D.C. Native Chad Eric Smith is celebrating his win for the 2020 Best Performance award at the Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival for his leading role in William M. Crouch’s new film Fatherless. Chad took time out of his busy schedule to chop it up with Reviews and Dunn. Check out our interview below.”
Reviews & Dunn: I understand that your role in Fatherless required a huge transformative process. What can you tell us about the process and how you prepared for the role?
Chad Eric Smith: When I first received the script from William M. Crouch (Matt), it was with the intention of seeing whether or not I’d be interested in co-producing it with him and even perhaps being his Assistant Director. However, I was so intrigued by the story that not only did I want to be co-producer but wanted to play the lead role. It was always on my acting bucket list to star in a time travel film and saw this as my opportunity.
As a character actor, my process typically begins with determining the look of the character first. By working from “the outside in,” I’m able to “feel” like I’m the character when I believe I look like him. While there were several emotional notes the character hits throughout the story, there were very few physical descriptors, which allowed for lots of creative freedom. The main thing I honed in on was the fact that Logan was described in the logline as a “young physicist with a troubled past.” To look younger, I decided I would need to lose lots of weight. In the months leading up to production, I lost 35 pounds (from 220 lbs. to 185 lbs.) via intermittent fasting, healthier food choices, and exercise. This was by far the most challenging aspect of the process, but the discipline and consistency of my lifestyle change resulted in a renewed mental focus that was helpful for playing a character with a brilliant yet tortured mind, similar to Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting.
Stylistically, Matt and I discussed drawing inspiration from the characters Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, and the character Chiron, as portrayed by Trevante Rhodes in Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, both of whom are effected by the loss or absence of a father or father figure. Per those references, I got an earring and collaborated with hair stylist Dexter The Groomer of Millennium Salon in Silver Spring, MD for a sharp, youthful look. We wanted to create a subversive character that physically defied the “black nerd” stereotype often seen on TV and in film.
Reviews & Dunn: What can you tell me about your character and his motivation?
Chad Eric Smith: On a micro-level, Logan Avery was inspired by the internal turmoil Matt experienced while growing up with a dad who was physically around but emotionally unavailable. However, Logan is also sort of a composite character meant to represent the sorrow, loneliness, and feeling of rejection that millions experience because of the universal issue of fatherlessness. Beyond my physical transformation, my other challenge was finding ways to make the character as multidimensional as possible. Many of the words in the script read like fresh wounds. There was this constant internal stirring within Logan which made him emotionally intense and, at times, volatile. Knowing that it was a short film, I used my imagination to think of the moments between the scenes, as if it were feature length, hoping his broader life might be felt by the audience.
As for my own upbringing, I was blessed to have had a dedicated father, who, to this day, is physically and emotionally present in my life. Ironically, his presence was most helpful to me for this character because I know just how much he means to me. So, while I don’t know what it’s like to grow up fatherless, I do know all that I’d be missing if I did and used that melancholic notion as an emotional anchor.
Reviews & Dunn: This is the second short film you worked on that dabbled in time travel. If you had a time machine what are the top three events you would love to go back in time to see?
Chad Eric Smith: Yes, the first one was Rumination, about a heartbroken man who travels into the past for a second chance at a failed relationship. (https://amzn.to/32kU7l2) I wrote, produced, and directed it and Matt was the film’s Creative Consultant. If I had a time machine, I would go back to meet my parents when they were my age or witness when they first met each other. I’d go back in time to see Jimi Hendrix perform at Woodstock. Lastly, for a little adventure, I’d go back to just after the American Revolution and dazzle white people with my brilliance while trying not to become enslaved or killed. 😉
Reviews & Dunn: You’re home sick with the flu. Would you binge Quantum Leap repeats or revisit the Back to the Future trilogy?
Chad Eric Smith: Back to the Future trilogy, for sure!
Reviews & Dunn: What would you say was the one film that inspired you to pursue a career in filmmaking?
Chad Eric Smith: When I was kid, I loved Forrest Gump and still do to this day. Tom Hanks’ Academy Award-winning performance was a tour de force that profoundly impacted me. I loved how he was able to seamlessly inject humor and pathos into his role. Writer Eric Roth and director Robert Zemeckis did a great job balancing comedy and drama, historical fiction and magical realism. This movie not only increased my interest in acting but also made me interested in directing films that are genre mashups.
Reviews & Dunn: As an actor, do you think the #oscarssowhite movement has merit?
Chad Eric Smith: Yes. The first 37 Academy Award ceremonies, from 1929 to 1965, took place during the Jim Crow era. Since then, the last 55 years has been a slow-paced racial diversification of television and film. The issue is multifaceted. Not only does there need to be more high-quality opportunities for actors of color but the voting body of the Academy must be racially diverse as well. After all, people naturally vote for who and what personally resonates with them. So, there needs to be diversity on both sides. People want to feel seen. When a person sees someone on TV and in the movies who look like them, it’s deeply personal and gratifying because it makes them feel seen too.
Reviews & Dunn: I’m a huge fan of musical biopics. Is there any musician’s life story you would like to see told on the big screen? Which actor would you pick to play in the role?
Chad Eric Smith: I’ve always thought it would be awesome to see a major motion picture about the life of Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone. His band played a critical role in the development of soul, funk, rock, and psychedelia in the 1960s and 1970s. In addition to being musically innovative and the first major American rock group to have a racially integrated male and female lineup, Stone’s story also includes lots of the spectacle and drama often associated with rock stars, from the flamboyant costumes to drug use, to bizarre antics, on and off the stage. Of course, the actor I’d choose to play the role is none other than yours truly! 😊
Reviews & Dunn: With an unlimited budget and resources, what is the one film you would love to direct?
Chad Eric Smith: I have so many original ideas that I’d like to keep close to the vest. However, I would like to do a feature length version of Rumination that gives a deeper look into the idea of drug-induced mental time traveling. Think The Butterfly Effect meets Limitless meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
Reviews & Dunn: What do you hope the take away is for viewers after watching Fatherless?
Chad Eric Smith: I hope Fatherless will be very moving to audiences and will spark lots of conversation about a variety of topics, from faith to self-discovery to the importance of fatherhood and I pray that the conversation it sparks makes a difference by providing hope and a path for healing to even just one person.
Reviews & Dunn: Where can folks find you on Social media?
Chad Eric Smith:
Folks can ‘Like’ me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ActorChadEricSmith
Follow me on Instagram @iamchadericsmith
Follow me on Twitter @ChadEricSmith