Kerr Smith on being ‘Life Unexpected’s’ voice of reason, and the end of ‘Dawson’s’

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In 1998, Kerr Smith joined the cast of “Dawson’s Creek” as Jack McPhee, a love interest for Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), but his character soon went down a different path. Halfway through his first season on the show, Jack came out of the closet, becoming one of the first openly gay teen characters on television. Four years later, Jack became a father when the dying Jen (Michelle Williams) asked him to take care of her daughter in the show’s series finale.

Now Smith is once again playing a dad of sorts as Ryan Thomas on the CW’s “Life Unexpected.” After his fiancée Cate (Shiri Appleby) is reunited with Lux (Brittany Robertson), the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years ago, she and her high school one-night stand Baze (Kristoffer Polaha) gain joint custody of Lux. And Ryan gains a teenager and a whole lot of messy, complicated history between Cate and Baze.


Smith chatted with Show Tracker last Thursday while driving his car down to Los Angeles from Vancouver, where the show recently wrapped production on its first season. He thanked Show Tracker profusely for helping to keep him awake.

“I’m so tired right now. I’ve been on the road for 18 hours,” he said. “My eyelids are Scotch-taped open.”
Smith talked about playing Ryan, the seemingly perfect voice of reason on the show, his character’s family, dealing with Baze and how he felt about the end of “Dawson’s Creek.”

Originally, Ryan wasn’t supposed to be a series regular, but you still fought for the role. What was it about the character and the pilot that made you want to be a part of the show?
It was such a great script. It was early in pilot season. I read for the character of Ryan and at that point, the character was only guaranteed nine out of 13 episodes, I believe. It was so good that I held out. I said, “Look, I really want to be a part of this thing. Can we make him a series reg and guarantee him 13 episodes?” Luckily Liz [Tigelaar, creator] thought it was a good idea. The next thing I know, I’m up in Vancouver shooting it.

Was it the first pilot that you read during pilot season?

It was one of the first pilots. I think I read it in early January. It’s got to be good to take you out of pilot season that early ... because the opportunity cost is missing out on everything else. And it was really that good. From the get-go, I really wanted to be a part of it.

What’s going on in Monday’s episode, “Turtle Undefeated”?

It’s about Baze and his father. Trying to get the bar up and running and actually bring in some income. He comes up with this idea to have these turtle races. It’s kind of cute actually. It’s pretty funny. They’ve got a three-legged turtle.

Ryan kind of reminds me a little bit of another character you played, Jack McPhee, in that they’re both the voice of reason and the one people go to for advice and to be heard. Do you see a resemblance between them?
I don’t, but I see what you mean. I never really thought of it that way. Ryan’s the glue of the show. He’s the adult. He keeps Cate on track. He keeps Lux on track. And tries to keep Baze away as much as he can. You’re right, he’s the voice of reason. He’s definitely the most mature, the most professional. I’m sure he’s got some deep secrets. We just haven’t explored them yet.

He seems so perfect. I’ve started calling him Saint Ryan. Does he have any faults?

[Laughs] He’s got faults. We just haven’t gotten into them yet. We’re going to dive into those in Season 2. Hopefully, we’re back.

I was really impressed with how he handled his fiancée bringing a 16-year-old into their lives. He didn’t balk once at becoming an almost-stepfather.

Lux is so great. If it happened to me in real life -- I’d just asked someone to marry me and she had a daughter that just showed up on her doorstep one day -- I think I’d be OK with that. The little girl’s part of her life. It might be cool. You know what else is great? You get to skip the baby years. You get to skip changing the diapers and all the crying and whining. You just get right to the good part.

And it helps that Lux really has it together, sometimes even more so than Cate and Baze.

She does have it together, but she’s got her own set of problems, as well. Ryan, again, is the voice of reason for her.

Do you share more scenes as the season goes on?

