ESSENCE chats with actor Tory Devon Smith about the new Netflix series 'The Get Down.'
The Get Down tells the story of the early South Bronx hip hop scene like you’ve never seen it told before.
We caught up with actor Tory Devon Smith (whom you may recognize from BET’s Zoe Ever After) to get a little insight on his character in the series, why we should watch and what to expect. Check out our interview with Tory below.
Tell us about your character in the series. There have been some early comparisons to Joe Pesci’s character in Goodfellas. Would you say that’s accurate?
So, my character’s name is Little Wolf and he does start out as sort of a wild, outrageous guy who’s always off the handle. As the series progresses and he gains a little more stability and little bit of power, he develops a conflict with Shameek’s character that stems from some jealousy on his part. So, he starts out as this funny, gangster guy and then he turns into someone who is actually responsible, which is interesting. He goes in and out though so, over the course of a few episodes, you’ll still see him be pretty crazy. I initially had no idea what this series was about but, when they said the role was a Joe Pesci type of character, my mind went immediately to that pivotal scene [in Goodfellas] that probably got him the Oscar where Joe goes to Ray Liotta’s character and says “oh, so you think I’m funny?” and he’s again, this sort of outrageous guy. For me, it was just in my rolodex of characters to do. I just sort of chose this voice and everything. It’s all still very new. I mean, Zoe Ever After is the biggest thing I’d done thus far so, I think this is a starting base for what my experiences will be like.
What will viewers see in the series that they haven’t seen before in terms of the story of the early days of the New York hip hop scene?
Well, there’s obviously an influence of the legends of Hip Hop with Grandmaster Flash and Nas being involved, but it’s truly mythical interpretation. So, it’s not going to be this direct biography of Hip Hop, but more of an example of it through the eyes of fictional characters. So, it’s really sort of an homage to the magic of Black people and what we’ve created. It’s really beautifully done.
What can you tell us about some of the female characters we’ll see in series?
So, there’s a trio with the characters Mylene, Yolanda and Regina and I kind of want to say that there’s like a Destiny’s Child feel to them. They have a very big stake in the series. Then there’s also the evil, matriarchal presence in the storyline of the character Fat Annie. So, you’ll see different facets of how women interacted during that time. In terms of how my character interacts with the female characters, Little Wolf is the boyfriend of Regina.
How much of who you are in real life were you able to bring to the Little Wolf character?
Little Wolf has this crazy sense of humor and that’s what I think I brought to him. He’s also incredibly energetic and so am I so, that was really, really fun to play.
What are some of the messages in the series that make it timely?
Because the show is so vast and it’s going to cover several different stories of several different characters, it’s going to touch on a little bit of everything. It’s going hit on the economy of New York through one main character who’s fighting to not live his life on the street versus having the opportunity to go to school. There’s also a love story and you’re also going to see kids rebelling against their parents and parents making mistakes. There’s also a direct correlation to race with a specific character who is sort of coddled to fixate himself much more in a white world versus the world that is being created with his friends with the beginning of hip hop. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what an audience decides that they get from it rather than having the creators influence their takeaways. I think that’s how art should live.
Will the series at all touch on how mainstream culture began to pull from Hip Hop culture even back then, much like what’s happening today?
Yes and what’s interesting is, there will actually be “flashbacks” to the future. Right now, they’re concentrating on the beginning. Later, you’re going to see things like the influence from the gay community and how Hip Hop begins to spread there and also how it is influenced by that sort of freedom. You’ll also see how people reacted who couldn’t relate to those who loved it. For example, Little Wolf’s character just thinks they’re making noise. So you’re also going to see the frustrations of people who just didn’t see it as talent at first.
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As a proud gay Black man in Hollywood, do you share the same reservations that some heterosexual actors or actresses have about playing certain roles because of the sexuality of the character?
I think it’s hard to ignore that aspect but, I’m glad to see that we are moving toward a more progressive state in the industry where I’m not necessarily fearful, nor have I ever been. It’s interesting though because I always thought like, ‘oh my gosh, those were going to be the things that will prevent me from landing certain roles that I truly love.’ When you come from a theatrical background, you’re playing everything. It doesn’t matter what sexuality you are. Then when you get into film and television, it’s about you as a person doing what you do best in order to convince people that you can be believable in these roles. For people like myself…I’m a character actor. I actually got The Get Down role before I got Zoe Ever After, so it’s what I can do. So, for me, it’s not about the character being gay or straight, it’s about the situation. I’m an actor, I’m always honored to tell an interesting story. It’s hard to get past labels because that’s America’s makeup and because I’m a gay Black actor, they might be like, ‘oh, there’s only certain things you can do.’ But, that’s just not true.
Lastly, if you were speaking with someone who wasn’t familiar with Hip Hop or not sure if they’re interested in the story, why would they want to check out The Get Down?
I mean, I’m excited to watch it and I’m in it [laughs]! Everything on this show, from what I’ve experienced, is phenomenal. From the costumes, to the cinematography, to the acting so, I’m just like “watch this great piece of work.” We’ve filmed this series for over a year. For me, I love material with a great vision. I don’t watch movies to simply escape or go away, I actually want to learn about the world I live in. It’s how I educate myself and I think The Get Down is definitely something that will educate people. So, even if you don’t know what it’s about, I’d say go for the ride.
The Get Down premieres tonight on Netflix.