This interview originally appeared in December 31, 1985 issue of Soap Opera Digest
Cool Head, Warm Heart And Other Survival Strategies Of Stephen Nichols
Abandoned by his father and turned over by his mother to his grandparents and subsequently to a series of foster homes, Stephen Nichols exudes a surprising steady-as-she-goes charisma. Although Nichols portrays Patch, a somewhat psychotic character on DAYS OF OUR LIVES, there is an aura of tranquillity surrounding Stephen — not just in his eyes, but in his being. And as he relates his life story, Nichols exhibits an acceptance of the good as well as the bad.
“I never blamed my mother,” Stephen insists, “and my grandfather and I were very close, so I was never without a friend, but the foster home experiences were extremely difficult.” When pressed for details, Stephen is reluctant to say more. “My mother is still my mother and I know that at no point in my life did she stop loving me,” Nichols stresses. “She feels tremendous guilt about those first years of my life. Therefore, I don’t want to dwell on that now. It caused enough pain then — there’s no reason to repeat it.”
Sitting at a window table at the Cafe Figaro, a popular if slightly bohemian actors hangout in Los Angeles, Stephen says, “I saw my father for the first time several years ago. It was good and awful at the same time. Good because it satisfied my curiosity and bad because he’s a hopeless alcoholic, almost the skid row variety. What makes it worse is that he’s a brilliant jazz pianist. That’s tragic — to hear him play his music and then see what shape his life is in. So I saw him. And I put him in the past. I’m fine now. My feet are on the ground and I’m capable of doing good work.” He pauses, running a heavy hand through his blond hair and then sighs, smiling hopefully. “Maybe even something great.”
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Nichols was a shy, introverted high school student who had a hard time plugging into the “sock-hop mentality.” After several aimless years, Nichols found his niche in a book a friend loaned him. The life of a Yogi persuaded Nichols that he could find both happiness and the answers he sought at the Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles. “My mother asked me why I was going,” offers Stephen, smiling incredulously at the memory, “and I didn’t know myself. I just felt that I needed a change and that there wasn’t anything in Dayton for me.”
Arriving in Los Angeles, Nichols rented an apartment near the Self-Realization Fellowship Center and worked as a cook at the Temple with the long-term plan of becoming a monk. “My first three years in Los Angeles, everything I did revolved around the Temple,” Stephen says, “and that was important because I did find some of the answers I was looking for. I achieved a sense of discipline and concentration, and yes, through that, happiness. But I also realized that to enter the Temple for good would be a mistake because of my personality that I hadn’t explored yet.”
One of those aspects was acting. After studying his craft at Los Angeles City College, Stephen parlayed his natural talent into a string of local stage roles; the most recent and outstanding was that of Hart, a bisexual Bel Air cocaine dealer in Delirious. The play was a surprise hit and Steve received excellent reviews. Next came DAYS.
“I’ve never turned down an acting job,” admits Steve. “But if I’d been given a bland, nice-guy character, I don’t know what I would have done.” He grins wickedly. “Fortunately, that’s not a problem with Patch. Patch and Bo Brady have a past. Old friends who were in the Merchant Marines together. We became enemies though — over a girl. I loved her, but she fell in love with Bo,” Nichols reveals. “So, I set him up with some stolen merchandise and while he was out of the picture, I’m in the bedroom with the girl. Then there was a fight, a fire, I got my eye put out (thus the nickname ‘Patch.’ My character’s real name is Steven Johnson) and so now I’m putting the moves on Hope. Kind of a sexual revenge.”
Careful not to portray Patch as a one dimensional villain, Nichols recalls a particular scene in which Patch displayed a trace of humanity. “I broke into Kimberly’s apartment. She’s blind she comes into her room and suddenly I realize that she’s staring blankly and I pass my hand in front of her face and come to the realization that she’s blind. Now to me, a character like Patch who’s lost sight in one eye would be fascinated by a character who’s lost sight in both eyes,” Nichols explains. “So I played it as if I’d never met a blind person before. That was an important moment for me on the show — and what really made it special was I got a letter from a fan mentioning that very moment.”
Steve is quick to point out that not all of his fan mail has been so insightful — or so generous. In fact, Nichols is loathe to reveal information about his private life because, “I play a not-so-nice kind of character and unfortunately there are a lot of people who have a hard time separating reality from television.” However, Steve notes that one of his favorite letters was also one of his most negative. “One letter told me not to lay a hand on Hope but the same person said, ‘You can hurt Bo — but not too bad!”