We do. We have more and more as the season goes on. We really enjoy doing those scenes together. It’s always a real heartfelt type of dialogue between the two of us. It’s a lot of fun.

Is he wrestling with all this additional pressure that he’s taken on by being with Cate?

When we get into the season a little bit more, yes, he’s going to be struggling with some stuff. For right now, he’s not quite at his tipping point yet. A couple more weeks and then he’ll lose his cool.

How’s Ryan dealing with having Baze thrust into his life?
Not well.

I get the feeling that if Cate weren’t in the middle, Baze and Ryan might actually be friends.

This is the take that I have on it. I didn’t want to just have a hate-hate relationship between Ryan and Baze. I thought it was more interesting if Ryan comes from the standpoint of, at one point in Ryan’s life, he was Baze maybe in college and in high school. The kind of guy who sits around and pulls bong hits all day and drinks beer with his buddies. Everybody goes through that at a time in their life. I certainly did. Ryan, at some point, decided to grow up and take responsibility for his life and his career. And Baze did not. They took separate paths at some point in their lives. I think Ryan can relate to Baze. He doesn’t necessarily like him that much, but he understands him.

A part of me keeps waiting for the episode where they’re forced to go camping by themselves or something like that.
It will happen.

Is Ryan going to find out about Baze and Cate sleeping together before the season’s over? Do things completely blow up when that happens?

She’s been dealing with that internal secret for four episodes now. Yes, it will come out. I’m not going to say when, but it’s a big blowout. Ryan just loses it. The rest of the season after that will be about Cate repairing the damage that she’s done.

We’ve met various members of Cate, Baze and Lux’s families. Will we ever meet any of Ryan’s family or see where he comes from?
You will. You’ll meet my parents later on in the season. Trust me, they’re every bit as crazy as Cate’s.

In real life, you and Kris [Polaha, who plays Baze] are kind of reversed. He’s married with two kids and you’re a bachelor. Do you guys ever go to each other for advice on how to play these roles?

We do, actually. He’s Ryan in real life and I’m Baze in real life. It’s kind of fun actually. It makes for an interesting dynamic because he understands my character and I understand his.

Switching gears a little bit -- you and Adam Kaufman on “Dawson’s Creek” were the first male/male dramatic kiss on primetime. When you were filming that, did you have any idea how historic what you were doing was?
I did know how historic it was and he did too. I’ll never forget the day that we were filming that. I was quite nervous, as was he. A lot of jokes were being played, as you can imagine, by the crew. We shot it in as little takes as it took and moved on. But we knew what we were doing. We knew what we were addressing. We knew that it was important and that a lot of people were going to be looking up to the show now for this particular type of storyline. I think we did a good thing. I think that storyline probably helped a lot of people in real life.

One of my favorite scenes from the series comes after that when you go back home and break down in your father’s arms. I thought that was so well-played.
That was a tough day. Jack was a tough character to play. Dealing with that emotionally, it’s pretty tough. But it was fun. I enjoyed it.

Were you happy with the way the series ended?
Jen on her death bed, I thought that was a really cool storyline. It was really fun to play that. Being on our last episode, everybody was already highly emotional because we knew it was the end. It was a fitting storyline to be able to play then. I wasn’t real happy with the Doug/Jack thing. I gotta be honest. I thought that was a little cheat. It was funny, yeah, that they made Doug, Pacey’s older brother the cop, gay and got him and Jack together in the end. I don’t know. I thought that was a little cheat.

You guys just finished filming your last “Life Unexpected” episode for the season. What was the feeling like on set?
The feeling was really nice. All the producers and writers came up from L.A. A couple of the cast invited their parents to set to be in our very last scene with us, which was really fun. We had a nice party. Got out the champagne. The attitude was really positive. I felt we did good television to the very end. We’re all very excited and we’re just hoping everybody’s going to love it this spring. Hopefully, we come back next July for a full season. It’d be great.

-- Vlada Gelman (Follow my TV musings on Twitter: @stayingin)

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