Gregory Smith: Filmmaking is in my blood, I had no choice

Piše: Sven Mikulec

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Canadian actor Gregory Smith is no stranger to anyone invested in the world of film and television. Whether we’re talking about the TV successes of Everwood and Rookie Blue or notable films such as The Patriot, Closing the Ring or Hobo with a Shotgun, in his 30 years Gregory succeeded in establishing himself as a highly talented and versatile young actor. He recently dived into the world of directing, and even though I don’t have 30 years of journalistic experience, I can safely say that this was the most easy-going and relaxed interview I’ve ever done. From professional goals and filmmaking ambitions, through personal interests, to his expected coming to Croatia, we had a nice little chat that brought me back to the good old carefree days of watching Everwood in my laid-back afternoons.

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How and when did you know acting was what you wanted to do?

I’ve been acting longer than I can remember. I started doing commercials at a year old. I don’t remember much from those days, except that my primary motivation was the craft service table. Things changed when I was shooting “The Patriot.” In the film, my character dies. A couple of weeks before filming the death scene, I realized I had no idea how to do it. Up until that point, I’d never had to perform a scene which I couldn’t directly relate to a previous life experience. I was 15 at the time, I couldn’t begin to imagine what an honest death scene might feel or look like. I started asking the other actors I was working with for advice. The result was a crash course in technique from an incredibly talented group of actors. That was the moment I really fell in love and knew what I wanted to do with my life.

That was an incredible scene, I still get the goose bumps. Were Heath Ledger and Mel Gibson helpful at the time?

Yes, they were both incredibly helpful. So were Jason Isaacs, Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin any many others. Dean produced the film, but had a background as an actor and really took me under his wing. I can’t really share specifics as it’s too personal, but ideas varied from technical and emotional exercises, to movies, paintings, and other works of art to look to for inspiration.

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In 1999, you received a Young Artist Award for a lead role opposite Kirsten Dunst in Small Soldiers, three years earlier I saw you in one of the lead roles in Harriet the Spy, in The Climb you starred alongside John Hurt and David Straithairn. What I want to know is, how did you feel at the time about your filmmaking career? How seriously did you take it all? How do you deal with fame and wealth at such an early age?

I took it very seriously when I was working, but between those movies there were long stretches of time where I was just gong to school in Vancouver. Usually I was more concerned with getting a girlfriend than my next audition.

How important Everwood actually was for you?

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A lot of child film stars have a hard time transforming into successful adult actors. When you look back at your career, how do you feel about your post-teen career? What did you expect as a very young actor?

Looking back I realize I was really lucky. I had enough early success to build confidence and learn from great people, but I never had so much success that it altered my reality or gave me an unrealistic expectation of what adult life would be like. For as long as I can remember there were periods where I worked and periods where I didn’t. It’s not really up to you. As an actor you just kind of go in and out of style. I learned that at a very early age and as result my ambition has always been longevity. Given a choice, I’d rather work consistently for the next 30 years, than ferociously for the next 5. As for how I feel about my post-teen career, there are always things I wish I could do differently. Auditions blown or movies I wish I had or hadn’t done. But that’s all part of the journey and overall I feel incredibly lucky to still be here, still working, learning and loving what I do.

Which missed opportunity hurt you the most?

I came close to playing a role in Almost Famous. That was a real heartbreak for me. It also prompted years of jokes from my friends and brothers saying I was almost famous! Haha. I guess heartbreak is important for actors. It keeps us motivated!

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What does still stick with you from the Hobo with a Shotgun experience?

Hobo was a great movie to work on! After shooting it, I felt like I’d been to a crazy party. I knew I had a great time, but couldn’t remember exactly what happened. We all just got swept up in the energy of the project. At first Slick was a difficult character to get into as he was so despicable and I wasn’t very familiar with the genre, but Jason Eisner had a strong vision that I trusted and Rutger Hauer is brilliant. The first time we met he recited a poem. To me that’s the best example to describe who he is. He’s an artist in every sense of the word.

What was it like to work with Richard Attenborough on Closing the Ring?

Richard Attenborough is electrifying. He might be the most charismatic person I’ve ever met. He has this way of drawing the best out of everyone around him, especially actors. It’s a mix of intelligence, sincerity, and humor that puts you completely at ease and draws your heart and soul into the character you’re playing.

Tell me about Rookie Blue. It was announced that season 5 would premiere in July. What do you think of the show? Are you enjoying yourself?

I love Rookie Blue. It’s the little show that could. In the beginning very few people gave it a chance, but we always believed in it and it has grown to be incredibly successful all around the world. I feel particularly invested in Rookie Blue as I’ve directed a few episodes now. The writers and producers have taken a big chance on me with some important episodes and I’m very proud of the results.

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Tell me about your directorial ambitions. When did you realize acting was not enough for you as an artist?

I feel kind of embarrassed talking about my directorial aspirations here as I’m just getting beginning that phase of my career and so far it’s been more focused on television. I started directing episodes of Rookie Blue a few years ago, followed by another show called Saving Hope. Last summer I made a short film called “Method” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. I hope to continue building my resume and to shoot a feature soon. I’ve wanted to get behind the camera as long as I’ve been in front of it. I almost always identified more with the directors and writers who I worked with than with the actors. My dad is a film producer and as an infant I had a crib in an editing room. So I don’t think I ever had a choice, it’s always been in my blood.

I’m sorry, but I always ask this question. Would you be so kind as to name top three greatest movies of all time and why you chose them?

Francois Truffaut’s Day for Night. I’ve spent so much of my life on set, this movie reminds me why. Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove. It gets better every time I watch it. And I love a Man in Uniform by David Wellington. I wanted to pick something a little under the radar. This is my favorite Canadian film. It’s incredible, under appreciated and also happens to be directed by my mentor David Wellington.

What are your other passions, besides filmmaking? How do you like to spend your spare time?

I love to travel. I’ll go anywhere anytime, as long as I’m not shooting. Or even better, I’ll go anywhere anytime to shoot something! Otherwise, anything active. A group of us on Rookie Blue get together for a weekly soccer game which is always one of the highlights of my week. And I love to ski. I used to race and try to ski a couple of times a year.

Would you consider coming to Croatia? We’re in economic turmoil, and natural beauty, history and football is pretty much all we’ve got.

I’d love to! I’m actually thinking about coming during my summer break this year. Where would you recommend going?

Uff… The coast is wonderful, you can’t really miss whichever place you choose. Dubrovnik, the whole southern coast, practically any island is a small paradise. The continental part is also interesting, but it’s the coast that you mustn’t miss. Just stay away from the mountainside behind it, or you might get freaked out by the Wrong Turn vibe.

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Ok, that’s this summer, but where do you see yourself, let’s say, in ten years time? Do you have a plan, a vision, or simply take life one day at a time?

No plan, I just hope to continue working both in front and behind the camera seizing opportunities as they come and having fun along the way.

Thanks for your time and good will.

Thank you for your interest and patience!


Interview arranged with the help of the top notch film website Cinephilia & Beyond.

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