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Measure of a Man

Sunday - November 20, 2011

It’s been a bit over a year since the last time GateWorld had the pleasure of sitting down with Jamil Walker Smith, but it’s been an interesting year. Where our first chat with the actor was a chance to get to know both him and his character — Ronald Greer — a bit more fully, the experience this time was a bit more somber as it came with the knowledge that Stargate Universe (and the franchise as a whole) would not be continuing in any form this television season — and perhaps many more.  But while Smith may have said his final goodbyes to his Destiny alter-ego, he’s definitely not giving any other farewells.

We caught up to Smith earlier this year at the Vancouver edition of the Creation Entertainment Official Stargate Convention, where he graciously sat down with us for an extended period.  In our chat with Jamil Walker Smith, the actor talks about the status of his self-produced and directed film, Greer’s evolution in SGU‘s final year, what he’ll take away from his time on the series, the current state of genre programming and its viewership, and more!

GateWorld:  Jamil, thank you so much for taking time again to talk with us.

Jamil Walker Smith: Thank you, it’s good to be here.

GW:  How have you been?

JWS:  I’ve been well. And yourself?

GW:  Not too bad.

JWS:  Good.

GW:  What have you been up to?

JWS:  I just finished and completed post-production on my film, Make a Movie Like Spike.

GW:  I think we talked about that briefly the last time we chatted.

JWS:  Yeah, maybe we did briefly. I think during that time, I was still in the midst of post and even doing some re-shoots. But since the last time I talked to you, we premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. It won best director at the Cinequest Film Festival. And it was just at a film festival in Canada — in Toronto — called Reel World. And in Seattle for the Langston Hughes Film Festival.

But it was a labor of love.  And my experiences at Stargate — it was a direct result of that.  Quite literally, my association with Stargate and the opportunities it has provided helped fund the film. So, I am completely blessed and honored to have the opportunity to branch out and do other things as a result of it.

A one-sheet for the film Smith wrote, produced and directed, "Make A Movie Like Spike."

GW:  The last time that we talked with you was just around the beginning of Season Two.  Just around premiere time, if I recall correctly.  Since then and throughout the final season as a whole, Greer had gone through a little bit of an evolution. How was it getting a chance to expand him from how he started out?  From how he was through the metamorphosis of the 40 episodes you had to develop the character.

JWS:  I’d say it was exciting. I connect to the same process as when you move. When someone moves, it’s a new territory. You are entering a new space where you get to not so much be defined by how you are or how you’ve been, but by what’s going on with you now. So it’s great!

And also,  I think that sort of evolution is natural, especially anytime you are on a series that gets multiple episodes. If we spent a year together, our relationship would evolve. So I think it is only natural. And it is more a testament — not so much to what I am doing — but to the writing of it and giving him an opportunity to do that.

GW:  Let’s talk about that development. It is established very early on that Greer comes from a rougher childhood than he would have liked and circumstances at home that probably weren’t the greatest. Maybe that becomes part of the reason that he embraced the military as much as he did. Towards the end of the series, you have episodes that really strengthen the “togetherness” aspect of the Destiny crew, for instance the episodes where Greer gives up one of his kidneys for Dale Volker [“Hope”].  It’s an increasing sense of camaraderie and family. What do you think about that evolution, especially the military/civilian dynamic?  Of the way it was bridging the two into a more cohesive family. Did the crew of Destiny become his substitute family?

JWS:  Well, I’d say the kidney thing isn’t a surprise to Greer.  Because essentially, a Marine or a soldier is willing to give his life not to protect the military but to protect civilians. Though it may seem like a leap for some people, that’s part of the job. If I am willing to take a bullet to protect you, then I am definitely going to give you a kidney.

The interesting thing about you talking about the increased sense of feeling like a family — I think it paralleled the energy on set. We’ve all bonded and we’ve all grown together over the last two years. So, I think that the progression that was taking place amongst the actors — I think the writing reflects it. They watched us behave and they’d write that in sometimes.  I think it was just natural that as the characters evolved we all were evolving together at the same time.  Where sometimes the line begins to get blurred between what we are doing that’s real and what we are doing that’s just acting.

And that’s a beautiful thing. When I am in a scene with Louis Ferreira — with Colonel Young — and he is giving me advice. Or he is essentially metaphorically hugging me or patting me on the back.  Scenes like that definitely mirror Louis’ and my relationship in real life. You know he’s definitely — him and [Robert] Carlyle, both — they’re mentors and people I would turn to. So it’s great.

GW:  We witnessed, especially in the last year, the death of several great sci-fi series like Caprica. Brad [Wright] had to tell fans that there was not going to be a continuation on SGU of any sort. To a degree, it kind of seems like serious sci-fi is going through some…

JWS:  People don’t … I wouldn’t say people aren’t ready for it … well, finish your question.

GW:  Do you think it’s more a case of people needing lighter fair and escapism? Or is it just a sign of maybe the genre’s slow decline?

JWS:  No, science fiction has existed since the dawn of time. Someone told a story about a star. And gave meaning to it. And the possibility of something greater and bigger than where we exist. The fundamental principles that are even tied to religion are based in a science that explores something beyond what is tangible or real. So science fiction will never ever die as long as we have the ability to use our imagination.

I would say, and I can’t speak for the world because I haven’t gone every place in the world.  But I can say in the country that I am proud to come from — America —  there is a sense of doom and hopelessness that is fast approaching and that we are in the midst of.  And it is as a result of our political system. It has finally caught up to us and is now affecting everyday people’s lives. So in that, I understand that there is a great sense for people to want to escape even deeper into things that don’t make them have to dwell on their issues. You know?  They feel horrible about their job situation, and they feel helpless as a result of not being able to afford the lifestyle that they used to. So sometimes, there is this idea you don’t want to come home and watch people in those exact same circumstances. You want to escape into worlds that use humor and where the lighting is bright and does things that don’t reflect the circumstances that you’re in.

