Tory Devon Smith: Unscripted
Meet “Zoe Ever After” co-star Tory Devon Smith! A talent both on and off screen, Tory is quite passionate about his career and looks forward to the future with high hopes and enthusiasm. Get to know Mr. Smith on a professional level as well as a personal one.
How did you prepare for your role in “Zoe Ever After”?
The blueprint for any actor in preparing for a role is the script. How to structure a performance, you must read and understand the tone of the script in which your character lives. Based on the script, it was obvious to me in terms of how to play Valente. He’s designed to give off an oblivious, yet funny demeanor. I kept great supporting characters in mind when playing him, such as “Eddie” played by Eddie Griffith in “Malcolm & Eddie,” or “Jack” played by Sean Hayes in “Will & Grace.” Comedy comes natural to me and Valente is very much within my capabilities to execute.
Your character Valente is an assistant to Zoe Moon (Brandy Norwood). What would you want in an assistant?
I would want an assistant who is efficient, organized, and intelligent with great communication skills. With any great employee, he or she begins to think ahead to decipher problems that may arise and to always have your best interest in mind. Common sense and compassion would be great qualities to have as my assistant.
What type of audience do you think the show will attract most?
It’s surprising, after the show premiered, I was quite surprised at the type of people who watched and really enjoyed the show. A few days after the pilot aired, I walked into my local barber shop and every single barber noticed me from the show and thought it was entertaining. The power of television is incredible in terms of the number of people that experience it. The audience has surprised me, so now I find that anybody who loves to laugh will be attracted to the show. No one gender, race, or age can define true interest.
Would you say this is a show for any and every one?
Absolutely. There are many funny moments and interesting story lines that I find can and will interest a plethora of people.
What is it like working with Brandy and what has been your favorite moment with her on the show?
A joy. She’s generous and completely open as a scene partner. She comes prepared and ever so professional. My favorite moments were getting to know her in between takes, helping each other with lines, or making plans to have dinner with cast mates. There were moments where she would sing on set as a way to relax and become inspired and for those of us eves dropping on that moment, it felt like mini concerts of an R&B icon being given only to you. She’s one of the coolest people I’ve met in this industry thus far.
Would you say your talents came naturally or did you have to work at it quite a bit?
I’d like to say naturally, but I will say I feel most comfortable on stage. I’ve been performing theater my entire life so that’s my foundation and where I truly shine. With film acting, I find I have to work at a bit more. There’s a concentration that is much more stationed in your body when acting on film. However, the most prolific actors in the film and television industry are actors who come from the theater, so I find that I am in good company to reach a certain level of capability as a film actor.
Who have been your biggest supporters?
My biggest supporters are my closest friends who I have made my family. They are vital as I reach new heights in this industry. I need those people in my life who knew me before the success to give me an honest perspective. My twin sister Torshea and her daughter (my beautiful little niece, Iyanna) are a great source of love and support.
Was there ever a point in time when you doubted yourself?
I’m human. Of course! I doubted anything like my current success would happen for me. However, I had the tenacity and the reality to know that I was going to be a working actor in some way, form, or fashion. There are a surplus amount of options that I could have explored in order to reach my goals and sustain a life of being a performer. Theater was always a goal; with Off-Broadway, regional, and Broadway. Theater is still a dream. There were the options of acting in different countries, obtaining my graduate degree in acting, producing a one-man show, and direct theater productions, or even starting a company. I don’t have fame as a want or goal, and I find many actors desperately acquire that sort of validation. I want to create a life’s work and survive at the same time. The fact that I’m in this position of such notoriety is unbelievable to me.
What was your best and worst memory growing up in the foster care system with your sister?
There isn’t a best or worst sort of scenario, I feel. That was the life we knew. As children, you don’t comprehend your situation until outside forces remind you of it. I would say there were challenges once those forces reminded me of my predicament. The toughest realization is that I was told time and time again that I was invited in the home, and at a moment’s notice I could have been kicked out of said home. When you are constantly told that you actually don’t belong, no place ever feels like home. I created my own individuality and protected myself from anyone giving me the impression of being unwanted. One of the biggest accomplishments of my life is self-sufficiency; the fact that I do not answer to anyone for anything in my life was substantial to me. As a foster child, I formed a sense of independence very early in life. We foster children simply do not come from the same creed that most people do who have a true sense of family. We you live an orphaned life so to speak, your perspective is heightened in various ways. I find that I’m truthful and can sense true love in people, which has a lot to do with selflessness.
