Actor Jamil Walker Smith has been a professional actor since the age of 9. Most parents might recall his voice from the cartoon “Hey Arnold!” and “Shark Tale.” Others may have seen his character work on shows such as “Girlfriends,” “Cold Case” and “Bones.”
Now he’s taken on a bigger universe — SyFy’s “Stargate Universe,” which premiers on Friday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m.
The very successful slate of “Stargate” television series (which were based on a movie of the same name starring Kurt Russell) ended their run last fall. In fact, “Stargate” has the distinction of being the longest running sci-fi series in American TV history.
To many, the “Stargate” series had started to overrun the scheduling block, becoming the science fiction equivalent of the “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises. “Stargate,” “Stargate: Atlantis,” and “Stargate: SG-1” likely had as many fans as detractors.
Not a science fiction fan (Smith admits only to owning “Star Wars” Underoos as a kid), the script’s grounding in reality is what drew him — particularly the idea of playing a Marine who is actually from our time.
“A theme that resonated for me from the audition material — because I wasn’t privy to reading the entire script at that point — is that I play a Marine,” Smith said. “I know a lot of brothers whose younger brothers are going to war, so I felt I had a responsibility to show up and do my best to be a Marine. Living in the mix of what’s really going on is what I used in preparation for the role.”
Prior to getting the role, he hadn’t watched any of the “Stargate” series. The three-hour pilot explores what he calls a parallel with the events of Katrina. Only the situation is aboard a space ship.
“Because in the same way people were thrown into the Superdome as the result of something tragic,”Smith said, “we’re all thrown into one place and we can’t leave. We have no communication with the outside world, so that’s something that I was able to draw upon, from the experience of something that our people went through.”
There’s even a scene where one of the characters is marking doors of the ship with an “X” to count the number of survivors and the dead. Smith noted that this is very a similar to what he had seen in Spike Lee’s documentary, “When the Levees Broke.”
Not only are the themes recognizable to people of color, but Smith in preparing for the role, drew from his experience in the Black church.
“Working on this show I often think of and draw from the experience of the Black church,” he said, “because there is something very spiritual and very grounding about the idea of trying to get home. Something’s that’s very interesting about this show and the pilot.”
Smith’s sister isn’t interested in science fiction films or television, but when he mentioned to her that the ship was called “Destiny” and the goal was to “go home,” that made her interested.