INTERVIEW: Michael E. Knight gives the scoop on his new General Hospital character, Martin Gray

Posted Wednesday, October 02, 2019 4:05:31 PM

Michael E. Knight opens up about the plans for General Hospital's Martin Gray, how the lawyer is connected to All My Children's Tad Martin, and whether or not there's longevity in his new ABC soap role.

Snatching up beloved All My Children alum Michael E. Knight was a great casting move for General Hospital. The talented actor spent nearly thirty years entertaining daytime fans with his humorous and loveable Pine Valley character, Tad Martin, and now the stage is set for him to win the hearts of GH fans, as well. But there's no Tad the Cad in Martin Gray, outside of the character's moniker being an homage to Knight's former alter ego. Or is there? Some fans are already speculating that Martin Gray is no ordinary lawyer and that he could, in fact, be Tad Martin in disguise. Is the theory really that ridiculous? And what other mysteries and surprises might Martin Gray have up his sleeve? Soap Central went straight to the source -- Michael E. Knight, of course -- to find out.

Soap Central: Hi, Michael! I am so, so happy to be talking with you and to have you back on television. You joining General Hospital has been one of the happiest casting stories that we have reported all year.

Michael E. Knight: Well that is very, very kind of you. I've got to say, I'm sort of humbled by the whole thing myself.

Soap Central: Is it true that you're the one that reached out to the show on the off chance that they might have a role for you?

Knight: Absolutely, but the way it came about was very roundabout. I reached out to Frank [Valentini, GH's executive producer]. I wanted to work and needed to work, but I had been reticent to try. There have been a number of friends of mine in my life that have just sort of buoyed me along, one of whom was Steve Burton [Jason Morgan]. We did a podcast recently and were sort of ruminating about the old days when I was in New York, and it brought back memories of what it was like when I started, going gangbusters in the 80s and 90s, and that's when I started thinking about [returning to daytime]. And then I have two really good friends who sort of nudged me off the bench; one was my very old friend Patrick Stuart -- to me he's Patrick, but to fans, he's James Patrick Stuart [Valentin Cassadine] -- and the other is Rebecca [, Hayden Barnes; ex-Greenlee Smythe, AMC], who is a colleague and a friend and fellow student, as we're part of an acting lab together. They both said, "Reach out to Frank," so I did, and to my [surprise], Frank got back to me almost immediately and said, "What's your status?" There had been a part that was coming up that was designed for a very specific, limited purpose, and he said, "Are you interested?" And I said, "Absolutely." So, he went back to [co-head writers] Dan [O'Connor] and Chris [Van Etten] and said, "Do you think Michael could do this?" And they said, "Yeah, let's jimmy some stuff around," and they came back and gave the thumbs-up to Frank. But I keep saying, the real [person to thank] in all of this is Frank, because he's the one who made it happen.

Soap Central: Given that all you had to do was ask, is there a part of you that thinks, "Damn, I should have called Frank sooner!"

Knight: [Laughs] Well, yes and no, because the timing sort of seemed to happen on its own. I've been knocking on doors for, God, years now. I had a very old friend, [executive producer Jill Farren Phelps], and through her, I got to work over on The Young and the Restless [as Dr. Simon Neville], which was terrific, because I got to spend time with old friends like Eileen [Davidson, Ashley Abbott], Peter Bergman [Jack Abbott; ex-Cliff Warner, AMC], and Steve [Burton, who use to play Dylan McAvoy]. But this is different. I know it seems very corny to say, but it's one of those things where the stars literally lined up perfectly. And what continues to blow me away is the response. Initially, when Steve reached out and said, "Let's do an episode of [my podcast]" to talk about... being on All My Kids in the 80s, about what it was like to be there and how it felt in New York in your 20s, when the genre was really at the top of its game, I've got to say, I thought, "Well, who's going to care?!" [Laughs] I mean, All My Kids went down in 2011, and I wasn't part of the [2013 online version], so for me, it's been almost ten years. So, I really didn't think anybody would care! What really has knocked me over -- in a good way -- is the audience response. There is absolutely no better audience in the world than soap fans. I don't know many actors who can call up 30, 40 years later and go, "Hey, do you think I could come back for a while, to get in the game again?" and have people go, "Yeah, sure!" It's kind of staggering.

