In early January Nola.com hosted a live chat about whether or not New Orleans is a good place for young people to begin a career and a life. The discussion, which prompted more than 200 reader comments, originally began as a response to two opinion pieces on the subject, one of which was titled “Why I chose to live in New Orleans,” by guest-writer Sally Hartman.
As a twenty-something laying down roots in this city, Hartman took the pro-Nola stance in this discussion, saying that it was the creative openness that first drew her to live here. “[New Orleans] has a longstanding tradition of welcoming artists, thinkers, and iconoclasts who set the precedent for creative risk taking,” she wrote.
So who are these artists and creative thinkers? And why have they chosen to live here? With these questions in mind, NolaVie will be running interviews that will profile the young artists who have been attracted to New Orleans and who help add to the creative authenticity of this city.
Name: Douglas Smith
Hometown: Vancouver, Canada
When film crews lining the streets of New Orleans become as common as seeing a group of tourists, it’s only natural that someone from the industry would fall in love with this city and decide to become more than a visitor. Douglas Smith is an actor, originally from Vancouver, who spent his teen years in Los Angeles where he was completely immersed in the language of Hollywood. At 16, he ushered celebrities to their seats at a movie theater, and a few years later he became part of the series Big Love, playing the eldest son of the lovable and turmoiled polygamous family. When a role in the recent Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters brought him to New Orleans, he put on the brakes and decided to spend some time here, investing in a house in the Bywater and jumping full-heartedly into his first Mardi Gras. Now he spends his time divided between mostly Los Angeles and New Orleans, or as he likes to say, “LA and L.A.”
NolaVie: When did you decide to pursue acting?
Douglas Smith: I guess in high school. It was American Beauty, as cliché as it sounds. I saw that movie when I was a freshmen in highschool, and I just became sort of obsessed.
Then my father and brother were in the film industry and I just started getting into movies. For a time, I thought I wanted to be an assistant director — they’re sort of like the wheels that keep the set moving. Then I realized that that sort of thing involved sitting in a trailer for most of the day. You’re working with these interesting people and artists but stuck in a trailer. So from there, I just really started getting into auditions and everything.
NolaVie: What brought you to New Orleans?
DS: I was surrounded by the industry at such a young age that by the time I was 25 I was a little exhausted by the 24/7 aspect of Hollywood. It’s not only 24/7 — it’s like 360 degree… it’s inescapable. When the show I had been working on for seven years finished, I started traveling around a lot. During that sort of rootless time I got a job where I landed in New Orleans. I feel really lucky that I happened across the city while I was in such a flexible time in my life. I feel like I meet people all the time who love the city, and people say, “Oh I love it here; I would love to live there.” Usually they’re just not that different from me, but everyone has that reason that they can’t … “I have a dog, I have a girlfriend, I have an apartment that I like.”
NolaVie: What has kept you down here?
DS: When I first came here I felt like I understood [New Orleans], or maybe it understood me. I had just come from a job in Vancouver, where I had lived until I was 14. I had been feeling sad that I didn’t feel connected there. I felt alienated there, which I shouldn’t have because I was raised there. But then when I came to New Orleans, I just felt happy, and alive, and in my element — I knew that was something. During that time, I met my girlfriend and a few months later I found this house I loved. I just felt like I was the best version of myself and I didn’t want it to end when the movie ended. It was really the one-two punch of being in a place that I didn’t love, then being in New Orleans.
NolaVie: Any hesitations about being an artist here?
DS: Yes. It’s hard; it’s really hard. It’s really not the most convenient place for me to live; I’m on the plane a lot. But I don’t know where it’s very convenient to live because everything is so spread out everywhere now. It’s hard wherever you are, so I think you should try to spend time somewhere you like. Every one of my friends is working out of L.A., but I’m sort of the anomaly who has chosen somewhere else.
NolaVie: What are the benefits?
DS: I think my craft has improved since I moved to New Orleans. I’ve found a really good acting coach. I’m happier. It’s cheaper. There are some local casting directors who have let me audition without an agency, and my acting coach has given me some connections. [But I haven’t found any roles in productions down here again.] I might just have to be one of those local actors who never work locally… I mean, I’d like to work locally if I could.
NolaVie: Where else can you imagine living?
DS: The way our business works is most agencies have offices in New York, so sometimes I’d like to explore there. But I’m really curious about London because my father’s from there, and they have such rich history when it comes to acting. They’re the originals, so I’d wonder what it would be like to move there and find a British agent. I think most actors are interested in London because you grow up learning about Shakespeare and all the other Jacobean plays. It’s like the root of all drama.