Samora Smallwood – Trust Is The Only Thing
Words + Interview by Tyrone Davis
Samora Smallwood is an actress, writer, and creative who has appeared in Star Trek, American Gods, Shadow Hunter, Tormented (where she did her own stunts!) and more. She and I discussed revenge, her love for action and action films, why trust is the “only” thing and the OWN’s series, “The Kings of Napa”.
Let’s talk about OWN’s series, “The Kings of Napa” and your role as Maddi Brewer. What can you tell us about this series and your character?
The Kings of Napa is a primetime drama but also a great “whodunit” about a wealthy black family that owns a vineyard in California’s famous Napa Valley. After a tragedy in the pilot episode, the family is pitted against each other as they vie for power and control of the vineyard. It’s got family drama, secrets, suspicion, betrayal, beautiful diversity, stunning fashion, family secrets, lies and lots of hair and makeup inspo.
In your opinion, what makes this show unique from others that are out now?
It’s very unique in how it approaches topics we can all relate to and often ones that are not talked about enough. Family secrets that arouse suspicion about motives and cast doubt on relationships and long-held beliefs. I think we can all relate to how as we step into our own voices how we see a shift in how we feel about our family members and their life choices. The show talks about female fertility, female ambition, mental health and many other very relevant themes. I also adore the nuanced diversity on the show. Our creator Janine Sherman Barrois really sets the bar in terms of showcasing the full spectrum of blackness including being biracial like me. There’s also body and LGBTQ+ representation as well. It’s a very special show with a very special cast.
Revenge is one of the themes of the show. How do you feel about revenge overall?
Listen, I am a huge believer in forgiveness. I think forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. That said, sometimes you have to let a person know, talk your talk and set some real boundaries. Other times, depending on how egregious that person’s actions, you may need to put them out on front street for it. It depends. I am very good at forgiving but I never forget. And mess with my family and that’s a whole other conversation!!
What did you enjoy most about working on this series?
Getting to know the cast, becoming real friends, and being a part of a powerful piece of black art.
What is the biggest lesson to be learned surrounding family in the series?
Lessons resonate differently for everyone and the great thing about The Kings of Napa is that there is such a diverse cast with their own set of intersecting problems, there are lessons to be learned from each character arc and storyline (if you’re ready to learn ‘em cause Lord knows you need to be ready to learn a lesson or God is gonna run a few more times). One of my favourite “lessons” or takeaways in the show is from the King family Matriarch, Vanessa (played by the fabulous Karen LeBlanc) and that it’s never sacrifice your own dreams for a man, a partner, or your kids because it breeds resentment and that will fester and rear its ugly head down the road. I think it’s a really powerful message for modern women: go after your dreams and don’t ever settle. Sometimes the fear of failure will set the bar so low that only in the future you can tell the difference. A lot of people want to “be their own bosses” these days.
What do you think the biggest misconception is about being an entrepreneur, entertainer, etc.?
How much stamina, faith and hard work it takes! It is literally 24/7.
Let’s talk about you for a bit. Where are you from originally and how did you grow up?
I was born in Newfoundland which is on the East Coast of Canada. Newfoundlanders are the best. I had a great childhood surrounded by nature and family. My Nan and Pop (Grandparents) showered me with love and affection and they were the first people to see the penchant I had for performing and put me up on stage to sing and tell stories to our friends and family. I am certain I would not be a professional performer without those years with Gus and Gloria seeing little Samora’s flair for creativity and being curious and excited to see it shine. Love you Nan and Pop!
Growing up, we were always shown the worst of Africa on television and only today (via social media), we are seeing how beautiful it is. What can you tell us about it and also, how were your visits?
I totally agree! The media loves to portray black tragedy and perpetuate a certain narrative of black people. That said, when you are black, you know the joy, the resilience, the humor, the food, the importance of family (I could go on and on!) in the community so there always seems to be a disconnect between what dominant culture defines us as and what we know to be true.
