Hattiesburg-born actor Rashad Smith visited the Southern Miss campus to speak about his role in Marvel’s most recent film, “Black Panther.” I got the chance to sit down with the steadily growing performer to chat not only about his time on set but Smith’s influences and his past in all things entertainment.
Carlton: “So, what exactly is your role in the movie?”
Smith: “I am a Border Tribe warrior. I did stunts. Didn’t get a chance to say anything in this film, but I fought a little bit. I wish that I could have had the opportunity to be blessed to say something, but I just felt blessed to be a part of it, standing in the same space as these great people.”
C: “Are there any stories you can tell us front set?”
S: “That’s a funny story. This was my first time interacting with Michael B. Jordan [Killmonger, the main villain of the film]-”
C: “Oh, so you actually interacted with him?”
S: “Yeah, actually you know the vibe you get when you get around other guys, and you get to looking at them like ‘I think I can knock him out.’ But then he came up out the sweater and he was like 20-30 more pounds. I was like, I haven’t been to the gym in a minute. And listen, the guy that plays Thor. Now I’m not the smallest person in the world, and we were across the river from him and I was like, ‘He’s not that big. I’ll walk up on him.’ Then, as he got closer, he started to get bigger. He’s like a legit 6” 4’ and 185 pounds. I had to break him down, seriously, but he’s like the nicest guy.”
“I worked with Chad[wick Boseman], and it was actually my third time from working with him on ‘Avengers: Infinity War.’ It was amazing. They all have so much respect for each other. Even though they know Robert Downey Jr. is kind of like the trailblazer for the Marvel characters, and when he’s on set I just see it flowing out of him.”
C: “Were you a fan of Marvel comics and movies before the project?”
S: “I wasn’t a huge comic book head. I still have a few ‘X-men’ issues, but my first step to Marvel Studios was ‘Blade.’ Ever since ‘Blade,’ I was sold
on everything else.”
C: “How familiar were you with ‘Black Panther’ before hearing about the role or movie?”
S: “I wasn’t vastly familiar with it. I didn’t know the depths of Wakanda and where he came from and the character and the different pockets and how over the course of 50 years, different writers have been advancing the story. I just knew it from the surface. I knew that he was black, a politician, tight, wealthy and one of the most swagger [heroes]. He’s like an African Batman but 10 times better.”
C: “If at all, how important would you say ‘Black Panther’ is to you as an actor and a black male?”
S: “Huge. The whole ordeal with how successful it was very vital because not only did it do the character justice, but this will also show more studios that black films can travel, meaning black actors can sell. They can sell in China, Korea, Africa. They just need the opportunity.
“It also shows that just like Marvel produced ‘Black Panther,’ Tyler Perry can produce it. Oprah Winfrey can produce it. All of these great people can produce ‘Black Panther,’ but it’s us that’s not being proactive. We let other people dictate our stories, and when our stories don’t meet our expectations, we want to criticize the film, but it’s up to us to be proactive in films because it’s up to us now.”
C: “So you spoke a little about the public’s reaction to the movie. Can you describe your feelings when you heard about the hype for the movie?”
S: “I knew it was going to be a huge movie when I saw how invested Chadwick was. When your number one is invested, it can’t help but to trickle down. He was in the suit for 12 hours a day, even though he didn’t do the stunts, but he was always there and ready.”
C: “I know you’re from Hattiesburg, so I wanted to go into your origins as a performer and musician. Can you talk about how that started for you and how you knew you wanted to be an actor?”
S: “Church. I’m actually a son of a preacher and son of a minister of music. My mama used to make me stand at a piano and say ‘you gon’ sing this!’ God gave me the gift of playing drums. I started out playing on paint buckets and that’s what I wanted to do, but my mother knew I was blessed to sing, so she made me stand by the piano and sing.
“Also, just being around family. I have a very musical family. I can’t emphasize it enough, it was church. That’s where you get your start. That’s where you get your ‘yes’s and ‘no’s.”
C: “And I know you were in a jazz- centered Netflix movie-”
S: “Yeah! ‘Mudbound!’ It’s crazy that you know that.”
C: “I know that you were in several other projects. Can you talk a bit about how, since this is a huge Marvel project, the whole filming process was different from a smaller project?”
S: “I think total, we were dealing with 300-400 people daily. It’s a lot of moving parts, and everyone does their job, and when everyone does their job, everything moves smoothly. The biggest difference is that the communication. Communication can get people fired.
“Say they’re shooting and the P.A. sends you in at the wrong time. That’s actually what happened to me. The P.A. told me to stand there and be ready to die and fall on the ground, and I didn’t, and I was like a deer in headlights.”
C: “Would you say that you have any current or past inspirations for performing?”
S: “Of course. Michael Jackson, Prince, Usher, Tank, Jamie Foxx-”
C: “So the classics.”
S: “Yeah! Who else? I’ve been inspired by so many people. Just being around these people and seeing how the work is amazing. Music-wise: Brown Michael Cox and Quincy Jones, even though he’s popping off on people now. Ray Charles. Wow, so many great people.”
C: “So, since you’ve been in a Marvel film, do you plan on trying to get a bigger role in Marvel movies?”
S: “Honestly, right now I’m just grinding, so if it comes, then it comes. I pray that I’m blessed to land a bigger role, and matter-of-fact, as you can tell from the “Avengers” trailer, they are in Wakanda. Sorry but it’s not a real place, even though we might wish that it was.
C: “I guess the last thing is: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?”
S: “Whoa, man. This is hard. I want Black Panther superpowers.”
C: “I figured as much.”
S: “Not only are you rich, you got access to the best stuff. You’re in an advanced country. Like with Batman, he’s rich, but Black Panther is the wealthiest Avenger because he is the king of a more advanced country. I’d be Black Panther because of the suit that conducts kinetic energy, so I want Black Panther’s powers!”
“Black Panther” is out in theaters now.