Q&A with 'That '90s Show' star Kurtwood Smith: 'I was a little insecure on the first episode of "That '70s Show'

Kurtwood Smith attends "That '90s Show" S1 premiere at Netflix Tudum Theater on January 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Kurtwood Smith attends "That '90s Show" S1 premiere at Netflix Tudum Theater on January 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.

Kurtwood Smith said he never saw himself doing a sitcom as an actor.Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

  • Kurtwood Smith played Red Forman on "That '70s Show" and reprised the role for "That '90s Show."

  • He never saw himself in a sitcom, but it's one of his favorite jobs to date — and he credits the writers with making it so funny.

  • Fans who recognize him will often come up and ask him to call them "a dumbass" just like Red would.

This Q&A is based on a conversation with Kurtwood Smith, who plays Red Forman on "That '70s Show" and "That '90s Show." It has been edited for length and clarity. 

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

Save your money, you'll need it.

Have you ever gone into business for yourself, or thought about it?

I've never thought about it. If I hadn't been an actor, I'd still be a teacher. I taught college for five years. People thought I was insane to leave a nice job at a community college to go to LA and pursue acting.

When you started acting, did you think you'd ever be on a sitcom?

Oh no, that didn't occur to me. Even if I'd stretched myself back then to think about being on television, I wouldn't have imagined it'd be in a sitcom. I didn't see myself there at all. When I started acting, I was all about the stage.

Did you rewatch "That '70s Show" to prep for the spinoff?

I'm not sure I've ever seen all of the episodes of "'70s Show" — I'm not crazy about watching myself on TV. But when it looked like ''90s Show" was going to go forward, I thought I should go back and take a look. I didn't think, "Oh gosh, I have to learn how to play this role again," because Red Forman is such a part of me. But I watched maybe three or four episodes from different seasons to get a feel for it again.

I'm very proud of all eight seasons of "'70s Show." I would've done a couple more, but they shoved me out the door and said, "See you later." It's a funny show. It's great to watch.

In your rewatch of the original show, who gave you the most laughs?

All the characters had their own thing and did them so well, you know? But the two people that I worked with most — Topher Grace, of course, and Debra Jo Rupp — they're both terrific actors. I don't think Debra gets the credit she deserves. People see her as a nutty comedian, which she is — she can do that extremely well. But she can play a wide variety of roles.

I always got a big kick out of Wilmer (Valderrama, who plays Fez) too. We got to do a couple scenes together on "That '90s Show," and those were two of my favorite scenes of the whole season.

Speaking of Fez, who was your favorite boyfriend for Jackie on "That '70s Show"?

It's kind of hard for me to see past Ashton (Kutcher, who plays Kelso) because they ended up together — but as far as a couple goes, definitely Kelso or Fez. The idea of Jackie and Fez together is pretty funny.

What are some of the craziest interactions you've had with fans who recognize you from the show?

People come up and ask me to call them a dumbass. They do this all the time — it's amazing to me, because I'd think "Why would you wanna be called a dumbass?" I used to say things like, "Anybody who wants to be called a dumbass is a dumbass." And that would get a laugh. I think people feel that if I call them a dumbass, they're a little bit part of the show.

You said before that sitcoms weren't something you originally set out to do, and that you weren't sure you'd be funny on "That '70s Show" when you first started. Do you remember the moment when you realized you were hilarious?

I was a little insecure on the first episode of "That '70s Show," but I got some pretty good laughs out of it, and then it just continued on. I didn't necessarily think, "Oh, I'm pretty funny" — we had great writers on that show, and we have great writers on "That '90s Show."

I tried not to make the mistake of thinking, "Oh, this is all me being funny," because it's not. It's the situation that the writers give us.

What do you think it is about the original show that makes people love it so much?

It's a family show in the sense that it surrounds this large family that's not just Eric and his parents — it's all his friends as well because they see Red and Kitty as adopted parents for them in a way.

It's also that our characters are all grounded — we're not just making faces and being goofy. These are genuine characters, and people respond to that. This is going to sound pretty corny, but people can feel the love.

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