The versatile, stern-voiced character actor — best remembered as “That ’70s Show’s” disapproving dad Red Forman, and a veteran of genre entertainment with roles in projects ranging from “RoboCop” to “Star Trek Voyager” to “Beware the Batman” — is among the roster of new characters joining “Marvel’s Agent Carter” in its newly Los Angeles-based second season. Smith plays the initially enigmatic government official Vernon Masters, who shares a history with returning SSR agent Jack Thompson (Chad Michael Murray).
CBR News was on hand when Smith recently joined Murray on the set of the ABC series to speak, however obliquely, with the press about what the new season held for both of their covert operatives.
Kurtwood, what can you tease us about your character, Vernon Masters?
Kurtwood Smith: Well, let’s see: I work for the War Department. I can say that. It’s one of the first things they say. I have a connection with Chad’s character from way back.
Chad Michael Murray: Some family history between Jack.
Smith: Family history — that’s the word.
So that’s what brings me in, and then everything else just kind of develops. I can’t tease you too much about that, but I’m around a while, I’ll tell you that because I’m still here… It’s so hard to tell you without giving stuff away, and I just got counseled to not give stuff away! Anyway, it’s a great deal of fun. I’m just having a fabulous time in the show. I work a lot with Chad. We’ve done several scenes together, and it’s been great fun. We’ve had a lot of fun, and our character relationship does grow and change throughout the series.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a scene with almost everybody from the regular cast, with the exception of James D’Arcy, who was the only person who I knew before I came on this. I was in a movie with James, “Hitchcock,” in which we had no scenes together. So far, I’ve known him now for a while, and still have yet to work with him, but we have a common resume.
Thompson had quite a moment of truth at the end of the first season and made a choice that most fans are not siding with — or Peggy. How do they now work together? Is it open discomfort between them given what happened or they’re just kind of both putting that aside?
Murray: There’s no comfort level there no matter what his decision was going to be, ultimately, and I think he did what was for the greater good, at least how he sees it… If I would have given her the credit…if Jack would have given her the credit at the end of last season, it actually would have given the SSR a black eye. No one in any power position would have given credit to the woman and said “Oh, you go get him” and given her the promotion. It wouldn’t happen.
So to be honest, he actually made the right decision for the greater good of the agency and the SSR, but it makes for a really unstable relationship, and I can’t imagine how anyone would feel knowing that someone that they work on a daily basis, they’re holding a lie and every single time that they look at them they know: “You’re a liar, you’re a liar, you’re a liar.” It increases animosity.
Does he stand behind that position?
Murray: Absolutely. He has to. You know, for me, I’d make the decision of yes or no. I didn’t want to be waffling, so for me, I think Jack definitely stands behind it. He made the best decision he could for the greater good of the agency. They could have been closed down if he would have given the credit to a woman. They would have said — barring the time period, of course, that’s why — they would have said, “Unacceptable. Your best agent’s a woman? I don’t think we need you guys anymore. Goodbye.” They would have closed them down, and that would have been it.
How has Thompson adapted to this leadership role now, and how has it changed him in his relationships with everyone?
Murray: It’s awesome. For me, I like it. I really enjoy being the power position and making the calls. It’s fun. It’s somewhere he’s always wanted to be. He’s always wanted to be in a power position. If he could be president, he would be if he could run, so I can only say that it’s been fun. I think that it does create animosity, and there’s some hostility, great conflict between certain characters due to the fact that he’s in this power position now, but it’s been enjoyable.
What does Masters think of Peggy?
Smith: Well, she’s a woman, and as Chad was just sort of implying there, and the show, I think, is very clear about that in this department, that is something that precedes her. Other than that, he recognizes her abilities and how smart she is and, consequently, at a certain point, he realizes the problems that she presents for him.
Kurtwood, what’s your experience been like, to venture into the Marvel family and the way that they do things and all the secrecy that comes with it?
Smith: Well, Marvel is very secretive about stuff, and I’m sure that they have a perfectly good reason for that.
Murray: We’re not even here right now.
Smith: We’re just holograms! Sometimes you stumble on that a little bit when you start talking to people and realize, “You know, I guess I can’t tell them this, because they’re probably go run and blab it,” or something. I guess it’s all their fans that want to know, and they post it and then things get wrecked, so I can understand where they’re coming from. But it’s been fun. The actual dealings that I personally have had with them have been great.
I came onto this show because of the show runners, because of Tara Butters and Michele Fazekas, and that’s because they… I was doing a show for the last two years where they also the show runners, so they said there’s this character we’d like you to look at. I was happy to work with them, because my experience when I worked with them on another show before that, where they were not the showrunners but they were very much a part of it, and my experience has always been that they have a great group, and that’s really true here. I mean, all the way from all their supporting people, I mean makeup and hair and all that sort of stuff, the entire production company as well as the cast are just great. They’re really fun to work with.
They always get directors that know what they’re doing but work well with cast members, so that was one reason I was happy to do it. Then, I’ve had so much fun with this period and this character that it’s been quite enjoyable, so I kind of skirted around the Marvel issue, but I really, personally, don’t have that much to do with them. I think that the guys who were here last year and are more regular than I am they have to deal with it a lot more.
We’ve heard a lot about this season having sort of noir feel to it, so for you guys, what’s that been like to work on?
Smith: Well, it’s interesting. It used to be, and even Chad knows this, you’d rehearse the scene and it would be kind of normal lighting, and then you go away and you come back and it’s dimming all the lights. Now when you come in, it’s normal lighting. You come back, it’s all dark and it seems to be whether it’s in the war scene or not, but we’ve had a couple of scenes where we could hardly see each other it’s so dark. Lights coming through shades and that kind of stuff.
Murray: It’s really cool… We have a new DP this year, but overall, I think it still has the same look of the show, but, no, it was dark last year, too. There were certain scenes when, towards the end of the season, when we were dealing with the milk truck and those different things out at the field, I couldn’t see anything. We’d be in the car and I’d be talking to Dewey in a car, and they’ve got just like a 1-watt light bulb lighting him. You’re going, “Oh, yeah, he’s still in there.” I wouldn’t even know if he’d gotten back in the car or not. I like the dimming. It’s just such a cool, cool energy.
It sounds like Jack and Daniel Souza have a very antagonistic relationship still, and obviously, they’re both chief, technically. What is the relationship like between them this season?
Murray: Let’s just say a lot of times in life you… when you do something maybe that you know wasn’t right or just, you want to get away from it as far as you can. Some people run. Some people choose to run away. They move. They move across country. They go live in Barstow, California.
You’re running away. Jack just exports everybody, and that’s his way because he’s in the power position, and he says “I’m not going anywhere; you go somewhere.” So just the animosity between everybody it plays really interesting just from a psychological standpoint of what he’s dealing with and how he’s dealing with people, but there’s still that great sweater vest/suspenders relationship that I love so very much.
Smith: There’s something else I can hint at, and that is, if you think about the period of when it is in American and what is coming down the road, which is what’s right around the corner — and I’m not referring to the Korean War — I think that there are rumblings of that in these episodes that we’re heading towards.