me away at the end, making me feel weird,” she alleges.
“It was like I wanted to fall into this thing that we were doing, but then I’d feel like, ‘Oh my God, he’s rejecting me. He doesn’t like me or anything like that.’ It was just an interesting situation that, I don’t know, I just think he liked him to be the hero for me.”
A rep for Neal did not immediately respond to Page Six’s request for comment.
“Rated X: How Porn Liberated Me from Hollywood” is in stores now.