Veteran Actor Jacques C. Smith Stays Humble in Hollywood: 'I Don't Consider Myself A Celebrity.'

For actor Jacques C. Smith, Hollywood is his home but Chicago's where his heart is. 

A proud native of Harvey, IL, Jacques was always a star in academics as a student at Thornton High School. He graduated third in his class and eventually earned degrees from Princeton University and the University of California, San Diego.

One of his biggest breaks was landing the role of Benny in the hit Broadway play, 'Rent' -- which catapulted his career in theater, television, and film.

Now, Jacques plays "Juror No. 5" in "12 Angry Men" at the Pasadena Playhouse. (Running  November 5 until December 1.)  In this version, director Sheldon Epps features a cast of six white men and six black men and draws upon the inspiration of the Trayvon Martin case.  

Behind the Scenes of TWELVE ANGRY MEN - The Pasadena Playhouse from Pasadena Playhouse on Vimeo.

Being a true master of time management, Jacques took "a few moments" from his busy schedule to answer questions from Zack 's TV about his career, his "dream project," and how he stays working in such a tough business. 

Every actor has a story. If you could tell the story of Jacques C. Smith in a quick movie-style synopsis, what would it be?

That's a tough question. I would say it would have to be a love story or a romantic comedy with acting being the secret love or love from the past that continues to have a strong pull on me and eventually wins. Although I began to do theater in high school, it was never an option I considered as a career. Even when I went to Princeton, I initially thought I'd be an engineer. I switched to a more liberal arts major but still not with the idea of pursuing a career in the performing arts. I sang and acted in college because I loved it or enjoyed it, but, once again, didn't think it would be my career.

By the end of college, I had decided to study that eventually I would apply to graduate acting programs. That's evidence of the academic in me who still wanted more school to verify my skill set and solidify it was the career avenue I wanted to travel. I eventually enrolled at University of California, San Diego to get my M.F.A. in acting. I've been doing it ever since. While I had always enjoyed performing, it just seems like it took hold and wouldn't let go even when I thought I'd do something else.

When did your professional acting career officially begin? Who were your role models?

The first time I was paid to perform was when I did a production of "The Meeting" at Illinois Theater Center. However, I would probably consider the beginning of my professional acting career to be a production of the Moliere play "School for Wives" at the La Jolla Playhouse. It was the show that allowed me to become a member of Actor's Equity (the union for professional stage actors).

My early role models were my older brothers who I saw doing theater when they were in high school. If I hadn't seem them, I probably would have chosen another extra-curricular activity - which would have subsequently led me down another career path. 

As an aspiring African-American actor in the early 90's, Denzel Washington was definitely a role model. Another role model of mine was Courtney B. Vance; he's still one of my favorites.

Many critics of celebrities from Chicago feel that they aren't doing enough to "give back." Do you feel that you do enough?

I don't consider myself a celebrity but I try to give back when I can. After I graduated from Princeton and before I went to UCSD, I taught high school at Thornridge High School in Dolton, IL because I wanted to "give back."  I felt it was important for the students in my neighborhood to see young positive African-American role models. I am still in contact with some of the students I taught.
Since I'm not in Chicago as much now, one of the things I used to do here in L.A. was tutor school age children. I always feel like I could do more though.

What can African-American actors do to overcome typecasting or stereotypes in Hollywood? Should they play along or turn down roles?

One of the easiest things to do is to create your own content. For example, the work I did on Issa Rae's "The Choir" [a new drama/comedy web series] was so fulfilling because of the fact that there were so many African-Americans involved in the creation and production of that series.
While creating your own content allows you to control images, the reality is most actors don't have a platform from which they can reach a substantial audience. Therefore, in order to craft a career or make a living, you have to be a part of the larger entertainment industry which at various times typecasts or stereotypes various people. With every opportunity, an actor should understand how his/her role fits into the larger entertainment spectrum.

Whether a role is stereotypical or not, an actor should always have the freedom to turn down any role that makes him or her uncomfortable (for whatever reason). We have to be able to live with ourselves, the decisions we make, and the images we present.

If you could put together a film project with an unlimited budget, what would the film be about?

Wow! Because there are so many elements that go into film making, an unlimited budget almost makes the question tougher to answer. I'd love to have ground breaking special effects (i.e. Avatar, Titanic, etc.). However, I love movies based on actual events too. So creating an entirely accurate portrayal of a not often examined period or person in history would be fascinating too(W.E.B. Dubois vs. Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, etc.). In any case, the story would have to be compelling. I think it also goes without saying that I'd be starring in it too.

How has your family upbringing shaped your professional life?

My parents are tremendous role models who instilled in me a love of God, self, and a strong sense of hard work. All of these elements have been fundamental in every step I've made in my career. It's important to have a strong foundation in this industry - in any industry, but particularly here - because the critiques and scrutiny we often receive appears personal. Therefore, it can have a negative effect on one's psyche or outlook if too much weight is given to others rather than yourself. No one's self worth should be tied to an audition or job that he/she gets or doesn't get.

How can fans stay in touch with you? Do you have any shout outs?

Right now, the best way to stay in touch is on Twitter. I am a late comer to Twitter but they can follow me @jacquescsmith. I'll keep them updated on what's occurring and they can see how I'm still rooting for my Chicago sports teams while I'm in L.A. 

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