A few weeks ago daytime soap fans were thrilled to see the face of Michael E. Knight back on their television screens again in his new role of Dr. Simon Neville, the somewhat questionable doctor on CBS’ The Young and the Restless. After over five years away from the grind of acting on the soaps, Knight is back with a renewed spirit in the genre he spent over 30 years becoming a household name. And what a name he became! Does Pine Valley’s Tad Martin, ring a bell? Michael infused Tad through the years with charm, humor, a touch of bad boy, and with a lot of good man in him. It is true that no one else could ever have played the role of Tad but Knight, which has become a classic within the annals of All My Children.
Now in 2015, getting to play a bit of an odd duck with quite a high IQ, who has his own way of practicing medicine, Knight began his Y&R journey taping scenes with Kristoff St. John (Neil), Nadine Nicole (Gwen), and Mishael Morgan (Hilary), as the doctor was enlisted by a trapped Neil, and his confidante Gwen, to bring an MIA Hilary out of a coma. Meanwhile, the whole town of Genoa City is frantically searching for her. Neil and Gwen need Simon’s help to spring Hilary back to life! How does Simon accomplish this? Well, you will have to keep watching this week’s episodes of the number one soap opera to find out!
On-Air On-Soaps chatted with Michael Knight during his break from taping some new scenes at CBS Television City to get more insight on how … through his relationships with Y&R executive producer, Jill Farren Phelps, and Y&R executive producer and head writer, Chuck Pratt Jr. … becoming Dr. Neville came to pass. Plus, how he feels now about his time on All My Children after stepping away from the daytime scene for awhile; if he will be sticking around Genoa City for longer than anticipated; and just what kind of trouble can he foresee Simon getting into, and with whom!
One thing is certain: Michael remains near and dear to daytime audiences. He is part of our family, because we have watched him grow up, and have been with him through thick and thin, and different phases of his on-screen, and off-screen life. Currently, Michael has found himself in a great new adventure, and Y&R couldn’t be happier to have him. Here now is what this multiple Daytime Emmy winner shared on his new home, new role, and reflecting on his AMC past.
Now that you have been here for a bit at Y&R, how are you enjoying it?
MICHAEL: There are so many good friends here: There is Peter Bergman (Jack), who said one of the nicest things ever in print about me, and actually made me weep. He talked about my work, and what I stand for, and after 30 years of doing this, and it was the sweetest thing ever. Then there is Melissa Claire Egan (Chelsea), who was on All My Children. I have been a big fan of Eileen Davidson (Ashley) for so long. My first day was with Kristoff St. John which was a blessing, because he made me laugh the entire time. Y&R is one of the truly easiest places to work ever, and so the only problem I am having is getting back on the bike, sort of speak. I ran into Jacob Young (Rick) and Thorsten Kaye (Ridge) across the hall at B&B and I forget! Jacob is now a man with three kids! I still remember him as my son on All My Children. You forget that five years has gone by, and I feel like I just jumped out of a pod. I’m a little frustrated, because in just doing a scene with Steve Burton (Dylan), and I have been a fan of Steve’s forever … and he is one of the nicest men in the world … I know I am not quite in the groove yet. However, I am having a good time getting there!
So, when they pitched to you, or told you the kind of doctor you would be playing, and that he may be perceived as a shady guy initially, what was your response? How did it all come about in the first place that you landed on the number one soap?
MICHAEL: It was wonderful. I got a message relayed to me from Chuck Pratt, through Jill Farren Phelps. I have to say, one of the reasons I said “yes” to doing this role was because of Jill. She has been a very, very, very dear friend for a long time. She has done five soaps and has certain standards, and enjoys working with certain people, and so I, for one, am beyond thrilled to be considered one of them. So Jill was passing me messages from Chuck, who I also have to say he was one of the few guys who tried to break me out of the domestic orbit over at All My Children. Initially, they were thinking Dr. Neville needed to be dark and shady, but Chuck said, “What we need is someone who is eccentric.” I thought initially they meant funny. I thought since Tad on AMC was always the guy with the one-liner, that of course I could do that. Chuck clarified that the character was not goofy or ridiculous, but that he has a couple of skeletons in the closet. One of the things I am now using for inspiration is Vincent Irizarry (Ex-David, now Deimos, DAYS), who in some ways I was closest to on AMC than my own love interest, Cady McClain (Ex-Dixie). Vince and I spent 15 years tried to kill each other on the soap! (Laughs) Besides playing a doctor, Vince could do that combination of arrogance, and that love to hate him kind of a guy. But then, he was always a leading man with the women. He could turn that on a dime. I thought I finally get to a play a doctor and a guy with the biggest ego in the room, which was Dr. Hayward’s, or ‘Dr. Death’, as we called him on AMC. I still remember “Libidozone” in the Christmas punch on All My Children. It was the best storyline … ever. It gave the words “The Love Boat” a whole new meaning! (Laughs) I thought this is God’s way of giving me a chance to do what Vince did for years and years so incredibly well. Because Dr. Neville had to be eccentric, I suggested to Chuck that I would like to make Dr. Neville one of those verbal guys. He is one of those guys who likes to use major vocabulary. However, as Michael, I just don’t know how to use it yet! (Laughs).
