Smith’s foreign fan base, which is probably even greater than it is here at home, goes back to his roles in Xena and Hercules. Locally, he is known from numerous television, stage and feature film performances but to overseas fans, he was simply Ares, God of War (in Xena), or Iphicles, Herc’s half-brother.
This previously unpublished 1997 interview with Smith by former Computerworld reporter Ria Keenan was intended for an internet magazine which never saw the light of day. Keenan asked Smith about his growing fame and exposure to – and on – the internet.
“In Auckland I’ve lost a bit of anonymity because of the pop culture that’s grown up around the show [Xena], so going to America has always been really cool. I’d just relax and be really laid back. But it's weird — I’m getting recognised over there now. One of the executives at Universal Studios, when I was visiting there recently, came up to me in the cafeteria and wanted me to say a line he really dug from the show. I just kept saying ‘how does it go?’. I couldn’t remember.”
Smith is aware of the many fans he has on the internet and has met a woman who runs a fan club for him. “I met Beth while I was in Los Angeles. She’s called ZepGirl on the internet. She drove up from San Diego to meet me.”
Smith says the only email he’s ever sent so far is a message to a young fan sick in hospital. The girl had a computer beside the bed and used it to communicate.
“She wrote to ZepGirl about it. She was stoked so it was really nice.”
He sent his email from Auckland internet store LiveWire, because of “technical difficulties” with his home machine.
“We got a computer last year but it turns out that I’m so computer illiterate that it's just an expensive typewriter. My wife uses it for the soccer club committee and I keep scripts on it and that has been the extent of my involvement.”
However, after looking over the shoulders of several friends while they are on the internet, he has decided to get a connection at home.
“There are some things that I want to do, which the internet might be able to help with. There’s a play I want to get the rights to and it can be hard when you’re writing letters around the world. I just found out the name of the production company — I don’t know if emailing might help but it could be quicker to do it that way. I’d also use it for looking at new works, new plays.
“My friend Michael Hurst [who plays Iolus in Hercules], downloaded from the internet a version of Othello that we performed on stage. I’ve also got some good buddies in the States that I’d like to talk to because it would be cheaper than phone calls and I wouldn’t have to worry about the time differences. Also, it would be useful for keeping in contact with my agents; I could email them stuff instead of having lengthy conference calls, which get quite expensive.”
Smith sees the internet as being a tool for actors, singers, writers and TV and film production staff.
“I like the idea of a lot of information floating around out there. In this modern age people like Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner are using the internet and communications to control the flow of information around the world, versus the physical challenge they used to have of just getting the news across, say on horseback, to a newspaper office.
“I think web pages could be a tool for actors. If you set one up yourself then you’ve got a greater amount of control, obviously. I know a film crew agency site on the internet to which crew post their CVs for overseas production companies to pick and choose from. With actors it would be really handy to put their data books of roles played and so on, on the net — it's the next logical step.”
What does he make of the web pages devoted to him?
“Occasionally a guy on the Hercules set says ‘this is on your web page’ this week. I did go to Pacific Renaissance one time [Hercules’ and Xena’s production company] and saw an entirely weird thing — an image from the show was being used as wallpaper for the website. I thought this is full on, it's groovy. People are really into the show. It's just amazing the amount of time people spend on the internet. I’ve got friends who get home at night and spend five hours surfing it.”
Has he, like Lucy Lawless, ever ventured into a chat room to see what fans are saying about him?
“I did it once; it was ill-conceived folly. A friend was in a chat room and the Ares character was mentioned, so he said why don’t you go on? He typed in ‘I’ve got Ares with me here right now’. My typing was really bad, my spelling was bad and I was in trouble and my friend says ‘what are you doing’ and I said ‘I’m looking for the ‘H’ key, man!’ so he said ‘you talk, I’ll type’.
It was kinda weird but kinda cool.”
Did the chat room people believe him?
“That’s the thing — maybe because they knew this guy did work on the Xena crew, they seemed to believe. There was amazing venom; it was amazing just how into it people get.
“There were heated conversations and threats. I just imagined a lot of people hunched over, really typing in anger at their keyboards!”
So does Smith now realise how popular the Hercules and Xena shows are on the internet?
“Yeah, I realise down here we’re insulated from the impact of the show. Over there it's a big deal. I mean Lucy Lawless is on the cover of TV Guide which is a really big thing in the States; she was on the cover of People magazine when I was there and on the cover of some computer magazines, too. Michael Hurst was on holiday recently and a couple of kids climbed up on a balcony across from his hotel so they could look into his room. It's the weirdest thing.”
Smith says overseas he gets a lot of people asking him if he knows so and so from New Zealand.
“And I say ‘look I’m from a country of over 3 million people’, but it usually turns out that, yes, wouldn’t you know it, I do know that person — especially if they happen to come from Timaru. Everyone knows someone in Timaru. It's like that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing.”
I say yes, I do know the web page he’s referring to.
“Oh it's a web page thing is it? I read about it in a magazine, but it had the smell of a computery thing about it. Actually, I’ve got my own Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon story.
“I was in a film [Desperate Remedies] with Cliff Curtis, Cliff was in Once Were Warriors with Temuera Morrison, Tem was in a film called The Island of Dr Moreau with Val Kilmer, Val Kilmer was in Top Gun with Tom Cruise and Tom Cruise was in A Few Good Men with — you guessed it — Kevin Bacon!”
With that I let Kevin Smith go. He has to make some phone calls to find a local internet provider. He really is getting into this web page thing.