When Thomas was 21 years old, he was offered two movies simultaneously: Snowbound
, directed by Robert Young, and Pity the Poor Soldier
. Next, Tom originated the roll of Oliver Treefe in Simon Gray's world premiere of Molly
at the First Annual Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. After this highly acclaimed performance he returned to NYC to be cast as the lead in On the Yard
(1978) co-starring John Heard. Tom was offered a 3 picture option deal with Paramount Pictures. After very strong critical notices Tom accepted the lead role in Walter Hill's, The Warriors
(1979) as the character "Fox."
Tom later auditioned with Al Pacino and was cast as Jeff McCullough in the Norman Jewison film, ...And Justice for All
(1979). This began a long relationship with Pacino. The two worked together again in Shakespeare's Richard III. Tom received strong critical notices again for his role as Richmond. After that, Tom originated the role of Mitchell in Alan Bowne's Forty-Deuce
Off-Broadway at the Perry Street Theatre. In 1982, Tom competed with actors such as Matt Dillon and Kevin Bacon to land the role of Bobby in David Mamet's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, American Buffalo
. Kurt Russell and John Carpenter saw Tom's performance and subsequently cast him as Windows in the film The Thing
(1982). Tom was cast in the Broadway premier of Trafford Tanzi
, a musical in which Tom co-starred with Deborah Harry of Blondie fame. Next, he played Steve in Pastorale
, the Obie Award-winning play by Debra Eisenberg starring Judith Ivey and Christine Estabrook.
It was during this time that Tom met his namesake and singer Tom Waits, who generously taught Tom the song "Jersey Girl" on the guitar. Out of deference to the musician Tom Waits, Tom added the "G." to his professional name to offset any confusion between the two talented artists. Tom Waits even played the bass drum on a demo tape of Thomas G. Waites' music. Tom G. Waites began writing music and formed a band called The Pushups, playing gigs around NYC in clubs such as CBGB's, Limelight, Traxs, The Bitter End and even opening for The Smithereens.