From tattooed gangster to timid teenager – actor Dean John Smith has played diverse characters on the theatre stage. It’s no wonder that his talent has impressed audiences and earned him some prestigious prizes.
It’s difficult not to notice Dean when he enters a room. And it has nothing to do with his physical stature but everything to do with presence. Is it his youthful energy? Or his intense green eyes? Maybe it’s a combination of both. He certainly is not self-conscious. And this is why he intrigues people – something other wannabe performers in today’s entertainment industry would probably be envious of.
Dean (23), who completed an honours degree in drama at Stellenbosch University in 2015 and is considered one of the best young local talents, is anything but a wannabe in this industry. While growing up in Malmesbury he had already shown promise as a young thespian in school plays, but exposure to theatre was not part of his world. Dean’s father, John, owns a business where he fixes television sets. “So my dad is also in the TV industry,” he quips. “I always tell that to people who want to know what my dad does for a living, and then they immediately want to know who he is and what he’s performed in.”
Thinking back on his childhood, Smith says he had always been interested in acting – since Grade 4 when he played the prince in Snow White. In Grade 7, he joined a newly established drama group at the school, and went on to Schoonspruit Secondary School in Malmesbury, a focus school for the arts. So, since Grade 8 his life has been full of drama! “It wasn’t a matter of whether I’m going to it or not; I was determined to do it.” After winning a national acting competition for high school learners, Dean’s career path for life was set. While still at school, he performed in the play Vaselinetjie, sharing the stage with professional actors like Vinette Ebrahim.
Many parents would be hesitant to let their children study in the arts, but Dean’s parents have been nothing but supportive. They often see his plays, even when things become a bit risqué, like in A Cock ’n Bullshit Story, a play in which he had to be naked on stage while his family – with grandmother in tow – was in the audience.
Dean has played in a variety of plays: Vaselinetjie, Braai, Die Dag is Bros (for which he won the 2016 Fiësta Theatre Award for best supporting actor) and Die Gangster. In the film and TV industry he has also made his mark, and these days he can be seen in the popular KykNET soapie, Suidooster.
Dean’s colleagues and peers only have praise for his talents and work ethic. Theatre-maker and director Nico Scheepers, who designed the lighting for Die Dag is Bros, says, “Dean’s talents know no boundaries, and you wouldn’t necessarily say that when he’s not on stage. Also, everyone becomes his best friend, and his friendship is real. He always helps in any way he can.”
Being blasé about his work and life just isn’t part of Dean’s DNA. “My excitement about things in the industry is still great!” Next time Smith is on stage, book yourself a seat – you’re in for a memorable experience.
- By Naudé van der Merwe -