What first began as a brief guest spot on Stargate SG-1 became a seed for an even greater journey for actor Kavan Smith. For upon returning to the Stargate universe for an audition in Atlantis, the producers recognized that they could deepen the tapestry by carrying his established character into the sophomore year of the new series.
Major Lorne, initially a mining surveyor, is now the voice of the Atlantis military in the absence of Colonels Sheppard and Caldwell. And, to Smith’s delight, the character is developing a strong group of supporters from both within and without the fan base.
Kavan took time to sit down with GateWorld this past spring, eager to discuss the mushrooming role Major Lorne has taken on in Stargate. He expresses his feelings for his character’s hit-and-miss in “Coup D’etat,” his pleasure at his fan sites, and even takes time to hypothesize on Lorne’s first name.
Our video interview with Kavan runs about 26 minutes. It’s also available in audio format for your convenience, and is transcribed in its entirety below!
GateWorld: For GateWorld.net, I’m Darren Sumner. We’re here talking with Kavan Smith. Kavan, thanks for being with us!
Kavan Smith: No problem. Any time.
GW: Major Lorne has become a mainstay on Stargate Atlantis over the last year, but many fans may not realize that his first appearance was actually three years ago on SG-1.
GW: Tell us how you were originally cast in “Enemy Mine.”
KS: Well, Peter DeLuise directed the episode. [I’d] known Peter a little bit before that. It was for a surveyor-type character, and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t necessarily think that it was going to go anywhere at the time but we had a good time shooting it. I knew the producers. Vancouver’s a small film community. I got to know them. We talked a little bit. They mentioned that they were thinking of the spin-off then, but they didn’t really have a lot of details.
So when it came time to go in for Atlantis, it was actually for a different character. They’d written a new character for the season. I went in and it was recurring. This guy was a much more military guy. This was a soldier, not so much a surveyor. And I can’t remember what they called his name. It was a really interesting name. Not as cool as Lorne. They liked what I did, I guess, in the long run. I thought it was going to be this new character, and lo and behold when I got the script they changed it to Lorne. “That’s kinda cool. He’s back!” So obviously I wasn’t awful my first time in “Enemy Mine.”
GW: So was it the case that you auditioned for the second character and decided, “We’re going to go with this guy. He’s already been on the show. He’s Lorne. Let’s make it Lorne.”
KS: Exactly. Like I said, it’s an entirely different type of character, but I guess the fusion between the two really isn’t — in movie land you can do all sorts of things. We got the “X” machine working, now we can do whatever. So that’s what it was.
GW: What stands out in your mind the most from working on “Enemy Mine,” back in Season Seven of SG-1?
KS: Well I’m getting old. It’s hard to remember that long ago. I guess what stands out most is less of a show thing and more of a personal thing. Michael Shanks and I worked together years ago. So it was actually kind of cool to reconnect with Michael. In-between takes we were talking crap. So it was a lot of fun. The other thing you can’t forget is they shoot a lot of stuff out here in what’s called the GVRD which is the woods. We were bombarded — literally bombarded — by mosquitoes the size of baseballs. Carrying little dogs away. It was awful. But yeah. So that’s what I remember about “Enemy Mine.”
GW: What was the project that you and Michael had met on?
KS: It was another sci-fi show, actually. It was a show shot in Winnepeg Canada, originally called “Mission to Mars.” But then, believe it or not, I did the feature film “Mission to Mars,” which came out about a year later — six months to a year later. And they had bought the name “Mission to Mars.” So the first show switched it, I think, to “Escape from Mars.” UPN! That’s who it was for. UPN. Neal Fearnley directed that one.
So we met on that one. We were stuck in space suits for about two months. We had these little comm-tech mics on, so no one could escape anybody else whenever you burped, whenever you farted, whenever you made nasty jokes, everybody heard. So nobody could get rid of anybody else. We actually bonded quite a bit on that show. So it was nice to meet up again with Michael again after all that time.
GW: You’ve done a lot of other sci fi work as well.
