Supporting Atlantis: An Interview with Kavan Smith

If you’re a genre TV fan, you’ve seen Kavan Smith. He’s had roles on Battlestar Galactica (The Captain’s Hand), Supernatural (Time is on My Side), Smallville (Kinetic), Blade, Jeremiah, Tru Calling, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits and a 21 episode run as Jed Garrity on The 4400. But to Stargate Atlantis fans he’s Major Lorne — 2nd in command of the military units under Col (I stand corrected) John Sheppard.

He joined the show in 2005 after briefly playing a character with the same name (though not really the same guy) on Stargate SG-1. Four years later, he’s credited with being in a quarter of the series run and yet he’s never had a storyline to call his own! I object.

“The character seems to be developing a little bit, which is always nice for a secondary character,” says Kavan Smith. “It seems like Lorne, instead of just being Shepherd’s right hand man, his military career is progressing so it feels less like a subservient kind of role on Atlantis now and a bit more like, I won’t say an equal, but a somewhat authoritative role. So I’m kinda running my own show; which is a neat way for Lorne to go. More so this year than any others anyway, I feel like his career is sort of moving ahead.”

But when you think it through, becoming a team leader may not mean more face time on the series. With the cameras following the lead characters, Lorne and his team are often relegated to throw away lines in the script. ‘Don’t worry, I sent Lorne and his team out to investigate the other side of the planet. You know, the side where nothing happens.’

Hey! I liked it better when he was trailing after Sheppard on a weekly basis!

 

Supporting characters with their own solid fan base is a bit of a scifi phenomena and Atlantis is the poster child for this kind of fannish behavior. Carson Beckett began as a recurring character but was upped to regular due to fan support and when the character was later killed off, fans protested outside of the studio until the series relented and found a way to bring him back.

Though Kavan Smith appreciates the fan support for his supporting character, he’s a little confused by all the fuss.

“In all honesty, I’m absolutely perplexed. I’m absolutely shocked. That just goes to show the type of fans that follow this show. He’s a minor character. I’ve done a fair number of episodes and I try to do what I can with them, I’m not always given a ton of material to create a connection with the audience, but they’re really embracing the character as it is. I’m just like, man, imagine where I could go if they gave me some more stuff to work on.”

And maybe that stuff is coming (keep shouting folks, they’ll hear us!)

“The one I’m doing right now is called “The Infection” and without giving away too much; it’s not necessarily his own storyline but Joe (Flanigan) and I work together quite a bit in this one. At least two-thirds of the episode are basically Joe and I, so even though it’s not Lorne’s own storyline, it’s definitely a good one for the Lorne character. So fingers crossed that they might go another season and maybe throw a few more storylines in there for our boy.”

It wasn’t long ago that Kavan had his fingers crossed for another role, that of Flynn in the Fox remake of Irwin Allen’s Time Tunnel.

“That was the single best film experience I’ve had. From top to bottom, that show, for me, was so fulfilling and empowering and enjoyable. I’m by nature quite a shy, reclusive kinda guy. I spend most of my time reading, except now I have a son, so that part of my life doesn’t exist anymore. But I used to read all the time, that was it, I wasn’t very social and I don’t generally hang out with actors that much. But on that show I bonded with everybody immediately. We went out, the whole cast, for dinner every single night and we shot for about five or six weeks and we were so tight on that show. Todd Holland, the director and Rand Ravich, who wrote and produced, were such a joy to work with.”

Originally, Kavan was cast only as a guest star in the first episode but that changed quickly once he got on set.

“About half way through, Todd and all the producers from FOX called me into the trailer and I thought I was being canned. They sat me down and they were like, we just want you to know the show wouldn’t be nearly as good without you and if we get picked up you’re on it full-time. And that was so confidence boosting, it really boosted my morale, to get that kinda feedback was such a pleasure. Then, when we finished that project, we were almost assured by FOX that it was getting a pick-up.”

But it didn’t. The pilot was shelved to make room for a project by Joss Whedon — maybe you’ve heard of it? It was called Firefly?

“What I heard, the reasons why it didn’t get picked up in the end was that the Powers That Be at FOX thought it would fly over the heads of too many people. That and the budget was a tad on the high side. I think back then they were looking at 1.9 to 2 an episode and for not having any star power on the show they thought the budget was too high. So they tried to cut some things and by the time they came in with a decent budget, FOX had gotten behind Joss Whedon’s project and really gone full-blow with that, and they dropped Time Tunnel.”

Pilots that never see the light of day are common in the life of a working actor. To protect themselves from heartbreak after heartbreak, most adopt a “film it and forget it” attitude. Kavan slipped on Time Tunnel.

