Family Man: Interview with Rogue's Kavan Smith

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DirecTV

Kavan Smith as Rogue's Tom Travis

When TV audiences last saw Kavan Smith, he was playing the dependable and lovable humanoid robot Deputy Andy 2.0 in the sci-fi series Eureka. Currently, the Edmonton, Alberta-born actor is portraying the very much flesh-and-blood Tom Travis in DirecTV’s much darker and grittier drama Rogue. A teacher and the father of a teenage daughter, Tom is married to Grace, an undercover police detective whose job has turned their home life upside-down as well as threatened all of their lives. The role immediately attracted Smith, and while booking it was a rather long process, it was worth the wait for him.

“I remember reading for them [the show’s producers] about a month and a half before they actually offered me the job,” he notes. “The audition scene itself was from the third episode and it was a fight scene between Tom and Grace [Thandie Newton]. It was more or less a three-page monologue for my character and really heavy stuff. I have kids of my own, so it was very easy to sort of emphasize with what was going on with the character.

“I kind of got into that audition in a way that doesn’t always happen in film and television. I genuinely liked the role along with the scene and thought I did a pretty good job in the audition, but then I didn’t hear anything for, as I said, about a month and a half. Finally I got a phone call telling me that Thandie was in town [Vancouver] and wanted to read with me the following morning. I explained that I hadn’t worked much on the part since the audition, but that I’d do my best.

“I met with Thandie the next day and I guess I was the only one she asked to read with. We worked on the material a little bit and right away we connected. The two of us did some fun stuff and when I walked out of the room I thought if I was the only one who she wanted to meet and then based on how things went in the room, I had a good shot at getting the role. It was, I believe, a couple of days later that I received the good news, and I happily worked my butt off for the next five months,” says the actor with laugh.

In Rogue, Grace Travis is working undercover on a case involving a powerful crime boss, Jimmy Laszlo (Martin Csokas), and his family who are dealing in drugs. When a business “transaction” goes wrong, it points to a traitor in the organization. With her cover  possibly compromised, Grace is pulled off the case, which coincides with her and Tom’s young son being gunned down in the street. Could the two incidents somehow be linked? Stepping into such a violent and emotionally volatile world proved quite a challenge for the show’s cast and crew.

“This was a tough one right from the start because those involved have high expectations for Rogue,” explains Smith. “They really want it to be cinematic and have an edge to it, so there was a great deal of hype going into the first couple of days of shooting, which included my first day on the job. We did a lot of rehearsing and I felt fairly comfortable starting out, but, again so much was expected. With the first couple of episodes of any TV series, you’re trying to explain where all the characters are coming from, how they mix together, etc. Even though Thandie and I connected right away, I think there are always some growing pains for actors. That is pretty standard across the board; actors need a few episodes to get their teeth into the work, start to feel at ease on set as well as with the crew.

“So the first couple of days it was somewhat nerve-wracking but also exciting, and we shot some good scenes. Thandie and I wound up filming a sex scene on my second or third day of work, which was a tad awkward. I don’t particularly like doing those types of scenes. I mean, I’m an old man now,” jokes the actor, “so it’s not necessarily sexy, but Thandie was totally professional about it. It was very risqué and they wanted it right in your face and a little on the shocking side. It didn’t necessarily read that way to me on the page, but we made the best of it and the scene turned out just great. After those first few days and certainly after finishing the first episode, everyone eased more and more into their roles. Again, you almost always feel a bit anxious starting out, but you work through it and move on.”

Although Tom and Grace were cut from the same proverbial cloth, their respective career choices have helped shape them into the people who viewers are introduced to in Rogue.

“The back story that we worked out between Thandie, myself and the show’s writers is that Tom and Grace were both sort of young rock ‘n’ roll kids, kind of hell-raisers and probably into drugs a little bit,” says Smith. “However, when their children came along, he cleaned up. Tom was cool with it and ready to move on to the next level, but Grace was still a bit of a wild child and not necessarily ready for that.

“So Tom got out of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and began working as a teacher. When things go sideways in the household, he’s the glue that holds everybody together. He tries to keep the family from falling apart at the seams, but he’s only human, too. Tom doesn’t necessarily do the best job, but he does the best he can, and I really feel the challenge for me as far as playing Tom was to not have him just be white bread, but to make him, again, human. I didn’t want him to be the okie-dokey dad who’s just trying to hold it all together, because Tom does have some teeth, he has some bite.