KS: Yeah! Not necessarily intentionally. It just seems to kind of happen that way. In Vancouver, which is where I’m from, there is a large sci fi community. So a lot of that stuff gets done here. The one thing that you have to consider when you do sci fi, is that it’s not necessarily a genre that I set out to get into. But once you’re there you have to really like it because the fans are ridiculously loyal. It’s like nothing else. You could go out and you could win three Oscars and people forget about you in six weeks. Sci fi stuff, like “Enemy Mine” — three or four years ago you said — people are still talking about it, asking me about it. So, it’s just an entirely different kind of fan.
GW: I actually have questions from your fans.
KS: Oh, boy. OK. Fire away.
GW: Cathain Nottingham. “Do you know that your fans have chosen Marcus as Lorne’s first name?
KS: You know it’s funny? When I was on set the other day somebody told me that. And my mother originally was going to call me Marcus. Believe it or not. So I don’t know if that’s a character thing or a personal thing, but yeah, I heard that.
GW: Maybe your mom’s a fan.
KS: Maybe this was my mother who called that in. It’s possible. Not a bad name, Marcus. Everybody needs a first name. Lorne needs a first name.
GW: He doesn’t have one yet?
KS: As far as we know. We joke about it every day. So one day it’s Fonouf. One day it’s Joey. One day it’s Bill. Now it’s Marcus. Whatever. You go with it.
GW: We haven’t gotten to know Lorne real well beyond some of his personality traits. He’s a little playful with Dr. Weir in one episode. Who do you think this guy is at heart or when he’s off duty?
KS: Well, one of the things with being a recurring character on a show is that you don’t necessarily get a lot of the character development-type scenes to do. So you have to work a lot of that on your own and it has to be there. If they give you the chance and they say “OK, well let’s go a little deeper.” “Thank God.”
But in the first episode that I did in Atlantis, they had me doing a lot of scenes with McKay, David Hewlett’s character. Very funny guy. So we had a little bantering thing going on. A little bit of sarcasm back and forth. So with that I decided that I would try and instill a lot of humor with the character. So whenever I get the chance. Not ha-ha humor. Some sarcastic asides and little things like that.
So I think he’s got an acerbic sense of humor. I think he’s relatively intelligent. I think that he’s a problem-solver. This is something I’ve done myself. They bring him in to help out. Generally if Sheppard goes off-world or something like that they bring in Lorne to help with the military aspect of things. So I kind of read into that that he’s a bit of a problem-solver, that maybe he’s the next to step up to some sort of command. They had me on the Pegasus the other day working on that.
I think he’s a bit of a problem solver, a bit of a smart-ass. Smart. Funny. As far as family goes, no idea. We’ll see what happens. I don’t want to think too much, because if they say I’m gay I don’t want to mess that up. Anyway.
GW: ShadowMaat. “You’ve appeared in a lot of sci fi shows. Outer Limits, 4400, Stargate, most recently Battlestar Galactica — in which case they just killed you.”
KS: Yeah. It’s a drag. you can’t recur on every show.
GW: No. “Are you a fan of the genre or is it that sci-fi is what is available?’
KS: It’s not that I’m not a fan of sci-fi. When you start doing it and you become accustomed to getting into the role and what it calls for — because sci-fi is an entirely different thing. You have to get your brain around, first of all, technical jargon. You have to know what you’re saying. You have to understand what’s going on around you. Where the mission has come before you. Where the show is going after you. I sort of equate it to reading a Dune novel. There is a whole thing built in there that you have to be a part of and you have to understand if you’re going to do it correctly.
So I didn’t understand it before I got into it. I didn’t really know what the sci fi genre was. I’ve done a lot of drama. I do a lot of comedy when I can. I’ve really come to enjoy it, if for no other reason — I love the scripts, I love that kind of stuff — but it is so much fun. Because you do things that you would never do. It’s like being six years old and sitting on a toilet pretending you’re in a space ship with a towel wrapped around yourself. It’s the original “playing.” it’s like being a child again. It can be a lot of fun.
GW: Have you poked around online to forums and listing such as KavanSmithFans.com?
KS: A friend of mine just old me about that, literally maybe a couple of months ago. So I did. I went and I took a little look, and I was absolutely amazed to see that people out there pay attention. Put a Web site together? That’s sci fi fan devotion. Not a lot of people do that. My wife thought it was very funny. Very amusing. I think she wrote in. I don’t know what she said, but she told me she wrote in.
