Cover Girl Renee Felice Smith, plays brainy and beautiful Nell Jones, on NCIS: Los Angeles. During Part I of our interview with Renee she revealed the similarities between her character and herself and the primary way in which they are vastly different. She also shared what she found empowering about her role on the show.
In Part II of our interview, Renee talks about her experience working with heavy-hitters like Adrien Brody, James Caan and Marcia Gay Harden and on the film, Detachment, the children’s picture book series she’s co-authoring that stars her French Bulldog, Hugo, and the trend in our technology-obsessed culture that saddens even a prolific social media maven like her.
You appeared in the movie, Detachment which features a talented cast led by Adrien Brody, Marcia Gay Harden and James Caan. The trailer looks fantastic. Tell us a little about the movie and about your character.
Yes, it’s a powerful piece. The film was directed by Tony Kaye, who is a true artist in every sense. I think he encourages unique performances from actors. As a director he’s very hands-on and experimental. It was a pleasure to watch his process. I play “Missy”, a punk high school senior with a foul mouth and little respect for herself and anyone else. My scene was with Lucy Liu and it’s basically her character’s breakdown in the film. We find these characters in a weekly meeting led by Lucy’s character, the school’s psychologist. My character’s lack of connection with reality and blatant rudeness causes Lucy’s character to crack wide open. It was an absolute pleasure watching Lucy work. She has a really powerful instrument. She’s also a very lovely person.
What drew you to this project and to the role?
I first auditioned for another character in the film but I wasn’t right for it look-wise so casting called me back in to audition for several supporting teen parts and I was given Missy.
What was your experience as part of this powerful ensemble which included experienced veterans and promising newcomers?
I was extremely honored to be included in such a cast. It’s ridiculous to think it was my first experience on a film set. I remember walking to set from hair and makeup and seeing Marcia Gay Harden playing with her kids during a break on a lone stairwell. I’m always kinda starstruck. It’s a funny thing. I don’t think I’ll ever get over that. It’s like “ahhh, so you are real.”
Living in a digital age where so much of our interaction with others is mediated through channels like Facebook and Twitter, do you think this sort of detachment is becoming more prevalent?
It’s definitely a different world from when I was growing up and that wasn’t all that long ago. This digital lifestyle can be all consuming and I think it’s important to limit our time with these sorts of social networking apps and remember to interact with the people who are physically present in our lives. I think it can be really addicting and I’m so not into people who have their face in their phone all day. At times, I fear I am one of those people and in the moment that my eyes start to blurr from looking at the screen, I scramble to gain some control over my life and put my goddam phone away. Too often do I see a Mom and daughter sitting side by side on the subway and both are completely lost in their iPhones. Side note: for what reason does a 7-year-old need an iPhone? This part of technology saddens me. Today, we are presented with a number of ways of distracting ourselves from our real lives and I just hope that, as a people, we will continue to acknowledge these distractions and know when to put the iPhone/iPad away and just be human.
What other projects are on the horizon for you?
I’m currently working on co-authoring a children’s picture book series starring my French Bulldog, Hugo. Our illustrator is fabulous and Hugo’s character is pretty cheeky so I think kids and adults alike will appreciate Hugo’s perspective. I wrote and directed my first short film while on hiatus from NCIS:LA. I’m also about to film a supporting role in an indie dark comedy entitled, The Thing with the Cat, where I play a very bright Columbia Law student who finds herself struggling with school work for the first time in her life. She turns to drinking as a way of escaping her reality and through the help of her neighbor, learns that she may be on the verge of spiraling out of control.
You have a wide array of creative interests. What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not in front of a camera or onstage?
I’m super into interior design slash home decor. I think you’ve gotta be inspired by your surroundings therefore you’ve gotta create a space you want to live in. I like transforming an object into something useful and/or decorative. I can spend hours in a thrift shop and generally walk out with a bag full o’ treasures. I also enjoy just hanging, being at home. I love to watch films, generally dark comedies about dysfunctional families. I enjoy good conversation and talk about past lives of which I believe I’ve had many (TMI? possibly). I like french onion soup and have made it my life’s mission to find the best french onion soup in the world thus I order it whenever I see it on the menu. I enjoy traveling and seeing new places, meeting new people in those places. I like swimming so long as the water is warm and riding every roller coaster I come in contact with so long as I’m tall enough.
How do you find time to get involved in so many personal and professional projects without getting burned out?
I think the key is to take time for yourself and relaaaax. Go walk the dog. Go to the diner and order a grilled cheese with bacon. Take a nap. I think it’s these types of things, things that are purely enjoyable, that give our brain a rest and restore our energy.
What sparked your interest in vintage clothing and where do you shop?
I like things that look old, I always have. Even as a kid, I wanted the shirt with buttons down the back. I also like the idea of pieces being individual. Nothing urkes me more than seeing four girls in the same dress at the same function. There are oh so many options out there so why are we all wearing the same thing? Vintage clothing is a sure bet way to ensure this problem will not enter the equation.
Also, with my body type, clothes from the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s just fit me better. I think it’s cause the ladies back then were real ladies with kicking curves and thankfully designers embraced the hour glass figure. I shop for vintage things in thrift shops and vintage clothing stores in Brooklyn and LA mostly but am sure some of the best finds are in the untapped areas of the country. I’d like to check out Salvation Army’s in like, South Dakota.
Fame and recognition can have positive and negative consequences. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way about how to manage both successfully.
Hmm, I don’t think I’m famous. This idea bothers me. I’m always surprised when someone asks if I’m the girl from CSI or NCSI. I think if people do recognize me it’s cause they’ve seen me in their living room on some Tuesday night and I’ve become a sort of friend to them. This idea I like. I like thinking that people can see bits and pieces of themselves in my character and that I’m helping to tell stories each week that entertain and allow people to escape into the world of make believe for a while. But if you really think about TV for more than a minute it gets kinda weird, right? So, there are these people, these actor people who memorize words and then, as a profession, recite them and their image is captured while they recite them and then broadcast to millions of TV sets around the world so people can watch these actor people recite these words and be entertained. It’s weird and amazing all at once. When I watch TV, I often think about how many people are watching this very same show, at this very same time. It does somehow encourage a sense of connectivity when I think of TV this way.
Now is YOUR opportunity to tell us what we missed! What question should we have asked, that we didn’t?
You guys knocked it out the park. Seriously. I don’t have anymore thoughts or words I could possibly share except for the fact that I’m hungry and want a spoonful of peanut butter right now. Story of my liiiiiiife.