KJ Smith: Elevate

Words + Interview By Tyrone Davis

With over 50 credits under her belt, actress KJ Smith has been making noise for quite some time and is most known for her roles in Ava Duvernay and Oprah’s “Queen Sugar”, Bounce TV’s “Family Time” and Carl Weber’s “The Family Business”. The Tallahassee native and I discussed her start and her roles in “A Madea Family Funeral” and the upcoming “I Got The Hook Up 2”.

What was life like growing up in Tallahassee, FL?
I enjoyed it. It was perfect for growing up. I think I got into a healthy amount of trouble, but my family has been in Tallahassee for over 200 years, so I always felt loved and protected. I have a massive family. 

When I was in college, I learned a lot about myself and the world. What is one thing you took from your college experience that you’ve held on to till this day?
I studied Business Marketing which everyone pretty much laughed at when I was in school. But my career is marketing. Headshots, interviews and auditions are all marketing. I mean after all, it is show business. I use pretty much everything from college today, except Statistics. Statistics was my least favorite subject. 

How did you get into acting?  Was it a dream of your’s while growing up or did it come later?
I just started, LOL. I don’t really know how to explain it. There are so many online sites. I signed up for one and started auditioning. It is a lot easier than most people think to start. The hard part is staying in the acting world. It was definitely a childhood dream, but it died shortly after starting middle school. I put my attention on other things like sports, boys and school work. It was reignited when I was in graduate school pursuing journalism. 

A lot of cities don’t have the same opportunities in the entertainment business as some of the bigger cities. Were you able to get your foot in the door in Tallahassee or did you have to move elsewhere?
I built my confidence in Tallahassee. My first print ad was for a charity. I was on a billboard and I was so proud of myself. After that, I think I took a photo or two with a local photographer and they ended up on a flyer for a store or something. Those little things help me to build my confidence and believe I could do it but ultimately I had to move to a larger market where there were more opportunities. 

What was the process like getting roles early in your career?
Working for free. If you work for free you can get all the roles your heart desires. I worked for free for several years and built my resume and working reputation then moved up to paid roles. 

What role would you consider to be your “big break”?
I’d havet to say A Madea Family Funeral. It is my first studio film. The film has reached so many people across the nation and now people are saying, “Oh, you are that girl that was in Dynasty” or “I forgot you were in Queen Sugar”, LOL. People don’t really know you until they “know you”, I guess. I have over 50 credits and I have been a working actress but Tyler Perry has definitely elevated my platform as an artist. 

What did you enjoy most about filming “A Madea Family Funeral”?
Watching Tyler Perry wear about 20 different hats. It was so impressive. He is 4 characters in the film, the studio exec, the writer, director and countless other titles I can’t even think of right now. 

Did the film being the last of the franchise/Madea character have any effect on you and your performance at all?
I didn’t know it would be the last of the franchise until the announcement to the rest of the world so no, it didn’t affect my experience or performance. 

What was the funniest moment on set?
When Madea slaps everyone in the face. No one could keep a straight face. It was so funny. It was my funniest moment, hands down. 

Have you appeared in any Horror films? If not, is that a genre you’d be into? 
I haven’t done any horror and absolutely not. I am not interested in that genre what so ever. I would be too scared for real. I barely watch scary movies. 

Tell us about “I Got the Hook Up 2” and your character, Lieutenant Moore.
I am pretty much a hard ass boss. I take my job seriously and expect everyone else to do the same. I love the role. 

There are quite a few sequels and reboots being made of films and shows that were released decades prior to the originals and they are now being introduced to a new audience.  In what ways is the film similar to its predecessor? How is it different?
I Got the Hook Up 2 is just like the original in that it is hilarious. Master P reprises his role and you see many of the cast from the original make an appearance in the sequel. The difference between this installment and the original film is that the original cast were/are popular comedians during the 90s. This installment’s cast is comprised of comedians of this time, many with a web presence, YouTube and Instagram stars. Ultimately, it will be a funny film for everyone to enjoy. 

Master P/No Limit Records is my favorite mogul/brand of all time and he (alongside Pen & Pixel) was the inspiration behind me deciding I wanted to be a graphic designer. I wanted to create cd cover artwork that was similar
in style to his. Were you a fan when you first met him? If so, how did your first meeting go?

When I went to the casting, I lost all of my cool when I realized I’d be auditioning for Master P himself. I am a professional but I was a fan for the first 5 minutes. I announced, “I don’t normally do this but I love your work and you changed the music game forever!”. Then, I rapped Mia X’s verse to Make ‘Em Say Uhh!. Then, we took a picture and I posted it on Instagram, LOL. He was so great and kind. I was honored to call him my boss. 

Name your “Top 5” albums from No Limit Records.
Mia X’s Unlady Like, Master P’s Ice Cream Man, the I Got the Hook Up Soundtrack, Master P’s Ghetto D and whatever album It Ain’t My Fault is on, hahaha!

“It Ain’t My Fault” is on Silkk the Shocker’s “Charge It 2 Da Game” album. That happens to be in my Top 5 as well. What is the biggest misconception about the entertainment business?
The biggest misconception about the music business is that there aren’t good people in it. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the angels who have helped me along the way. There are really good people in this industry, I am grateful for them and I intend to be one. 

Name 2 pieces of advice for aspiring entertainers.

1. Sometimes you just have to jump in, head first. Don’t overthink it. 

2. Figure out who you are before you decide to jump in an industry that will gladly decide who they want you to be for you. 

In your opinion, what is it about your character Sasha in BET’s “The Family Business” that the fans love so much?
I think they love my personality on the show. I am not bashful or shy about my point of view. You either rock with me or get left. Oh, and my wardrobe. People really love my wardrobe, haha. 

What can we expect from ABC’s “The Fix”?
I play the role of Charlie. I am Ezra Wolf, the antagonist of the show and right hand woman. 

Who is the most influential peer of yours that you met early in your career?
All of my peers are writing shows, starring in shows, creating shows and movies. I can’t name one without naming them all.

As more and more people become comfortable with speaking about mental health in the black community, we’ve discovered quite a few people suffer from depression of some kind. What steps have you taken to combat yours?
It is a choice every day to take care of myself and my mind. Every day I choose to meditate, workout and have positive self-speech. I had one pretty upsetting week and I knew right away I had to get back into the self-care zone. All it takes is one bad thought and then it can snowball out of control. I have to be the first line defense for myself.

I’m going to throw a few names out there. Say whatever comes to mind.
a) Tyler Perry – Game Changer
b) Ava Duvernay – Bold
c) Ernest J. Smith – My Sunshine
d) Mike Epps – Hilarious

What do you love about being black?
Everything. I love that we are and always have been the Kings and Queens of this world. I am an extension of the original people on this planet. That is powerful. No matter who tries to extinguish our history and heritage, we persevere.

Describe the perfect date.
The perfect date would be flying somewhere exotic like Jamaica and hanging out on the beach. I would love to do all of the water activities like snorkeling and jet skis and making friends with the local people, eating conk, plantains, salt fish, rice and beans. Then, heading to a night spot and dancing the entire night and maybe ending the night in a hot tub with some candles and slow music.

Lastly, tell us something about yourself that most don’t know?
I am not a foodie. Brunch and fancy dinner don’t appeal to me. I like activities and new experiences. My friend invited me to the Opera. That’s exciting!!

Follow KJ Smith on both Instagram and Twitter @kjsmithofficial.  

Photo by Benny Haddad
Hair/Makeup By Sabine Henderson
Stylist: Victoria Sanders

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