Mary Cate Smith

In the third installment of our Featured Artist series, we chat with actress Mary Cate Smith.

 

First off Mary Cate, tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m from Waterford, and I spend most of my time explaining to Dubliners that I’m ‘NOT FROM THE COUNTRY.’ I’m a pure city girl, I love my creature comforts and I don’t think I could ever live in the country! I can’t drive, and I couldn’t name the parts of a car if you asked me! I’m learning to play the piano, as it’s my favourite instrument. I’ve a bit of a soft spot for metal music, but mainly I’m a rock chick! I speak a bit of Irish and German. I like doing a bit of yoga and going for walks on the beach in Sandymount where I live.

How did you get involved in Acting, and where did you first get started?

Before I could even talk, my big sis Gill used to dress me up as different characters, like the Virgin Mary or Madonna, and we would get Mam and Dad to photograph us. She is an historian, and she used to bring me out to the shed and draw pictures of battles, and then we would re-enact them. When I was in school, I always got the lead part in plays because I had ‘the loudest voice.’ My first big role was The Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, and then I knew that I wanted to act all the time. I did a lot of acting in school, doing school musicals and plays, and I attended Waterford Youth Drama two nights a week. While I was there, I wrote some of my own plays and learned what it was like to work as part of an ensemble. I acted a lot at college and then I decided to do a practical acting course after doing my degree in English and Philosophy in UCC. 

You’ve an great amount of training behind you, how do you feel it’s helped you?

I believe actors should always be training. There’s so much to learn about my craft. I love training, and I try to do workshops between jobs. The craft of acting for film is so different to working in theatre, and it’s really important to get experience of watching yourself on camera before delving into work. There’s just so much to learn, and I feel that learning is never a waste of time.

What’s your philosophy on acting, and how do you work at improving your skill as an actress?

In theatre, I feel that acting is about creating a character. I’m not interested in watching people be themselves onstage. I find it really boring.
Acting for film is still a bit of an enigma to me. It’s impossible to lie to the camera. Whatever you’re really feeling, the camera will pick up on it. So I think that it’s really important to be yourself. It’s all about internalizing the emotions of the character, not showing them or demonstrating a feeling, but just imagining what it’s really like to feel something. You don’t have to show it.  I think the most important thing as an actor is to be present. You have to have a kind of ‘performance energy,’ and radiate a glow from within. I think you have to be open and alert and aware of yourself and aware of your body. I always do a warm up, vocal and physical, to make sure that I’m ready for performing.

After working in a variety of mediums, what have you worked on that you’re most proud of?

I created my own show called Fragmented for a new theatre festival Collaborations which was established by a new theatre company, The Jack Burdell Experience. It debuted onstage last week and it felt really lovely to be producing my own work. I’ve done a lot of devised work, but it felt very different to be doing something that was mine instead of devising for another company. It was a lot of hard work, but it was well worth it in the end.

You also do some voice-over work, and improvisational comedy. How does your training as an actress, and your workshop experience help when doing them?

Well, when you’re training as an actor, you learn how to use your voice and breath properly. You breathe from your diaphragm and that’s really important because otherwise your voice can sound breathy and won’t resonate. You spend a lot of time breathing and eventually it becomes your default. In acting school, you do a lot of vocal exercises and you learn how to warm up your voice properly, how to resonate and enunciate. So that’s helped a lot with voice-over work. I trained as a voice-over artist with Tommy Ellis at Velvet Voice Studios, and he was an excellent coach. It’s an art in its own, and you don’t just transition straight away from actor to voice over. It’s important not to go into a booth without having warmed up your voice; otherwise it won’t sound as alive or energetic.
I did comedy improv for two years performing as part of a group. I think to be honest, that helped me become a better, more spontaneous actor, because you just have to go with whatever the audience gives you, and that helped my improvisation skills a lot as an actor. It helps with your confidence aswell as it can be pretty scary up there, not knowing what you’re going to do, or what you will be performing. You don’t have a script to rely on, so you only have your own words. It certainly made me a braver actor.

How does your acting style change when you move from theatre to TV/Film?

