TV Zone Anniversaries Special '97

Special #26, p18-24

Memories of Tomorrow: Adam - Kristian Schmid

by Peter Griffiths
IN 1992, Roger Price set about revising his Seventies Science Fiction series The Tomorrow People for a Nineties audience. As with the original, the new version would boast a young multicultural cast. At the same time, young Australian actor Kristian Schmid was finishing up his contract with the soap Neighbours and travelling to Britain over his Christmas holidays to work on the play Laura. Fate intervened. Kristian met Roger and he soon found himself playing the lead role of Tomorrow Person Adam on a Florida beach.

TV Zone caught up with Kristian in Sydney a couple of days before he was due to begin a three year acting course at the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. He is enormously friendly and easy to talk to, with perceptive views on his work. His first professional job, at the age of 13, came purely by chance. "I joined a weekend drama school and I'd been there for literally two or three lessons when the casting people for Neighbours came round. I tired out for the part of Todd." It can't have been as easy as that sounds! "It was a combination of being in the right place and right time and being reasonable at what I di. Even without it, I'm pretty sure I would have gone on to act anyway. At the time it was fantastic. I was in Neighbours - how cool! But I got over that in about six months and went on to lead what I thought was a pretty normal life. There are a lot of bad things about doing the series, but I can't really complain - it's done well for me. I think I've broken the mould a bit."

Is Kristian happy, looking back at his work on Neighbours? "I wouldn't say that. Most of the stuff I look back on now and think, 'That's horrible, I could have done much better.' I always think my current job is the best performance I can give, but after six months . . . I recently had my 21st birthday, and my parents put together a collection of family videos and stuff I'd done on television, and when I saw this 13 year old boy running around, he seemed just like a character to me. But Todd was all right."

A NEW SERIES

"While I was in England in 1991 doing Laura, my agent asked me to go and see some Canadian guy producing an American TV series. I was a bit unsure about this, because I only had three months left on Neighbours, and I really didn't want to do Days of Our Lives or something like that, but I went along and saw Roger Damon Price. Living in Canada, he didn't have any idea who I was, but he liked my camera audition and I was impressed by him, so we went and shot the Tomorrow People pilot at the end of my three week break."

The work load was tremendous. "I flew directly to Florida when Laura's run was finished and started filming that day. It was freezing cold on the beach, and Christian Tessier and the original girl, Kristen Ariza, got hypothermia. I was the only one who missed out on that treat! On the day we wrapped, I caught a plane to Melbourne, where the people from Grundys were waiting for me at the airport. They drove me straight to the Neighbours set and I started filming that night!"

But three months later, Kristian was a free man. He headed back to Britain which he had fallen in love with, and worked solidly for the four years his work permit allowed. "I did A Midsummer Night's Dream, some stuff for the BBC - Going Live, Storytime, a few other bits and pieces - and also some pantomime. I just played it by ear, and got a phone call about three months after The Tomorrow People pilot went out asking if I'd like to do a series. We shot the first five episodes which I thought was nice, and then went on with my life. I was still there three years later! We shot it in Bournemouth, which was heading downhill from Florida for 10 weeks at a time."

FAREWELL TO ROGER

Roger Price left the show after the first series. Was there a reason for that? "I think he sold the concept. He wanted to spend more time with his family, and the show took up a lot of his time. He's a very strange man - I hope he doesn't read! - but very clever. While he didn't start Nickelodeon, which is the biggest children's cable network in the US, he created a show for them called You Can't Do That On Television. It made millions and millions of dollars and turned Nickelodeon into a spectacular success. Roger has a fantastic talent for being able to think like a child. He doesn't live his life like one, but he makes things up like a child does. He still dreams. It's a shame the show lost him."

Kristian was familiar with 'classic' Tomorrow People. "My cousin thought it was the most fantastic show she'd ever seen! I used to see bots and pieces of it while I was at her house, and I thought it was all right. I looked at a tape the other day, in fact, and those titles were wild! I pushed so hard for them not to change the opening titles, but they wouldn't have it. It was tragic! There was a hand that opened and closed, and they flashed a photograph and the actor's name for half a second. It would flash so many times that by the end you would know subliminally that it was Mike Holloway . . . Hang on, was Mike Holloway in The Tomorrow People or The Partridge Family?! It must have been The Tomorrow People, because I was invited to a Science Fiction convention with him. I chickened out. I know some Science Fiction fans take it very seriously, so I was a bit worried about getting up on stage in front of hundreds of people who might know more about my character than I did!"

