Michael E. Knight Interview: The Cost of Erecting a New Career, Suiting Up and Showing Up
Fifty-two year old actor Michael E. Knight began his daytime television career as Tad Martin on the ABC series All My Children that aired from January 5, 1970 to September 23, 2011. He was honored with three Daytime Emmy awards for his work on the show that spanned a thirty-year period.
Other television projects included Matlock, Sydney, Dear John, Murder, She Wrote, A Different Kind of Christmas, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, One Life to Live and Hot in Cleveland. The actor also starred in the 1987 feature film Date With an Angel.
“So much of America is going through a real tough time right now. There are blessings and curses to everything that life hands you. One of the blessings about being in this situation is being willing to be anxious or willing to walk through some things that are difficult. You often find out things about yourself or you remember things about yourself that you left on the shelf for a while.”
Currently, Knight can be seen in the Blank Theatre’s production of the funny and sophisticated portrait of marital strife, The Cost of the Erection, by Jon Marans, directed by Blank Founding Artistic Director Daniel Henning. The West Coast engagement will run through Sunday, March 18, 2012 in Los Angeles. In addition to the former daytime star, The Cost of the Erection also features Kal Bennett, Robin Riker and James Louis Wagner.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, are you getting settled in LA?
Michael E. Knight: Oh yeah. I have no complaints.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You lived in California at a young age.
Michael E. Knight: I grew up in southern Los Angeles. Actually, I grew up in a place called Ojai, which is inland from Santa Barbara and Ventura in that area in the mountains.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have any family there?
Michael E. Knight: Both of my brothers are in the LA area. My younger brother, Stephen, lives just slightly east of LA, and my older brother is in Santa Monica.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Well, congratulations on the Daytime Emmy pre-nomination (Supporting Actor, All My Children)!
Michael E. Knight. Oh, thank you very much. I thought those had come and gone, so I wasn’t expecting it. I thought the pre-noms had come out ages ago. Then, I got a text from Jill (Larson) saying, “Congratulations!” I was like, “What the hell are you talking about?” But, I have never paid too much attention to them.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you think All My Children is well represented?
Michael E. Knight: I don’t know, and I’ve got to tell you that my mind has pretty much been moving on from the past. But, I think the two standouts that deserve special attention are Debbi (Morgan) and Darnell (Williams) who have been friends of mine for decades. They don’t come better than either of them. I think Vince (Irizarry) is nominated also. I’m immensely proud of them and consider them friends as well as co-workers.
Vince, Darnell and Melissa (Claire Egan) are all wonderful actors, but I just think Debbi’s work in the last year was exceptional. She has always been an exceptional actress, but I think she really outdid herself last year. But, I really don’t think about it too much. I’ve been having such a good time out here in LA and trying to look forward rather than looking back. There’s so much good product out there.
I’m thinking about putting my best foot forward from here on rather than thinking about what happened with All My Children. If anything, I don’t really think about the nomination that much. If I had to be honest, I really don’t think there was that much I did this last year that was all that terrific except for working with Lindsay (Hartley) and Ricky (Paull Goldin). I had such a good time with them and that storyline.
Mostly, if I think about the soap these days, it’s about missing people that became family to me like Walt (Willey), Jill, Thorsten (Kaye) and Cady (McClain). I realize how lucky I was to have that kind of working environment. On some levels, it’s a ridiculous way for a grown man to make a living, but I have the blessing of having been able to do it many years with such amazingly talented people like David Canary and Susan (Lucci), just people who are near and dear to me. So, when I think about the soap, I think about my friends and not necessarily the job itself.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Other than the play, The Cost of the Erection, what else is new?
Michael E. Knight: I just got to go in and have a sit down with Marc Cherry for a new pilot he’s doing and was so gratified just to be in the room to audition for something like that. The script was wonderful. But, even more so, I found him to be … I couldn’t imagine a more generous and supportive person. It was interesting because sometimes our industry has been so easy to satirize and dismiss for a long time, so you never really know what you’re going to get walking through the door.
Marc and the casting director were there, and I had twenty of the best minutes of my life because they could not have been more gracious, supportive and respectful of where I’d been in my life. I didn’t feel like I had to apologize for where I had made my living. I think about experiences like that rather than looking back to the soap. It was kind of a bumpy ride there toward the end for all of us. That includes the move, the cancellation, rumors of being picked up and then seeing that fall through.
I’m a big Anglophile. I love BBC America. My parents are just rabid BBC America fans. We watched a show years ago called House of Cards which was a big hit over there about corruption in Parliament. Kevin Spacey spent years over there working in theatre and decided to buy the rights to it. He’s doing an Americanized version of the political thriller about Washington. To be able to go in and interview on that, to read for that, is very exciting for me. It’s sort of age appropriate. Because so much of daytime is based on youth and beauty, you begin to wonder what the next chapter of your life could possibly be. But, to have experiences like that sort of soothes the disappointment over the last couple of years, if you know what I mean. It makes you hopeful.
