His father was best known for playing the perfect dad on "Little House on the Prairie." But for Michael Landon Jr., it all came to a sudden halt when his father left his mother for another woman. As a writer, director and producer, the 48-year-old followed his father into show business. Although he did act for a short time, he prefers being behind the camera. His family friendly movies are very popular on the Hallmark Channel. He has been married since 1987 to Sharee Gregory, and they have three children. He directs Beverly Lewis' "The Confession," a Hallmark Channel original movie that premieres Saturday at 9 p.m.
Did you feel there were a lot of expectations placed on you simply because of your name?
[Laughing] Yes. Some placed on myself. You know it is always difficult, at least at first, being the namesake of someone who is quite accomplished in a certain field. Trying to find your own voice and stepping out of that shadow is definitely a challenge. A lot of it is actually self-inflicted in respect to feeling that you deserve it as well. So you come to a point where you realize, 'Wow, I actually have to work really hard, myself [laughing]. That was definitely part of the process for me.
So, did you always feel it was a lot to live up to or did that come later?
Um, it was earlier on, actually. It's interesting. Once you start to do your own hard work, that dissipates. Until you go through that process, age doesn't matter, I think it will follow you to the grave if you don't end up doing your own hard work.
I've read that you were very close with your father. So how did you reconcile things when he left your mother?
Yeah, that was traumatic for the whole family. Part of it is that my parents were very discreet with the problems that they were having. So I literally came home from school one day, having never seen my parents fight with one another and finding out that he is gone. You have that element of just the sheer surprise of a family that you didn't think could fall apart or break apart. Then on top of that, it is reinforced by the fact that you have a father who is bigger than life and who is perfect and is flawless in the eyes of the public -- especially based on the characters he played.
So you know it was kind of a double whammy in that respect. Of course, anytime you are in the public eye, your world is exposed and you're kind of in a fishbowl. It's a very strange place to be. The reconciliation was very difficult.
So it did not come easily or quickly.
No, no, it did not, not at all. It was very difficult.
What did bring you around?
Clearly at the end of the day, to be your own person, you have to forgive. It was, for me, forgiving him that created closure. It's interesting. It really doesn't matter what the response is of the person. I mean, there is certain loss that takes place when things break apart, and you can't ever get it back.
People talk about doing it, but it isn't easy.
No, no, exactly! I mean, it is one thing to say it, and it is another to actually believe it and feel it. But you know, it's important to say the words because I feel that's the beginning of the process. You act and then the emotions can follow after.
In the film "The Confession," you deal with betrayal and cancer and forgiveness -- a lot of the issues you are familiar with.
You know they are universal, right? So I've dealt with them, and most people at some point in their life will deal with all of the above. It wasn't that I was consciously thinking there are these themes woven through Beverly Lewis' stories that are similar to mine, and that's what attracted me to the material. It was just I believe they are universal themes that we all deal with.
Is it important for you to do projects that have a message?
Well, they seem to make them more worthwhile. You know, there are plenty of very talented people out there who work in other genres that I would love to do, but they are so good at them that they are covered, I guess [laughing].
I would love to do an action hero-based film like "Iron Man" because I love them so much. Or an "Avengers" or something like that. But it's just an absolute other league. They are so well-executed. I grew up on these types of [family friendly] films because of my father, so I was very impacted by his work, personally. I love working in the family genre.
Are you ever concerned it gets too sappy? How do you prevent that?
[Laughing] I have a feeling it does in some respects. You know, it's a pretty coarse world. It feels a little coarser to me than when I was growing up. So for some, I would think this is a little bit on the sappy side. But at the same time, it also tends to resonate. The world is pretty cynical, so when you inject products or thoughts that are counter to that cynicism, it actually can be refreshing.
Do you think that is why the shows you have done for the Hallmark Channel are so popular?
I believe so. I mean, I believe in them, and I think that is part of it, too. I think some filmmakers probably do the job but maybe don't believe in the material. So it doesn't come off quite as authentic. Maybe there is a little bit of an extra something that is resonating with the audience.
You have said you prefer being behind the camera, but was it always that way?
Yes, [laughing] I definitely felt it was necessary to spare the audience. I did some work in front of the camera because they were opportunities that came to me. From the time I was 15 and got my super 8 camera, I knew I wanted to direct. I had been on the set enough times where I was observing every position. I wanted to experience what it was like to be an actor since I was going to be directing them.
So you were never going to follow directly in your father's footsteps.
No, no, never had it in me. I knew well enough it was something you had to be really passionate about, and you found yourself completely energized by the process. It is too difficult. It is too competitive if you don't. You will burn up or give up for sure.
Did you ever feel envious of your father's "Little House" TV family?
Yes, absolutely, I completely felt jealous at the time. I mean, listen, he spent more time with his pretend family than he did his own family, right? That is the nature of any dad's job pretty much. You are spending more time at work than at home. The difference is that he's not sitting at a desk crunching numbers. He's actually showing emotional vulnerability, so he is crying with his family and he is laughing with them. So yeah, it's interesting you actually do feel a bit of jealousy toward that.
How old were you when he was in the throes of "Little House"?
"Little House" started when I was 10 years old. My sister Leslie especially and I became close with Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson and the rest of the cast. We would have lunch together and play hopscotch and tag and things like that in between takes and breaks or whatever. It was definitely part of the world I grew up in.