Patrick Petersen: From Michael Fairgate to the Real World

By Art Swift

August 6, 2004

Patrick PetersenPatrick Petersen appeared on “Knots Landing” for 12 years, the fourth-longest running cast member, after Michele Lee, Ted Shackelford and Joan van Ark. His character, Michael Fairgate, grew up before our eyes and matured into a heartthrob. On “Knots,” Michael was an athlete, a computer whiz, an amateur archaeologist, and always unlucky in love. Petersen is out of acting now, and owns a successful health-food business, Rhino Naturals. He spoke last month from Rancho Santa Margarita, California.

Art Swift: I thank you for taking part in this interview. I know you were reluctant to do so.

Patrick Petersen: It’s just that I haven’t really thought about “Knots” in eight years, since the reunion. So this should be fun to remember.

AS: Let’s start at the beginning then. How did you get started on “Knots Landing?”

Petersen: It was a pilot, like any series. They definitely wanted a brunette kid, because of Michele Lee. But they saw me and I did really well, they really liked me and didn’t mind the physical attributes. Don Murray (Sid Fairgate) was much more like it, in terms of whom I looked like. But I did the audition and pilot and they liked it.

AS: How many auditions were there?

Petersen: For a series there’s an initial audition, then there are follow-ups with the producers and executive producer. I can’t recall if there was more than two (auditions). My parents were a little tentative about putting me on a series. They weren’t sure about making the commitment. I had just come from a series. Maybe they looked at “Knots Landing” as going one or two years, so not that big a deal.

AS: But didn’t you have to sign the standard seven-year contract?

Petersen: Yes, everyone signs that but just because there’s a seven-year contract doesn’t mean they can’t end it at any time.

AS: So what were you doing in the lead-up to “Knots?”

Petersen: I was doing a lot of commercials and print ads. I started when I was around 9 or 10 years old and quickly moved forward. I wound up doing 50 commercials. It was a case where I’d go out for two auditions and get hired for one of them, every time.

When I was 10 I started doing “afterschool specials,” movies of the week. Did about four or five films by the time I was 12. Then I got a show called “The Kallikaks.”

AS: Kallikaks?

Petersen: Kind of a crazy name, I know. It took place at a pump gas station. Kind of this Podunk family, and it had David Huddleston and Edie McClurg in it. I was the brain of the family. It only lasted a year and a half. It revolved around all the pratfalls that followed with guest stars coming to the station.

AS: Then you got on “Knots.” What were some of your early memories of the show?

Petersen: The first year and the second year, Don Murray was such a cool guy. It wasn’t a stressful environment as I remember. But I basically could have mailed in my lines. I wasn’t given much to do in the beginning. I’d be in one scene and I’d spilled milk or something minor and that would be it. And it was good because I was so close to the set. I lived in Westwood (Los Angeles) and it was shot in Culver City.

AS: Did you have an active life outside the show? What kind of things did you do besides acting?

Petersen: I played a lot of sports, basketball, and football. Baseball was my leading sport. Soccer, volleyball, too. My three brothers all were athletes and played a lot of sports.

AS: As a child, how did you enjoy acting? Were you there because you wanted to be or because your parents pushed you into it?

Petersen: Probably more of the latter. I didn’t enjoy acting until probably in my mid-teens. By then I wasn’t doing it for my parents. But in the beginning they knew it was a good thing. We complained all the time, because we missed practice and because of the time it took, but my parents did it for us. My parents, God bless ’em, they knew that you could make a lot of money doing acting. And after a while it paid off in other ways; I started getting attention from the girls…

AS: You were a recurring character in the early days, but also a child actor. How did your salary compare with adult recurring characters?

Petersen: Back then we were compensated pretty well with adults. We weren’t shortchanged, from what I remember. Adam Rich on “Eight is Enough,” which was a series running at the same time as “Knots,” was the highest paid child actor and he was making a lot of money. So there really wasn’t a difference in those days if you were a child or an adult. I don’t know what it is like today, though.

AS: Did you get along with the rest of the cast?

Petersen: Didn’t really spend a lot of time on the set with anybody, my time on the set was pretty much acting in my scenes and that was it. But 99% of the time it was a very pleasant atmosphere.

AS: I always wondered what it would be like to be a child and on the set of big Hollywood projects like “Knots Landing.”

Petersen: Well, some projects you looked forward to more than others. There were other projects I worked on where I would get to travel around the country, and that was fun. With “Knots” it was pretty much the same thing year in and year out.

AS: Did anyone act like a “star” on set? Any ego trips?

Petersen: No, I never saw any. Everyone really seemed to get along well. It was an ensemble and it worked.

AS: It’s nice to hear no one was a diva.

Petersen: A diva. (Pauses) Well, you have to ask, what is demanding creative control in a reasonable way versus acting like a diva? Where is the line? The more power you have, the more you’re able to exert. Anything on the set that I saw was normal behavior to me. I’ve been in the “real” working world for a while now, and it seemed the same as on the show.

AS: How were the other child actors to be with?

