Pioneering transgender actor Brian Michael Smith social distances far from home
Separated from his wife in New York because of the coronavirus outbreak, actor Brian Michael Smith of “9-1-1: Lone Star” finds solace through new, inspiring books and a deepened mindfulness in a home away from home.
Smith became a broadcast TV pioneer last year, in the Fox show’s initial season, as the first black transgender male actor cast as a series regular — his firefighter character is also a trans male. Previously, the Michigan native had long worked as an actor in New York but always dreamed of moving to Los Angeles; convincing his wife, a schoolteacher and Manhattan native, wasn’t as easy.
So in April 2019 he opted for a solo “exploratory trip” to audition and get his “boots on the ground,” staying with friends including actress and fellow trans advocate Jen Richards, with whom he’s lived for the last six months.
“The probability to book a series regular role is already really low,” Smith said, “so to have that happen, and the hospitality I’ve experienced with Jen, in a place that I’m not from, is next-level.”
With Season 1 of “9-1-1: Lone Star” wrapped (and Season 2 just renewed), Smith has used the time off during social distancing to expand his brain and explore a mindful creative practice, turning to Richards’ impressive book collection conveniently stored in his guest room.
“I have my own personal Barnes & Noble,” said Smith, 37. “I’m trying to limit the screen time because there’s so much crazy news and you can only binge-watch so many TV shows.
“A lot of the goals I had set for myself in the last five years I actually manifested, so now I have the time to sit down and really listen to what my inner being is telling me to manifest next,” said Smith, who’s also appeared in Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar” on OWN and Showtime’s “The L Word: Generation Q.”
Why is your “temporary” bedroom your favorite room?
It’s helped me feel rooted in a time and slice of life that seems completely unreal. It already started to feel like home, but took on a different sort of timbre when things started to shift. And the space is big enough to have my wife here too. She wasn’t able to just pick up and go, but I’m going to go fly out and get her. Manhattan is very congested, so at least here it’s a lot easier to social distance.
I can’t imagine being away from your wife during all this.
We try to FaceTime and stay in touch as much as possible, but nothing beats being able to be together. I was FaceTiming with her while she was Zooming with my niece and nephew; this is the world that we’re in right now.
Does the bedroom serve any other purposes besides sleeping and your personal library?
It’s also my gym. I bought a lot of home fitness equipment for my trailer as I was working on “9-1-1: Lone Star.” I have handle bands, I got a weighted vest for some push-ups and there’s just enough space in the bedroom to stay at it and do some high-intensity stuff.
You have quite a big baseball hat collection.
I love a good hat. I have a University of Michigan hat from my time working at the university, an Ann Arbor Pioneer hat from my high school, out here I got me a Dodgers hat. The Hollywood firefighters’ hat was kind of like a welcome gift from the people who provide the firetrucks on “9-1-1: Lone Star.” The “Transtastic” hat represents what I want to do with my life’s work, combining my experience and visibility to improve the lives of other people and bring their often-overlooked stories to the media forefront.
The watches tend to reflect the people who are important to me. The black one with the silver face is a gift from my mom.… The silver watch with the blue-and-red face is a gift from Chaz Bono, and the silver watch with the plain blue face was the watch I was wearing when I met Oprah Winfrey, so I’m definitely keeping that one in the collection.
What’s your favorite memory in here?
My wife visiting. She was last here on her mid-winter break and our anniversary was on Feb. 23, so she came for a little bit. It was a very sweet trip and the last time I saw her.
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