Kurtwood Smith may be best known as Red Forman, the easily annoyed father he portrayed in more than 200 episodes of FOX's long-running sitcom “That ’70s Show,” but the 67-year-old actor is decidedly mellower in real life. When informed by a Brooklyn-based caller that New York City had received a fresh coating of snow in late March, he audibly grimaces over the phone from his temporary home in Vancouver and says, “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Smith has relocated to southwest Canada to film “Chaos,” a CBS spy dramedy debuting tonight at 8 p.m. As smirking, scheming CIA deputy director H.J. Higgins, Smith plays foil to a quartet of rebellious agency ne'er-do-wells (played by Freddy Rodriguez, Eric Close, James Murray and Tim Blake Nelson) in a series whose pilot episode is directed by Brett Ratner (“X-Men: The Last Stand”). "Chaos" — which was created by "Desperate Housewives" vet Tom Spezialy — combines the vintage sensibility of a Stephen Soderberg film with the breezy vibe of USA Network’s popular action series “Burn Notice," and Smith's involvement makes us want to root for a successful debut.
Smith chatted with TheWrap to discuss the series, look back on his career and clear up the erroneous rumor that he played a P.O.W. in "The Deer Hunter." Read on after watching a preview of the show.
Your character is named Higgins. Is it your goal to make him the best-known Higgins in TV history?
Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. That would be good. I’ll take that as a goal. But I’m spacing out right now — which Higgins are you referring to?
The one played by John Hillerman on “Magnum, P.I."!
Of course, of course. I’m sorry, I thought you were referring to someone currently on the air. There’s a bit of a difference between myself and that Higgins. Director Higgins is a bit wacky.
So you’re having fun with the role?
It’s been great fun. Higgins swings back and forth between comedy and drama a bit more than the other characters, with the fascinating backstage manipulation stuff. He’s great fun. Initially, I was more antagonistic to the four stars but we’re nine episodes in now and there’s less antagonism between myself and the group in that regard. I participate more in their operation and yet at the same time, personality-wise, they all kind of get under my skin, you know?
Sort of like on “That ’70s Show.” This role seems tailor-made for you.
Thanks. I’ll take that as a compliment. I don’t mind people talking to me about Red. It’s not a frustration to me. I’ve done enough different things that it’s not a plague to me like it might be for some people who are only identified with one particular role. By the same token, I think it’s always good to remind people that you’re an actor with some kind of range, instead of somebody who does one thing.
You’ve certainly come a long way since your debut on "Soap" in 1980.
Was my character on that Man in the Laundromat?
Close. It was Guy in Laundromat.
I had one line in that. One line, and it got a huge laugh, so it was really quite worth it. I was used to that, you know. That was one of my first TV roles but I had been doing theater up in the Bay Area.
Your IMDB page lists you as having done "The Deer Hunter" before that — true?
No, it isn’t. People keep asking me about that and I keep meaning to go back and rent the movie. I think it says that I’m an uncredited extra in the water. Somebody in that must just look an awful lot like me.
I’m glad that’s confirmed now: You were not in “The Deer Hunter.”
Confirmed. I was also not offered the role of the original Batman. Nor "Married With Children." Nor was Chuck Norris supposed to play Red Forman.
I was just going to ask that.
That’s one of those things that somehow gets there on Wikipedia. When I first found out about Wikipedia, I went in to check some things out — this was years ago now — I discovered that Red Forman had a much bigger bio than I did. It was quite funny.
That's surprising, given that your resume includes RoboCop, the best movie ever. Do people quote Clarence Boddicker lines to you a lot?
Yeah. “Bitches, leave!” gets quoted a lot, and “Can you fly, Bobby?” and “The tigers are playing tonight.”
Awesome. There's a grassroots movement to get a RoboCop statue in Detroit. What your stance on that?
I think that Detroit should have a Clarence Boddicker statue.
"Chaos" airs Friday on CBS at 8 p.m.