Petersen: Good. I was with them a lot. When you go to a set, we always schooled together three hours minimum, every day. So I was friends with Steve (Shaw, Eric Fairgate) and even saw him outside the set socially. The others I did not. Socially I spent time with Nicollette (Sheridan), played golf with Kevin Dobson. But everybody had their own lives.

AS: With the addition of Nicollette (Paige Matheson) to the show, Michael Fairgate really leapt forward. In more ways than one.

Petersen: (Laughs) They wanted to add more sexiness and glitz to the show. And there was a switch in the writing staff. My guess is to add a little friction.

AS: And when Nicollette arrived it seemed to coincide with your physical development. Maybe it’s the way they filmed you but it seemed like around 1986, the eighth season, you bulked up and maybe even grew a couple of inches.

Petersen: Actually I’m the same height that I was when I got on the show. I didn’t grow since I was 12. They just kept lowering the camera.

AS: Really? I never knew that!

Petersen: I’m pulling your leg. (Laughs) Yes, I grew. I’m about 5’10” now.

AS: You had me going there! Did you like the romance you had with Paige Matheson? It was cool how a triangle developed of sorts with you, Paige and Peter Hollister (Hunt Block)

Petersen: Oh yeah, I didn’t have a problem with a fling. (Laughs)

AS: Did your enjoyment of acting begin with this storyline?

Petersen: It was when I was 16 or 17 that I started taking intense acting classes. I was trying to figure out if I wanted to stay in acting, how much I liked it. So this was around 1983 or ’84.

AS: A couple of years before Nicollette then. With your character’s role expanding, Steve Shaw, your brother on the show, saw his character winding down. Was he written off the show or did he want to leave?

Petersen: I know Steve was having some issues with working. It was an awkward time to be working in front of the camera … but I’m not sure what exactly happened. I think it was a mutual decision.

AS: Was he bitter about the direction he went in on the show?

Petersen: I don’t think he was bitter.

“I’ve been in the ‘real’ working world for a while now, and it seemed the same as on the show.”

AS: What about the spin-off that was proposed for the show around that time? What happened with that?

Petersen: Spin-off? I don’t know I would have been receptive about meetings of that sort, but those network decisions I wasn’t part of.

AS: Instead of spinning off the “Knots Youth,” the show instead beefed up Michael and Olivia (Tonya Crowe), adding you to the core, and the main credits.

Petersen: That’s just a contract negotiation. The last couple of years I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t care about perks or billing, or things like that.

AS: Why did it take ten years for you to be added to the main cast?

Petersen: Well, the show was changing at that point. It became less family, more glitz and glamour, more sex. So the option when they were looking at Michael was to grow him up or have him leave. They decided to keep Michael and make him a bigger part of the stories. I don’t know why it took ten years though. Never thought about it taking those many years.

AS: When you joined the main credits, did your salary go up a lot?

Petersen: Everything goes up when your billing increases. I wouldn’t consider myself a demanding person. I got what was fair.

AS: And when you left the show in 1991, was that similar to why Steve Shaw left?

Petersen: I can’t say it was mutual. Certainly I wanted out. I had been doing it for too long. For me it was time to move on and I had other interests becoming more important to me.

AS: Did they offer you another contract?

Petersen: No.

AS: It was interesting that when you left the show the ratings were still strong, it was in good shape and then it seemed to go downhill right after that.

Petersen: Well, it was only on for another year I think.

AS: Actually two. In my opinion the season that followed your departure was what killed it. When you left I think the show wanted to go on forever.

Petersen: I’m not sure about that. There were rumblings when I was there about, “How much longer are we going to do this?”

AS: What did you do when you left the show?

Petersen: I went to music school. The Grove School of Music, based in Los Angeles. I realized after a while I wasn’t as talented as you would need to be to make it big in the music world.

AS: What type of music did you specialize in?

Petersen: Jazz.

AS: Which instrument did you play?

Petersen: Piano.

AS: No guitar? You famously played guitar on Knots though!

Petersen: Every time I hear “Faith” by George Michael I cringe. I know a couple chords to play but that’s it. They gave me the guitar for that episode.

AS: John Pleshette directed that episode and I talked at length to him about that. Do you remember when Mel Gibson showed up?

Petersen: Oh yes. (Remembering) That was actually the same episode. That was a great time. I remember it well.

AS: Did you ever see the footage of Gibson on the set again?

Petersen: No, I never did.

AS: Pleshette said it might be on a gag reel or an actor’s reel somewhere.

Petersen: I’m sure. These things have a way of turning up at some point.

“Certainly I wanted out. I had been doing it for too long.”

AS: So you went to music school and then you went to college afterward … UCLA right?

Petersen: No, USC (Southern Cal). (Laughs) They’re our big rival so that’s why I’m laughing. No I went to USC because I wanted to go for business and USC was the only business school in town.

AS: You went to USC, got your degree and then started your own business, Rhino Naturals. How did that come about?

Petersen: Finally I was doing something that I wanted to do. Health is important to me and I wanted to start a company that promoted healthy products.

AS: What kind of products do you offer?

