And he has a cool singing voice, too. An interview with Kevin Smith, better known to TV viewers as the ever-seductive God of War
By Sharon Delaney
Xena: Warrior Princess
The Official Magazine
God of War, God of Love, God of Seduction, God of One-liners, Reincarnation of Elvis...just when you think you've got this character pinned down, he dissolves in a pillar of fire and reemerges the following week with a new facet of his personality. "Being the God of War is his joy," Kevin Smith says with a grin. "Ares isn't evil. He doesn't want to see the destruction of mankind. He's just a working stiff who goes home after a hard day at the office and puts in a copy of TERMS OF ENDEARMENT." As for the irony that the God of War has become a sex symbol, Kevin laughingly replies, "If you put Mr. Ed in those leather pants, he'd be a sex symbol!"
Most of Smith's acting work has been in theater. "After the play closed, I went into the Court Theatre Company for a couple years," he recalls. "We did what we call 'back-to-backing.' You rehearse one play during the day and perform another at night, and it's the best learning experience. I still prefer live stage work. You get to go on a complete journey every night. There's a growth that goes on during the run of a good play."
Next came television. His first experience was in a sketch comedy show called Away Laughing and reviews listed him as "comic Kevin Smith." Then he landed in Gloss, a one-hour drama series, playing Damien Vermeer, a handsome scoundrel. He's been the "bad boy" ever since.
Around this time, Smith was being cast as the baddest boy of all: Ares, God of War, devilish instigator of human conflict and ongoing temptation to a certain newly-reformed Warrior Princess. From the beginning there was some concern about just how evil this chief villain should be, especially when the producers and writers began flirting with the notion that Ares might be Xena's father.
"We went into that with a certain ambiguity" explains Smith. "It's meant to be a teasing thing.. They've brought it up and offered no resolution. If I play it ambiguous, people can take it however they want."
The episodes "Ties That Bind" and "The Furies," almost ended the discussion by settling this unique paternity suit, but at the last minute the producers decided to keep their options open. In mythology, parents pairing off with their children was not uncommon, but that's not something that would be given serious consideration today -- especially in a show with such a large young audience. Smith points out, "In 'Intimate Stranger,' Ares and Xena have a tryst, but it was actually Callisto in Xena's body. Greek mythology is a huge pool to draw on, but there are certain things that you just can't do now. However, we could ask ourselves, if they are gods, do the norms of human morality apply?"
Ares also has made some choice appearances on Hercules and Smith seems to play him differently on that show "The main difference is that there are two different agendas, the actor explains. "Ares is more seductive on Xena because it's all about winning her back. It's been a sensual kind of relationship from the beginning. On Hercules, Ares is simply trying to figure out a way to kill Herc. But unfortunately for him, there's this directive from Zeus that one god cannot kill another. So he's trying to figure out a way of doing it without breaking the law. All motives for the character aside, I think the comedic aspect of Ares is higher on both shows now than when he was first introduced."
And Kevin Smith finally got to do his Elvis impersonation in the Hercules episode "Stranger in a Strange World," when in a parallel world Ares briefly became the God of Love.
Smith points out that Ares has developed quite a dysfunctional family over the course of his appearances. There's Strife, his WAYNE'S WORLD-esque valley dude nephew; Discord, the sister who dresses in basic black; and Hera, the mother from Hell. (I wouldn't recommend any child getting on her bad side!)
Although his performances as Ares have catapulted Smith to international recognition and fan fame, many viewers also remember a different, though no less interesting, role he's played on the Hercules series. In "What's in a Name," the son of Zeus discovers that someone is impersonating him, and that someone turns out to be his half-brother, Iphicles (Smith). The character resurfaced in "The Wedding of Alcmene" (Hercules' mom got married in a lavish ceremony, briefly interrupted by a hungry sea serpent), and later in "Surprise," the episode in which Callisto tries to kill Hercules and ends up eating from the Tree of Life, making her immortal. Ironically, both of Kevin Smith's roles, Ares and Iphicles, are blood relations of Hercules.
The New Zealand film community is a small, tight-knit group, and it makes working on these various projects enjoyable; it's fun to bump into mates you've traded lines with before. Smith first ran into Danielle Cormack (Ephiny) on Gloss when she was only 17. And now he's about to start a movie with her called CHANNELING BABY. Meanwhile, Danielle and Joel Tobeck (Strife) just won best actress and actor awards for their work in the acclaimed film TOPLESS WOMEN TALK ABOUT THEIR LIVES.
Gloss was also Smith's first introduction to a charming young actress named Lucy Lawless. "In my first Gloss episode, Lucy had a small part as a nightclub patron. She was about 19 and had a really sensible, short hair cut. We also worked together on Marlin Bay. It's very comfortable working with Lucy because there's a safely net. She's really good at putting people at their ease. There's a lot of sparring in our scenes together (on Xena).
"I had never worked with Renee O'Connor before, but she's one of the sweetest people. She's got a really good work ethic...she's in there, boots and all! As is Lucy. I had a theater director who once told me that the main component of acting is courage -- physical and emotional. And both of these women sure have it."
As for his other co-stars, "Ted Raimi and I both love watching. old movies...the cheesier the better. You know, bad horror movies, or slasher movies from the '70s. We frequently talk about the abomination of colorization. Then there's Kevin Sorbo -- a frustrated jock, like rne. But he's a better golfer than I am. That's been borne out on countless occasions. No bets placed, the humiliation is enough," laughs Smith. "Kevin's so unHollywood, so regular. Same with Lucy. Both are really down to earth."
And how did Smith react when he heard they were planning a musical episode of Xena this season? "The style of Xena is such that I thought there was an inherent theatricality to it anyway," he observes. "It wouldn't be jarringly out of place." Already fans have been raving about Ares' sexy tango with Xena, a high point of the episode. "Really?" laughs the actor, amazed by this revelation. "I'm just the worst dancer. I told Jeff Calhoun, the dance director of GREASE who choreographed 'The Bitter Suite,' that dance has been bred out of my people. It doesn't come naturally to me. But I enjoyed that piece because it was such a slinky, lascivious song. Lucy and I rehearsed the routine individually, and we had only one time together before we shot the scene. The woman I worked with in rehearsal was quite a bit shorter than me, but it just made the switch to Lucy easier because I didn't have to bend down so far."
And now Ares can add one more title to his resume -- God of the Dance.