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Spotlite

FISH OUT OF WATER

A Spotlite on Actor BRIAN J. SMITH

By Meaghan Coffey

Spring 2013

Ask any actor to name an absurd job they held while working their way up the Hollywood ladder and you’re bound to get an interesting answer. Brad Pitt famously wore a chicken suit for a fast food chain and Hugh Jackman was a clown, but the first experiences in an acting career can be formative in deciding a “field.” Some say screen acting couldn’t be more different than stage acting. Though many screen actors dabble on stage, and vice versa, few are able to make (and sustain) a career in both. Only a handful of actors have mastered the elusive EGOT.

Brian J. Smith has already achieved some success on all three acting fronts: on the small screen, on the big screen, and on stage, recently starring in the Boston production of The Glass Menagerie. That production’s cast of four performed so well that the production will be brought to Broadway later this year. In preparation for its arrival, I spoke with Smith about acting for both stage and screen, and how he got his start in the business.

Meaghan Coffey: Growing up in Texas, did you always know you wanted to pursue acting? Was there a particular film, play, or TV show that inspired you?

Brian J. Smith: I was a fish out of water in Texas, so I guess it makes sense that I ended up joining the circus. I wasn’t into sports or anything Texan or macho like that. I just didn’t fit in anywhere until I found the Thespians in high school. I didn’t think about being an actor, I just wanted to be involved with the group—any group—so I swept the stage or worked the spot light or worked on sound. And then I got my shot in a play called The Illusion by Tony Kushner, which was heady stuff for a seventeen-year-old. But I got high being up on stage in front of a dark auditorium, and I’m still chasing after that high all these years later. I don’t know if I was any good in that play, and I still don’t know if I’m any good—I just enjoy the magic of it.

MC: You’ve been both a series regular (Gossip Girl, SGU Stargate Universe) and guest star (Law & Order, The Good Wife, Blue Bloods) on various TV shows. Does the amount of time or experiences you have with a character affect the way you approach the role or prepare for it?

BJS: I like to have time with things. The more takes the better. And you just don’t get that on TV. You show up and swing hard and hope the bat hits the ball. You have a little more power over the process if you’re a series regular because you’re more familiar with the crew and the producers. You’ve probably worked with the director before on other episodes. You can ask for more takes. Guest starring is completely different. The pressure is higher, so you have to come in super prepared. It’s not “your” set, so you’re adapting to the atmosphere that has been established already–whether it’s really serious, or kind of goofy or whatever. I used to hate guest starring, but I like it now—and prefer it, actually. The guest star roles are usually pretty juicy.

MC: And how does the medium determine how you approach a character? How do you see acting for theater, television, and film in relation to one another? Are they all the same beast or is each different and warrant a different approach?

BJS: They’re like playing different sports. Theatre is physical and technical and vocal, and a hell of a lot of fun. When you’re doing a play your whole day is geared towards that evening’s show. You start living like a monk and you slowly come alive around 7PM and don’t really come down until 2AM or 3AM. And if you’re lucky you get months to exist in that world each evening. You go through phases where you suck for a week, and then you find it again and make some breakthroughs. TV and film work is more like golf or something quiet, and lots of people are standing around being quiet waiting to see if you’ll make the shot.

MC: If you could play any role, what would it be? Maybe a character from a favorite book, or an iconic role you’d love to see hit the silver screen again?

BJS: I don’t know—I guess my mind isn’t there at this point in my life. I do think I’ve got some good southerners in me. I can’t think of anything specific, but I think I understand the psychology of southern men in a body way. I’m not that interested in playing Hamlet, or Treplev or all those other roles we drooled over in drama school. But I’m interested in the South right now for some reason—maybe some guy out of a Faulkner novel or one of Tennessee Williams’ short stories. I’m interested in America and being an American, even though I love to read and watch Shakespeare and Ibsen and Strindberg.

MC: You recently performed in the critically acclaimed revival of The Glass Menagerie in Cambridge, alongside Zachary Quinto, Cherry Jones, and Celia Keenan-Bolger. How did you get involved and how was the change of pace from screen acting?

BJS: Well, I went in for the audition not knowing what to expect, and on some level wondering why anyone wanted to do another version of Glass Menagerie. But sometimes a piece of writing will just up and smack you and show you who you are. I never thought I’d have a connection to Jim the Gentleman Caller—but I started saying those words out loud and it was like Tennessee was teaching me something about my own disappointment and my own need to live authentically. Well, that and John Tiffany, our director, managed to communicate his vision of the story in such a moving, gentle way that I knew this was going to be something different. It was fun and easy actually. And those three actors are freaking amazing.

MC: The Glass Menagerie is coming to Broadway with its original Boston cast. Excuse the cliché, but as a Juilliard graduate, is this a dream come true for you?

BJS: Not a cliche at all—it is a dream come true. It’s always a miracle to just work and make a living in this industry. And to get to do a play like this every night? We were not expecting the kind of response we got in Boston—we hoped for it like actors always hope for it, but it’s nice when it comes together this way. And to get to share this play with a Broadway audience and to bring a version of this play that has never been seen before is a rare gift.

Brian J. Smith is an actor. He starred in his first role–Hate Crime–in 2005 and has since starred as a series regular and guest star in television shows from Gossip Girl to The Good Wife. He stars as The Gentleman Caller in The Glass Menagerie, coming to Broadway in September after a successful run in Boston.

LINKS:

Brian J. Smith’s Official Twitter

Brian J. Smith’s IMDB

Written and Edited by Meaghan Coffey

Photography by Sylvain Gaboury for Patrick McMullan.com

Design by Lulu Vottero

Captions:

Page 1/Cover:

Brian J. Smith, Opening Night Curtain Call & After Party for “The Columnist”, Copacabana, NYC, April 25, 2012, Photography by Sylvain Gaboury for PatrickMcmullan.com

Page 2:

Brian J. Smith, Opening Night Curtain Call & After Party for “The Columnist”, Copacabana, NYC, April 25, 2012, Photography by Sylvain Gaboury for PatrickMcmullan.com

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