by Ryan Meehan
Actor Tory Devon Smith was born and raised in the foster care system in Bakersfield, California. He began performing in church and in 3rd grade, received the lead in a Christmas-themed school play. In 2003, Tory was accepted into the California State Summer School of the Arts at Cal Arts in Valencia, CA. Smith went on to win multiple awards, including the Fullerton High School Theater Festival award in Men’s Contemporary Dramatic Monologue; the first in his high school’s history. After attending Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles on a full-ride scholarship as a Theater Major with a minor in Dance, Smith began pursuing his dream of working in the film and television industry. His past film and television credits include: ‘Black & White’, ‘Othello’, ‘Lifesaver’, and ‘Los Feliz, 90027’. Tory can next be seen recurring in the new Netflix series, ‘The Get Down’. Set in 1970s New York City, the series — a long-time passion project for Baz Luhrmann — revolves around a ragtag crew of South Bronx teenagers who are wild in the streets — nothings and nobodies with no one to shelter them, except one another. The series is a mythical interpretation of the beginning of hip-hop in Brooklyn, New York. Smith plays Little Wolf, who is described as an outrageous, “Joe Pesci from Goodfellas” type of character. The series is expected to be released in Fall 2016. Smith can be seen as a regular alongside Brandy Norwood in BET’s new show ‘Zoe Ever After’ for an upcoming feature. ‘Zoe Ever After’ centers on Zoe Moon (Norwood), a newly single mom stepping out of the shadow of her famous boxer ex-husband Gemini Moon (Dorian Missick) while trying to balance dating, motherhood, a complicated relationship with her ex and finally fulfilling her career dream of starting a cosmetics line. Smith plays her stylish, fun loving assistant, Valenté. ‘Zoe Ever After’ comes from executive producers Debra Martin Chase, Danny Rose and Scooter Braun and is set to premiere in January 2016. We are honored to have Tory Devon Smith as our guest today in 10 questions.
RM: Before you were recommended to your theater teacher at Stockdale High School, had you ever considered acting as something that you were going to spend a great deal of your time outside of your schoolwork? What was the most important thing you learned about acting during that stretch of time?
TDS: Absolutely. I was quite involved with plays in Jr. High; in grade school I performed nearly every year in Oral Language festivals, as well as plays in church. Performing was simply a calling that naturally enveloped my life at a very early age. The most important thing I learned during that time was connecting with an audience; it felt immensely satisfying sharing that sort of jubilee of performance with others, and that feeling continues to this day for me.
RM: How did you come to be involved with “The Get Down”? Were you a big fan of hip-hop growing up; and if so, who were some of your favorite artists within the genre?
TDS: I saw the submission online for The Get Down, and read Baz Luhrmann’s name attached as creator and director; that was enough for me. In reading the submission itself, I came to the realization that I had to be a part of this intriguing journey. This was a huge chance for young unknown actors of color to be a part of something that could become classic television. Since this series would be a Netflix original, I knew the chance could be a reality since Netflix implores great stories with fresh faces gracing its characters; Orange is the New Black being a great example.
Hip-Hop was and is a huge part of my life’s soundtrack. I remember as a young kid listening to Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic,” on a cassette tape, it made me feel quite insidious to listen to such explicit imagery. I was a 90s kid, so artists like Missy Elliot, Redman, Lauryn Hill, Foxy Brown, Method Man, LL Cool J, and Puff Daddy interested me. It wasn’t until much later that I actually appreciated and understood the artistry and the cultural impact of Rap and Hip-Hop. For The Get Down audition, I was required to perform a rap, and I am nowhere near a rapper, so I basically began to research rappers who were considered the “greats.” Artist like Tupac, Rakim, Eminem, Nas, and Jay-Z were the artists I listened to. I chose to perform Jay-Z’s “Can I Live.” Listening to Jay-Z in that song was such an experience for me; I noticed that Jay, as he would rap his versus, created a rhythm underneath the actual rhythm of the instrumental music. It was really difficult to mimic his flow. Tupac, Eminem, Nas, all do that same sort of thing. It’s so impressive and difficult all at the same time.
RM: What would be the best way to describe a day on the set of “Zoe Ever After”? Is there anything special which typically happens between takes that lightens the mood and allows for you all to work so well together?
TDS: A day on the set would be a busy one. We filmed two episodes a week, so there wasn’t an exceptional amount of down time. For me, a typical day is getting to set around 7am or 8am. I would eat breakfast with my co-stars, then it’s off to Jigga, the on-set barber who cuts my hair to perfection, then off to the make-up trailer for a daily dose of comedy, back to the trailer for a bathroom break, then off to set for a rehearsal of the scene, then back to my trailer to change into my costume, then off to the costume department for another dose of inspiration and laughter and secure wardrobe choices, then back to set. Probably read over a few rewrites, and then we’d shoot! In between takes would be nothing but laughter and talking of dinner plans with my co-stars. We would first game plan different options on how to attack the scene for the next take, or help each other with lines and brainstorm on how to improve on what we were doing. We all took to each other so easily, mainly because we all come from the stage in some capacity. There was such humbleness amongst the cast, crew, and creators alike. And Brandy, who I call the “James Gandolfini” of Zoe Ever After, was in nearly every single scene. She worked hard and long hours, but the energy never stopped. She was so generous and prepared. I’ve looked up to her for years, and working with her solidified my respect and admiration for her work ethic.
RM: What do we need to know about your character Valente on that show and how he interacts as a professional with Zoe Moon? What’s the best aspect of getting to play that role; and why do you think you’re the ideal actor for the part?
