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The hometown lure of guns, cops and kisses

Gregory Smith was just 14 when he enjoyed his first screen kiss.

That smacker, he recalled in a recent interview, was exchanged with no less than Kirsten Dunst, in Small Soldiers. Dunst was fresh from having kissed Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire, a role that helped launch her career. The kiss, he says, "was incredibly awkward. Absolutely daunting. I'd never had a girl even look at me before."

Still, for a few years after, Smith tried to impress the girls in his Vancouver high school with a pickup line that touted his second-hand connection to Brad Pitt. "It didn't work at all," Smith confesses with a laugh.

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This weekend, the 26-year-old will be able to add another Hollywood actress to his kiss-and-tell memoir: Canadian Elisha Cuthbert, with whom he co-stars in the CBC's two-part, four-hour miniseries, Guns.

In Guns, a story drawn in part from Toronto's all-too-real recent epidemic of gun crime, Smith plays Bobby, the errant son of international arms dealer Paul Duguid (a wicked pun on "do good"), played by the redoubtable Colm Feore. Cuthbert, best known for her recurring roles on 24 and for films such as The Girl Next Door and Love Actually, plays Bobby's girlfriend, a barhop who volunteers for a dangerous gun-running assignment.

Guns, shot last year from a script by writer-director David (Sudz) Sutherland, has actually been in the can for some time. But Smith has certainly not been idle.

When we spoke, he was taking a lunch break from the set of Copper, a new 13-part CanWest Global/ABC drama series about five rookie police officers, scheduled to air early next year. Smith plays a rookie Jewish cop named Dov Epstein. The series was co-created by Tassie Cameron, co-executive producer of CTV's Flashpoint.

He also co-stars in director Reg Harkema's film, Leslie, My Name Is Evil, airing at the Toronto International Films Festival this month. He calls it a dark comedy centred around the culture wars of the 1960s. He plays Perry, a chemical engineer selected for jury duty in the murder trial of Leslie (Kristen Hager), a former homecoming princess who fell in with the Charles Manson gang. Against all his instincts, Perry falls in love with Leslie.

"I think the film will shock a lot of people," says Smith. "And not everyone who sees it will like it. It deals with touchy subjects. But it will make you think."

Despite his youth, Smith is a show-business veteran. In fact, he made his first professional appearance when he was four months old in a Tide commercial. Born in Toronto, he was raised in Vancouver and did TV acting and commercials into his early adolescence.

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"But I became a rebellious teenager," Smith said, "and I wasn't sure I wanted to do it, so I quit for a while." The anti-acting phase passed, however, and Smith found himself again immersed in the world of film and television. He's been busy ever since, appearing in everything from The Outer Limits to Harriet the Spy, from The Patriot to Kate Brasher and, as the character Ephram Brown, 89 episodes of Everwood, with Treat Williams. For much of the past decade, he's been based in Hollywood, but recently relocated to Toronto.

Smith credits his mother for helping him find something he says he loves doing. "She always had faith in me, in all of us" - he has three siblings - "almost to a fault."

Despite a long roster of film and TV credits, Smith has never acted on the stage. "I'd be totally terrified," he said. "But I love the camera. In fact, I'm a photographer in my spare time. They help calm me down."

Smith has nothing but praise for the experience he had shooting Guns last year in Hamilton. In addition to working with one of Stratford's greatest acting stars, Feore, he was impressed by the work of a group of his co-actors, including Lyriq Bent, Clé Bennett, K.C. Collins and Shawn Doyle.

Bent and Shawn Doyle play officers attached to a weapons-enforcement unit, trying to balance their domestic lives with the mounting pressures of the job, focused on the shooting of a six-year-old girl on a Toronto street. The script was written and co-created by producer Jennifer Holness and director Sutherland, and comes with a contemporary, rap-inflected score by Mischa Chillak and Kenny Neal Jr.

The new role on Copper brings Smith back full circle to his native Toronto. In fact, he has packed up his L.A. gear and taken an apartment not far from the city's Distillery District, where the show is shooting. And although he hopes the series enjoys a very long run, he says he's up for whatever happens: "If they just want to use me for my lips, that's okay, too."

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Guns airs on CBC-TV tomorrow and Monday at 8 p.m.

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About the Author

Based in Toronto, Michael Posner has been with the Globe and Mail since 1997, writing for arts, news and features.Before that, he worked for Maclean's Magazine and the Financial Times of Canada, and has freelanced for Toronto Llfe, Chatelaine, Walrus, and Queen's Quarterly magazines. More

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