Y&R's Michael E. Knight on second chances, delicious revenge, and romantic potential for Dr. Neville

Posted Friday, November 13, 2015 5:50:53 PM
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Y&R's Michael E. Knight on second chances, delicious revenge and romantic potential for Dr. Neville

The Young and the Restless' Michael E. Knight (Dr. Simon Neville) opens up about how much longer he expects to be in Genoa City, what the future holds for nerdy Dr. Neville, and how three mystery characters have the potential to shape how he fits on the canvas.

Thrilled just isn't a strong enough word to sum up how daytime fans felt about the return of multiple Emmy-award winning actor Michael E. Knight to the world of soap operas. Having played All My Children's loveable Thaddeus "Tad the Cad" Martin for 29 years, he's a super staple for longtime lovers of the genre. And after five years mostly off the radar after the cancellation of AMC, he's back on-screen in the new role of The Young and the Restless' quirky and questionable Dr. Simon Neville. But how much longer will Knight be staying on the canvas, and what can fans expect from the devilish doctor, who originally appeared on the show to help Kristoff St. John's Neil rouse Hilary (Mishael Morgan) out of a coma? Soap Central spoke with the actor to find out!

soapcentral.com: Fans have been over the moon to see you back on the screen. After All My Children ended in 2011, did you go through a period where you questioned whether or not you wanted to continue acting, or did you know right away that you wanted to stay in the business if possible?

Michael E. Knight: Oh, God, that's one of the things that daytime has -- it's one of the few sources of steady work that really exists. So I think every actor goes through that and questions that, no matter what your age. You always assume your last job is your last job. So I had plenty of time to think about what to do, and luckily, after being on ABC for so long, I had some money put aside so I could take some time off and take it easy. And I wouldn't say I had to recoup, but... if it would have been a retirement, I would have been okay. I didn't want it to be, but it was a couple of years where things weren't really cooking along. And you have to make a change; I was known in one business, and breaking out of that mold and into something else is difficult, especially now because work is more precious. There's not as much of it now here in LA. Ironically, a lot of it has gone back to New York, which is so strange... but I was so happy out here. Having lived in Manhattan and being forced to sell my place and move out here, I really couldn't see myself doing it all again and moving back. And because I wasn't really hurting for money right away, I was very happy and content to stay here.

In the midst of that, [there was an] "If this is it, then so be it" kind of thinking. But you know, there have been some nibbles here and there, and when I got the call through Judy [Blye Wilson, the casting director for The Young and the Restless], I was thrilled. It's funny, because over the years, I've seen so many of my friends and former cast mates go to different shows, and I felt really, really lucky to get that call myself. Thorsten [Kaye, ex-Zach Slater] and Jacob [Young, ex-JR Chandler] are right across the hall over at The Bold and the Beautiful [playing Ridge Forrester and Rick Forrester, respectively], Melissa [Claire Egan, ex-Annie Chandler] is on The Young and the Restless [as Chelsea Newman], and Rebecca [Budig, ex-Greenlee Smythe] is on General Hospital [as Hayden Barnes]. So I've got to say, there's that old soap opera saying, "Old soap actors don't die, they just change shows." And this was an instance where I was happy it applied to me.

soapcentral.com: It's really nice to see that so many people from AMC landed on their feet. Do you talk to Thorsten and Jacob much, considering they're right across the hall?

Knight: Oh, yeah. I have to say, I don't know what it is, but working at ABC was kind of tough the last couple of years, because we didn't know for months and months what the future was going to be, but the people are CBS at so nice! I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm waiting for some gnome to jump out of the closet and bash me over the head with a baseball bat [laughs]. People are so sweet. My first day on set, it was like a homecoming. I got to work with Kristoff, which was great. Steve Burton [Dylan McAvoy] is great, and I've known him for years because he was over there working with Maurice [Benard, Sonny Corinthos] on GH, and Jacob came running over when I started. And that was strange, because to me, he'll always be my son. And now he's a full-grown man with three [children of his own]! So he's really a guy now, and he took me across the hall to see Thorsten, so it was neat. It was really, really cool.

soapcentral.com: And I heard you're staying around much longer than you first anticipated, so how did that come about?

