The Dad From That ’70s Show Was All Over Star Trek, See Who He Played
He's a franchise regular.
If you know Kurtwood Smith primarily as Red Forman on That ’70s Show or as one of one of the villains of 1987’s RoboCop, you may be surprised to learn the guy was a Star Trek regular long before he started calling Topher Grace a “dumbass” every week on the Fox Network. He’s played assassination targets, prisoners, detectives, and–twice, believe it or not–villains who, ultimately, wound up not existing at all even within their fictional worlds. His time with the franchise has spanned decades and mediums. Here’s a look at who he’s played.
Kurtwood Smith Led The Federation
For Kurtwood Smith’s first foray into Star Trek, we have the 1991 flop Company Business to thank. Smith starred in the action comedy alongside Gene Hackman (Superman) and Mikhail Baryshnikov (White Nights), and writer/director Nicholas Meyer asked him to join the final film to feature the entire original cast–1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
Smith’s role was relatively small in terms of screen time and dialogue, but it was pivotal to the plot. The RoboCop star played the unnamed President of the United Federation of Planets. At first we only see him in scenes reacting to James Kirk (William Shatner) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) being framed for the assassination of the Klingon High Chancellor. But the heroes eventually learn the President is in grave danger. The same covert elements of Starfleet, the Klingon Empire, and the Romulan Empire that conspired to murder the Klingon High Chancellor are now gunning for the President in the hopes of killing any chance at peace. Kirk saves the President in the end, putting himself between the killer’s shot and Smith’s character, and peace is finally forged.
Kurtwood Smith Played A Pretend Cardassian
Kurtwood Smith’s next part in the franchise came five years later in “Things Past,” a Season 5 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Smith played Thrax; a Cardassian security officer assigned to Terok Nor, the titular station as it existed before Starfleet showed up. Not only did Thrax force Smith to endure a lot more time in the makeup chair than he did in Star Trek VI, but his character had a lot more narrative weight than the unnamed Federation President.
Early in “Things Past”, Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks), Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), Garak (Andrew Robinson), and Odo (Rene Auberjonois) are aboard a shuttlecraft before being inexplicably transported seven years into the past on Terok Nor. In spite of none of them being Bajorans, no one aboard the station recognizes them as anything but Bajorans, and all four are wrongly accused of a terrorist bombing. Odo argues relentlessly with Thrax, insisting with a feverish passion that if Thrax will simply check this detail or that one, he will learn they couldn’t have committed the crime. Thrax is unmoved.
We eventually learn that Kurtwood Smith’s Star Trek: Deep Space Nine character is not what he appears. While the Cardassian was a security officer aboard Terok Nor, he wasn’t there at the time in which the heroes have supposedly been transported. Instead, Thrax is a stand-in for Odo, who we learn once allowed four Bajorans to be put to death for a crime he would later learn they didn’t commit. The guilt weighed on the Changeling, who unintentionally reached out and pulled his fellow shuttlecraft passengers into a recreation of the events.
Kurtwood Smith told StarTrek.com he loved playing Thrax. “He was a character within a character, and he was also a mirror of Rene’s character from a different time,” Smith said. “I loved the depth of it. I always liked the size of the characters on Star Trek. It reminds me of when I used to do a lot of Shakespeare, back when I was first coming up. It has that feel about it, you know, because you’ve got all this stuff on and you’re dealing with enhanced language. They’re just very fun, complicated characters.”
Kurtwood Smith Changed Time Over And Over, Until He Didn’t
Kurtwood Smith returned to the franchise the following year with the two-part Star Trek: Voyager episode “Year of Hell.” Set in Voyager‘s Season 4, “Year of Hell” sees Smith play arguably one of the most sympathetic villains in all of Trek. A temporal scientist who built a weapon ship capable of not just killing his enemies, but literally erasing them from history, Annorax has been altering the timeline for over two centuries. He begins his quest as a loyal member of the Krenim Imperium, wanting to return it to its former glory, but the changes he makes unintentionally wipes out his own family. He continues his quest, refusing to stop until his family is restored, and he doesn’t care who he has to destroy in the meantime.
“I was fascinated by the question, the Sophie’s Choice that he’s placed himself in, where, in order to try to get his life back, he’s endangering so many other people, so many other lives and so many other worlds,” Kurtwood Smith told StarTrek.com. “How deep is that relationship to a single person in your life? There’s quite an ego involved to think, ‘My love is more important than this world or that world or this time.’ Yet, that love was real and genuine, so there’s something attractive about that as well.”
Kurtwood Smith Is In A Courtroom Episode That Isn’t A Courtroom Episode
Some of the most famous Trek episodes are its courtroom episodes. The Next Generation had “Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead.” The original series had the two-parter “The Menagerie,” where most early fans got their first look at Christopher Pike. DS9 put Worf (Michael Dorn) on trial in “Rules of Engagement.” In Kurtwood Smith’s most recent Star Trek role, he worked on a courtroom episode that turns out to not be a courtroom episode.
In Season 1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks, Smith voices Clar–a member of an alien species called the Primes. In “Veritas,” the heroes of the show are ushered into a dark chamber filled with Primes. After the strike of a gavel, Clar begins harshly questioning the heroes about the events that led them there. One by one, the heroes answer, while being completely ignorant of what they’re on trial for. When Clar realizes the heroes think they’re on trial, he’s crushed. It turns out Mariner, Boimler, Rutherford, and Tendi aren’t being judged; instead, for freeing Clar from his Romulan captors, they are being honored by having their deeds etched into stone. However, their misunderstanding puts the kibosh on the etching.