TDS: Valente is an earnest assistant and somewhat of a klutz. He can be inappropriate with Zoe, but he brings out energy in her, causing Zoe to think on her feet to solve problems that Valente presents to her on occasion. Eventually he becomes a great asset and a dear friend to Zoe. The best aspect of playing Valente is his infectious and funny way of being. Valente represents a type of man that is authentically himself; he stands up for the people he cares for, and always has the best intentions in mind. He’s fearless and demands your attention. I find myself to have those sorts of qualities, which I felt made me the ideal actor to play Valente.
RM: What have you found is the best way to approach getting into a character whose attitude and temperament couldn’t be any further away from your off-screen personality? Could you give us an example of such a role?
TDS: The best approach is understanding the text in where the character is written. In that, you discover how that particular character exists in the world. Sometimes it’s in their name, or how they observe their surroundings. Does the character talk incessantly or stay quiet and choose their words carefully? Does the character lead or follow? What is the character ultimately trying to find or have? Then I tend to work physically. How does this particular character walk, how does the character sound? A great example would be the character I’m playing on The Get Down called “Little Wolf.” The Get Down is a period piece beginning in the late 1970s. Just in that description, I understand that “Little Wolf” is other worldly. His speech comes from a different era and his concerns and wants are vastly unique. He’s described as a thug; part of an organized crime family. That experience is so far from my normal life that I must now convince my being to encompass a man incredibly unlike myself. I begin to take inspiration from men I knew who lived in that decade, recollect films and documentaries I’ve seen of men of a certain age, authoritative figures and dangerous figures in my life, either immediate or from the past. Change my voice completely to a new octave, walk very much unlike myself, handle my hand gestures differently. This is where being a trained actor comes in handy, and my natural ability to transform into someone else. It’s the sort of work an actor wish and hopes for.
RM: You seem to be in fantastic shape…What is does your daily exercise regimen consist of? Are there any foods in particular that you almost always avoid in order to remain in such prime physical condition?
TDS: To be honest, my daily regimen is dancing, which is cardio. As of now, I’m young and find myself to be invincible (HAHA), so I eat when I can, and what I can get a hold of. Recently it has been vital to consume more vegetables on a daily basis. My favorites are kale and spinach.
RM: What advice would you give younger actors that are looking to make a name for themselves in entertainment with regards to the business side of the industry? How long did it take for you to realize that piece of information for your own personal benefit?
TDS: I would tell young actors to begin to financially invest in only progressive steps to further their career. There’s a certain sacrifice that needs to be thought out in order to gather some sort of steam in the entertainment industry. For those of us who pay to live and are working to be working actors, you may need to dedicate a portion of your life to just menial work, putting a portion of that income towards legit online submission sites, casting director, manager, and agent workshops. Hitting legit showcases, solid headshots, filmed performance clips that resemble professional film work. Submit for short films and student films where roles will be substantial enough to be seen and heard distinctively, and collect that material. Take risks throughout, but if that risk isn’t working, try another angle. Understand the reality of your situation, it’s great to have an overall goal and dream, but tackle smaller accomplishments so that the dream isn’t so far away and heavy on your emotions. And above anything, I would hope young actors have the love of being an actor first and foremost. Many young actors confuse the love of being an actor with the love of becoming a famous movie star. Fame, wanting awards and validation, ending up on the red carpet, all of those egotistical desires are not what makes a valid actor in the least. That is actually all business. I never came to that sort of realization. My want was to always be an actor and perform enriching and soul stirring work; I always thought my acting life would end up on the stage for the duration of my life. Understanding the business aspect took several years, and to be honest, it’s a constant education as I am now treading deeper waters with greater stakes involved. It’s intimidating, but thrilling all at the same time.
RM: Outside of the arts, what are some of the social causes you fight for when you’re not in front of the camera? Why are those particular areas of concern so close to your heart?
TDS: Gun reform has been a massive problem in recent times. The time for gun-control is vital for the safety of lives to be lived. It’s insane to me that people around the world enjoying their existence, are cut short because lethal weapons are in the possession of everyday people with homicidal intentions and innocent lives are being lost as a result. As a proud gay man, LGBTQ rights are incredibly important to me. As a sober individual, I’m in support of drug and alcohol free lifestyles for those who cannot control themselves. As a proud Black American, the recent egregious attacks on black people have had an enormous effect on my life. As a former foster child from the state of California, foster care reform is important to the young lives it affects. My way of living in the world has been a unique one. I’m here to be an actual voice for people. In just 29 years I have endured a lifetime of struggle. I can’t wait to share my story.
RM: Which area of the entertainment industry would you like to someday explore in greater detail, but just haven’t had the time to get to it at this point in your career? Do you think that ten years from now you’ll be able to say that you’ve achieved that goal?
TDS: It essentially took me ten years to achieve what I have thus far, and I’m just beginning. To make a film, or have a helping hand in producing a film would be a goal. One of my biggest dreams is to direct a theatrical production in regional, off-Broadway, or Broadway theater; maybe even the West-End. Theater is my first adoration, and would love a return to the stage one day very soon. In ten years, I believe I will achieve my theater goals.
RM: What’s up next for you in 2016 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
TDS: As of now, I’m living in the moment. 2016 will bring the emergence of my work, but only the tip of the beginning. I find even greater work to be had, and who knows if it’s just around the corner. I’ve officially entered a fickle, inconsistent, and scary profession, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Official Website: http://www.torysmith.org/
Tory on IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3592247/
Tory on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Tory-Devon-Smith-101569309963967
Tory on Twitter: https://twitter.com/torysmith2986
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