GW: What does she think of all these fan girls that are after you?
KS: I don’t know. I hope she’s flattered by it. I’m flattered by it. She’s really cool about that sort of thing. She understands what this industry entails. So, no. There’s a lot of things on-line. When you go looking around you can find some stuff that’s been out there for a while. I did an episode of The 4400 about two weeks ago, and there’s already links on-line talking about it. Fast! Fast-fast-fast.
GW: What is it about the Stargate franchise, in particular, of the sci fi work you’ve done that you enjoy?
KS: Well I think that when it comes to Stargate, more so than perhaps any show that I’m aware of except maybe the Star Trek franchise or something like that is that large. SG-1 is going into the tenth season. That just doesn’t happen. That kind of thing doesn’t happen. So working with Stargate — first of all there’s a very familial aspect to being on set there because everybody’s worked together for so long.
GW: Since MacGyver.
KS: Exactly! Everybody goes back that far. So this is a team that you’re walking into. You walk in, it’s very warm. It’s very friendly. The people have been together for so long and it generally is a lot of fun to be on set there. I know everybody. I’ve come to be very friendly with everybody.
So I think when you have something that’s that successful everybody’s relaxed. They have nothing to prove. They know that, chances are, they’re going to get picked up again next year. They’re going to have a job next year. They’re all comfortable with that. There’s not so much pressure. You don’t have the same producers lowering over the set watching you, and pacing behind you, peeking at you from behind the screen and snarling at you. It feels good coming to work on that show. It’s fun.
GW: Of your many appearances in Season Two of Atlantis, does any one of them stand out in your mind in particular?
KS: I would have to say “Runner.” Definitely the first one I did when they brought the character back.
GW: Tromping through the forest with McKay?
KS: Yeah. We had a lot of cool little toys to play with then as far as film stuff. Cameras. The little gyroscopes that we used. Very interesting. But I think, in that one they allowed my character to have freedom as far as his banter with the McKay character. And I enjoyed that a lot. It was a lot of fun. So I set a lot of precedents for my character in that one episode. So anytime anybody asks which one I like the most that’s definitely the one. I don’t know that it was necessarily my best or any of that kind of stuff. But it was the one that sticks out the most because I got to really dig my teeth in a little bit and have fun with that character.
GW: You say about settings standards for yourself. How often do you get a chance to improvise in an environment like this?
KS: Well, as far as the dialogue is concerned, they’re really not that finicky. Again, that goes back to the fact that, as a long-term franchise, they know they’re steady. So they can handle you changing a couple things here and there as long as you’re cool about it and you talk to them. Run it by them first. But I don’t know. What was I talking about?! You had me there. I had something really great that I was going to say and I just blanked.
GW: Improv. McKay.
KS: Right. See, that’s it right there. The improv. Sometimes my character just “goes like that. And forgets everything.” So I improv!
No, I think there’s not necessarily, in television, a lot of room for improv unless you’re doing some kind of sketch comedy or something like that. But, what’s really interesting is when you’re doing a lot of explosions and special effects and stuff like that, these are one-ers. Most of them are one-ers. So you’ve got one shot at it. So you can have fun, because it’s going to make the cut! They spend fifty thousand dollars on this one shot, so there’s pressure on it, but it also takes some of the pressure off because you know that what you get is going to stay. So if you’ve got to change a line or add a little something or if you want to steal a moment for yourself that’s a really good time to do it. Yessss.
GW: Let’s talk for a moment about “Coup D’etat.”
GW: Receiving a script like this must be a little unnerving for a recurring actor. Did you think when you read the script that Lorne’s number was up when the team finds evidence of his charred remains?
KS: Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t know about it. I was on set one day and one of the props guys came by and said “Hey, so you die!” And I’m trying to be cool. “Oh, yeah, I’m dying.” … “I DIE?! WHAT?! Nobody told me that!”
GW: “Who I gotta kill?!”
