Pictures courtesy of Alex Winn.
From a spunky heroine to ‘the’ flashback, from ‘Babymother’ to ‘Sus’, Anjela Lauren Smith has graced British cinema for the best part of 2 decades and continues to adorn the big screen and the small screen. Behind the scenes, her versatility and passion for the industry shows no sign of abating either. The latest string to her bow was her recent appointment to the board of members at Buff Enterprises. We’re delighted that Anjela has accepted this position at a time where British actors and actresses are very much the flavour of the month both at home and abroad. The likes of Aml Ameen, Noel Clarke and Chiwetel Ejiofor are sprinkling some of their golddust to other disciplines with the three in question turning out to be pretty decent film directors aswell. And to paraphrase that often trotted out cliché, the world is indeed anyone’s oyster. For now though, Anjela’s focus is on this month’s edition of the BUFF blog – the blog written by those ‘in the know’…
HOW DID IT ALL START OFF?
My journey began at a very young age… I always had a hidden desire to perform when I was a child. There weren’t many of the drama workshops and classes that are so easily accessible to children now. My performing was limited to dance and singing shows at school. My love of film stems from the many VHS’s (that’s what we had back in the day) that my dad owned of classic films and musicals; I would spend school holidays watching films over and over again.
In my teenage years, I fell by chance into being a fashion model – it was either that or go to university at the time. I chose to give modelling a try as I thought it would be a good experience, it’s as simple as that! Through modelling I then got to utilise my dance skills working on music videos, touring and travelling frequently – all the stuff my dreams were made of. Music videos were different back then; it was all about a performance, usually some narrative and not just shake your booty. I am very proud of those days – I met a lot of interesting, talented, creative people and for me it wasn’t about being famed for my looks or being the best dancer, it was a time in the 90’s that people were expressing themselves as they saw creatively fit and continue to do so. Many of the people that I worked with, partied with etc. are now my peers in the industry and I’m very proud of them… it was all about life experience – then and now. Experience in front of a camera helped me to learn about how any production works. I also worked in events management during that time… I will always give something a try, or challenge myself.
In my late teens – I made the decision to move away from fashion and music to explore my desire to act; I joined a youth theatre group (Second Wave) at the Albany Theatre in Deptford. I spent my days working as a booker in a character agency and as an assistant to a casting director, where I gained a lot of valuable insight into the business side of the film industry. I am a big fan of ‘learn at every opportunity’… the learning never stops whatever age or stage you’re at in life. I also took classes that were Stanislavski based for 3 years at The City Literary Institute and Oval House Theatre – any drama workshop that could help me grow and build my confidence as an actor. I look at those days fondly, as I was very hungry to learn. It wasn’t in a pretentious way… I worked very hard to prove myself at all junctures, as it is easy to fall prey to the assumption that because you were a former model it made it somehow made it easier. You spend years trying to prove that it didn’t just fall off a tree! (No chip on the shoulder intended!)
My first film was very low budget and shot in and around Notting Hill – In ‘Respect’, I played a community activist called ‘Angela’, it was through a friend that I found out about the audition and pushed myself forward to get seen, as I didn’t have an agent at the time. I managed to get my Equity card and a showreel together, which led me to meet my lovely agent Elaine Murphy. Within 3 months I was auditioning for the lead in a feature film, ‘Babymother’… 10 weeks and 9 screen tests later, I was cast in the role of ‘Anita’. Playing Anita was a role that I had to fight for; at least 500 actresses, singers and dancers had auditioned. It was a year of beginnings and endings, as I gave birth to my son 7 months before being offered the role and my dad passed away – so spiritually I felt connected to the role in terms of being a young mother and also the loss of a parent. Both my agent Elaine Murphy and Michael Keane have always had belief in me which really helped me as a young actress, who had a lot to learn!
WHAT ARE YOU DOING AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve just been asked to be on the BUFF board of members which is cool! Thanks BUFF! I attended BUFF for the first time last year, as ‘SUS’ was launching the festival; SUS is a feature film starring Clint Dyer, Rafe Spall and Ralph Brown. It is a very powerful independent film that was shot over 2 weeks and has had a really amazing response. SUS has screened at many festivals worldwide, Clint has won many awards and it secured a cinematic release in the UK last year – all very positive and BUFF have been supporters of the film also.
I am also working with a youth education company who do motivational work with young people – I’ve just started facilitating with them. Whatever help I can give to inspire young people on their paths, I will always do when I have the time.
