© SOU January 1, 1990
A KNIGHT OF DAYTIME
(Part 1) AMC’s Tad, Michael E. Knight without armor
by Allison J. Waldman
Once upon a time, a young man with boyish good looks and soft, sexy eyes, arrived on the scene in Pine Valley, taking the town by storm. He was a cad and a bounder, but so charming as to win the hearts of women, as well as the admiration of men. The young man grew up and left the small town, and when he returned, his heart had turned to gold and he was transformed. His good looks were now the handsomeness and stature of a man, the sexy eyes burned with a desire and passion never there before, and rather than taking the town by storm, the world stood back to make a space for Michael E. Knight. Like a knight in years gone by, ALL MY CHILDREN’S Tad, the remarkable Michael E. Knight, is like a crown prince in daytime television.
Who is this Knight of daytime and what makes him the compelling presence that he is? The answers are as complex as the man himself, as thoughtful as his responses, as humorous as his jokes and anecdotes, and as charming and seductive as his gentle, quiet voice. Readers, be warned, you are about to enjoy a rare pleasure. An afternoon with a prince of afternoons ‑ the dynamic Michael E. Knight. In Part I, Michael and I talk about his on‑screen marriage to Dixie Cooney, actress Cady McClain, and their Pine Valley love affair. In the next issue, Part II will explore the man as well as the character, as Michael E. Knight opens up as he rarely has before.
Michael E. Knight wanders the halls of ALL MY CHILDREN in search of an office where we can sit quietly and talk. Through every doorway is a friend, an acquaintance, a castmate. He pauses to kiss Susan Pratt on the cheek and pat her very pregnant belly with the affection of a younger brother. The girls in the office call out to him, telling me that Mike is the absolute best, simply a wonderful guy. In the lounge, he greets Dana Ivey (Mrs. Bancroft), the distinguished stage actress who was doing a small guest spot on the show. He asked Dana for some advice regarding an off‑Broadway show he was rehearsing, and if there was any doubt that this is an actor who cares about what he does, his conversation with Ivey dispelled that myth. Michael E. Knight cares. He cares a lot.
Watching him travel behind the scenes at AMC, I wondered how this experience on the show is different than his last tenure? "It feels like more of a job. I know it for what it is. When I started out I was very lucky ... What little career I had before my stint at AMC wasn't anything compared to spending a year and a half in Los Angeles. I did a film, I did some TV stuff. I now know what it's like to be out there looking for work, doing other things. Being something other than Tad Martin. Being Tad Martin, the job is so pervasive. It's your life. They really are in affect not just buying your career, they're buying your life," says Michael emphatically.
Michael is quick to point out that he's not the only actor asked to put in 14‑hour days ‑ so are David Canary (Adam), Susan Lucci (Erica) and Cady McClain (Dixie), among others. Mention of Cady leads me to ask how they were paired on the show?
"It just happened. It's one of those things that sometimes happen on soaps. They (stories) do change and they will fluctuate according to what happens on screen. We're a medium that sort of feeds off itself ‑ the writers watch the show and they get ideas, and they write and we go and do them, but we might incorporate what the writers do or change it a little or steer it in a certain direction. Two sections of people working sort of following each other around," analyzes Mike.
But getting back to Dixie: "Cady and I worked together one day, we walked on screen and everybody in the office told us, 'You two really have chemistry together.' And that was really nice to hear."
Michael smiles gently and says dramatically, "Cady scares me. Did you ever hear the expression that there are some people who have lived before. I think Cady McClain is a very old soul. I think for a 19 year-old person, she's got her head screwed on so tight, it's amazing. She's one of the most talented, hard-working, studious people. For a young actress, I think she's phenomenal. I've seen her grow so much in the part and just chew it up. She's just eating the whole thing whole and now she's cruising with it. They work her to death because she's good ' They know they've got a good thing here."
Speaking of good things, is that what marriage will be for these two opposite characters? "The reason I'm lucky with Tad is because the writers have given me a varied history," Michael begins. "There's nothing as a character I can't do because I've been through it all before. I've been a bad guy, I've been a good guy. I know what it's like to do the right thing. I know what it's like to compromise my morals. He's a guy who's not set in stone. So I think as a married man. I mean I definitely think he loves Dixie ... but as we know 'happily ever after' we just can't afford on soaps. It's the kiss of death to an actor, so I don't know. I would think at this point we've got a nice little three-way thing going between Adam, Dixie and me, especially with the baby. I think we can sort of draw that out for a while in terms of Dixie and I possibly being together, but her life is never really going to be complete without that child, and there'll be a lot of back and forth between the rights of the mother, who is poor and basically on her own with Tad standing by her, against the rich, powerful and evil multi-mogul."
Acknowledging that Tad and Dixie are diverse characters from very opposing backgrounds, exactly what does Tad see in Dixie? "I don't know. I think it's a chemistry that happens between two people. There's also this semi-orphaned quality about Dixie and her family that Tad relates to. There's sort of an underdog quality about her, that real kind of stubbornness in the face of adversity. A strong woman that he just relates to the way he related to Hillary. Opposites sometimes attract," answers Michael with a shrug and a grin.
