Pagans in the Media
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Eulogy for Kevin Smith|
by Tom Canfield
It was a terrible shock to learn the news about the passing of Kevin Smith at age 38. For all the fans of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and "Xena: Warrior Princess", his work will always be remembered. As the god Ares, Kevin Smith projected a perfect macho image as a ruthless, but fun-loving, deity. His character was the sort who enjoys mowing down thousands of his enemies, and then finds time for relaxing in a jacuzzi.
Ironically, his work on "Hercules" began with a more insecure role. Originally, he was hired to play "Iphicles", the mortal half-brother of Hercules, who was always trying to deal with his insecurities over his brother's heroic reputation. When it came time to cast the part of Hercules' other half-brother, Ares the god of war, Kevin Smith proved to right for that part as well.
In preparation for his role as Ares, Kevin Smith had a very extroverted and energetic life in his native New Zealand. He started his show business career as a guitarist and singer for a punk rock band, which gained a following on the South Island. He was also a rugby player, but he was sidelined after his third concussion, when he started to feel "punchy." His wife, Suzanne, showed him a casting advertisement for a musical about Elvis Presley. Since Kevin Smith had often entertained his friends with Elvis impersonations, he had the right qualifications for the job. He got the part, but the musical only ran for six weeks. Nevertheless, it started him on his acting career.
For several years, Kevin Smith worked with a theater company in Christchurch, doing occasional work on New Zealand television, including a soap opera featuring a young auburn-haired actress named Lucy Lawless.
When the production team of Raimi and Tapert moved their "Hercules" production company to New Zealand, they scouted around for local talent to play supporting characters. In signing up to play Iphicles and then Ares, it was Kevin Smith's breakthrough for world popularity.
Kevin Smith was very philosophical and introspective about the character he portrayed. In an interview with author Robert Weisbrot for the book "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys- The Official Companion", Kevin Smith offered some profound comments on the nature of villainy:
"Bad guys are generally played with more smiles than good guys. It's something that's reasonably stylized, like wearing a black hat in a Western that signals, 'I'm the bad guy'. With Ares, at least, it's black leather--it gives you a clue. Ares is like other successful villains in that he's sure of his place in the universe. And his smile shows his anticipation of ultimate victory: 'Okay, it's not happening now, but it's going to come. Every defeat is just a bloody nose. You're going to come back strong.'
"The villain's going to lose ultimately, of course. But in some ways villains have the emotional memory of a goldfish that swims in a bowl with a rock thinking, 'Hey, nice rock. Hey, nice rock. Hey, nice rock.' And I think with a villain, too, there's an enormous ego. So, they're thinking, 'This time!' Otherwise, you know, there would be scenes of Ares just holed up in his pad crying."
In the companion book "The Official Guide to the Xenaverse" by Robert Weisbrot, Kevin Smith sums up the relationship between Ares and Xena:
"Every episode with these two, no matter what form it takes is about a seduction. He's seducing her with the spoils of war. And there's always a certain tension between them. He's the serpent, man."
In the same book, Kevin Smith described the potentials involved in playing a character like Ares:
"You can go to town. You can really explore the dark corridors. And, of course, as a god, there are no rules. There's no need to say, 'Hey, gods don't do that!' You're making up the rules as well. I think Ares does not see himself as a villain, but as absolutely necessary in the scheme of things."
With the ending of "Hercules" and "Xena", Kevin Smith began looking around for roles in bigger productions. He recently landed a role in the upcoming Bruce Willis film, "Man of War", which is due to start production in March, 2002. Kevin Smith had gone to China to appear in "Warriors of Virtue II" and to attend an actor's "boot camp" to prepare for the stunts in the action drama.
On Feb. 6, after finishing work on the movie, he fell a distance of six stories and suffered severe skull injuries. After being on life support for nearly ten days, he passed away in a Beijing hospital, leaving behind his wife, Suzanne, and his three sons, Oscar, 11, Tyrone, 9, and Willard, 3.
Although he did not achieve big-screen stardom, the work of Kevin Smith will be remembered for what he contributed to television. In the long run, the TV work may be more memorable. A testimony to his fame may be shown by an anecdote about character recognition. Kevin Smith was in a city that had just been rocked by earthquake tremors. A strange man suddenly came up to him, laughing and pointing, and saying, "Ares! You old bastard! I knew you were responsible for this." Kevin Smith was amazed that someone would identify him with the character so much as to think he could start an earthquake. Yet, as a macho actor who created "tremors" in the spirits of his fans, Kevin Smith is a personality who will not be forgotten.
February 16th., 2002
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