The assignment was a tough one: to tame America’s favorite shrew, Alexis Carrington Colby, otherwise known as Joan Collins. The producers of Dynasty considered 500 contenders and narrowed the list down to five good men. Among them was the late Jon-Erik Hexum, who had co-starred with Collins in a TV movie and who was her prime candidate. When the five were screen-tested with the siren, however, Hexum lost out to a smoky-voiced, scar-faced fellow who sounds like Chris Walken and looks like nobody else. “If the relationship between Joan and me wasn’t easy, I would have been written out of the show long ago,” admits Michael Nader, 40, who plays Dex Dexter, the suave stud and third spouse of Alexis. But in Nader’s hands, what was conceived as a minor and transitional character has turned into an unexpectedly popular one. In fact, the scuttlebutt on the set is that Nader may soon get the show’s biggest status symbol: a dynasty of his own. Or at least a sister.
The electricity between Dex and Alexis has its roots in reality. “He says he’s learned a lot from me,” says Collins, who considers Nader one of her few confidants on the set. “Joan and I are kindred spirits,” says Nader. “There was a chemistry between us when I auditioned, and when we talked we discovered what it was: We are both driven to succeed.” As Joan once said, “He’s a very romantic leading man and he has a certain sinister edge.”
Dex Dexter would certainly approve of the tough-minded man who brings him to life each week. That scar on his face is no makeup man’s afterthought. When Nader says, “I’ve gotten beat up in life,” you believe him. His parents split up a few months after his birth in St. Louis in 1945. Drawn by the lure of Hollywood, his mother, Minette, moved Michael to Los Angeles where she did television commercials to support him. At 6, Nader was struck by a drunken driver. Suffering a broken leg, a broken arm and gashes on his face, he was treated in an emergency room where doctors performed a stitching job that Minette, upon her arrival, declared sloppy. Recalls Michael: “She said, ‘Whoever did this, I don’t want them to touch my son.’ They had sewn me up with almost a harelip.” Minette telephoned a Beverly Hills cosmetic surgeon who removed the offending stitches and started the procedure over again. To this day, Nader credits Minette for his “having a face.”
The movies took to that face early. After graduating from Palisades High in ’63, he appeared in a string of Frankie and Annette movies such as Beach Blanket Bingo and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. Nader also played the half-breed brother in the 1968 movie Blue. Friends encouraged him to study at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but Nader never made it past New York, where he peeled onions at Maxwell’s Plum before working his way up to a waiter’s job. He attended acting classes by day and the evening hours eventually “got eaten up by New York living. I’d carry on like a crazy rogue.” Tough-talking and tough-looking, Nader spent much of his spare time as a street fighter, which vented a long-percolating rage. “If I saw something I didn’t like—some guy beating up on somebody—I’d say ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ For whatever reasons in my own personal makeup, I would step in. And I would have to say I was good at it.” He worked as a model and partied with a circle of boozy bohemians who enhanced their highs with marijuana and psychedelics. “I was as heavily involved as anyone with whatever was going down,” he says, but after seeing some friends destroyed by drugs, Nader quit indulging. “I just decided enough was enough.”
In the mid-’70s Nader played a three-year run as suave, millionaire-with-a-mind Kevin Thompson in As the World Turns. But his career crashed soon after, when, he says, “my personal life became confused. I fell apart.” A 10-year relationship with actress Ellen Barber ended, and with it went Nader’s stability. “New York caught up with me and I just blew out.” He holed up in Hawaii for more than two years before returning to the star-making wars in Hollywood in 1980. The prodigal’s return was ill-timed. An actors’ strike sent him back to the kitchen—he spent a year pushing pizza pies in L.A. His break came with Bare Essence, a short-lived series that gave his career new life. But he almost missed his encounter with Joan Collins. He was up for roles in St. Elsewhere and Bay City Blues and under an option for Airwolf when his Dynasty audition came.
His personal life has taken a turn for the better, too. At a party in 1982, he met production assistant Robin Weiss, now 32. She and Michael were married last June, and one month later Robin gave birth to their daughter, Lindsay Michelle. “The marriage is a bond that changed everything,” says Robin. “We’re a family now. It brought us closer together.” They own a three-bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills.
Since joining Dynasty, says Nader, “I’m getting recognition for the first time, and I like the recognition I’m getting.” At least, most of it. At his wedding, a swarm of paparazzi descended as Michael and Robin emerged from the brief ceremony in the Church of Religious Science. Nader felt an old fury rising. The cameramen “came out of the trees,” Nader says. “It got into a very testy thing.” The old Nader would have fought his way through the mob. The new Nader chose instead to slip out the back way, through the rose garden. Such is the perfumed price of fame. As he jokes with a disdain worthy of Dex, “I’m always ready at any point to go back to serving pizzas.”