Knight: That was probably [the show's head writer] Chuck [Pratt Jr.], I have to say. Initially, it wasn't even a storyline. I was just a character that was going to help out Neil with the character Hilary... They called, and the call that I initially got through Judy's office was, "He's kind of an eccentric guy," and what I figured, or rather what I heard when I got the call, was that it was going to be character work. And now that I'm of an age, I figured, "Yeah, sure. That's something I could do." It's like falling off a log. Initially, they said they needed a character who was eccentric, someone who could basically have one foot in the medical industry, one foot out, and somebody who could sort of be surreptitious and it was logical that he knew what he was doing, and I said, "Yeah, yeah, sounds good." I think it was only supposed to be eight shows, and then Jill [Farren Phelps, the show's executive producer], I've known Jill for 20 years. She was [my ex-wife Catherine Hickland's] boss over there at One Life to Live, and we were dear friends... back in Manhattan years ago. And Jill came over and gave me a hug and said, "Would you like to see this go somewhere?" And at that point, I was like, you know, I'll sort of believe it when I see it. I think that's just the way it goes in this business, but sure enough, they came to me and said, "Look, we have an idea. There are a couple of people we would like to put you with, that we can see you working with," and she named both of them. Well, actually there were three, but two of them really stood out, and I was like, "I would really, really like that to happen." So I agreed to it.

soapcentral.com: So does that mean that if the character connects well with these three mystery characters, you could stick around long-term?

Knight: I see it lasting into the New Year, but I'm not sure if it has legs for [permanency]... but then again, in soaps, you never really know! You never know what's going to hit. They have a very full roster at Y&R. They've been doing this a long, long time. And they've done a really good job of keeping it the Abbotts and the Newmans, that ongoing story that they have. So when it comes to the niche, you never really know how it's going to move forward. So I'm very, very happy to be part of the show.

soapcentral.com: Were you pretty nervous or were you more excited to take on a brand new character?

Knight: Scared to death! I'd been out of the soap thing, away from that rapid turnaround, and one of the things that we always rely on more heavily in our corner of the business than in others is that... we really have no time for rehearsal. It's not an overly rehearsed medium, so what you're relying on is the relationships you eventually build with other actors. After two decades of working with Cady McClain [ex-Dixie Cooney, AMC; ex-Kelly Andrews, Y&R], you could basically give us the phone book, and we'd give you something to watch. It might not be Shakespeare, but basically, there was an understanding, there was a simpatico. You basically have a play together. And that's a major, major part of making daytime work. That's what the audience tunes in to see. They get to know the chemistry of the show, the equations of these characters in combinations, like, "Oh, you put these two together, and this is what you're going to get, and I want to see what happens on Monday, because I know when you put Jack and Victor in a room together, something funky is going to happen." And so for me, to walk into Y&R and start from scratch was [intimidating]. I knew intellectually that I wouldn't have that to fall back on. I mean, I've known Kristoff for years. I met Kristoff back in 1985 for the first time, when the world was still cooling. But the idea of working together with a brand new character, I kind of felt a little rusty. I'll admit, I was kind of nervous. And still, I have to say, I'm a little creaky. I've been out of practice for a while.

soapcentral.com: Whenever I ask the question "Who would you like to work with more?" everybody says Kristoff. Everybody. Even Cady McClain. And you got him right out of the gate! People must be jealous.

Knight: It was a total act of God. Because he's funny! Neil as a character has a dark past, and he's a very, very complex character, and it's a very drama-driven story. It really is. But Kristoff as a person is hysterical... and he nailed me. It was like coming home. We have an expression called clown hands, which is if you're in the middle of a scene and you make a gesture and you basically get caught in the midst of a gesture and you don't know how to get your hands back to your side. You're basically stuck there working with another actor and one of your hands is between you, and it's got its own storyline [laughs], and Kristoff said, "Clown hands!" And I just burst out laughing. Only somebody in the business would know that. And after that, it was just a blast. I kept pinching myself the entire time.

soapcentral.com: I always really loved AMC's David Hayward (Vincent Irizarry) as a character, the evil doctor. And now you sort of get the chance to play an evil doctor. Not to say Dr. Neville is evil, but he's not exactly the guy next door. What do you think about getting the chance to shape a character who has potential to be kind of like David, who Tad battled for years?