Soap Central: That reaction reminds me of Britney Spears, who has recently been on hiatus and just made an Instagram post that says she hopes her fans haven't forgotten about her. People are like, "Are you kidding me? You're Britney FREAKING Spears! We could never forget about you!" And I feel it's the same with you! You've made such an impression on the viewers.

Knight: I always say very proudly that when All My Kids was going through tremendous amounts of change back in 2004, 2005 maybe, that the fans -- and this is no joke -- they saved my job. There was something the fans did I think at Super Soap down there in Orlando, they came up with a limited episode kind of fantasy storyline for me to do, something like Tad marries Erica [Susan Lucci], and there were some people on the network who said, "Okay, yeah, we get it, he's funny. We'll keep him around a little longer." I mean, the fans literally saved my job at that point, and this is the same story, mark two, with people saying, "Yeah, let's bring him back. Let's get him out of mothballs." And it's very humbling.

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Soap Central: What are your initial thoughts about Martin Gray, and what kind of guy he is?

Knight: Well, that's really interesting, because I don't know! The guy is literally a blank slate. The character originally had a particular function, and because I dropped into this thing, Frank and I have sort of batted this back and forth, saying, "Okay, where do you go?" I dropped into something similar on The Young and the Restless, and I have to say, I kind of floundered my way out of a job. Initially, when they approached me to do this guy on The Young and the Restless, it was a character role. He was supposed to be in the vein of the Nutty Professor, and basically, I went in and I did all this character stuff, and they said, "Well, you know what, Eileen and Michael would be good together, so let's transition him into more of a leading man," and I don't think I was too good at it! He started out going in one direction and ended up going in another, and then a new producer came in and decided it really wasn't worth continuing, so they decided to let it go. I'm sort of in a similar situation at GH, where, while it's not a character role or anything like that, it's a completely blank slate; it's whatever Chris and Dan want to do. There are some things that are happening -- things that I can't tell you about! -- in terms of working right now with the people that I'm working with, and that is sort of interesting, like, "Let's see where this goes." But I really don't know. They can take this any direction they want.

Soap Central: We did get the tease that you might be working with Patrick a bit, which I think people are excited to see. Will that connection flesh out Martin a bit more?

Knight: Patrick and I go back such a long time, back to I think 1987, when he was Will Cortlandt on All My Children, and to get two friends working together would be kind of fun. But that was just spitballing and, "We'll see what happens." In terms of whether or not Martin has any family connections, or where he would drop in as a lawyer -- could there be an investigation? Something like that -- I don't know. They could throw me in any one of five directions. I'm going to just wait and see what happens. Like I said, there was a particularly limited story function that I came in to facilitate, and I think we've sort of done that, and we're closing that. Now I think Frank is going to get together with the writers and say, "Okay, you have a sense of who Michael is now -- would you like to see this character develop, and if so, how would you like to see this character develop? Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy?" And then basically, "Where do we have a slot on this show that we could use him in?" I've got my fingers crossed pretty much like everybody else does.

Soap Central: Is there anyone that you're particularly excited to work with or hope you work with in the future?

Knight: I've been watching the show, and there's any number of people that I would give my eyes and teeth to work with! There are so many old friends that I have on this show: Genie [Francis, Laura Spencer], Steve Burton, and of course Patrick. And even though we've never worked together, I'm a real fan of Michael Easton [Hamilton Finn; ex-John McBain, One Life to Live], who I think is one of the best actors I've ever known on daytime. Roger Howarth [Franco; ex-Todd Manning, OLTL], who is a brilliant character actor. I remember when [my ex-wife] Catherine [Hickland, ex-Lindsay Rappaport] came home one night in like 1995 of 1996, she said about Roger, "Oh, my God, there's this kid that you have to see on One Life to Live." And I will say, I really love working with Chloe [Lanier, Nelle Benson]. I don't know how they find somebody talented that young. Sonny scares me a little bit [laughs], but I'd love to work with my friend Maurice [Benard, Sonny Corinthos; ex-Nico Kelly, AMC], because we also go back a long, long time. He's grown into such a powerful actor.

Soap Central: What would excite you the most, storyline-wise? For example, are you really hankering to play a certain type of character? A bad guy, a good guy, a mobster, whatever?

