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Dad on call

Kurtwood Smith turned the image of the sitcom dad on its ear in the raucous Fox sitcom That '70s Show as Red Forman, the hard-nosed war-vet father of Eric (Topher Grace).

Red was the antithesis of sweater-clad warm-and-fuzzy TV dads such as Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show.

In fact, Red was more Tasmanian devil than teddy bear. He loved his power tools, beer, hunting and fishing.

Red was known for his pungent put-downs of his son: "What are you going to put on your resume? Dumbass?"

The character of Red hit close to home for Smith. The 70-year-old actor based the character on his late stepfather "in terms of his attitude, his voice, the walk and the edge that he had".

His stepdad never got a chance to see his small-screen alter ego. "He died a matter of months before it aired," Smith said. "Plus, he would have probably said 'What the hell? I'm not like that at all'."

The versatile character actor is back on TV playing a vastly different, far more complex dad on the new drama series Resurrection, which has not only received strong reviews but has also been a top-10 performer in the crucial 18-49 demographic in the US. It has also been a ratings hit for Seven in Australia, where the first episode drew more than 1.9 million metro viewers for its debut episode last month and 2.82 million for metro and regional, making it the highest-rating new drama in two years.

For Smith, acting success in Hollywood came later in life. He was a seasoned theatre veteran of 44 when he was cast in RoboCop. He steals every scene he's in playing the bone-chilling villain Clarence Boddicker in Paul Verhoeven's 1987 blockbuster.

After earning a master of fine arts in acting from Stanford University in the late 1960s, he stayed in the Bay Area and acted before moving to Los Angeles in the late 1970s.

Smith pounded the pavement for two years in search of an agent while getting day work in TV and film, such as the pizza delivery guy on the sitcom Angie.

Then came RoboCop and another high-profile part in Peter Weir's 1989 Dead Poet's Society as the disciplinarian father of Robert Sean Leonard's character.

Since then he has worked almost constantly, including films with such noted directors as Woody Allen (Shadows and Fog) and Alexander Payne (Citizen Ruth) and on popular TV series such as 24 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In Resurrection, Smith plays Henry, a once-powerful man living in a bucolic small town. He and his wife, Lucille (Frances Fisher), had their lives upended 32 years earlier when their eight-year-old son, Jacob (Landon Gimenez), accidentally drowned.

In the first episode, the young Jacob suddenly returned home looking exactly as he did before he died.

Without reservation, Lucille accepted Jacob as their son, while Henry looked on the young boy with scepticism and kept his distance. Though Jacob's death brought Henry and Lucille together, his reappearance begins to tear them apart.

Henry strikes a personal chord with Smith. The father of two grown children, he couldn't stop thinking about his granddaughter, who is the same age as Jacob, when he first read the script.

"One of the things I find fascinating about the character is that he has such a strong immediate emotional response," Smith said. "But at the same time, the reality of it to him makes no sense. He put the kid in the ground."

Despite being one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood, Smith had to audition for Resurrection.

The ABC network was initially reluctant to cast him, he noted - it wanted a bigger name.

"To be honest, you pretty much have to audition for pilots these days," the wiry actor said. "I felt a special identification with it. I just did that one audition."

Aaron Zelman, the creator and executive producer of Resurrection, said the network had been going after one actor in particular. "But I have to say that Kurtwood was certainly always at the top of the list from the beginning. The name being bandied about I had doubts about

"My concern was that he didn't have a sense of humour," said Zelman, who wrote the pilot. "Kurtwood, I knew obviously did comedy and could give the character a wry, ironic sense of humour."

And besides, Zelman said, he had been a fan of Smith since RoboCop.

"He was so memorable," Zelman said. "I said to him 'You were the scariest bad guy I had ever seen in a movie'."

'To be honest, you pretty much have to audition for pilots these days . . . I felt a special identification with it.'

The West Australian

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