Firestarter Star Kurtwood Smith Talks Finally Venturing Into the World of Stephen King

Over the course of his career, Kurtwood Smith has starred in a number of iconic projects, whether that be an action dystopia like RoboCop or a hilarious sitcom like That '70s Show, though the actor is heading into a new realm by finally starring in a Stephen King adaptation with the upcoming Firestarter. With the adventure itself largely focusing on a young girl with telekinetic powers on the run from a nefarious organization, Smith's involvement in the project is relatively minimal, yet helps paint a malevolent picture of this mysterious corporation. The new Firestarter lands in theaters and on Peacock on May 13th.

The film is described, "For more than a decade, parents Andy (Zac Efron; Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile; The Greatest Showman) and Vicky (Sydney Lemmon; Fear the Walking Dead, Succession) have been on the run, desperate to hide their daughter Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong; American Horror Story: Double Feature, The Tomorrow War) from a shadowy federal agency that wants to harness her unprecedented gift for creating fire into a weapon of mass destruction. Andy has taught Charlie how to defuse her power, which is triggered by anger or pain. But as Charlie turns 11, the fire becomes harder and harder to control. After an incident reveals the family's location, a mysterious operative (Michael Greyeyes; Wild Indian, Rutherford Falls) is deployed to hunt down the family and seize Charlie once and for all. Charlie has other plans." caught up with Smith to talk about his interest in the project, his character's intentions, and returning to his That '70s Show role.

(Photo: Universal Pictures) What was your connection to either this story specifically or just in general to Stephen King before getting involved in this project?

Kurtwood Smith: I've just enjoyed his works over the years, different ones. I was really quite surprised that I hadn't done one before, but when I went back and looked at it, apparently I haven't. So I was happy to be involved in it. And from what I've seen of it, I think it's come off pretty well. I hear really good things. I liked the script quite a bit.

That's another thing I was curious about, because you only have a handful of scenes, what was it about the project that got you excited to get involved, even though you have a small yet pivotal role in the narrative?

Well, they sent me the script, and I read the whole script, and I thought this, "This can be really good." And then if you take the combination of Stephen King and on top of that, you have a really good script ... I thought, "I like the script and it is from the Stephen King. This could be really big." And so I wanted to get involved with it. Pretty much that simple.

Do you feel like it's a freeing experience to focus on this one, significant encounter that you're having with this character, or does it feel like there's more pressure, because you only have this one scene, you have to carry so much more weight with the history of this character and the research that has gone on with those characters?

Good question. I would have to say that I didn't really think about that aspect of it. I think that's something that comes from having done a lot of movies and stuff like that. I had the one character, and I had a lot of time to think about it. I was in quarantine for 14 days up there in a hotel room in Canada, outside of ... Sorry, I'm spacing on the name of the major city in Canada, where I was. Anyway, I had about 14 days to sit in this hotel room. I couldn't even go outside into the hallway. 

I had this character, and I had plenty of time to think about the character and to build a backstory for him, in terms of how he got to where he is at the end, what he is most frightened of, which, in that case, is that he could unleash a monster that could pretty much destroy the world. So for him, she's no longer a little girl, she is a creature that, and he's to blame, which makes him angry at himself, but also angry at people that won't accept it. They aren't really grasping the danger here. 

We hear him at the beginning of the movie when he started the experiments, and he's got plans. He's got an exciting threshold. He's on an exciting threshold for himself in terms of his work, and then it just starts to go bad. And then, ultimately, when he finds out about the little girl, then he realizes what indeed he's done. But of course, by then, they're after him to shut up at the end of his life.

Were you given the freedom on your own to totally create the character's backstory that we don't see or was it more of a collaboration, bringing ideas to [writer] Scott [Teems] and [director] Keith [Thomas] to run with, ask them to see what they thought about that?

Oh, it was pretty much the way it was. I hadn't talked to Keith until we were on the set and there wasn't much to talk about. I said, "So where do you want me on this?" And he says, "How about right here?" And I said, "Okay, great. And Gloria [Reuben] is there." And, "Okay." And, "Are you serious about wearing a mask for the whole rehearsal?" "Yes, I am." "Okay. Well, here we go." And that was that.

Then I was always pushing him to see if I was doing what he wanted, to make sure he wasn't just putting up with me, that he wasn't not getting what he wanted. He seemed quite happy, so that's the way I went. It was good, and it was comfortable working with Gloria. And as far as developing the character, it seemed to me very clear where he was at that point. That no matter how many times he told them, they weren't doing anything about it. And so it was finally getting to him, it was starting to make him into the crazy man that everybody kept saying he was.

There's another project, you've got the That '70s Show follow-up on the horizon. I wondered if there's anything you can tease about what makes that project so exciting and what made you so excited to return all these years later to reprise your role?

I can't tell you too much, but I can tell you that the big thing for me was getting to play that character again and getting to play that character with Deborah Jo Rupp playing my wife Kitty. Those two things were enough to entice me to want to do the project. I thought that, and then the third thing was the fact that Gregg ... I'm spacing on his last name, that Gregg who was a writer from the original show was a writer on this, not just the writer, excuse me. He's pretty much the creator of the show. Or at least he had that credit anyway. Mettler is his last name.

I'll just say one other thing about That '90s Show, and that is that we've had some tests. We finished two episodes and the response has been terrific. So I think you're going to be very happy.

Firestarter lands in theaters and on Peacock on June 13th.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.