Career Actors: Kurtwood Smith

I'm a big fan of what I call "career" actors and actresses.

Sure, I like "big" actors and actresses, such as Tom Hanks. But I have enormous respect for actors and actresses who work consistently on television (sometimes in the movies), giving consistently good performances. They may not win lots of awards or acclaim, but they are darn good at their jobs; in many ways, I like them because it is just a job.

To elucidate the difference: Nimoy and Shatner both wanted to be "big." They became big, just not in the way they had hoped. Nimoy, in his typical gentlemanly fashion, came to terms with this. I'm not sure Shatner ever has completely (I guess, time has forced him to come to terms with it).

DeForest Kelley, on the other hand, was an old Hollywood career actor by the time he showed up on Star Trek. It was just another job, and he did it as well as he did any of his jobs. He ended up "big," of course, like everyone in the Star Trek universe, but I don't think he ever regretted not being bigger or being a more diversified star. I think he figured, "Hey, that turned into a pretty decent gig." I've always admired him for showing up on the first episode of Star Trek: NG. This was when fans and stars were still comparing the new show to the old show, and there was some tension about the new show NOT being the old show, blah, blah, blah, but there's Kelley, making his guest appearance, doing his job.

I love that.

Kurtwood Smith is a career actor that I adore. I have seen him on House ("Half-Wit"), X-Files ("Grotesque"), Star Trek: Voyager ("Year of Hell, Parts I and II"), and, of course, That '70s Show as "Red." He's a fairly versatile actor. If I hadn't seen him on House, I would have said he just did 'grumpy guy' really, really well. (In X-Files and Star Trek, he plays high-maintenance grumpy guys but still grumpy guys.) One of my favorite lines in That '70s Show is when Eric's grandmother gets ill and goes to the hospital and, naturally, Eric and his entire entourage go too, at which point Red snaps, "Why is it, everywhere we go, all these people come with us?" Maybe it's a growing-up-in-the-70's thing, but that line always makes me laugh.

And Smith is good at being grumpy. House, however, showed me that he could do more than grumpy. When "Half-Wit" aired, the big hoopla was Dave Matthews plus Hugh Laurie playing piano with Dave Matthews, but I don't think that episode would have been half as good if the father hadn't been Kurtwood Smith. The scenes with him and Laurie are powerful. It's an interesting episode with a typical House conundrum--is losing a special power or gift worth being ordinary, accepted, and happy? House forces the father to make the decision, knowing the boy's ability to function is more important than his ability to play. However, House won't make the decision, as he so often does, because he doesn't know what he himself would choose. The father, who must make this difficult choice, has to be an actor who can evoke sympathy from House and the audience, and Kurtwood Smith does this without being maudlin.


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