Petersen: We produce nutritional supplements and natural foods. Supplements that can go in liquid products. For example, the popular thing now is smoothies. You can get a smoothie and if you want a nutritional boost, we supply the formulas. We focus on developing the formulas for wholesale distribution.

AS: So you can’t buy any individual products in stores then?

Petersen: You can’t. We do on occasion sell products on the retail level, like if a store specifically requests it, but not usually.

AS: In the midst of your new direction in life, the “Knots Landing Reunion” dropped into your lap. What did you think of that?

Petersen: I was thinking, “How much tuition was it going to pay?”

AS: That’s cut and dried.

Petersen: That was my motivation. It was only a few days (shooting) and I got to see everyone, which was great. But I was glad it was only a couple of days. I was still in college and it helped with the tuition.

AS: The reunion then didn’t rekindle the acting fires?

Petersen: No, it didn’t. I wanted to do something else with my life. Just didn’t want to go back.

AS: Tell me about your family.

Petersen: I got married in 1995. It’s been great; she’s the love of my life. I have a three-year-old daughter and a six-month-old boy.

AS: Six months? Oh that’s young.

Petersen (Laughs): Yeah he’s right off the showroom floor.

AS: Back in the day you were a fixture in the teen magazines like Tiger Beat and YM…

Petersen: Oh yes.

AS: …What were your memories of being a teen idol of sorts?

Petersen: I think that I had a following and that was fun. I did those magazines, I remember going to the shoots and enjoying it. I look back at the content and those magazines and think at the time it seemed perfectly plausible, but now I realize how silly they were.

AS: A lot of your fans, even today, are gay. You seemed to attract more gay male support than someone like, say, William Devane (Greg Sumner).

Petersen: Really? Well I didn’t keep track of who liked who really. But I know that “Knots Landing” was pretty popular with the gay community. And I can see why it appealed: it was a soap, it was glamorous, gossipy. That’s my guess. I’ve lived in L.A. all my life and for a time I lived right near West Hollywood, which had a large gay community. So I saw the impact the show had there.

AS: What would you have thought of a gay storyline on the show? I know “Knots” didn’t have any, but if the show were done in the ’90s or later, a lot of fans might have wanted to see Michael get it on with Johnny Rourke (Peter Reckell).

Petersen: That’s more information that I needed to know, thank you. (Laughs) I guess anything was possible but I never thought of that before.

AS: And of course you had a female following on the show.

Petersen: Yeah I got recognized a lot. It was a fun time.

“Every time I hear ‘Faith’ by George Michael I cringe.“

AS: Speaking of fun, what storyline did you most enjoy playing on the show?

Petersen: Eric, Linda (Lar Park Lincoln) and me. That created a lot of dialogue. A lot of people were unhappy with it. With brothers against each other, I was getting a lot of negative response.

AS: Lar Park Lincoln told me she was knocked down in the supermarket by a fan who was mad at the story.

Petersen: I can believe it. It inspired a lot of passionate feelings.

AS: Were there specific episodes that you remember you liked?

Petersen: I guess some in the early years were just plain funny for me, looking back. Like the one where Michael was hyperactive and ran around the room and broke things.

AS: That was great! And it was only one episode, too. Suddenly he must have been cured because it wasn’t mentioned again.

Petersen: Really? I didn’t realize that wasn’t a series of stories, but I guess you’re right.

AS: They may have made reference to it again in a mild way, but if that were done in the later years, Michael would have stolen a car and crashed into Lilimae (Julie Harris) or something.

Petersen: (Laughing) That’s right.

AS: But in the later years you had plenty of developed stories.

Petersen: Yeah I had to study my lines the night before for the first time and not on the way to work, like I did for years. I actually had to concentrate!

AS: Well you went from being a little boy to a romantic lead, so it had to get more intensive. Through it all, there was Michele Lee. She was in every episode you were in. And everyone else’s for that matter.

Petersen: She was the sweetest person. She and Don in the early years really acted like parents to us. She had kids and treated us like her own kids. She was great.

AS: I thought of her as the “den mother of Knots Landing,” watching over everyone.

Petersen: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. She truly was.

“I was thinking, ‘How much tuition was it going to pay?’”

AS: Were all the women on the show as sexy in person as they were on screen?

Petersen: Oh yeah. All the women were really good-looking.

AS: How about Donna Mills?

Petersen: Oh definitely. I didn’t have a lot of scenes with her but I would have liked to. She had those beautiful blue eyes.

AS: So the lighting didn’t change the natural look of the women that much?

Petersen: No, they looked the same. You know in some cases lighting could actually hurt, if you don’t get the right light. They really looked as beautiful as you saw them.

AS: It truly sounds like “Knots Landing” was a pleasant experience to work on as a young man.

Petersen: It was. We did keep things light and loose. Could I mention one thing?

AS: Of course.

Petersen: I know you talk to the cast so tell them all I said hello.

AS: I will do that. Thank you Patrick for agreeing to this interview.

Petersen: Thanks Arthur.

Art Swift is a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City. Check out www.ArthurSwift.com for additional writings.

Copyright © 2004 Arthur Swift


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