Monday, April 28, 2003

A young actor to watch

On 'Everwood,' Gregory Smith plays a moody teenager about as well as anyone has

By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Face it, you've had half a dozen reasons not to watch WB's Everwood family drama.

Everybody Loves Raymond, The Practice, Third Watch, Monday Night Football, Girlfiends, Joe Millionaire - all have aired at 9 p.m. Mondays.

But I'll give you one good reason to watch the series starring Treat Williams as a Colorado widower struggling to raise two children: Gregory Smith.

Smith, 19, plays Ephram Brown, the smoldering son who resents his father's moving the family from Manhattan to the mountains.

Though Williams, as Dr. Andrew Brown, clearly is the star of the show (9 p.m. today, Channels 64, 26), Smith is one to watch. His performance as the moody, intense teen is possibly the most realistic portrayal on prime-time television.

Being the father of two teenage boys, I know.

Ephram blames his father for the death of his mom, who perished in a car wreck when dad's surgery ran late.

He barely keeps his inner rage from boiling over when Amy (Emily Van Camp), his unrequited love, is with her boyfriend Colin (Mike Erwin). Ironically, it was Dr. Brown who brought Colin out a coma from a car crash, setting up the show's Colin-Amy-Ephram love triangle.

"He's one of the most complex characters I've ever had to play," says Smith, a Canadian who made his acting debut at 14 months in a Tide commercial.

"There is some serious, serious stuff going on between Ephram and Dr. Brown. That was one of the things that is so exciting about playing the part," says Smith, whose credits include Harriet the Spy, The Patriot, American Outlaws and Mary Stuart Masterson's short-lived Kate Brasher drama on CBS. "He's very strong, and very sensitive at the same time."

Ephram, a piano prodigy, would rather be back in New York near his music teachers. The angry young man seldom cuts dad a break, and their attempts to communicate are awkward at best.

Last week, when Ephram stood staring at the kitchen floor, with hands thrust deep in his pockets, his father said to him: "You know, you're doing the lingering thing that I do - which you hate. Is something wrong?" That broke the ice for a frank father-son conversation about Colin's violent outbursts.

Those father-son moments across the kitchen counter is the reason WB developed the show. After having success with young female characters (Gilmore Girls, Felicity, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and teens (Dawson's Creek), the network wanted to explore father-son relationships, says Jordan Levin, WB Entertainment president.

"Without trying to sound immodest, I think we did a really good job of addressing a lot of the emotional, internal needs of girls who felt like they were being objectified and stereotyped, and weren't empowered. And the thought occurred that we weren't doing the same for boys," Levin says.

"Dads and sons are something very important to me, because I feel that boys in this country have been somewhat abandoned by society, and certainly in the media," he says.

Everwood fans can relax - the fine family drama already has been renewed for fall. WB in late March announced early renewals for the Treat Williams-Gregory Smith series and five other shows: Smallville, Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven, Charmed and Reba. The remaining renewals will be revealed by WB on May 13, along with its new fall series and cancellations. All the networks will announce their fall lineups May 12-15.
First came Smallville, WB's drama about teen-age Clark Kent (Tom Welling), which in its second season has surpassed 7th Heaven as WB's highest-rated show. Everwood was added last fall.

"Smallville and Everwood with Gregory Smith are real, premeditated attempts to introduce young male characters who had emotions, problems and strong relations with their fathers," Levin says.

To create the series, Levin turned to Dawson's Creek writer Greg Berlanti, who says he has been getting tired of telling stories only about teens.

"I see so many... fathers and sons kind of go almost their whole lives without really ever knowing each other," says executive producer Berlanti. He decided that the death of a busy neurosurgeon's wife could be the dramatic device over which a father and son attempt to bond.

"Even before his mom died, there was tension between father and son. They've got a long way to go to come back together," explains Mickey Liddell, another Everwood executive producer.

The next challenge was finding an actor to bring the words on a page to life. Liddell championed Smith, the Vancouver kid whom he remembered from The Climb, a 1998 independent film with John Hurt.

"He had this brooding thing," Liddell says. "He's such an amazing actor."

Smith, whose parents separated when he was 12, says he draws on conflicts with his mother for the role.

"My mom and I were always fighting when I was younger, so I definitely had some stuff to draw from," says Smith about his mother, a substitute teacher. His relationship with his father, British film producer Maurice Smith, is "more like peers," he says.

In his first auditions, Smith was too intense for the role. The actor recalls Liddell telling him to "lighten up." That has been one of the biggest challenges for producers in the evolution of the series - getting intense Ephram to lighten a bit, without softening his edges too much.

"What I always say is: We're going to see Ephram smile more, because he needs that. He went through a real tragedy, and has a lot of anger, but some good things are starting to happen to him. He's playing the piano, and starting to remember that he did have some passions in life," Liddell says.

The intensity comes naturally to Smith, who has used it to mask his shyness. He told TV critics at an Everwood press conference last summer that he "never did plays in high school or anything because I get stage fright, which is killing me right now."

At a WB party for TV critics in January he stood away from the crowds, preferring to hang with several buddies.

He seemed ill at ease when interviewed, shifting his weight from leg to leg while keeping his hands in the pockets of his black trench coat.

"Nobody ever mobs me," he explained. "I think I scare everyone away."

Not everyone. Those who have visited Everwood this season have found Smith's performance magnetic. His angry young man has been a joy to watch.


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