Kristian went on to describe some of his other ideas for the show. "I argued for a two-week rehearsal period, but it never happened. The show cost so much to make on film and on location that they had to save money wherever they could. All the time we were pushing to do more. The Tomorrow People could do really interesting stuff, even travel between worlds, so I wanted to make the series a little more 'out there'. I think the powers-that-be wanted to keep it mainstream. It was always them and me.

They were aiming for eight to 12 year olds, but I felt the stories were strong enough to involve older audiences. Kids between 14 and 18 are probably too cool to watch The Tomorrow People, but we had quite a large adult audience - all those people who'd watched it the first time round sat and watched it with their kids."

CHANGING CHARACTER

Was Kristian conscious of making his character notably different from Neighbours' Todd? "Well, he changed throughout the series. I wanted him to be quite odd originally - very confident when in the spaceship or with the others, but unable to cope out in public. But the producers didn't like that, so I moulded him into something more normal. He was still a bit of an oddball. I thought it was definitely a bit of a bad move to dispel the mystery about him. Something I pushed and won on in the pilot was not giving him a past. He was supposed to be working in a McDonalds when the stress got too much for him and he disappeared and reappeared on the beach. I rang up every day for two weeks saying "Are you still doing that? Still doing it? I really don't want to do that!" The mystery did dwindle throughout the series.

"It was never said, but I had Adam steal his clothes and all his possessions. If you had powers like that, it wouldn't worry you, and he was against the establishment anyway. His clothes weren't necessarily what I would wear, but I did choose them all. We had a good wardrobe department with a reasonable budget, so we went out shopping. I'd walk down the street and say, 'I want that!'

"I was certainly concentrating on what I was doing with the character, but if we'd had time the development would have been more structured. We worked really hectic schedules. A couple of days were 14- and 16- hours long. Doing that six days a week fro 10 weeks was pretty tough. At the end I'd always say, 'There is no way I'm ever going to do this again! I physically can't do it.' Three months later I'd see the finished product on television with the effects and stuff, think 'hey, this is really good!' and convince myself it hadn't been that bad! There were fun time, but it was really hard work."

GUESTS

Part of the success of the series lay in the calibre of the guest artists it attracted. "They lifted the show hugely, I think. If you read out a list of the guests we got, any actor would jump at working with them: Jean Marsh, Connie Booth, Patricia Hayes, Elizabeth Spriggs, Christopher Lee . . . Christopher's in The Guiness Book of Records as the man who's made the most films ever! It was fantastic to meet and work with these people.

"The Jean Marsh episodes were my favourite. She is the most adorable woman you would ever meet. I declared my undying love to her and asked her to marry me, and she said yes!"

Of the regular cast, only Kristian and Christian Tessier worked on all five stories. "We lost the first girl, Kristen, because she wanted to study medicine or something and got accepted into UCLA. The young boy, Adam, left because his character wasn't really going anywhere. There was a team feeling to start with, but towards the end it became a little too much like hard work." Is there a hidden meaning in there? "No, everyone got on fine. It's just that in the first series we were very excited, and looking forward to going to work. Shooting the last series just felt like going to work. We had good times, but maybe not as good as when it all started. It was the same withe Neighbours. It had a really fantastic family feel to it the first two years I was there, but after that, when you have faces changing all the time, it just wasn't the same. Christian Tessier and I had been there for two or three years, and although I got on fine with the new people coming in, I wasn't as close to them as maybe I was with the crew, for instance."

FINAL TOMORROW PEOPLE

To Kristian's knowledge, The Tomorrow People is gone for good. He's sad at it's demise, but it leaves him free to pursue other ambitions. Chief amongst them is being taken seriously as an actor. "I'm going to drama school for three years. I want to prove to myself and the industry that I'm serious about my career. If I was a producer or director casting for a play or a big film, I wouldn't want Todd from Neighbours in it! There are plenty of good people who work on soaps and kids television series, but they're not necessarily taken seriously. Some producers can see through that, which is how I got to do some interesting work, but I feel I've got a lot to learn, and I want to be in a reasonably normal environment for a time. I'm really looking forward to going to school and checking it out, though I'm getting a bit nervous today. I've already put my car and all my belongings on the train to Perth, so I've passed the point of no return now!"


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