Q&A: Kerr Smith & Kristoffer Polaha Talk 'Life Unexpected'
January 15th, 2010 10:08am EST | By: Danielle Turchiano
Though midseason CW series Life Unexpected has been called the new Gilmore Girls, show creator Liz Tigelaar believes the demographic will be broader and will include the male audience as well. This must be due to her male leads, Kerr Smith and Kristoffer Polaha. Find out what these guys' guys had to say about each other, what it's like to play parent to a teenager when you're in your 30s, and why they think their show will be around for a while even after getting a late start.
Starpulse: What was it about the show - and specifically your role - that first attracted you to it?
Kerr Smith: When I read it, it just had a lot of heart, and it just felt to me like old school WB and the kind of show that actually put that network on the map. And having been a kind of part of that before, it just felt the same way, and I thought: 'Wow this thing could do really well,' so I wanted to jump on board.
Kristoffer Polaha: Right off the bat I was given the [pilot] script to read for interest, and it was an amazing script. You kind of get a nose for things, you know? As actors, I think we get to see - it used to be a hundred scripts every pilots season, and I don't know the numbers anymore, but you get an idea of what's good, what's not good. And from the stuff that's good, you get an idea of what's going to get picked up and what's not going to get picked up. I remember reading this and being like, 'Wow, this is a really great script' and still not knowing what network it was for, but knowing that it was big league stuff.
Kris, your character Baze is similar to some of your other recent roles, as a pretty laid back and casual 'go with the flow' guy, but what specifically made you want to play him?
Kris: Baze is just such a fantastic character; he's a lot of fun in the sense that you get this guy who's like a leading man-- he's basically like every Matthew McConaughey character or every Hugh Grant character, you know? He's sort of bumbling, ne'er do well, Peter Pan syndrome, man-child who doesn't want to grow up or take responsibility for his life. And at the point where we're catching him, it's...where the guy has to say "You know what? I do have to stand up and be a man." We're catching Baze at this moment in his life where he's like "I do have to man up here."
Kerr, in "Life Unexpected," you kind of are the "other man," so to speak, since Cate has all the history with Baze. What are you drawing from in order to play that?
Kerr: You know, it's the classic triangle…Ryan's the kind of guy that's capable of putting up with a lot of crap before he tries to run. [Laughs] He's a truthful guy; he's an honest guy; and he's a committed guy, and I think you kind of have to be that to be in a relationship with Cate Cassidy. [Laughs]
Or any relationship, really!
Kerr: Ryan's who she should be with. He's the "smart choice." He's the guy who's got it together with the career, and you know, he's the family man. And then she's got Baze on the other hand who's her high school friend and possible soul mate and things like that. It's very much the classic triangle, but this one's just all kinds of screwed up!
Kristoffer: I think Kerr does such a great job with the character that he brought such a structure-- just a really great, grounded level of acting. You kind of root for them; I love the fact that Ryan is someone that you want to root for because it makes it so much more compelling television. If Ryan was just some kind of disposable foil, then the audience kind of knows in a couple of episodes this guy's going away, you know what I mean? And that's all Kerr. As it's written, there's that option, but a lot of actors would have just chosen to play him as kind of a douchebag...but Kerr made some really smart choices to play him sensitive and play him smart and really just in love with Cate. It makes a really compelling story.
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Who do you think - and who do you hope - the audience will want Cate to, in essence, "pick" to be with?
Kristoffer: What you'll see in the course of the season is sort of the ebb and flow of these two men in Cate's life. In one episode, you'll be like "Go Ryan!" and in the next, you will say "Go Baze!"...Ryan's the good guy, and Baze is the fixer-upper, so women are going to get their camps, I think. There will be the Baze camp, and there will be the Ryan camp, and that's what makes interesting television.
Has it been a big adjustment for you guys to taking on a "parenting role" in your career?
Kerr: That's been a tough adjustment, oh yeah! I mean, come on, I've been playing a kid forever, and now all of a sudden I'm starting to get adult roles. I'm just like, 'Oh my God, I'm starting to get old!'
Kristoffer: I think the biggest adjustment for me is...I'm not Baze at all!
So we've heard!
Kristoffer: Yeah, I'm up early in the mornings; I let my wife [actress Julianne Morris] sleep in; I take the kids; I make breakfast. We live in L.A., and in the summertime, I'd have them out of the house so she could sleep in because, you know, as babies they're up all night and keeping her up. So my days are early. But then, you know, daddy has to bring home the bacon! There's a mortgage, and there's food I have to put on the table, so that's my life. But the real kick - and the real challenge - is thinking what would my life be without all that? And without my inherent sort of sense of responsibility and my work ethic.
I think, like, watching my dad and my grandfather, we have a real strong sense - it's almost like an immigrant-nose-to-the-stone work ethic, so take all that away and who would I be? It's Baze. It's not that he's spoiled, but life has spoiled him.
He was popular in high school; girls used to flock to him in high-everyone used to flock to him in high school. He comes from money, so he's never really had to worry about that. His dad bought him his building and basically told him to do what he loves in it, so he owns a bar and lives above it. There's no real effort.
What are they doing to make you seem like you're a little bit more paternal? Are they aging you at all?
Kerr: Oh no, they're not doing anything, which is kind of the point. I mean, the whole point of the show is how to do these two-- let's just keep it to Baze and Cate-- adults, in quotation marks, raise this child? But it's really almost the other way around where the child is raising them. You know, even though they are both in their thirties, everyone in the cast looks kind of young, so it just adds to the "What is going on here?"
Are you drawing from any real life dad stories - either from your childhood or, Kris, from your own children?
Kristoffer: I absolutely do...whenever I have a scene with Lux...the paternal stuff kicks in with me. I mean, I think I'm just a paternal person - being a father in real life - but also just wanting to do the right thing as a father. To do right by and take care of this kid. I made that decision, like, instead of just playing it as "I don't want you; get out of here," I look at her, and I think "Oh, you're little and the worlds are cold and I can help you."
Kerr: I'm just kind of going with it actually because you know, it's new for Ryan, too, so I just wanted to dive in headfirst with all of the scenes with Lux and give it my best shot with no preconceived notions. I've never been a dad, so I don't know what it's like, which is actually perfect for the role.
Has the atmosphere changed at all now that you know you definitely have an air date?
Kristoffer: It used to feel like we were in a vacuum at first. Shiri used to make jokes that "we're not acting for anybody." It was that feeling of who's going to see this and when are they going to see it, and now that we have an air date, it's starting to land, and it's starting to feel a little more real.
Kerr: You know [for me] it's hasn't. Every time you shoot on location, it feels like camp. It's like you're outside of the Hollywood thing so you don't really pay attention to it; it's not in your face all of the time-- punching you in your face with a baseball bat. [Laughs] So you don't really think about it: you just do your lines and then go home and somewhere in there a TV show gets popped out. And you know, we get an air date, and suddenly "Holy crap; we're going to be on TV," and you know, you just do your job, and [the rest] just kind of happens. It's kind of cool actually.
Kristoffer: I'm excited!...You know, to get to the heart of your article, I think that it's better than we're airing in January. We don't have to fight with all of the rif-raff and glitz of the fall. For example, Vampire Diaries is about vampires; Melrose Place is a name brand, so you've got this easy sort of marketing...All of a sudden January rolls around, and it's sort of open...But it's one of those things that I think makes it feel a little more special. And it feels like a winter show; it makes you feel like you want to snuggle up and watch it!
Kerr: I even said, 'I think we're all going to have a job for awhile, guys.' It's a good one, so I'm really happy with everything that's going on.
Story by Danielle Turchiano
Starpulse contributing writer
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