“I truly believe that we will all rise together.”
The Chimaera Project is turning its Spotlight on Deborah Lee Smith Los Angeles Actor Producer and all around creative person.
You say you are an “Actor First, Producer and all around creative person second!” Love to hear about your story and how you got to this point.
I have quite a story. It is almost like I am a cat with nine lives even though I still consider myself a spring chicken. I grew up in LA (very outside the industry), but got roped into drama in middle school and never looked back. After getting an English-Lit and Theater degree from UC Berkeley, I moved to Australia to pursue a master’s in film production. I ended up staying in Australia for six years and starting an engineering surveying business and moving to the outback.
This little sidetrack in my career is actually very important because building that company and overseeing the surveying for construction sites worth 50 million dollars really helped build who I am today: a vulnerable actress full of stories, but also a strong independent producer who stands up for what I truly believe in. After six years in Australia, I moved back to LA and started my own production company, Alette Entertainment. I have now been here for a little over six years and in that time I have produced four feature films, starred in two of them, and acted in many other incredible projects. Recent projects include “Here Awhile” starring Anna Camp, and “Last Three Days” starring Robert Palmer Watkins (Fear of the Walking Dead).
Wow, your journey hasn’t been for the type that back down from a challenge. What has been you biggest secret weapon to overcoming obstacles or self doubt?
Well, I think you can tell from my background, that it certainly has not been easy. I have had many bumps in the road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Living and working in the outback was incredibly difficult at times, as was coming to LA in my late 20s and feeling the immediate pressure to compete with other women who had been acting in LA since their teenage years. Honestly, I am constantly growing and overcoming my own insecurities and the thing that has helped me the most has been building a solid tribe of incredible people that I learn and grow with. I have really just learned to accept and appreciate that this is my main focus, and I will work as long and as hard as I need to, to get to my goals while making sure to enjoy myself along the way.
A solid tribe. You attract solid, honest talented people, that’s wonderful. How does that all fit together into your goals?
I love building and developing stories. My acting and producing have really gone hand in hand because I have taken “make your own work” to the nth degree. My acting has always been my number one, but I have learned to use my producing skills to support myself and others. Every project allows me to grow my community while learning something wonderful about myself. I am most proud of being known as the person who connects others and builds a community around her. I have several feature scripts in development, all with characters I want to play, and all with friends I care about, and I truly believe that we will all rise together.
We, The Chimaera Project, believe that we will all rise together too! Which is how you came to our attention. As we learned about you, we realized how much you are the type of talent and professional that we strive to promote.
Thank you so much. The proudest moment in my career so far is actually the compilation of many conversations that I have had over the years. When people often meet me for the first time, they often say “I have heard the most wonderful things about you,” or “you have a reputation for being the best person to have on set as an actor (and/or producer).” Statements like that are so incredibly important to me because these statements are being recited by people I truly admire and hope to work with again and again. I fully believe that kindness and respect is the most important thing in any relationship (business, personal, etc) and to hear that I have a reputation for being a professional who delivers but also is kind and caring, is the biggest compliment I could ever receive.
That is true! So much of this industry is about relationships and dependability. The people who have true, continued success are strong in both of those things. What else have you learned on your journey?
I have one thing that I realized early on in my career, and it has served me so well. Everyone always says that “you need to be in it for the long haul,” or “it takes 10 years to ‘make it'” or “you need to put in your 10,000 hours.” While I do believe that is true, I want to add to that statement and say that it is important to figure out your personal limits in this industry. These personal limits go beyond whether you are comfortable with nudity. They are about whether you are ok living with 5 roommates, or not being able to go home for the holidays, or putting off having a family. For me, my limit revolved around my financial security.
I have enormous amounts of respect for many of my friends, and colleagues, who moved to Los Angeles without a dime in their pockets. We have all heard the stories about the actors who slept in their car so they could pay for acting classes. I knew that I could never be that person. I have experienced financial struggles and knew that I could not be in that space and be creative at the same time. That is why I took a break, moved to Australia, started a successful business, and then moved back. And guess what, the industry was still there waiting for me, and now I was able to focus on my creativity because I had the financial security and background to do so. Figure out what your boundary is. What you are and aren’t willing to give up, and make sure you also give relevance and gravitas to that. The industry will still be here.
I haven’t heard someone speak to that before. It’s wonderful advice. Boundaries and knowing your own mental space leads perfectly into your non-profit and podcast. Please tell us about that.
One of the most important catalysts in my life revolves around my understanding and grasp of my own mental health struggles. Two years ago, I was in a deep depression because of some personal experiences and had really lost my purpose in life. Out of that experience, I built the non-profit organization, “More Than You See” which is a platform providing resources, personal stories, and a place to start diving into your mental health. This platform has grown over the past two years and I am really proud and excited for the future. This past year during the pandemic I also started a podcast under the same name, More Than You See, in which I talk about mental health topics with established industry professionals and public facing figures. I think it is really important for everyone to show vulnerability, especially if you are someone who is a role model to others. I am proud that my podcast gives people the space to share their journeys with my community.
All of this also tied into my own production company, Alette Entertainment, that thrives on digging deep into stories about people and events that have yet to be told. From stories of fiction to stories based on fact, Alette Entertainment is always about the exploration of the vulnerable and real human emotions. Similarily, More Than You See, is also about truth-telling. I encourage the community to be vulnerable and share their stories of depression, anxiety, suicide, abuse, etc. I believe that social media has really separated people from making true connections with others, and only by opening up to each other, through film or alternate versions of storytelling, can we break down barriers and start to heal each other and the world.
Social Media Links:
More Than You See : instagram.com/morethan_yousee
Podcast Link: https://anchor.fm/more-than-you-see