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'Life Unexpected': Kristoffer Polaha previews the CW's new drama

January 18, 2010 |  3:16 pm
LU102d-9136bYou may not recognize Kristoffer Polaha's name, but chances are you've seen his face on TV. The actor was a regular on Fox's “North Shore,” ABC's short-lived comedy “Miss Guided” and the CW's even more short-lived “Valentine.” He's also graced many series, guest starring on “House,” “Bones,” “Better Off Ted,” “Dollhouse,” and “Mad Men.”

But 2010 promises to be Polaha's biggest year yet with a starring role in the CW's “Life Unexpected,” premiering tonight at 9. The new series hearkens back to the network's WB roots and many are already putting their cheerleading pom-poms behind it.

The new year also promises to be a big one for Polaha's character, Nate "Baze" Bazile, a one-time high school football hero for whom life hasn't gone exactly as expected. He's a 32-year-old bar owner who spends his time drinking and slacking off. Then Lux (Brittany Robertson), the 15-year-old daughter he never knew he had, reenters his life after being bounced around the foster care system. The family reunion is made complete when Baze helps Lux track down her biological mother, Cate (Shiri Appleby of “Roswell”), the high school hookup he hasn't talked to in 16 years. After failing to get legally emancipated, Lux is put into the joint custody of her birth parents.

Last month, I talked to Polaha about his other TV connection to Appleby, what it's like playing Baze as a father of two himself, the positive buzz surrounding the show and going up against Cate's fiancé, Ryan (played by another WB alum, Kerr Smith of “Dawson's Creek”).

“Life Unexpected” finally has a premiere date. What are you most excited for people to see?

This is going to sound like a cliché. I'm most excited about people seeing the actual show. We shot the pilot last January. Jan. 14, we started shooting. Literally, a year from the date that it will air. I got to know this character very, very well and to know these scripts really well. And I'm in love with them. I think they're fantastic, so I can't wait for people to see them and, hopefully, share in that joy.

What really struck me about the pilot was its heart. What did you respond to most when you read the script?
I responded to the writing. I think the writing was just very intelligent, very witty. It was a really well-crafted script. It's interesting when you read scripts, sometimes they pop off the page and you see the world. You sort of enter into the world. Sometimes, a lot of times, you have to bring your own stuff to flesh it out. This script, when I read it, it was a completely three-dimensional world. These characters each had their own voices. The character I went in to read for, Baze, I responded to immediately. He leapt off the page. I knew I could play this guy. I knew who he was immediately. There was just so much about the writing and how terrific the writing was that made me respond to it. And the story was interesting. I don't think there's ever been -- maybe I'm wrong -- has there ever been a television show about a foster kid?

I can't recall. At least not one coming back into their parents' lives.
It's a pretty unique concept. You marry those two, you got a winner.

You're quite the ubiquitous actor. You even guest starred on “Roswell.” Did you already know Shiri from that experience or was “Life Unexpected” the first time you two met?
I met her on set when I worked on “Roswell.” I worked with Katie Heigl and Adam Rodriguez for my story line. But Shiri was there, so we ran into each other a couple times. But this is the first time that we've actually worked together. I saw her at the screen test. We were both at CBS to test for the parts. I was putting coins in my meter and she came out and said, “Hello.” I was like, “Oh, that's that girl from 'Roswell.'” She recognized me. So we kind of knew each other, but we hadn't worked together yet.

LU100_0295b You have two sons in real life. Did you bring any of your experience as a father to the role?
I think naturally I did. I have a 5-year-old son, Caleb, and a 3-year-old little boy named Micah. I think being their daddy has definitely allowed me to tap into a paternal attitude that I was able to use for Lux.

You seem to have it pretty together as a father in real life. Does that make playing this screw-up who hasn't quite figured out the parenting thing yet more challenging or is it more fun that way?
It's a lot more fun that way. Baze is the guy. ... It's the road I didn't take in life. I chose to marry up and have some babies and be like a grownup. Baze is the exact opposite. It's actually a lot of fun to go into that world. Baze's idea of fun is to hang out at a bar all night and then to wake up and play Wii or Rock Hero. Guitar Hero? I don't even know what it's called. That's how out of the world I am. So it's a lot of fun for me to go and play that at work.