Knight: I consider this my chance of revenge for being at the mercy of David Hayward for years on All My Children! [laughs] It's kind of cool. I mean, I'm still finding the guy, I really am. Like I said, I'm a little rusty. In one way, I'm really, really lucky. Like, my God, I think Gina Tognoni [Phyllis Summers] is doing an amazing job in soaps, because when you take over a character that's known, a character that has a backstory, it's a huge responsibility. And to her credit, Gina has just completely hit it out of the ballpark. So, conversely, to start from scratch is kind of cool. But then there's the "What do you fill it with? What is this guy about?" And because you hit the ground running on a soap, it's like, "Here's the backstory, here's where you're going, this is what you need, this is what's in the way, go," there are times you think, "Well, I wish I had more of this under my belt. So I'm still finding him. I have to revisit my appreciation of Vince, because I met Vince for the first time when he was Lujack on Guiding Light. My wife and I, before we were married, we actually lived with Vincent in his house in Venice Beach, so Vincent and I go back ages, and one thing I always loved about his work on All My Children is he could really ride that very, very tricky rail of having a real arrogance. I mean, he was such a good villain. He was so self-interested that you could believe he could do these nasty things, but he was also a leading man. He went through every woman on the show, including my wife! I mean Cady McClain, Dixie, not my real wife! And I think that says a lot about his character. He was a guy that was evil enough and intense enough to drive story but was so sympathetic. I don't know that I'll ever get there with this guy, but I'd certainly love to. I've got to admit, most of the stuff that I do is humor, and so I'm still sort of hanging my hat on the eccentric peg. The writers are doing an amazing job at giving me [material]. This guy is sort of like... Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. He's kind of a Sheldon. He's got a very active vocabulary, which I really love. It's fun. It keeps you on your toes.

soapcentral.com: Well, you know, even though Sheldon is a nerd, he still managed to land a girlfriend, so is there romantic hope for Dr. Neville?

Knight: Yeah! There are all kinds of ways this thing could go. I mean, the show is number one. It's a really, really talented cast. And I find that one of the things that's great about daytime is you really get an ensemble group of people. And they're as good as it gets. I'm sure that while I'm doing my best to flesh this guy out, they're going to be [observing how he fits onto the canvas]. Like I said, if I'm working with somebody like Kristoff, I'm going to look good just because I'm standing next to the guy on set, because what he does with his character is so wonderful. So, basically, in terms of just reacting to him, more than half of my job is done. So it'll be interesting to see. But I've got to say, after being at home and in one place for so long, you really take something for granted until it's gone, or you have to start over again, which is kind of what I'm doing. And I'm having fun doing it. It's wonderful. It's nice to have the chance to do it.

soapcentral.com: You've mentioned so many names, but is there anyone you would really die to share scenes with? Romantic or otherwise?

Knight: Take your pick! There are so many people. Pound for pound, it doesn't get any better. I mean, there are people that I'd be scared to work with. I'd love just for history's sake to be on set again with Peter [Bergman, Jack; ex-Cliff Warner, AMC]. I've known Peter since I was 22 years old, so a lot of water under that bridge. That would be a lot for me, just neurologically, to be on a set with him. And there are people who intimidate me. I've got to admit, I'm intimidated by Eric [Braeden, Victor Newman]. Eric sort of reminds me of David Canary [ex-Adam Chandler, AMC]. That's the kind of character that keeps the lights on. I would want to be at the top of my game, let's put it that way. And then Eileen [Davidson, Ashley Abbott]! I still remember Eileen doing five characters over on [Days of our Lives]. They don't get any better than her. And I've known Gina Tognoni for so long. I mean, there's just so many people. Some I have history with, some I don't have history with. But they're all great. I'm really lucky just to be there.

soapcentral.com: How have you been approaching the character? Did you do any acting exercises or research? Or are you just feeling things out and going by instinct?