The industry is going through unbelievable changes right now because of dissemination of product over multiple channels and venues, and so much of nighttime television is coming into its own, and they are serial based, too. There are so many shows I’m crazy about like Justified, The Good Wife, Alphas, Warehouse 13 and The River, which I thought was amazing. Obviously, there’s a lot of production out there, a lot of people working in television, now that television has come into its own and doesn’t have to work on the network model anymore. They can afford to be a little more racy, a little more adult.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Marc Cherry is probably best known as creating Desperate Housewives. The show, in my opinion, has the perfect blend of drama and comedy.
Michael E. Knight: Well, I’m not going to give anything away, but his new show is called Devious Maids. He’s an absolute master of turning up the dials on comedy. There are some really terrific characters that he’s created for his new series. Marc is really good at taking advantage of what Shakespeare called “the misfortune of kings.” He’s really fantastic at the eccentric.
I’ve also been getting back into class and just taking on being a workman again, just working on my craft for the love of it. There are some brilliant teachers out here that I’ve had the good fortune of meeting like Larry Moss and Catlin Adams who have been very good to me. It’s just nice to get back into the lab so to speak.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did it feel to get back on the stage?
Michael E. Knight: The play has been just phenomenal. My favorite joke lately is that I spent 30 years in radio, and now I’m trying to figure out what the hell to do next. I had the good fortune of meeting Daniel Henning and speaking to him about this new play by a man names Jon Marans. It has been a real education. I have a wonderful cast. Part of remaking yourself is sort of going back to basics. That’s a real challenge because I had a home for so long in daytime. So, to walk into the theatre again after 14 years since I had done off Broadway in New York, to be the new kid in school again and find your way through a very challenging piece … that’s its own reward, you know? My mom always used to say, “The attempt is its own reward.” That’s really true.
So much of America is going through a real tough time right now. There are blessings and curses to everything that life hands you. One of the blessings about being in this situation is being willing to be anxious or willing to walk through some things that are difficult. You often find out things about yourself or you remember things about yourself that you left on the shelf for a while. To go back to zero and start to find your way through something new is challenging, but it really is kind of exciting.
I have the blessings of such wonderful actors. I can’t say enough about Robin, James and Kal because they’re all very skilled theatre actors. There is the blessing of having a new piece, something that hasn’t been done before. We do mess with time and space a little bit in a small theatre. There are days you walk out of the theatre and think, “I’m going to open up a bowling alley because I’ve got to find something else to do.” There are other days you walk out and you’re on Cloud 9. I think the greatest benefit I had is becoming friends with and really learning to respect and love Daniel Henning who’s probably one of the best theatre directors I’ve ever worked with. The play itself is a real God shot.
I’m not making the money I used to, that’s for sure. But, I tell you; I’m going to frame that first paycheck. I’m not even going to cash it because it’s the best 32 bucks I’ve ever made (laughs). I know what it’s like to make a ton of money a week on something that seems to be tripping over itself just to survive, and I now know what it’s like to make very little money for something that keeps you on your toes, makes you happy, and reminds you of why you got into the business in the first place. I’ve got nothing to complain about. I really don’t.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): The title, The Cost of the Erection, certainly grabs attention.
Michael E. Knight: Oh, we get a lot of grief for that, Melissa! There are parts of the play that are a little racy, but it’s not in that kind of way. Basically, it’s about two architects and their wives that come together in crisis. It’s about why we build our relationships and how fragile they can be. But, yeah, we get a lot of interest because of the title.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any singing?
Michael E. Knight: I sing a little tune, but I would call it a dark comedy. It’s a drama with charm. But, at its heart, it is a very complex love story.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How many nights a week do you work?
Michael E. Knight: It’s on from Thursday to Sunday. I’m in the midst of my time off today. My weekend is now Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So, you are in the play, auditioning for pilots and taking acting classes.
Michael E. Knight: Call it getting back into the lab, you know? I find that a little bit of fear is always a healthy thing. In this business, if you get too complacent, you’re not doing yourself any favors. It’s sort of figuring out what your strengths are at any given time and going with them. I deal with a lot of uncertainties, but at the same time I’m meeting many new wonderful people. Carolyn, my manager, is doing an excellent job of getting me out there.
I’m gratified to find that much of the industry has changed from when I was coming up. It was harder for people that became known in the daytime industry to break out, but because of the excellent work done by people like Sarah Michelle Gellar and Josh Duhamel, you can see that the walls are breaking down. The rules that applied 20 or 30 years ago are changing just as the industry is changing.
Network television no longer has a monopoly on an audience’s interest, and we see amazing shows like Boardwalk Empire being produced on cable for cable. Game of Thrones is one of my personal favorites. I read those books years ago and am a big fan of George R. R. Martin. As the industry changes, you don’t see the salaries you did 10 or 15 years ago, but at the same time, there’s product and stuff out there by very talented producers and writers that have a lot more latitude and freedom to do the kind of work they want to do. They don’t have to compete by network rules which in some ways are antiquated.
