“I want to try and do as much as I can as an actor. So far, I think I’ve done pretty well being a minister’s son. And now I know I’m pretty darn good at playing a woman too.” Getting his start as a young model at eight years old in Dallas, Texas, Barry Watson made the transition over to acting while he was still in the Lone Star State but, after his parents divorced, he moved to California where he landed his first acting gig on the daytime soap opera, Days of Our Lives. With the contract only lasting six months, Watson returned to his native Texas where he finished high school and then moved back to Los Angeles where his acting career blossomed. Climbing his way up the Hollywood ladder from cameos in Baywatch to a long-running role on 7th Heaven, let’s take a look at the heartthrob’s journey, his brush with cancer and his more recent projects like Samantha Who? and Date My Dad.
The third of four children born to an attorney and a paralegal, Michael Barrett Watson was born on April 23, 1974 in Traverse City, Michigan. When he was eight years old, the family left Michigan and settled down in Dallas, Texas where the young Barry started his modeling career in a handful of print advertisements and local commercials. Completely fixated on becoming a star, Watson begged his parents to give him acting lessons, which is how he ended up studying under director Linda Seto at the Dallas Young Actors Studio. Honing his talents over the next few years, Watson showed a natural talent on stage so, after his parents divorced when he was 14, he moved to California where he auditioned for and won a recurring role as Randy on the popular daytime soap opera, Days of Our Lives.
After Watson’s six-month contract on the soap opera expired, he didn’t have any other work lined up so he returned to his native Texas and finished up his junior and senior years at Richardson High School before graduating in 1992. Having already promised himself that he would one day return to Hollywood, the ink on Watson’s diploma was still wet when he packed his bags and moved back to Los Angeles where he took a job working nights as a valet at the House of Blues while spending his days going to every audition he could find. Making minor appearances on popular television series like The Nanny, Baywatch, and Nash Bridges, Watson caught the attention of Aaron Spelling who cast him in his newest project, Malibu Shores.
With Malibu Shores canceled after only 10 episodes, Watson was lucky and didn’t have much to worry about since Spelling promised him a starring role in his next series, 7th Heaven, a family drama based on the life of a minister, his wife and their growing family. At the time, Watson wasn’t exactly sure about the project and later admitted, “Sure enough, I had the reading for the network and they wanted me to do it and, actually, at the time, I didn’t know if anybody wanted to see a show like 7th Heaven. But I was truly wrong. I mean truly, truly wrong.” Happy to be wrong, Watson accepted the part of Matt Camden and spent the next six seasons on the show from 1996 to 2002 alongside his on-screen parents Stephen Collins and Catherine Hicks as well as his on-screen siblings, Jessica Biel, David Gallagher, Beverley Mitchell and Mackenzie Rosman.
Although the show continued until 2007, Watson’s contract expired in 2002 and, by then, he was ready to tackle new projects with the promise that he would return to 7th Heaven for guest appearances. However, his plans to jump headfirst into another project were sidelined when, after months of feeling bad and later finding a lump in his neck, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Only 28 years old, Watson started his first round of chemotherapy and took on more responsibilities behind the scenes at 7th Heaven, a decision he says greatly helped in his recovery. “I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to get the cancer out of my body,” Watson said. “I didn’t think I was going to feel like [working behind the scenes] and I didn’t half the time, but having that normalcy was really good for me.”
Three months into his treatment, doctors gave Watson great news that the chemotherapy was working far better than they anticipated, which only boosted his morale as he finished his last treatment in October 2002. He then stepped back in front of the camera—this time, cancer free—and guest-starred in the final season of 7th Heaven before accepting another starring role on primetime as Brian Davis in What About Brian from 2006 to 2007. Adding in credits in films like Teaching Mrs. Tingle, Far from Home, Sorority Boys and Ominous, he joined Christina Applegate and Melissa McCarthy in Samantha Who? in 2007. Wrapping up the show two seasons later, he made the rounds on television with cameos in Drop Dead Diva, Gossip Girl, Wilfred, Hart of Dixie and Masters of Sex with a starring role in the ABC Family Original Movie, My Future Boyfriend, in 2011.
Still cancer-free today after 15 years, the 43-year-old Watson surprised fans in 2017 when he debuted in the starring role of Ricky Cooper on a new series titled Date My Dad, which tells the story of a single father raising three daughters. As a father of three himself, the part hasn’t been a huge stretch for Watson especially after finally finding love in 2015 with Natasha Gregson Wagner after two failed marriages. “Well, I had a situation before I was with my wife, Natasha, where I was a single dad for a couple years with my two boys,” Watson said of getting into his most recent character. “Different, I didn’t lose my wife or anything like that. Their mom had to work on the east coast and so she was away doing work and so I had to take time out of what I did. I stopped working for two years…”
Encouraging families to tune in to the series that promises to have something for all generations, Watson admits that his early career and even his brush with cancer have made him all the more grateful for where he is now. “I don’t worry about the little things so much anymore,” he says. “I wish I didn’t have to go through it, but there’s a big part of me that’s glad I went through this experience because it’s made me who I am now, which is, hopefully, a better human being, a better dad, maybe even a better actor.”