Film sets are always ripe with interesting people. There is no “actor type”. Working on the set of our recent collaboration, Help, was a culturally rich experience for me. The short film centered around racial tension and the ridiculous concept of discrimination based on skin color. I hit it off with one actor especially well. His name was Derrick Smalls, Jr., a Charleston local like me. We laughed and practiced our lines together, creating so many pointed one-liners that it took what seemed like half a million takes before we could record our scenes with them being tainted with laughter. I learned later that this was one of Derrick’s very first roles. I believe that both Help and Derrick have not received the exposure that they deserve. In the following interview, Derrick and I discuss Help, the impact of this website, and his acting goals for the future.
1. We had the opportunity to work together on the set Charleston’s short film Help. What were your initial impressions of the concept after reading the script for the first time?
[Derrick] Well, my initial impression after reading the script was like “Wow, my very first co-starring role on film and I am playing a very angry, egotistical, pro Afro American rapper. I would have never had guessed me portraying this character as my very first acting gig.” But it was fun and interesting for me to bring this character to life.
2. Did your opinions change after working with the rest of the cast and viewing the finished product?
[Derrick] My opinion never changed. I mean, after reading the script for the film and meeting with a very talented cast, I expected this film to start a fire on issues dealing with race. Because that was our purpose- to show the audience how racial tensions still stand in America. For my character, I expected to be angry in the scenes because it’s a film based on different ethnicities stereotyping each other because of who they are. You’ve got a white person, black person, a Latina, a hippy-vegan, and an Englishman all in one room who basically don’t know nothing about each other but what they’ve learned from their household about other nationalities. So, no, my opinion hasn’t changed.
3. What do you hopes do you have for Help‘s legacy?
[Derrick] Well, first I hope that we as a cast gave this concept film justice. I hope we sent a message out there showing that even in this day-in-age our society is still dealing with issues of being stereotyping and judgment based not only on the color of our skin, but how we go about our daily lives. I want this Short to hit a nerve and instigate change for the better. But, we’ll see.
4. Why do you think film’s like Help are important in today’s society?
[Derrick] Films like this are important and current because we are still dealing with these issues. Not everyone is in one accord in realizing that we all are dealing with a serious issue that has a dramatic impact on the fate of this country. We are still somewhat divided when it comes to situations involving race.
5. How did this line up with your personal goals as an actor?
[Derrick] Working on this film helped me as an actor by pushing me out of my comfort zone. I wanted to go above and beyond to make my character in this film believable, to gain a deeper understanding with the character that I was trying to bring to life. I believe all actors, including myself, are willing to push themselves to become someone they’re really not, or maybe just have some of their own traits come out of the character they’re portraying. When I signed up for this role, I didn’t have to do so much of a change to prepare myself, but I did at least take some time out of my daily life to focus on the character’s view. I tried to understand what made him who he is.
6.You’ve been a big supporter of this website for quite a while. First of all, thank you for that. What got you interested in Out of the Woodwork?
[Derrick] Well, first I gotta thank you Mr. Chancy Johnson for giving me this opportunity to finally be on your amazing website. Not just for featuring me, but for helping other talented independent artists to have a platform to share their stories and passions. I will forever be supportive on anything you do. Well, unless you decided to go on a killing spree or cause some kind of havoc in the world. Then i can’t support you on that. But I admire what you’re doing on this site because you’re giving back to your fellow peers who might not have any other way to gain exposure for what they love to do. And that takes courage and unselfishness.
7. What advice do you have for people just starting to venture into the field of entertainment?
[Derrick] Don’t be a afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to be you and show the world just who you are as a person. You got talent? Show the world on what you’ve got. You gotta have that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” mentality when you’re entering this industry. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes. You are bound to make mistakes in whatever you do in life because you’re human. That’s life, you make mistakes and you realize what you did wrong and try not to make them again. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everybody who is a step further than you had to seek some assistance from someone as well. You are no different.
8. Of all of our past guests, who interests you the most?
All of your guests interviews were interesting to me, but I was especially interested in the information you’ve released with the director of our film Help,
Mr. Jason Gourdine
. He is a gifted director and I wish him every success on this film and his future work. I love the interview you did with the group Spaceship Days
. After learning about them from their interview
, I have become a true fan of theirs. Hopefully i’ll be able to catch a show of theirs one day if they’re in the Charleston area. Oh, and I can’t forget that I love the interview you did with the beautiful Malece Miller
9. Can you give us a few trivia facts about yourself?
[Derrick] Oh man, there aren’t too many interesting facts about me. I was born overseas in Germany because my father was serving in the military. I’ve always wanted to be an actor since the tender age of eight. I actually penned my first and only movie script when I was twelve years old. I started taking acting seriously beginning last year. I am related to the late great Otis Blackwell, who is my great uncle. He wrote songs for Elvis Presley like Don’t Be Cruel, All Shook Up, Jerry Lee Lewis’s Great Balls of Fire and Breathless, and a slew of other artists. My favorite actors of all time are Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, Robert Downey Jr., Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino and bad boy Bruce Willis. And here is a real fun fact- I know how to pick up and pop open a soda can…. with my feet.
Derrick Smalls, Jr. is gaining momentum on the Charleston film scene. I will always, of course, root for success in my home town. I am encouraged by this actor’s positive outlook on life and determination to stand for racial equality. I’ll have my eye on Derrick in the coming year, and I would encourage you to do the same!
Until next time, I’m Chancy Johnson. Here to bring them~
Out of the Woodwork.