Television is still at the mercy of the Nielsen ratings, which don’t really take into account the way a product is disseminated over the Internet. For instance, I’m a big Apple TV fan. I’ll wait an entire season of The Good Wife, and then watch all of the episodes in a week and a half, which I love to do. The Good Wife, in particular, is so brilliantly written and acted. I love the ability to just sit down and watch two or three episodes a night. I’m into a show called The River and I adore Justified. Pound for pound, the acting in Justifiedis sensational and the writing is incredible, but I have to wait every week to get an hour a week, and I find that frustrating.
I like being able to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it. The fact that people are doing that more and more now in spite of how they were watching the last 30 or 40 years is a big indicator of how things are changing. So, on a personal level, I go back to people like Sarah and Josh. There are jobs out there, but you have to make yourself available. Make sure you suit up, show up on time, and then turn it over to the fates and see what shakes your way. I’m having a pretty good time doing just that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Michael, did you get any calls from other soaps when All My Children was cancelled?
Michael E. Knight: No, I didn’t. I can’t say that I was surprised by that though. It’s not like I developed a reputation in the industry for going into other shows as many actors have done. My identifiability in daytime with that one character was so strong. Brad Bell might not need somebody with the kind of heart, that kind of Jimmy Stewart quality of Tad Martin.
I can’t say I thought that much about being called by other soaps. Debbi, Darnell and Melissa are over at The Young and the Restless. So, if it happens, so be it. But, I also tend to think that now the pool is so much smaller. We have four shows left on daytime. When you get into the leading man characters or elder statesmen, as I like to call them, those positions are filled by people that are very recognizable and very talented on those shows.
Where you tend to see a lot more turnover on shows is in younger characters. You need to feed the machine. The families keep evolving, expanding, growing and morphing, so you tend to see a greater influx on other soaps of younger people coming up. The older characters, or what I like to call the foundation characters on those shows, are well set, so unless somebody decides to leave or retire, the chances of me getting called in to replace someone like that are rare.
I would love to work with Brad Bell. I’ve never heard one bad word said about the man. They say he’s the cream of the crop when it comes to production in daytime. Because his father was responsible for the genre, Brad knew the business from the ground up, but he’s also one cook. He’s the guy who runs the show and has his hands in everything. I think that’s where ABC started to come apart toward the end. There were too many cooks in the soup, if you know what I mean.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Debbi Morgan was given a pre-nom for her work on The Young and the Restless (Supporting Actress), as well as the pre-nom for Lead Actress (All My Children).
Michael E. Knight: I think Debbi is one of the best performers I’ve ever known. Working with Debbi was like falling into a big vat of silk. She deserves every good thing that happens to her. It’s nice for me to have known somebody of that kind of talent for so long who has that sort of heart. Her husband is great, too. I’m glad for her, but I’m wondering if she’s still doing that crazy commute. I’ve got to wonder about that. Melissa, is it for sure they’re taking General Hospital off the air?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I haven’t heard if it is confirmed, but it’s a strong possibility. However, in January, The Revolution was down 35 percent from One Life to Live’s January 2011 numbers.
Michael E. Knight: Well, Brian Frons is out of the picture. I wonder if ABC will ever rethink the decisions they made in daytime. But, you’ll never know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): True.
Michael E. Knight: I can’t fault the network for making the choices they made. The overhead on soaps is just staggering in terms of the money available to make in the market now, especially with cable and Internet doing what they’ve done across the board. I don’t fault ABC at all. I think it had to be done.
Back in the 80s when I was coming up, the pie was so much bigger. There was so much money to be made, but I’m not surprised they had to cut their lineup. I just hope, as a genre, it doesn’t pass away altogether. General Hospital has some really wonderful actors over there. Maurice Benard comes to mind. He’s a very old friend of mine and a very talented actor. I’d personally like to see soaps as an industry sort of evolve rather than die away.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I actually thought that a pairing of Tad Martin and Alexis Davis (Nancy Lee Grahn, General Hospital) would be ideal.
Michael E. Knight: Oh, there’s a long line for that one. I’ve got a feeling I’m pretty far back in the herd.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Alexis is an attorney and so funny. Tad is a private eye and could match her humor any day of the week. It could work.
Michael E. Knight: Think about all the conflicts of interest and the great makeup sex (laughs). I’ve known Nancy for years and she’s an outstanding performer.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): She is indeed, as are you. Michael, I wish you the best and hope you have the opportunity to work with Marc Cherry.
Michael E. Knight: Send a prayer my way, honey. You never know. In six months, we could be talking about something else. The best you can do in life sometimes is just to suit up and show up. One thing I took away from years of knowing Agnes Nixon as a mentor and a dear friend is that life gets hard, but if you act in faith and try to do the best you can with what you’ve got, things tend to work out. I intend to put that in play for a while and see what happens!
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