KS: Yeah! “Who I gotta talk to?” I was so surprised, I think, because everybody on the show had been so inclusive with me, and very familial. I was a little thrown that nobody had told me. But that’s just the life of a recurring actor. You have to expect that, from time to time, you’re going to get killed. And I’ve been killed many times in my career. When I finally got the script I realized that that was not the case. I talked to the writers briefly. They said “You’re not going to die. It just looks like you’re going to die. So. Cliffhanger.”
GW: Joseph Mallozzi was really playing that up on our Web site in particular, and a lot of your fans were scared for a couple of months.
KS: Oh, wow! Well, it’s good to know. It’s good to know. Sci fi fans, very loyal. But for one day I was definitely thrown.
GW: You have a great deal of voice work that I’ve heard. I got to tell you, I love the “Come back to my place and we make some waffles.”
KS: [Laughter] You heard that?!
GW: I love that piece. What attracts you to doing voice work?
KS: Well, I guess when you’re an actor, if you’re not really a character actor. If you’re physically “A” you’re going to play “A” a lot. So I’m stuck playing the way I look a lot, whatever that may or may not be, and I was trained in theater. That’s where I came from. And there you have a lot more freedom. You do really different stuff. I’m not allowed, generally, to explore and play. Like really play. Do some crazy stuff.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine suggested that, “You know what? If you really just want to have a good time … It doesn’t pay as much, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. Try voice.” So I’ve been doing it and I have to be honest with you. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had. It’s like being in a playground with a bunch of idiots. I’m one of the biggest idiots. And it’s really a hell of a lot of fun. But not even just the fun aspect. For example, I just signed on to do the narration in a new documentary called “When Elephants Fight.” And this is something that I would normally never be exposed to. It is such a poignant, beautiful, necessary documentary. And to just be part of that is phenomenal.
So the whole voice thing started as fun and it’s kind of moved serpentine all over the place, touching all sorts of different things for me to try.
KS: Yeah. It’s very sweet.
GW: You said that you tend to play a lot of the same kinds of characters. Have you had much chance to really go evil and play a good bad guy? Is that something you want to do?
KS: I love playing evil. When I did theater I did a lot of evil. When I first got into film I did a lot of “jerk.” I played a lot of “jerk” for a while. So, not evil or very, very mildly evil. I did a few evil things that I’m trying to forget, because of budgetary constraints, ended up being shot very poorly. So the couple times that I’ve really had the opportunity to get right into real evil and really menacing stuff, which is so much fun to do, I would get shanghaied and I kind of got screwed. So, no, I don’t get the chance to play that kind of stuff as much as I would like to. And with any luck, that’ll change.
GW: With Atlantis especially, there’s any number of chances that Lorne could get possessed by an alien being.
KS: And you know, I wish he would. When Ford was half taken over by the Wraith thing, that was the opportunity of a lifetime, to play that kind of guy. Sort of being torn, being completely a Wraith at one point, and at the same time half human. There’s so many possibilities there.
GW: “The Long Goodbye.”
KS: Yeah, exactly! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Yep. And that was one where sometimes I’d be sitting in the chair between takes, like “Man, I’m so jealous right now. I want to be doing this. This is much more fun. Why don’t we swap and I’m the one who got possessed.” But they haven’t gone for that yet.
GW: Ever rush on set when they’re filming and say “There was a third alien!”
KS: Yes! When I was 18, 19, something like that, I did a play. And I played a 250-year old conjure man. A witch doctor-type guy in the Ozarks. The play was called “Dark of the Moon.” And it was so much fun to be something completely the opposite of who you are, both physically, emotionally, spiritually, everything. And aliens definitely would fall under that category. I haven’t got a chance to play a lot of aliens yet, but who knows. In Atlantis anybody can be possessed. Sheppard got turned into a bug last year, so maybe I could be an orangutan for an episode.
GW: And in Vancouver, anybody can wear prosthetics.
KS: Yeah, exactly! Everybody wears prosthetics here. Maybe Lorne just grows a really big nose and talks with a Jewish accent. I don’t know. He needs something cool to do.
GW: There’s the voice-work working in there for you.
KS: Yeah, exactly. I’ll work the voice-work in there somehow.
GW: What else can fans look for you coming up in addition to Atalntis?
