Even with more than 150 credits on his résumé, veteran actor Kurtwood Smith shows no signs of slowing down after more than five decades in Hollywood. He is currently celebrating the release of Firestarter (2022) this week, and Smith also recently reprised the iconic role of Red Forman for the That ’70s Show spinoff, That ’90s Show, which is set to debut at Netflix sometime in the future as well (no premiere date has been released just yet).
Recently, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Smith about his involvement in Firestarter (2022), and during the interview, he discussed his thoughts on finally getting to be involved with a Stephen King adaptation, how to make the most of a character who doesn’t have a lot of screen time, and more.
Look for more on Firestarter (2022) all this week, right here on Daily Dead.
First and foremost, I have been a huge fan of yours for so long. I still remember my babysitter taking me and her kids to go see RoboCop, which maybe isn't the movie you take nine-year-olds to, but that’s what she did (laughs).
Kurtwood Smith: Good for your babysitter—that’s great [laughs].
It definitely left an impression on us, that’s for sure. But I just wanted to say it's been really fun to see your career evolve over the years, and it was great to see you in this as well. Coming into this, how familiar were you with Firestarter and the legacy that this story has had for over 40 years now?
Kurtwood Smith: Well, I vaguely remember the movie from the '80s, and because this was a Stephen King story, that was of interest to me. I couldn't believe I hadn't done a Stephen King adaptation before, but apparently I hadn't. I keep thinking I'm going to find some little film I did some time ago that was from one of his books, but so far not. And then I looked at the script and there wasn't a lot there, but I thought there was definitely enough to do something with. I just liked the idea of this old man screaming into the wind. Of course, we never get to see him screaming, but I mean, that's kind of what's going on inside his head. People won't listen to him and yet everyone is doomed if they don't kill this creature, because that's what she is. I just found that really interesting, and this seemed like a good bunch of people to be involved with, so you just cross your fingers and close your eyes and take that step.
You just referenced your character in Firestarter, Dr. Wanless. We do get some scenes with him in the present day, and of course there are those insane flashback sequences in terms of what happens with the things that are going on with the characters of Andy and Vicky in the past. I'm curious, when you're coming into a role like this, where you may not have a ton of screentime, do you connect those dots in your mind in terms of what's been going on with this character in those moments that we're not seeing them on screen?
Kurtwood Smith: Oh yeah, for sure. I built his story, beginning with that flashback stuff, maybe even beginning before all that. He's a guy who's in post-graduate school himself and has these ideas, and he's frustrated by the people that are running the various programs he's in as a student. So, when he starts running programs himself, he wants to try out these various things that he was discouraged from earlier. And he tries them and things go wrong and he loses control of it, as one does. In these types of books and movies, people are always losing control of the great experiment that's going to save the world, and instead they've ignited the flame. So, that was part of it.
And then, there was what he has gone through since then to try to make up for it, to try to put the genie back in the bottle. Of course, at a certain point, he realizes it's too late and the only hope is to kill the genie. Because It's not so much that she’s no longer a child; she's a thing, she's an aberration. And no matter how cute she is in the movie, she's going to take us all down. That was the point of view of my character, at least.
You get to work a bit with Gloria Reuben in Firestarter, and she’s just ferocious here. How was your experience going back and forth with her in this?
Kurtwood Smith: Well, she's a really good actress, so it was a good time. It was an interesting dynamic to explore because it's a frustrating interview for my character. He's hoping that she will see the danger that's happening, but he realizes pretty quickly into it that she's going down the deep end as well. All these egos get involved, that's really what happens, is everybody gets in there and they want this for themselves. It's what got him into trouble in the first place, and yet, he's not able to express that to the others because they've all dragged their egos into the room as well. And Gloria, she's an excellent actor. She's a really very nice person and so it's easy to work with her. And when you've got a nice person who's a really good actress or actor, then it's just fun.
I know we're already getting close on time, but I wanted to ask you, because you have had such a fantastic career that has spanned decades now, what keeps you excited these days, in terms of the roles that you take on and things like that?
Kurtwood Smith: It's all just playtime to me. You know what I mean? It's fun for me to do this. I suppose if it wasn't, I wouldn't. But it's kind of hard for me to imagine that it wouldn't be fun. I mean, of course, there are always circumstances that can sneak up on you and make it a difficult shoot for one reason or another; that's always part of the danger. But that's enticing in itself. Is this going to work? Is this going to be as good as it could be? Am I going to end up really regretting this? I look for something that sparks my interests in some way. Something that I think, "Oh, this will be fun." I haven't really played a crazy doctor before, so there's always something new to find, to try to bring out in myself for a character. That's really what I look for.
Kurtwood, it's been a real pleasure. And honestly, I'm so excited to see you guys coming back for That ’90s Show. I loved That ’70s Show so much, and I’m excited to revisit Kitty and Red all over again.
Kurtwood Smith: Thank you so much. It's so exciting and fun for us, too. When I say “us,” I'm primarily talking about Debra Jo [Rupp] and I, because the rest of the people are new. The people that are listed as creators on the show, Bonnie, Lindsey and Terry Turner, plus Greg Mettler, were a part of the original show, too. So, for Debra Jo and myself, it's just great to be back in this world. Netflix has been so helpful and cooperative in so many ways that it's been a great experience so far.
Go HERE to catch up on our previous coverage of Firestarter (2022)!