Jarrod M. Smith has the opportunity of his lifetime. The “Whipping Man” star” is taking full advantage of it. Smith came to Southern California from the East Coast last fall to get work as an actor. While living literally in and out of his suitcase in his car, Smith went out and auditioned for a plum role in the South Coast Repertory’s version of “The Whipping Man,” a Civil War drama that focuses on slavery and faith.
Smith got the gig, and now he has hit the big lights as “The Whipping Man” has landed at the Pasadena Playhouse, which is now playing through March 1. Smith, along with Adam Haas Hunter and veteran stage and theatrical performer Charlie Robinson, are all part of something big in “The Whipping Man,” which has blown away critics and has won accolades such as the Outer Circle Critics Award and New York’s prestigious Obie Award.
Smith, of course, is in a much better place these days than when he first relocated to the sunshine of the West Coast.
“I’m having a great time,” Smith said.
With a regular paycheck rolling in, that would make anyone smile. Smith, plays John, a free slave who has a mind of his own and doesn’t think he should be subjected the ails of slavery as other blacks.
“John is an educated slave. He’s not like the other slaves. He thinks he gets to go to New York and live a free life,” Smith said.
A history major, Smith said he put a lot of thought and time into his character.
“I did a lot of research looking at the slave life,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, it’s survival for this guy.”
Re-enacting this role that he played at the South Coast Repertory, Smith wants to eventually move into the film genre, which is why he moved here in the first place. But getting on stage can help a novice thespian like Smith, and it helps hone the acting craft of a longtime performer like Robinson, who plays the lead character Simon in the play. Smith says he is thankful to have landed the role of John.
“I moved here to do film,” Smith said. “I’m so fortunate to have this role. I was excited about it. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a lot of education.”
Part of that education is learning from his fellow actors in Robinson and Hunter. Smith has paid particular attention to the always crafty and masterful Robinson (Fences, JITNEY, among others) who has embedded himself in the stage arena around the Southland.
“I watched him the first few days and how he worked because I was just coming out of school,” Smith said. “It’s been great. It’s been cool to watch him, to see him take this on…it’s cool. Adam is from Kentucky. It’s cool to see his perspective.”
Th biggest lesson Smith has learned from his first professional job is paying attention, he said.
“There are nights when you’re saying the same line…you have to listen what the characters give you,” Smith said. “It’s really about listening.”