The Get Down's Justice Smith talks method acting, racism, and identity

As I pointed out earlier this week, The Get Down is one of the most enjoyable and original Netflix series out there. And it turns out its star Justice Smith is pretty damn cool himself. The 21-year-old sat down for an extended interview with Vulture and his thoughtful, perceptive answers indicate this younger generation is in great shape. Plus Smith wins endless points in my book for pointing out that while method acting has its benefits, "sometimes it's just an excuse to be an asshole. Like Jared Leto."

The conversation touches on not only the process of filming The Get Down, but also on Smith's biracial identity, how his experiences with racism have evolved throughout his life, his views on intersectional feminism, and a time he turned on the waterworks to get out of trouble at school.

Here's an excerpt from the portion of the conversation about what it's like to work in Hollywood as an actor of color:

I like [The Get Down] because it's set in an urban context and it's about urban life and it's about the ghetto, but the characters are not monolithic. We have an array of people of color and they're all different types of people. Ra Ra is not the same as Boo Boo is not the same as Shaolin Fantastic. Books is a very sensitive; he cries and you don't really see that often in narratives about urban life. I would get sent out for a lot of black roles that I don't connect to. I actually connect to this white role, and they'd be like, "We can't send you in for that." When I walk in the room for these black roles they laugh at me because I'm this light-skinned biracial dude walking in the room, talking the way that I talk, and they're like, "Why is he here?" I've walked in the room and the casters have said, You're so cute. I'm like, I didn't get this role. Or I'll be right for the role, but I'm not dark enough. If that's happening then why can't I also be sent out for these white roles? My agent would always say, we know you're not the right skin color for this, but there's no hurt in going out for this role because casting directors can see your abilities. That makes a lot of sense to me, but why can't you send me out for the white roles as well? If they're not going to cast me regardless, at least they can see that I can act and I can portray this character.

But when asked if he thinks things in Hollywood are changing for the better, Smith responds:

Yeah, absolutely. I would not be booking anything in the '70s. Even the '80s, '90s. I would be booking one type of role over and over and over again. I'm able to play the upper middle class nerd in Paper Towns and then I'm able to play the half Puerto Rican, half black poet-turned-rapper growing up in the South Bronx in the 1970s. Any other decade of cinema I don't think I would be able to be a young person of color taking on diverse roles. Even the scripts that I'm reading now are really good. You still get a lot of the stereotypical ones, which are fine because there are people like that. It's not that we need to eradicate those stories. I am starting to see more narratives that address the individuality of people of color and not necessarily these preestablished stereotypes.

You can read the full interview over on Vulture.