And so you are going, “What do these big words mean?” (Laughs)
MICHAEL: (Laughs) The writing is really good. There were times back in the day on All My Children I have to tweak lines and stuff. Over here at Y&R, it’s a very well-oiled machine. There is not a lot of meandering … and not a lot of fat … so you can fill it up with acting. The scripts are a good 12 pages shorter than on AMC. I might add a word here or there, but they give me a little leeway, but I am not going crazy with it at all.
Rumor has it that you will be sticking around longer on Y&R than originally anticipated. True?
MICHAEL: Yes. Well, it was suppose to be ten episodes, and I think it was a question of having a storyline, and someone to work with. And it wasn’t just a question of lets get Michael Knight. It was the perfect confluence of events. There is a nice space on the canvas, and they said, “Do you want to do this?” I said, “Absolutely.”
Apparently, Dr. Neville has his own ways of doing medicine that perhaps nobody else believes in, or would ethically try. How would you describe him?
MICHAEL: I think he rubs people the wrong way, and he thinks a lot of his work, and has confidence in his own work, whether it’s merited or not. He doesn’t tolerate fools gladly. Dr. Neville’s really had a mission in life, like helping people in a coma. He has history with it. It’s not really about money for him. It’s really his raison d’être. I think there is something slightly off about him. I think he is a guy that’s better and more comfortable over Bunsen burners and beakers, than he is with people.
But, Simon knows he has walked into a real hot mess of a situation with Neil and Gwen, and with what has happened to Hilary. And lo and behold, as teased this week, Hilary finally wakes up out of her coma!
MICHAEL: Simon is definitely stepping-up. (Laughs) He is able to wake Hilary up. But it doesn’t go according to plan. When you break the rules, sometimes you’ve got to color outside the lines. Let me just say, this is where an “oops” happens, which is great. (Laughs)
It seems the powers-that-be must be definitely thinking of what to do next with Dr. Neville now that they have seen you bring him to life on-screen.
MICHAEL: They are looking at me going: “OK, this is where you enter. This is where we started.” Now I think they are giving themselves, and me, plenty of room to see where and if the spark happens, and with what other characters on the canvas. They can give themselves enough time to figure things out. It’s not like it was on All My Children, where we were only three weeks ahead of airing. I remember feeling sorry for the kids when we moved AMC to the west coast. There were a couple of people we hired where it was the kids first job at 25 or 26-years-old. For them it was like: “OK, here’s your story. Here’s your back-story. This is your relationship. You are the brother of so-and-so, now go!” Here you get the sense that they are very careful with what they do, and how they do it. I get the feeling they are checking me out. However, they have an idea, as I have been told, that there is a next thing that I am going to do, and be a part of. I think I have been working with enough people on set to figure out if this guy lands in Genoa City on an ongoing basis where he is going to be. He is obviously not going to be working out of Memorial Hospital. He got thrown out of there. (Laughs) If he ends up back there, it would be interesting. Between Chuck and Jill, they know how to maximize the potential of anything that comes along.
When you look at the leading ladies on Y&R, who would you like to work with as a romantic interest?
MICHAEL: I would pick Eileen in a heartbeat! But, who would I be age-appropriate for? (Laughs). Well, I love Sharon Case (Sharon), she is awesome. Gina Tognoni (Phyllis), I have known her since she was a very young girl back in New York. And then there is Kelly Sullivan (Sage) … she is a walking heart attack, but their characters are all spoken for. Like I say, I am of that age. I don’t honestly know how David Canary (Ex-Adam/Stuart, AMC) would get all the young women on AMC! (Laughs) Honestly, if I had all that money dripping out of my pockets like Adam did you could see that, but otherwise I am just the guy with the Bunsen burner and people going, “Ooh, he makes his own Viagra! Girls, the line form on the right!” (Laughs)
We’re you concerned, afraid, or at all reticent to come back to the world of daytime drama after spending so much time away from it? Were you thinking you couldn’t do this again?