Knight: Well, what I've really mostly been doing out here for five years is working very closely with a woman named Lee Kimball Smith, who is probably the best acting teacher I've ever worked with. I discovered her [after AMC] went down. I didn't want to sit around basically watching Netflix, so I talked to people. I asked Rebecca, I asked Cameron [Mathison, ex-Ryan Lavery, AMC], and I heard that Josh [Duhamel, ex-Leo duPres, AMC) worked with her at one point, and I said, "I'd really like to keep my hand in, to keep my chops sharp," and I heard about Lee, so I started working very intensely in her class and just stayed with it. And that's really kept me happy and in the game creatively. It keeps me reactive, and... the thing that has changed most about me, if I've mellowed with age at all, I think it's I had a lot of ideas. I was the guy that used to walk into the studio in my 30s with a lot of ideas like, "Let's do this with this, how about we do this, this is the way," and whatever, and if I've learned anything about just rolling with the punches on daytime, so to speak, because it's so fast, is that the best stuff you're going to get is always going to come from somebody else. So what I'm doing now is basically taking my cue from the people I work with. I've got a feeling that I'll know more about this guy after... watching how other characters react to me. Because it's not like I have my story, and this is what I'm going to do with my story. I am a piece of something larger with some very talented people who are breathing life into what they do, and I kind of get off on watching them do it.

Because I'm in a new place, while I'm sitting there in the studio, I sometimes creep out and watch other people do what they do, and with Peter and Eileen, between the two of them, there's like 50 years of daytime experience, and they've been playing brother and sister in the Abbott clan, this dynasty on the show, for so long, and there's so much that these guys do without even knowing they're doing it. So there's a lot that I will know about where I fit or if I'm going to fit in Genoa City based on what these wonderful people do when they go to work. I also crept on set and I was watching Eric and Amelia [Heinle, Victoria Newman; ex-Mia Saunders, AMC], and there's so much texture in the way they work together. In five minutes, you're watching the show, and you really get a sense of who the Newmans are. It's about power, it's about dynasty, it's about this man's absolute obsession with his family to the point of, "Is this going to make him or break him?" and how his family deals with him. Just as an actor, walking in with them, you basically get 80 percent of your work done just watching them react to you. You go, "Okay, I'll take a little of this, I'll take a little of that," and from that point on, you're a chef in the kitchen going, "What's fresh?"

soapcentral.com: Well, I think no matter who they decide to give you scenes with, the fans will love it. They just want you to stick around!

Knight: Never underestimate the power of a soap audience. They're the greatest audience in the world. And I think also... daytime is a harder sell for younger audiences, because they have grown up with other media, other media sources. Most of the time they're attached to their phone. And there's an entire generation of people who still feel very, very strongly about daytime television, and in that, there's an appeal. You could think of [the veterans] as the all-stars; they're known, there's a market for them, there's an audience who grew up watching these people and have a warm appreciation about seeing these people on their shows for decades. So, yeah, I'm extremely fortunate to be a part of that phenomenon as well.

soapcentral.com: Speaking of a younger audience and being attached to phones, have you felt a difference in the work now that social media and the Internet are such a huge part of it?

Knight: Yeah, I really think you have to be a master of it. I find it funny that one of the first emails I got from the publicity team was, "Michael, do us a favor and don't say anything on Twitter, because we would like to be in charge of the reveal." And I emailed them back and said, "Matt, I can barely get my emails. Twitter scares the hell out of me!" That is the one thing where I really feel like a product of my generation. I do not get the whole phenomenon of social media. And I have a great respect for it, but I watch it warily, as I would a snake in the corner of the room. I think it's a blessing and a curse for a lot of people. Apparently people get work and are cast now based on the number of people they have on Twitter. And to me, that kind of left me in the dirt. I remember when Facebook was a big thing, but I don't want everybody knowing what I'm doing! You know what I mean? So yeah, I'd say it's not necessarily a part of my world, but I'm very aware of it... People want access to their fascinations. Now, people growing up in this want access to their movie stars, and with Twitter, they get it. They have the illusion of being part of or intimate with something they in some way deify. And in a way, like I said, it's a blessing and a curse, because it is an illusion. ... It's fascinating. It really is.

soapcentral.com: So it's pretty safe to say that you're not going to unexpectedly hop on Twitter and surprise us?

Knight: Nooooooo.[laughs] Christian LeBlanc [Michael Baldwin] tried to explain it to me, and he's actually really good at doing it. He said, "Remember, Michael, in the old days, when we were starting out, we hired publicists for several thousand dollars a month to make sure our names were out there? Well, now you can completely cut out the middleman. You are your own publicist." And I was like, "Wow, I don't want that responsibility. I have a hard enough time just being an actor!"

What do you think about Dr. Neville sticking around in Genoa City? Who on the canvas would you like to see Knight work more with? Who'd make a good romantic partner for the quirky doctor? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, on our message boards, or by submitting Feedback.

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