How do you think that experience would have been different had you lived in foster care without a sibling?
My sister and I were actually separated in the early 1990s, so I did live in the foster care system for the most part without her. However, we did have kind and gracious foster parents and guardians who made sure we saw each other on a regular basis. We endured the foster care system in the city we were both born, so she was never too far away from me.
Did you continue acting in school plays throughout your schooling years? Which role is most memorable for you?
I did. In high school I performed in nearly every production that was available to me, and I performed in several community theater productions in my hometown. My most memorable role was that of Templeton the rat in Charlotte’s Web. I performed with the Stars Kid’s Theater Company in Bakersfield, and we performed the play for youngsters, and to see their sensibilities enlightened as we performed these beloved characters was something quite profound to me. Theater is such an immersive experience, and the best aspect of it is the connection with an audience. When you have the audience participating with you in this sort of unsaid manner is thrilling.
Do you plan to further your acting career in tv shows or films?
Absolutely! This is now my job, so acting work is essential to my survival. And, it’s an intense time to be an actor in the best way possible. There is an infinite amount of work out there, and at the moment, television reigns supreme in terms of the most creative and profitable work for any actor in the industry. I’m a fan of independent films and that’s where honest cinema lives. I would love a career where I bounce from series to series and film to stage. Intriguing work for actors of color is occurring more and more. I find that racial progression is happening as audiences evolve in wanting to see diverse stories.
Are there plans to produce and or direct your own project(s)? What would your first project be about?
Not as of yet. The plan is to be an actor in as many greatly produced and directed projects I can. If I were to choose a project I would try my hand at something quite dense, like the infiltration of Caucasian Americans onto the Native Americans. There are most likely countless stories that involve that era that are not told nor taught. So many people have said I remind them of Carl Lewis, the amazing Track & Field star, so to produce, direct, and star in a piece about Lewis would be a wonderful undertaking.
Out of all of the films, and television shows you’ve been in, which was your favorite to be a part of?
I haven’t been in many, but my current two shows are simply amazing to be a part of. However, I booked a pilot last year for NBC called “Lifesaver”, and in terms of education, that particular show taught me a grand amount. It was a situational comedy with a live audience in tow. It taught me the fate of co-star and guest-star actors in that position, to watch the lead actors (Christian Borle, Lindsey Price, Harriet Sansom Harris, and Jonathan Ryland) was a study in how to imitate an actor’s work on set; to be professional, prepared, and open. That week I spent on “Lifesaver” helped immensely for “Zoe Ever After”. I’m very grateful for that experience.
The upcoming Netflix series, ‘The Get Down’, your character is described as being a “Joe Pesci from Goodfellas” type. Did you draw any influence from that character?
In college I remember one of my professors brought a clip from Goodfellas in class, and it was that classic Oscar-winning clip of Joe Pesci expressing his emotions about being “funny” to Ray Liotta’s character. I didn’t take anything more than that particular scene. Pesci’s range of emotion in the matter of seconds is a fantastic example of film acting at its best. He easily slips from humor, rage, and back to humor again with such finesse. In “Little Wolf” (the character I play on The Get Down) I’ve had a few chances to imitate that sort of range. The thrilling part of The Get Down, is that I don’t have the entire story of ‘Little Wolf’ known to me just yet. I only receive scripts as they are written, and I find out more and more about my character as I view each script. Every script is a new evolution for this character. This show will be massive once premiered. I pinch myself every time I’m on set to know I’m a part of Baz Luhrmann’s epic hip-hop saga.
How was “stepping back in time” on ‘The Get Down’ set?