The mention of Dixie's 'semi-orphaned quality' reminds me of Tad's own orphaned background. Is that Tact's Achilles heel, his adoptive family the Martins, and his need to protect them? "Yes, it's wonderful that you say that. The family stuff really gets to Tact. It really gets to Michael," he adds seriously. "There are scenes I've done with Mary Fickett (Ruth) that I think are some of the best I've done. Some of the simplest, some of the most heartfelt. Tad doesn't always realize it, but he's very protective of his family. There's this orphan thing about him, a sense of being poor white trash that he never forgets. There's a scar on his personality that is basically involved with being thrown away. But there's also this wonderful group of people that took him in, and they are, whether he knows it or not, the positive support in his life. If something were to threaten that ... that's one thing I wish would happen. Instead of them going after Dixie, they go after Tad's family."
What would happen to Tad if that storyline came to pass? "I think you'd see a side of Tad, like a caged animal going crazy. That's really the only thing solid about him in his life. That's the thing that brought him around, because he had the love of these people in his life when he came from the streets. They took him into their lives and made him a part of their family where he really feels like he's not an outsider. There's a part that worries he's always an outsider, and he's aware of it, but he knows he's loved by these people."
Reflecting on the nature of soap opera, Michael is realistic when he explains, "The writers don't have time to write very three‑dimensional characters sometimes. Sometimes they just have to throw out the storylines, so it's our job to flesh it out, make it a little more three dimensional. David's (Canary) always trying to bring Adam from the brink, because he walks such a fine line, and he does it so well. He's got to make these actions look rational. Adam has always hung on to the idea that he wants a son, but the one thing that he really cares about is having somebody to take his name from him. And I think he loves the baby, too. That'll he interesting. I think that's another thing they can play out. It's not so much that it will be about me, but us, meaning Dixie. So as a husband, I think Tad is going to be sort of a support system. I'm also an antagonist to Adam."
It seems AMC is far more character oriented than say action/adventure or gothic drama. Does Michael prefer it that way as an actor? "Overall, yes I do. It gives us more to do as actors. That's part of the family-orientation that Peter (Bergman) said when he left. We are a family-oriented show. We don't do cops and robbers. There are other shows that do cops and robbers so much better than we do. Not that cops and robbers aren't fun. They are. But cops and robbers tend to be very stylized in the form of soap opera. Everything performs a certain function. In terms of playing characters, your rationale for doing one thing might be this one month, and then in two months it might change. So you're always growing, you're always changing. I think it gives you longevity on a show, too.
"An audience, on the whole, is more interested in the way a person works and can stick with it. I've met people on the street who've said, 'Well, I've known Tad since he was a baby. 'And they really feel that way. The big thrill for them is to see this person sort of go through his licks, go through the strokes. And sort of see them change, see them grow up, see them develop."
No doubt one of the reasons fans have always loved the character of Tad is his sense of humor? That characteristic
belongs to both the actor and the role. "Sense of humor is really major in my family. I have a really wonderful relationship with my brothers. It's the one thing that's really important to me in being attracted to another human being. I dated a woman for five years. One of the reasons we got along so well, and still do, is that she loves to laugh. I'm always
aware of that. I really, really love to laugh. I think it's partially natural and partially environment, conditions. I also find that
as an actor, if you can get them to laugh, you can get them to cry. Get them on your side first, then you can take them
THE ROAD HE DIDN'T TAKE
If Michael E. Knight had not gone into acting, what would he have done instead? "I think I would have gone back to art. I've always been fascinated with animation. I'm a Disney freak from ages ago. Wait Disney was such an amazing person, and Disney (the entertainment corporation) is such an amazing thing, I've always been impressed with that kind of animation and special effects, Computer generated special effects, computer generation photography and the whole 'Star Wars' epic sort of brought that to the fore. I go back and watch ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ which if you saw it in first run, everyone thought those special effects were amazing. And now look at them."
YOU’RE INVITED TO THE WEDDING OF AMC’S TAD & DIXIE –TUNE IN ON DECEMBER 28TH & 29TH
THE BRIDE, CADY MCCLAIN, SHARES HER THOUGHTS by John A. Penzotti
The wedding dress is beautiful. I love it because of it’s style, traditional, romantic, very much like Dixie.
Working with Michael (Knight) every day of the week is a lot of fun. Now that we are working together so often, I have learned that Michael is a much more serious person than anyone anticipates. With him, we work a scene from the outside in, finding the core of it first, and working the words in from there.
Now that we are a family, I can’t help but think that all the love from the Martins, Joe and Ruth, and the feelings that we have for our baby will make our home happy. I think that Dixie feels that those things are very important, and I’m not saying that there will not be problems, but I think we’ll be happy for a while. Dixie would say that the family that prays together, stays together.