“My character knows Grace is undercover and that something is up, but he has no idea to what extent things have gone sideways. I think what really appealed to me about playing Tom is the switching of roles. Instead of the husband being the hero who is going out, finding the bad guys and saving the day, this guy stays home, takes care of everyone and everything there and tries to be the supportive one. Having been raised by my father, Tom’s situation kind of spoke to me, and I found the character to be heroic in a non-action type of way.”

Against orders, Grace returns to working for the Laszlo family in the hope of discovering information about why her son was murdered. Unknown to the detective, Jimmy is suspicious of her, but rather than kill Grace, he agrees to help her find her son’s killer in exchange for helping him flush out the traitor in his midst. As much as Grace longs to walk away and just be a wife and mother to her husband and daughter, she cannot resist Jimmy’s offer. As her quest consumes more and more of her time, it begins to adversely affect life at home.

“As things begin to unravel and become more dangerous, Tom is forced to come to the realization that he has to think outside the box and do certain things without Grace in order to protect their daughter,” says Smith. “Even so, he also knows that no matter what Grace gets into and no matter how bad things get, he cannot deny that he will do whatever he can in the end to protect her, too.

“There is a definite end to season one of Rogue as opposed to some other shows that leave things too wide open,” continues the actor. “At the same time, it still leaves a number of avenues open for where Tom could go as well as where Tom and his daughter Evie [Sarah Jeffrey] could go and where that could be with Grace. I know the show’s producers have made their pitch to the network about a second season and what they want to do. Apparently it’s really quite extreme, amazing and interesting, but they haven’t told me any details yet.

“So I don’t know exactly what they have planned for Tom, but the way the season ends is sort of carte blanche for something really new for him. From my point of view, I would like to see Tom become a little more involved with other facets of the show. All the stuff I shot was familial and with Thandie and Sarah. I did work with Martin Csokas, but I didn’t have a chance to do scenes featuring the other gangsters/crooks or some of the other cops. I’d love to explore that world a bit more with Tom. It would be a lot of fun and as I mentioned, the writers left certain things wide open, so we’ll see.”

Having plenty of acting experiencing under his belt prior to starting work on Rogue, Smith had the opportunity to further exercise his creative muscles when playing Tom. “My aforementioned audition scene ended up being very different from what it was like on the page when we went to shoot it,” he recalls. “It became a very visceral and very real fight between me and Thandie. Our characters have it out in the backyard of their house and get into a big screaming match. I recently saw the episode that this scene is in for the first time, and I didn’t know how it was going to look or how it was going to be cut together.

“When we shot the scene, they basically said, ‘Okay, we’re going to light it this way, we’ll have a couple of cameras roving around, and you guys just do your thing.’ I loved being part of that. It was so spontaneous, almost like being onstage. Thandie and I didn’t practice at all. We just kind of went at it. In one of the takes, she hauled off and punched me in the face, and in another take I launched her about 10 feet across the yard. When I got home that night I was on such a high. I remember the following day when we went into work and the hair and make-up people, who are always terrific sounding boards for actors, said to me and Thandie, ‘That wasn’t so much a scene yesterday, but more of just a full-on fight between you guys.’ That was cool to hear.

“There’s another great scene where Tom talks with his daughter about what they can do to hold themselves together,” continues Smith. “Sarah Jeffrey has a wonderful moment in that, and definitely earned herself a new scene for her demo reel. There’s another wonderful scene, it’s either at the end of episode eight or episode nine, where Tom is being interrogated by the police. I feel so lucky to have been given the chance to play this character. This is the type of thing I did onstage and when I first got into the business. It was usually the heavy stuff or big, broad comedy like Eureka. There’s a big difference between playing a super-keen robot and playing Tom Travis in this sort of tragic drama. I really enjoy doing the comedy stuff, and it was a joy to then go to the other end of the spectrum with Rogue.”

As the actor and the rest of the Rogue cast and crew wait to hear about a season two pick-up, he is keeping busy on some other projects. “I’m narrating a couple of documentary series again for the Discovery Channel, and other than that, I’m playing Mr. Mom at home, which is my best role ever,” says Smith.

“I’m also writing a TV show of my own. I’ve written a bible of ten episodes along with the first four or five scripts. I was a huge reader as a kid and have always enjoyed writing. I’ve taken several stabs at writing novels and, much to my chagrin, realized I’m not nearly as smart as I thought I was and they all failed tragically. However, I’ve started to do a bit more writing recently as far as writing about what I know, and I know screenwriting a little bit better as well as storytelling. I’ve spent a great deal of time working on this particular project and I want to do all I can to push ahead with it. I know it’s a several-year process, so I’m just kind of buckling myself in and we’ll see what happens.”

Please note, all photos of Kavan Smith are by and copyright of Trevor Brady.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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