It’s a wonderful exploration to wrap your mind around the era of the 1970’s and the beginning of hip-hop. Most of my research came from watching clips of Blaxploitation films, clips of Soul Train, and watching a documentary on the dilapidated state of Brooklyn around that time. There is an outstanding hair and make-up department and wardrobe team whose work physically puts you in the era. Also, I ask the artists in hair and make-up about their experience in the 70’s and what was said, how people reacted to violence, or how they took care of their hair and clothing. It’s an immersive experience just being on set.
In your opinion, do you believe there will still be a need to fight for LGBTG rights in 5 years?
Rights are here, yet the fight is the ongoing acceptance of gay people in society everywhere in America. My experience as a gay person, I find there are places where I simply cannot be myself or I don’t have the option of expressing an attraction because the actuality of homosexuality is still hidden. Much of the acceptance has to come from gay people themselves. We have an entire new generation who views homosexuality through a digital atmosphere, which is dangerous and misleading. We have lost a sense of identity, and honestly it still stems from the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. However, to be a gay person in America today is an exceptional experience and the freedom of living a full life with marriage equality and the option of creating a family is pretty incredible when you put in the perspective of 50 years ago when egregious discrimination of gay people occurred constantly.
Homophobic perspectives feel as if there are too many examples of gay people in the media. However, that is actually needed so that a standard of normalcy enters so that possibly one day a person will not be labeled as “the gay assistant”, but the “fun-loving, hilarious” assistant, and have many people everywhere who accept that notion without ever thinking about their sexuality. To be labeled by positive characteristics is the goal for everyone, no matter what gender, race, or sexuality.
Why do you believe animal rights are essential in today’s society?
In psychology courses in college, I remember discussions over the fact that humans are the only animals on this planet who have the ability to think regardless of impulse. We have the power to change our minds and comprehend situations. We have a responsibility to protect and serve the creatures that we share this earth with. The plight of extinction for many animals is a threat in today’s society, and we should fight to keep all animals and creatures alive and thriving to continue the well-being of our ecosystem.
How long have you been a Pro Choice supporter and what made you feel this way?
I find my childhood has a lot of influence on my support of pro-choice. Children should be given a fair chance to be brought up in this world with as much love and care as possible. To go through the foster care system is not a want I would like for any child to endure. As a man, it’s important to mentally put yourself in a woman’s position and child bearing is simply an experience we will never undergo mentally or physically. There are situations that a child simply should not be put through and logic and/or divine understanding leads that particular woman to come to a very difficult decision. Sex will always happen between the human species. There isn’t a way to lessen that act of desire and the option of a child is high because of sex. There should be a safe procedure in a reasonable amount of time to have the option of not bringing in an unwanted child who simply will not have the advantage of a just life. And it’s wonderful that we also have the option of responsible people who are willing to adopt and guardian the unwanted children who are here to live prosperous and ideal lives.
Do you plan to vote for the upcoming presidential term? Why or why not and if so, who are you in support of?
I will absolutely be voting, because there a various difficulties that directly affect me and it’s part of the great system our forefathers designed to ensure justice and equality. I’m not very politically savvy, but the democratic candidates speak to me, in particular Bernie Sanders. He has a temperament that is direct and only about the issues facing many struggling Americans today. He gets down to the fact of the wealthy majority having and lauding most of the money in this country towards their interest. The “trickle-down economics” political system steamed from the Regan years have affected our economy for decades and has caused great strife within our system. Sanders speaks on racial strife against Black Americans, and doesn’t put Black people in a separate category; he knows it’s an American problem. Same goes for women’s rights, various people of color, and our educational systems as well as our environment. I’m also impressed with Hilary Clinton. No one has more experience than her in terms of being a part of the White House and various political experience. With over thirty years of experience, I would feel safe with her as our new president.
What advice would you give aspiring entertainers out there?
To understand that you should always have a love of what you do over fame and fortune. We are now consumed in a horribly egotistical era, especially with the acceptance of social media notoriety. Everyone wants a slice of fame in some way and we now praise mediocrity. Aspiring entertainers should have talent to offer that they can be proud of and know that it can sustain interest because it is true talent. Success takes time and hard work but the love of what you do always prevails.
Don’t be desperate, be destined.
*Photo Credit: Lesley Bryce