Knight: What would excite me? Well, it's all pretty exciting. Having that new car smell is kind of cool! [Laughs] I'm still trying to get a feel for the show. Every show has its own kind of personality, and I think I'm going to be working for a couple of months to try to really internalize that. For instance, All My Children was about a small town where everyone left their back door open. When Agnes Nixon designed it, it was really about small-town gossip and who's sleeping with who, kinda. And consequently, there was a lot of small-town humor. I'll be honest, we bordered on camp sometimes, especially back in the day, in the 80s. Silly humor was a big part of the show, which is why you had characters that could go either way, like Opal [Jill Larson], Billy Clyde [Matthew Cowles], Professor Langley Wallingford [Louis Edmonds], and Phoebe [Ruth Warrick]. They were characters that you could rely on to pull your heartstrings but who were also very, very funny. GH seems like it has a much more dramatic canvas, you know what I mean? Although I think there are tremendously humorous characters on this show, as well. I love Lulu [Emme Rylan], and I love Kathleen Gati doing Obrecht. My natural instinct sometimes is trying to find the humor in things, which is what I did basically with Tad for like 30 years. But I don't know that they need that. I think they'll kind of tell me what to do. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer, and I hate to say it because it sounds stupid, but I'm just happy to be there.

Soap Central: One of the character's first lines was that he doesn't like rushing things. Is it safe to assume that the writers feel the same way about developing Martin?

Knight: I hope they do take their time. It will be interesting to see. I know that soaps operate on a different time frame now. Talking to a guy like me is kind of dangerous because I go back and forth between the way things used to be and the way that things are now! I know that I lived through a period where, for instance, when I started as a kid, they had these scenes that [AMC director] Henry Kaplan used to call "fetching coffee" scenes or something like that. They would place the character in different storylines and sort of see what took off. There was more leeway back in the day when the audience was bigger, and the [producers and writers] could get a sense of who you were, the audience could get a sense of who you were, and the character would sort of grow in that way. Today, the structure is different. Even the way they have to shoot the show now, they have to do multiple episodes in a week, the studio has to go dark so many weeks a year, and I think they're much more, "Okay, this is the way we're going to go forward, and unless something seriously goes wrong, this is where we're going to end up in three months." I got the feeling that the call is going to be in Chris and Dan's lap. They'll get a sense and say, "We have a limited amount of time, this is who Mike is now, this is what he's done with the character, physically this is his age, so who do we see him working with?" and they'll tell me. I wish I could be more precise, but I just don't know. It's still a question mark to me.

Soap Central: There are already a lot of threads there that can be explored. For instance, fans are buzzing about the fact that his last name is Gray, which is the same last name as Laura's father, Gordon. And, of course, his first name, which has made some people think he could be Tad in disguise.

Knight: Yeah, all of the possibilities are fun. Something that I found to be really quite humorous at one point was initially, when Frank wrote me an email and said, "Okay, get this, you've got a character whose name is Martin Gray," I thought that's one of the nice things about having been around since Jesus had a learner's permit: you can do an inside joke with the audience. And it's not just as a soap audience, it's ABC! So, Martin Gray is a nod to Tad Martin. But then, about a week later, I thought, "Well, is he, or isn't he? Is this some kind of trojan horse thing? Is it your old character in disguise, creeping into Port Charles to do God only knows what?" [Laughs] I did ask Frank if it was a possibility, and he said, "Well, never say never on soaps." But to my mind, that is not happening right now.

Soap Central: Was there any real conversation between you and Frank about whether or not it would make sense for you to reprise Tad, or was that kind of the only mention of the possibility?

Knight: I really do think that the name choice was just a nod to an old character, but the thought that [Martin may secretly be Tad] kind of took me by surprise. I went to Frank after I had already started working and said, "Hey, I heard this. What do you think?" And he sort of shook his head and said, "No, I don't think so. Not at this point."

Soap Central: As an AMC fan, I'm somewhat disappointed by that. But I'm also excited to see what comes! And speaking of AMC, you mentioned that you have been taking classes with Rebecca ?