It’s totally different. I try to film myself a lot before an audition. You have to learn about your little quirks and avoid doing them. Sometimes they can be really small and simple, like your mouth curling up on one side that might make you look sinister on camera, whereas in real life that’s just a little idiosyncrasy that makes you you! It’s important not to be too dead either, it’s all about balance. In theatre, you have to project and use your voice a lot more, the acting has to be bigger because the audience might be really far away, but acting for camera is obviously much more naturalistic.

You appeared in one of the very popular Irish Lottery adverts, how did the role come about?

I was on an actor’s database called Fishpond, and I got called up for my first audition. It was for the lotto ad, and I was given the script on the day. I was paired off with a man and we went into the audition together and read the script. The directors were in stitches at me, and that week I got a text saying ‘you are penciled for the ad.’ However, sometimes that doesn’t mean that you are guaranteed the job. I got penciled for the lead in a tv drama then didn’t get it at the last minute. So I wasn’t sure, but then I got a call from the costume designer saying that she was picking out my wedding dress. I was particularly delighted getting to dress up in a wedding dress for the day, even though I had to mess it all
up!

Mary Cate Smith as the bride getting her make-up done by her dad on her wedding day.

 

Is acting a career path you would recommend? And what advice would you offer to someone starting off?

Acting is a wonderful career, I feel like the luckiest person when I’m working. It’s full of creativity and excitement, and you get to play and keep your imagination alive.
I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re a sensitive person. You are putting yourself out there for a lot of criticism and a lot of it can be constructive, but you have to get used to being judged and criticized all the time. You get a lot of rejection, and you never really get used to it. For every job you get, you get 10 rejections. You have to realize that sometimes on film, they are looking for a particular look and you just might not be it. But I love it, and there’s always work to be done, so you never get bored. There’s so much to explore and it is an amazing career.

Although it wrapped in late 2009, the Premiere of ‘Portrait of a Zombie‘ is just around the corner. Give us an idea of the role you play, and what the experience was like working on a zombie film.

I’m delighted to be a part of Portrait of a Zombie which will premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, California. I’ve seen some of the footage and the cinematography is stunning. I think it’s going to look amazing. I play a straight character; I’ve taken over a construction company over from my late father. I’m struggling to get the respect that I feel I deserve. I didn’t get to film alongside any zombies, but I did see the stills, and the make-up artists were absolutely superb, the zombies look incredibly realistic!! The director Bing Bailey is very ambitious and I can’t wait to see what he does with the film.

Last year Bollywood rolled into Dublin in the form of Kabir Khan’s ‘Ek Tha Tiger‘.
You had an acting role in the production, how did it feel to be working on an Indian film? And are you excited about it’s release?

It was an incredible experience. I had a small role, playing a receptionist. We filmed in the Central Hotel on Exchequer Street. I had a scene with the lead actor, Salman Khan. He was an absolute gentleman. I’m told he is the Brad Pitt of his country, but I found him very down-to-earth, and he was easy to work with. The whole crew was so professional; they made it very easy, with clear direction. I worked mainly with the first assistant director, and he was the one who was mainly giving me direction. They had such a huge crew with about 17 assistant directors, I think, so that was very interesting. They were all extremely polite, with impeccable manners, and had a great reverence for hierarchy.

I’m so excited for its release, I’m so curious to see it. I just hope they don’t cut my scene, as the lead actor, Salman, gets a bit flirty with me!! The film is going to be released in 24 countries and be shown to over 100 million people, which is pretty spectacular!

With both ‘Portrait of a Zombie’ and ‘Ek Tha Tiger’ on the horizon, what else have you got planned for 2012?

I have a short film coming out that I’m really excited about. ‘Skew Whiff’, directed by Frances Healy is due out in March. I had the pleasure of working with Aidan Crowe, a young Limerick actor, who was just fresh off playing a role in Game of Thrones. I’m working on some writing and developing my own work too. I’m thinking of developing the short play I produced into a longer play. With acting, you never know what’s around the corner. I have a wonderful agent, Ann Curtis, who works really hard for me, and she is always putting me forward for roles, so I’m looking forward to what’s next!

 

A big thanks to Mary Cate Smith for taking time out to talk with us. Keep an eye out for both Portrait of a Zombie and Ek Tha Tiger this year.

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