“Watching the show, there’s a scene where a bomber flies overhead and a war scene that we get transplanted into that was so fantastic, the quality was so great. . . when I saw that I was like, oh my god, if this gets picked up its going to be like this every week! I got a little ahead of myself. It’s the only time in my career that I’ve actually let myself get just a tad bit excited. I was really looking forward to that show going and then in the end it didn’t happen and I know better now. Maybe it would have found a place now, because of the things are more along that vein, but back then they decided to go in a different direction which to this day is one of my biggest let downs.”

But everything happens for a reason, and maybe if Time Tunnel had taken off, he wouldn’t have ended up having the time of his life on Stargate Atlantis.

“Yesterday, for example, my day consisted of maybe 15 lines of fairly straight-forward dialogue and I got to shoot a machine gun for about three hours. And you know for a kid, I guess even for a gal too, but stereotypically for a boy, that is playing; that is just playing. I would never shoot a real gun, it’s not my thing, but shooting these things is really enjoyable. It is the best way to get rid of stress. It’s really empowering in a bizarre and kinda twisted way. But it’s a lot of fun and to get together with these guys . . . every day when I come to this show it’s so familial, it’s so friendly and warm, I could have like three or four episodes off, come back and every single person on set is like ‘hey Kav, how ya doin’? How’s the kid? How’s so and so?’ And so I think some of that sense of fun and camaraderie translates to the screen.”

That sense of fun and camaraderie is also one of the reasons Stargate Atlantis is about to hit its 100th episode.

“When I got the invitation [for the 100th episode party] I was shocked. I’m like, ‘whoa!’ I guess it just sorta creeps up on you out of nowhere. 100 episodes. Maybe, maybe three percent of [TV shows] go that long. But it does seem like my first season was just yesterday.”

I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun even without a Time Tunnel.

Watch Kavan on Stargate Atlantis, Friday’s at 10:00 on SCI FI Channel.

If you’re interested in seeing Kavan on the Time Tunnel pilot, you can find it on The Time Tunnel: Volume Two, DVD (Disc Four).

 

Kavan Smith Gets Absurd

Last week I spoke to Stargate Atlantis’ Kavan Smith. After we talked business, he took on my favorite random questions.

What’s something that you’ve held onto since you were a kid?

Kavan: First response: my youthful enthusiasm. My wife would say that I never grew up, I don’t take much seriously and I’m still a brat. So I hung onto to that childhood enthusiasm somehow. But as far as material items go, nothing. I’m not that way at all, I don’t have anything. I keep everything that my son has, every first item, his first pair of shoes, the first shirt, kept his birth certificate. Everything that we have, my wife even kept the pregnancy test. We have everything in a box that we’re going to give to him when he’s thirty or something. But for myself I’m just not sentimental or nostalgic that way really.

What’s something you have done that there is no way you’re ever going to do that again?

 

Kavan: I’m past the age of doing nudity. Like in your face sort of sexy stuff. I did a thing years ago when I used to do an X-rated version of Outer Limits and I did this thing with Alyssa Milano and it ended up being reasonably tame what they kept, but we shot an X-rated version for the network at the time.  So we did this make-out scene in a bedroom and they wanted her to be naked because apparently that sold tickets and she wouldn’t do it unless I was naked and didn’t want to do it so I asked for an exorbitant amount of money and they agreed to it, so I had to do the nudity anyway which was really stupid. But then we had to do it in front of a green screen on a pedestal and I found that kind of embarrassing in front of the whole crew. Basically the way they did green screen back then was that you had to watch it out of the corner of your eye on the monitor to match what you’d done in the master, it was very awkward.

Just standing on a pedestal in the middle of nothing and then they said, okay, finished and I went off and sat in the trailer in my bathrobe kinda embarrassed and she did it on her own. And I thought, I’m done, got away easy and just as she was finishing, ‘Kavan you’re next.’

So I had to go up on a pedestal in front of a green screen, pretty new, at the beginning of my career, and had to stand there without my clothes on, in front of about 25-30 people, have pretend sex with somebody that wasn’t there, climax with somebody that wasn’t there and then as my character was climaxing, I had to pretend that her character ate my character through her stomach. And I pretty much decided that, that’s just not for me anymore, I’m just beyond that now. So I really frown on any of the nudity stuff.

Captain Kirk or Captain Jack Sparrow?

Kavan: Sparrow. Without any question, all the way. Kirk, nice and campy. Sparrow, hysterical, just hysterical. Being around the guy, Sparrow. Playing him in a show, Sparrow. Which one inspires me more, Sparrow. I mean pretty much everything about it, definitely, huge Johnny Depp fan, too, so in all cases, Sparrow!

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