KS: Well, I’m still recurring in The 4400. I just got the season opener of that show two weeks ago and I go back and I shoot another episode next week. So that character is getting worked a little bit.
This documentary that I’m doing, I’m really excited about that. And I was doing, at the end of last year, a show for FOX called Reunion, which was a teen-based thing. Entirely different than Lorne, and entirely not soldierly at all. [I] played a doctor. And it was going to be a recurring role, and they had a lot of really interesting things planned for the character. And then of course the show sucked. It got pulled. So that’s not coming up. But other than that, just these two gigs right now, and keep rolling. Such as the life of an actor.
GW: And will we continue to see Marcus Lorne in Season Three?
KS: [Laughter] Marcus Lorne. Marcus Lorne, or some offshoot of Lorne. With any luck. It’s entirely up to the producers. I’m available, for the most part. And I was in the season opener. The two-parter. And I think that there seems to be interest on their part, and certainly interest on my part. I guess time will tell.
GW: What can you tell us about that experience without spoiling the story?
KS: OK. What can I tell you? I can tell you that generally speaking, which we spoke about before we started the interview, shows spend money on their season openers. So the sets, the crew, the equipment. It’s a much bigger budget then you would normally have on a regular episode. So they blew some cash. And any time you blow cash on a show, it usually equates to more fun. And so we got to — it’s tough to tell you too much about it because I don’t want to blow anything. They’ll get mad at me if I do that. But I do get beat up quite severely. I get thrown around a little. Some massive explosions.
We’ve got some cool spaceship stuff happening in this one, which is always a blast. Just like sitting on a toilet when you’re three, only there was no toilet and I wasn’t three — and a towel around my neck. I can tell you that it’s going to be great. It’s going to look great. Martin directed it. Martin’s terrific. He’s just so competent when he does that. Everybody’s in it. You asked me before which is my favorite episode and I said “Runner.” I think this one might be my favorite episode so far. I’m dying to see it. The sets alone, we see some Wraith-type settings and we really explore those a little bit more with budget. So I’m dying to see what they look like on screen.
GW: You haven’t had a lot of fan convention experience thus far. You hoping to get some more?
KS: No, I haven’t. I’ve been asked a few times. But it just keeps happening at a time when I’m not available. Last year there was some requests to my agent and it just so happened that I was either shooting or something. I’ve had some requests this year. I can’t remember the names of the conventions. Some are happening in November. October-November, November-December. And my wife is due in October with our first child.
GW: Oh, congratulations!
KS: So I’m not going anywhere. And I’ll play a daddy for a while. Marcus. Lorne. Daddy.
GW: Do you feel as though, as a recurring character, it’s only a matter of time before Lorne goes out in a blaze of glory?
KS: What was it, in Star Trek they always put the guys in red?
GW: Red Shirts?
KS: Red Shirts. Every day when I show up on set I look in the closet and I see what’s there. If it’s a red shirt I’m gone. But as a recurring character, sometimes — there’s certainly no ill intent on anybody. Sometimes the producers and writers sit there and say “Well, we need a way to get out of this. We need a scapegoat. We need something convincing. Somebody we know, and have an emotional attachment to, to lose.” And sometimes that helps the storyline, and I am not on contract. So they have the right to do that. I hope not. But we’ll see what happens.
KS: I asked to be able to send a message to my fans, or Lorne’s fans from Stargate. And I guess the message is this: I am tickled, thrilled and blown away by the support that you guys have given me, dating back to “Enemy Mine” a few years ago. And that people actually paid attention when I showed up in Atlantis is remarkable.
I think part of the reason why they’ve kept me coming back from time to time is because [of] positive fan feedback. I am, which is rare, speechless. I don’t really know what to say. I am glad that the character speaks to you. I am glad that there is something about him that’s interesting and compelling. I’m trying to make him deeper and more compelling, and trying to explore other thigns with him. If I’m given the chance I will continue do to so.
So keep writing in. Send them good things. Push me. And with any luck, maybe I’ll see you at some of these conventions and I can meet some of you face-to-face. [I] haven’t had the pleasure of doing that yet. But I guess I will sum up by saying Thank You. It is my privilege to be able to do this stuff for you guys. And I hope you enjoy. Thanks.