Knight: Yes, there is a teacher, one of the most brilliant that I've ever worked with, a woman named Lee Kilton-Smith, and I've been doing a scene study class with her. Actually, Cameron Mathison [ex-Ryan Lavery, AMC] and Josh Duhamel [ex-Leo DuPres, AMC] turned me on to her back in 2010. They had both studied with her, and so had Rebecca, so I got in. And Rebecca has just come back within the last three, four years or so. It's kind of cool because I've always known Rebecca is great, but what most people don't know -- because she's got this sort of classic thing, and she's a very, very beautiful woman -- is that she's a tremendous character actor. So, it's kind of cool to get to see your friends do something else. And like I say, Lee is a really, really wonderful teacher. I tend to think of it as an acting lab and not so much a class, because you're getting together with the same group of people, around 20 people, and trying on different hats. I've been studying with Lee now since 2010, so it's almost been ten years. But anyway, Rebecca and I have remained close, and she is one of the people [who helped make my job on GH happen]. I said, "Well what do you think about me reaching out to Frank?" And she said, "Yes! You've got nothing to lose. All he can say is no."

Soap Central: Fans would love to think that you and Rebecca and Cady McClain [ex-Dixie Cooney, AMC] and Susan Lucci and Jill Larson -- all of the AMC gang -- get together for dinners and gatherings. Is there any truth to that "make-believe" scenario?

Knight: I don't think it's necessarily make-believe because we're actually all in touch, and we're very dear friends. I'm very good friends with Cady and very good friends with Bobbie Eakes [ex-Krystal Carey], and of course Patrick. One of the things that sort of muddies the water a little bit is that the show ended in two different places -- there was the New York home and the Los Angeles home, do you know what I mean? But we do still stay in touch. We're aware of the things that we're each going through, even though we might not talk every week or every month. [Being on a soap] is the closest thing to a family job there is, because you're working with the same people, very, very closely, sometimes for years. I mean, I grew up with those people. I was very concerned to find out about Susan's heart health issues, and I was very, very gratified to find out she was okay. When you hear about your friend that you know very well who goes through something very dramatic, your ears perk up. But as for people out here, who do I get together with? Well, I don't really get together with anybody, because I'm a bit of a hermit! [Laughs] I'm in touch with a lot of people, but we're not beating a path to each other's door once a month by any stretch of the imagination.

Soap Central: Did any of your old AMC colleagues reach out to congratulate you on your new job at GH?

Knight: Oh, sure! Yeah, yeah, yeah. You definitely get the thumbs-up or somebody reaches out to you with a joke, like, "Hey man, I hear you're back in the saddle." [Laughs]

Soap Central: My last question is will we ever see you get a social media account? Or will that never happen?

Knight: No -- I am a creature of my generation! I don't want to get on my high horse, because I don't know it well enough. But I am aware of the power of it, because I have a lot of friends who are very, very good at it. My ex-wife is a social media maven. She's tried to explain Twitter to me like six times. But I am aware that there are also very, very bad things that social media has done, to our culture and to our political discourse. I don't know it well enough to get up on a soap box about it, though. One of my favorite interviews was with Christopher Walken years ago, and I thought this was really charming, he said, "I don't do emails. It wasn't my generation. I get my wife to do it." And I remember laughing about it, and the fact is, that's kind of me. I feel like I just finally got used to emails! I came in, and now I can work my computer. I mean, I'm not going to be designing software anytime soon [laughs], but I kind of missed the stagecoach when it comes to social media.

Soap Central: Well, as much as we'd love to have you on social media, there's something to be said about actors who don't have accounts -- you retain your air of mystery.

Knight: Oh, believe me, any air of mystery I ever had around me failed a loooooooong time ago! [Laughs] But really, I've heard horror stories about late night drunken tweeting and stuff like that, stuff that you can't take back, and to me it's all kind of intimidating, if you really want to know the truth. Christian LeBlanc [Michael Baldwin, Y&R] is really terrific with it, and he sat down with me, and he said, "Remember when we used to pay $3,000 a month to a company or a publicist who would get our names out there and keep us jumping out there in the news media? Well, that's your responsibility now. That's what this is." But friends of mine who are into it do say that it's sort of a relentless beast. You always have to feed it, and in truth, my life just really isn't that interesting! [Laughs] There's not a lot to say.

What do you think about our interview with Michael E. Knight? How are you liking his new GH character, Martin Gray? Do you hope he sticks around on the canvas long term? If so, which Port Charles characters would you love to see Martin connect with? We want to hear from you -- so drop your comments in the Comments section below, tweet about it on Twitter, share it on Facebook, or chat about it on our Message Boards.

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