I have to imagine that you guys filming up in Vancouver, [Canada], away from the hubbub of Hollywood has helped the cast form a family of their own. Does that help with playing a makeshift family on TV?
It actually does. For example, last weekend, Kerr, Shiri, me, my gang went up to Whistler, [Canada], and had a really great weekend. It was Shiri's birthday, so were helping Shiri celebrate. We all get along really, really well. We are out of the hubbub and hype of Hollywood, so being in Vancouver puts us in a vacuum to the point where, until we had our air date, Shiri kept saying, “I don't know that people are going to see this show. I don't believe it.” We really felt like we were doing this little thing off on our own. It's been a really wonderful process. The best compliment I could give to [creator] Liz Tigelaar and to [director] Gary Fleder and the other directors, is that it's felt like such a collaboration. It doesn't feel like we're just actors for hire. They really care about what we think and what we bring to these scripts and the story lines.

You said you've been filming in a vacuum. Are you aware of the positive reaction that the show has been getting from critics and bloggers and all the comparisons to the WB shows?
Yeah. People will say, “Critics love it.” I have that Google Alert. You guys have been amazing and it really does make us feel good. It feels like we're on a show that's a winner. That's sort of been a little food for the soul. But just for the fact that we for a while didn't have an air date and we didn't know if we were going to air in February or March or January, it's done one of two things. It's sort of made us a little bit freer in our attitude because there's been zero pressure on the show and we're able to play and have a lot of fun as actors. At the same time, that lack of pressure has also been like, “Is this thing going to see the light of day?” So it's been encouraging. You guys have been really encouraging. We know it and we're really appreciative as a group.

LU102a-6988bBaze was the cool football player in high school, but I don't get the feeling that he was mean or only hung out with the other popular kids. Has Liz [Tigelaar] given you any indication of what Baze was like in high school or have you formed your own back story?
She and I have had a lot of conversations about who this guy was. I don't think he was a jerk. He wasn't a mean guy like one of those too cool for school guys. Baze was the quarterback. Liz keeps writing in the script, “Everybody loved you, Baze. Everybody loved you.” I think he was just really popular. When he got Cate pregnant, I think there were three possible attitudes that he could have taken and one was to just be a total jerk and not do anything, sort of ignore her. The second attitude was to be this amazing guy who did everything that he could to make it better. And then the third attitude, which is the one that Baze took, was he had the heart to do the right thing, but he didn't have the courage to do the right thing. I think that's colored Baze for the last 16 years. He was a winner. Everything was going right for him and then he gets this girl pregnant. He doesn't do the right thing and it kind of shut him down. It's an interesting part to play. That redemption is some of the stuff I'm able to play with in these episodes that we're shooting right now. That's a lot of the fire in the belly of the beast for the relationship between Cate and I. He's a really good guy at heart. He just made a huge mistake when he was a kid. He's now having to deal with that and it's in the form of two people. It's in Lux and Cate that he's dealing with it. For example, in one of the scripts later on, someone says, “You took on the role of a father without even thinking about it twice.” It's not like he was, “Oh man, I don't want this kid.” He was like, “Yeah, this is great. Let's figure this out.”

I'm curious about the dynamic between Baze and Cate's fiancé, Ryan. For better or for worse, they have to deal with each other because they're both tied to Cate. Can you talk a little bit about what we can expect between those two in the future episodes?
Without spoiling too much, I will say that they do deal with each other. At first, it's cold, but pleasant. And then it's cold and not so pleasant. And then, I would say it could even get rough. And then, who knows? Maybe they work things out, may they don't. That relationship -- I don't want to call it a relationship, but it is a relationship -- between those two characters is definitely a part of the greater story that's being told. It's a really amazing triangle because I think the audience is going to root for Cate and Ryan and in the same breath, they're going to root for Cate and Baze. You're going to watch this girl bounce between two guys and one episode, you'll be like, “Oh, she should be with Ryan,” and the next episode, “Oh, no. She should be with Baze.” The writers are doing an amazing job of keeping it smart and fun and interesting.

-- Vlada Gelman (Follow my TV musings on Twitter: @stayingin)

Photos: (from top) Kristoffer Polaha plays Baze in the new CW drama, "Life Unexpected." Credit: Jack Rowand / The CW

Baze (Polaha) with his daughter, Lux (Brittany Robertson). Credit: Michael Courtney / The CW

Cate (Shiri Appleby) and Baze try to co-parent. Credit: Jack Rowand / The CW


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