Acting wise – at the end of last year, I filmed a few episodes of a BBC teen drama – ‘The Cut’ – which was a lot of fun, albeit my character was part of a very sad storyline. THE CUT gave me the chance to play a character who was very vulnerable as ‘Carly’ is an agoraphobic. I’m also amongst the cast in ‘The Shadow Line’, a noir conspiracy thriller starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Christopher Eccleston, Rafe Spall, Lesley Sharp and many others. The first episode aired on BBC 2 on Thursday 5th May @ 9pm… It’s very stylish, with complex characters. I had a very enjoyable time filming and Hugo Blick (writer & director) is sheer brilliance. Even if I didn’t have a moment in the series, it would be top of my list to watch as some of my favourite actors/actresses, whose work I’ve seen and have been inspired by, are in the episodes. It is also a genre that I love, so I’ll be watching the whole series (7 episodes).
I’m also writing – which has been a passion for over 10 years now – more to come on this later! It started with poetry and now I have a few things that I would like to develop: acting is my first love, but all across the board in the industry many performers are writing, producing, directing. It does seem like a natural evolution. There is no rush and by no means am I a seasoned writer, but I truly believe that we all have a few stories inside that we could tell…
WHAT IS YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH THE FILM ‘SUS’?
I am ‘the’ flashback! (laughs) Without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it yet, I play the allegedly murdered wife of Clint’s character, Leon Delroy. I have been talking people’s’ ears off about this film since last year – please note it isn’t self promo. I am always grateful for every role that I am offered regardless of whether it is a lead or a supporting role, because I always feel very lucky to be able to do what I love – which is to play as many interesting characters as I can. SUS has historical relevance, it is a period piece. It’s a film that is shocking, moving and educational – a portrayal of one man’s torment during a police interrogation, a victim of SUS. It is based on a true story, written by Barrie Keefe.
Playing ‘Georgie’ was purely a visual performance – but for me, that Clint and Robert Heath (Director) would want to include me in such an inspirational and important piece, I am eternally grateful! I know it sounds gushy, but truly I am happy that I still have interesting work after 21 years of being in entertainment in some shape or form. I have worked with Clint on a few occasions, he is a very special human being and multi-talented – there, gush again! Clint has been a huge support to me and many others in the industry, which I value.
SUS will be screened on British television some time soon; it is also out on DVD so its’ journey continues.
WHAT DOES BUFF MEAN TO YOU?
BUFF represents a refreshing forum for the seen and unseen film makers in the UK & worldwide. It is a celebration of the passion, diversity and forward thinking in film. As a free to attend festival, it is inclusive and gives the audience a chance to see some unique styles. Many of the films are made on low budgets and most films make their premieres at the festival. BUFF has energy to it and it isn’t ego driven.
BUFF is provocative, outspoken and supportive – hold on am I talking about BUFF, or the director of BUFF?! Joke aside, the festival is growing and is definitely one to put in your diary.
At a time when budgets are being slashed and arts funding is very selective, festivals like BUFF keep the line of hope there for all of us. There are a few surprises in store for this year’s festival, so keep an eye out on the BUFF website.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO BUDDING FILM MAKERS AND ACTORS?
Several come to mind, hard work and belief. Film making is a long process, a united effort and some may say a healthy risk as you don’t know what the audience’s’ perception will be when you are creating… that is why belief in your talent, yourself and others – plus a thick skin – are needed. Hard work is never a negative thing – but for actors and film makers, they make something look effortless and natural which requires energy. Most of all enjoy, enjoy, and enjoy it!
The social networks have definitely had an impact on the way some films are marketed now in addition to the profiling of actors; some prefer a more subversive approach but I feel it’s whatever works for you. Find like-minded people (I don’t like the word ‘network’). Triforce Events (i.e. actors Fraser Ayres, Jimmy Akingbola et al.) are a good example of this – I have been to some great screenings, readings and nights out that they have put on – everyone is friendly, supportive, productive – and that organically produces results. I also attended the Ameen Dream Entertainment launch at BAFTA recently, which was both very uplifting and progressive.
Every opportunity is an opportunity – gain whatever positivity you can from it.
WHICH ARE YOUR FAVOURITE FILMS?
Quite a few and of those I include the following: ‘The Imitation Of Life’, ‘The Godfather’, ‘Leon’, ‘Malcolm X’, ‘La Vita E Bella’ (Life is Beautiful), ‘The Knickerman’ (A short by Sonja Phillips), ‘Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘City Of God’, ‘American Gangster’ and ‘Dodgeball’ – I love comedy 🙂 I still have a bunch of DVDs that need to be watched!
(in no particular order): Samuel L Jackson, Jodie Foster, Angela Bassett, Gary Oldman, Robert De Niro, Helen Mirren, Ray Winstone, Don Cheadle, Kerry Washington, Tom Hardy, Denzel Washington, Samantha Morton… This list could be very long so I’ll stop. Acting requires guts, so I respect all actors!
‘If life gives you lemons… Make lemonade’ (Norman Vincent Peale).