I understand that. I would say, though, that I almost prefer to watch people who are in the exact same situation I’m in and overcome it.  That for my money is more entertaining.  Because I really get to see myself in them and how they deal with those situations. I personally don’t like a show where everybody is wealthy, everybody lives extravagant beautiful lives, and everybody’s every other line is a joke.  Because that is not the world I live in and I don’t know those people.  I want…

GW:  So not a Sex in the City fan?  [laughs]

JWS:  Not for their lifestyles!  [laughs]

I want  to escape into worlds that look like mine and watch people.  My heroes are people who have been through struggle and learned to overcome that.  My heroes aren’t the people where I don’t know their struggle and all I get is what the victory looks like.

Smith maintains that the growing sense of family amongst the Destiny crew was an echo of the series' cast friendships.

GW:  You’ve had two years and forty episodes with Greer. What are you going to take away from your time?

JWS:  That’s a good question.

GW:  What has the time meant to you?

JWS:  [long pause]

I am going to take away from Greer, that a man is a man. If you are a man, you don’t have to prove it to anyone.  You don’t have to make any excuses for who you are. You can be who you are, one hundred percent.  And that is in fact the best way to articulate what you are, and that is a man. When I first started playing Greer, in a lot of respects in terms of my process, I was very much a boy. And through these two years and through walking in this man’s shoes, I have learned that I am enough and he is enough and he’s taught me that.  And that’s something.  That this show may end and he may be dead in that world, but like anyone who we lose in our life, he lives forever.

Because any work that you watch of mine going forward, you’ll see moments where I’ll be doing things in my work and then you’ll go “that looks like Greer.” And I’ll say, “You’re damn right it does.” So, the show ending is bittersweet as they say. But I’ll also say, don’t worry about us people because the great art comes from discomfort. You get me too comfortable, and I don’t want to do nothing. So this show ending, it’s almost like metaphorically my mother and father kicking me out of the house. And saying, “Go be.”

GW:  Learn to live.

JWS:   Yeah. I’m a survivor. We’re all survivors. We’re actors. So we know what it’s like not to work.  But now that we have a greater sense and taste of what it’s like to work, that hunger — that taste — is on the tip of my tongue. So out there in the world, it makes me hungry for it.  And its that hunger that makes me look forward to doing more interviews with you and GateWorld.

GW:   Where do you see yourself in the industry ten years from now? Where would you like to see yourself?

JWS:  A place that I can’t even begin to imagine. You know what I mean? I can tell you that I’d like to continue to do work that challenges me. I’d like to continue to do work that makes me have to share with the world the parts of me that I love and the parts of me that I can’t stand. And in doing that I hope that it gives other people permission to do the same. Because we live in this technologically advanced world where the illusion is it’s easier to communicate. When in fact, my experience has been people communicate less and share less of themselves out of this fear that we won’t be accepted or loved.  And that if people knew the truth about who we were, that it wouldn’t be enough.

So what I’d like to project in my work, is that people watch and they go “me too” and they relate. And then they feel the permission to go out and show a little bit of themselves. Because once we all get through what we look like and what we dress like and the music we like, we really just all want to love and be loved. And that is the universal thing that pervades all of our experiences and all of our actions. So I want to do work that gives the world permission to do that. And in ten years, I want to be in a place where I am doing that on a level and I’m reaching people that I will never meet but through my work, they know me intimately.

GW:  Any message you’d like to give fans not just of SGU and Stargate but of your body of work in general?

JWS:  Go see Make a Movie Like Spike! [laughs]

The message I’d like to give is to the people who have taken the time out of their lives to experience the things that I have been a part of.  First, the message I’d like to give is thank you. The second message I’d like to give is “I am because we are.” There is this idea that I like which is “by yourself all together now.” We all have our own beautiful journey, that is uniquely our own. But together, we can all walk our own path together. So, if you’re out there and you’re reading this or whatever, thank you.  And I’ll continue to show up because I am in this for life.

GW:  As always a pleasure Jamil. Thank you.

JWS:  Thank you, brother. Thank you.

Interview and minor transcription by Chad Colvin.  Main transcription by Avi Zisook

Make a Movie Like Spike is currently on the film festival circuit.  For more info on the film, visit their Facebook page!

Chad Colvin is a GateWorld editor and convention correspondent. He lives near Madison, Wisconsin. Follow him on Twitter @ChadColvin.

COMMENTS (7):Rules | Report Comment | Trackback

  • Cast him was perfect for Greer. Damn I wish this show or a new one with him in it was near.

  • What a wonderful interview. Thank you Chad, and Jamil, for a delightful read. Best wishes to Jamil in all his future endeavors.

  • Jamil, thank you right back at’cha. Looking forward to seeing more of your work. I’ll keep an eye out for “Make a Movie Like Spike”.

    Chad, thanks for the opportunity to get caught up with Jamil and the other Stargate cast members.

    To everyone: Peace.

  • Pioneering, you’re very welcome! And the fun isn’t over yet. I may be taking a week off next weekend for the holidays and some personal things, but December will be a interview-palooza also. We’ve been averaging one a week since September, and we aren’t done yet!

  • JWS’ Greer became my favorite character in SGU and his expansion in that second year and how he handled it was, in my opinion, impressive. And I have to note that the 2nd season of SGU was also impressive. I remain as unhappy as I was when it was first announced, that SGU was abandoned by SYFY. One can go back and forth about whether the first season spent too much time on character development – but that second year was brilliantly done and only got better with each episode.
    Excellent interview with JWS and I really look forward to seeing him in whatever project -film or series he’s involved with.

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