Of course there is a history of colonization and racism and tragedy and trauma and I am extremely passionate about the importance of breaking the cycle of generational trauma. But that’s not all black people represent. I’m so glad I got to visit home and my experience was thrilling. I got to meet a whole other side of my family, eat delicious (and sometimes scarily new) food, and just see and experience the joy of the people and the culture. I also went home during Carnaval so it was unbelievably energetic and celebratory.
What are the biggest differences between Canada and the U.S.?
Canada is smaller, we may be more polite, and nobody says “eh?” as much as they say we do.
At what point did you decide you wanted to act and why?
When I watch home videos of me as a toddler singing and performing I can already see it. When I have kids I plan on encouraging them to become whatever they want to be because I think our gifts come with us and in the right environment our gifts will bloom.
You’re a very physical performer and enjoy action. Do you do your own stunts?
I love action!!! There are some movies like Heat, The Bourne Identity, and Salt that I will watch over and over again. I am a very physical performer and I was an athlete so I love to get in there and use my physicality for every role. I was recently nominated for a Canadian Screen Award and I did my own stunts in that film and in my own project as creator and actor GONE for which we just shot a teaser, I did my own stunts as well (coordinated by the amazingly talented stunt coordinator and talent Amy Szoke) so it’s something I like to do when it makes sense and is safe. I feel more in character when I do.
One of my first meaty roles was in a film called Tormented and I played the villain and I did my own stunts which really helped me lock into that dark energy. That said, a week after we wrapped GONE I was still covered in bruises so I have the utmost respect for stunt professionals and what they do. Often the best stunt sequences you see are done by professionals and not the actors themselves. I would love to see more women in stunts, more women of colour and more people of colour in stunts in general because then actors of colour will be able to play badass action roles too and do the stunt sequences that make us fall in love.
Trust……..Why is it the “only” thing?
Because when you learn to trust yourself, the timing of your life, God, the universe, spirit or whatever you believe in you call in abundance on a whole other level. Do your work and trust. It’s been a spiritual journey for me to come home to trust and I am so grateful for the impact it has on my relationship with myself and with everyone else. I’m much more peaceful, hopeful, focused and my manifestation powers have never been stronger!
How does it feel being part of a huge franchise like “Star Trek”?
Star Trek and the fans will always have a special place in my heart. They are the most passionate, loving, enthusiastic fans in the world.
What are your “Top 5” films centered around martial arts of all time?
The Matrix dojo scene is epic!! Kill Bill: Vol 1 has a great fight scene with The Bride (speaking of revenge!), and my father made us watch tons of Bruce Lee movies when I was a kid. In terms of fight choreography the Bourne films and the TV series Alias are two of my other faves. There is a great fight sequence between Sydney Bristow (played by Jennifer Garner) and Anna Espinosa (played by Gina Torres) that I absolutely love!
We’ve interviewed a few voice actors over the years, particularly in the gaming industry. Break down your experience working on “Far Cry 6”.
Oh, it was phenomenal!! The Ubisoft team is great, they make fantastic games. KIm Hurdon Casting is so wonderful and I worked with a dialect coach called Carlos Diaz who was so kind and helpful as well. I am actually working on something else with them at the moment but I signed an NDA so I can’t say anything about it yet! The world of Far Cry 6 is so complex, layered and mesmerizing. My favorite games are always the ones in which you are engrossed in a world and your character has to go on a real journey over the course of it.
Name 3 facts about yourself that most people don’t know.
I like being very silly and goofy. I speak French. I’m an excellent cook.
Lastly, how can people connect with you via social media?
Both Instagram and Twitter are @SamoraGloria where I love to share messages of positivity, faith and empowerment via my mantra “Manifest Yo Shit”, snapshots of my life, and comedic skits and videos. Follow me and say hello! I love to connect xx.
Photo By Robert Obumselu