MICHAEL: It wasn’t that I didn’t think I couldn’t do this again, although I am aware I am a little rusty. In the old days of All My Children on 63rd street in Manhattan, it was home for most of us. I knew every inch of that place. I was very aware of staying a little too long at the party back in New York. After 2008, when the money crunch came down, we really started tightening belts. After 20 years on the show, my star was dimming somewhat. How many times can I marry on-screen Cady McClain? And because of where I was in my life, that had pretty much become me, and my sense of identify. There was a certain sense of feeling trapped … good, bad, or indifferent. I was thinking this is me, and I don’t know what else is out there. There were five years of me basically getting used to a new life out in Los Angeles. Most of it good, and some of it difficult. But when I got the call from Y&R, I thought: I am still my age, what could I contribute? Could I still do it? How long would it be? Back at All My Children, we were living under the threat of when is the axe going to fall in the last few years, and when are they going to do it. I am still pissed off that people had to leave New York, sold their houses, moved their kids out of schools, and moved here to Los Angeles, and then they dropped us on our heads. It was the one time in my life I felt I didn’t have a career, but I had a job. If you are in a place, and at a job for 30 years, there are only so many people that can take things away from you. If you are in one job for that long, and it’s going on three decades, and somebody shows up at the network and says, “You’re not worth it,” then there is very little you can do about it. It’s a powerlessness, frustration, and anger I didn’t do so well with at the time.
After all you went through on All My Children, especially the down times, it must have been so nice to feel, and to be wanted!
MICHAEL: When Y&R said come back and do this part, I was surprised, and it was great. I was supposed to do a limited thing, but the real surprise came when Jill said, “Do you want to stick around?” I was like Sally Field’s at the Oscars: “You like me! You really, really like me!” (Laughs) There is a certain sense of that for me. Jill and I have a mutual friend, writer Lindsay Harrison. She came up to me about 8 months ago and said, “Would you want to do a little blast on The Young and the Restless?” I said, “Hell, yes!” It was sort of a bee that was put in Jill’s bonnet (Jill talked to Chuck and Chuck remembered me from New York). I think they felt I could do the role, especially if it was something humorous. I think they put that away, until this space opened up on the canvas. The real surprise was everybody said, “Let’s keep this rolling for awhile.”
Chuck Pratt Jr. has done very well with Y&R, and the ratings have shown that. What are your thoughts on working with Chuck? I know he really changed your outlook for the better on All My Children!
MICHAEL: Chuck has done a great job at Y&R, and I remember meeting with Chuck at All My Children for the first time. He said, “Here are the issues I have with your character: All I hear is Tad the Cad.” I have been watching the show non-stop for the last 8 weeks. The character has become so domesticated to me. I need to re-establish you, so here is what we are going to do. I am going to put a bullet in your head, and I am going to have Tad’s best friend do it.” I walked out of that room happier than I have ever been in over five years.
You have such amazing; loyal, dedicated fans who are always right there with you every step of the way! What can you say about them? They have been over the moon that you are back on daytime!
MICHAEL: It goes back to what Susan Lucci (Ex-Erica, AMC, now Devious Maids) says. I had the greatest teacher in the world in her. What she said was, “Honey, they will love you for 30 years. All they want is for you to love them back for 30 seconds.” And you know what? Susan is right! Basically, I send a big hug and a kiss to each and every one of the fans for keeping me relevant. They did that!
I imagine your phone was ringing off the hook when people found out you got the gig on Y&R!
MICHAEL: I got calls from friends. A couple of them said jokingly: “Oh! You’re finally on a good show! How does it feel to be on a number one?” (Laughs) My friend Nancy called me, and told me when it was announced that I was going to be on Y&R, that facebook was going nuts. I’m not on social media. I never thought we would see an age where technology would influence politics the way it has. You basically have political campaigns being run on Twitter now. Christian LeBlanc (Michael, Y&R) tried to explain social media to me, and he is a master of this stuff. He said to me, “Let me break this down for you. Remember, back in the day when we were coming up and we used to pay $ 3000 for a publicist a month? Well, that’s over. We have cut out the middle man, and now this is your job.” I would consider joining social media, but I would have to develop a thicker skin to be able to do it.
In closing, what can you say about Dr. Neville’s skill set, and what that means for the citizens of Genoa City, in particular, Hilary?
MICHAEL: When you are the smartest guy in the room, you have plenty of chances to find out you’re not!
So, Y&R and AMC fans happy to see Michael again on daytime? What do you hope happens when Hilary wakes up out of her coma? What did Dr. Neville do to her? Are you liking Michael in his new role? Who do you hope Michael is paired with romantically and gets into story with, since he is sticking around Genoa City longer? What did you think about this comments on his time at All My Children, and his frustration at its final run before its eventual cancellation? Share your thoughts on the comment section below.