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Kurtwood Smith Interview

When you think of TV dads as Father's Day approaches, a handful come to mind -- deadly dads like Tony Soprano, goofy dads like Hal on Malcolm In The Middle, cartoon dads like Homer Simpson.

None can wear plaid like Red Forman, the hardcase head of the family from That '70s Show (Global, Fox, Tuesdays at 8).

"I get a lot of, 'My dad was just like that,' " says Kurtwood Smith, who is heading into his fifth season as straight-arrow Red.

Smith was in Toronto a few weeks ago to guest on Open Mike With Mike Bullard. The well travelled-character actor last visited the city to appear in the Nicole Kidman movie To Die For. "She's done all right since then," he says.

He found quite a few Red fans in Canada. One guy told him his 80-year-old father never missed the show and thought Red was just like his dad. "He must have been from the 19th century," says Smith.

The 58-year-old actor is thrilled to be bridging all those generations with this character. "I think it has more to do with the way Red is trying to raise his kid in the best way he knows," says the Wisconsin native. "The irony is he is trying to raise his son Eric (played by Topher Grace) for the world he grew up in. I think that's kind of what all dads do."

Smith says his own stepfather, who passed away just before That '70s Show premiered in 1998, was a lot like Red. "In terms of the way he talks and stuff, I really hear his voice a lot."

Smith never knew his real father. A pilot in World War II, he was shot down over Germany towards the end of the war, when Smith was just an infant.

He says his own grown children, both recently married, get a kick out of Red. " I don't think any of them have accused me of being like him," he says.

And while ol' Red can get kinda cranky on the show from time to time, Smith sees him as a good example of a father "because of the values he is trying to pass on to his son. I think we've probably seen the past couple of generations trying to be friends to the kids, which is essentially what I did."

Could retro Red be more understanding of his son's feelings? "Sure he could, but from his point of view, that's what his mother (played by Debra Jo Rupp) is for."

Smith says '70s Show producers Bonnie and Terry Turner and Mark Brazill modeled Red after their own fathers rather than any past TV dads. There's not a lot of Ozzie And Harriet or Father Knows Best in Red, says Smith.

How does he stack up with other father figures on TV? "Peter Boyle on Everybody Loves Raymond is more of an insane Dad," says Smith. "Stacy Keach on Titus was a psychotic father. Jerry Stiller (King Of Queens), he's pretty funny. But I think in a lot of ways, Red is the most realistic dad of all. That's what they were shooting for."