By: Jules Lavallee
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 5/15/20
You have a diverse background. Share your backstory.
Jane Park Smith: Oh My Goodness! That’s a loaded question. The word you chose, “backstory,” makes this prompt so richly challenging! It motivates me to contemplate if I have been deeply mindful of everyone’s backstory in the most appropriate and helpful ways. So many presumptions and prejudices happen each time one soul crosses paths with another. I am grateful that you rekindled my commitment to one deeply directive life quote attributed to author Tim Keller, but historically sourced from the 1890’s thought-leader Ian MacLaren: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Humanity is ever-called to mindfulness, especially necessary in our current era.
My childhood was a very disciplined, traditional Korean family that had inescapable socioeconomic colorings based on a label I wish didn’t exist: immigrant, female, a person of color, and model minority. Proudly, I became a naturalized citizen of the United States at an early age. Gratefully or woefully, I have been naïve much of my life, excelling and accomplishing much simply via relentless hard-work modeled by my parents, operating through the heart-lens of optimistic idealism, and standing for the leadings I discern by my faith for the betterment and advancement of all.
While my idealism and optimism have been tempered, my faith has become ever more unshakably rooted. Through many trials, personal failings and resultant maturity, and injustices beyond description, my choice to continue living out my core mission and personal mantra to rescue the lost; heal the hurting; speak for those who cannot simplify priorities. I realized later in life, that not all people want or care to support their fellow man. Yet I can continue to grow and impact this real world with sobriety alongside precious like-minded souls who do. That’s why I still walk the unpaved journey as a story crafter—as an actor; creative writer; a spokesperson for charities and companies I believe in. Now I am a more ardent advocate for healing people and our planet through every medium I have grown platforms in and will continue to trailblaze for purpose. Yes, I matured a lot as a Journalist, but I love acting because it helps me grow in compassion as a human—researching and imaginatively living lives of others to bring an honest, raw, real, full life on screen or stage is a humbling call. I started my entertainment journey in musicals, commercials, and modeling while winning a couple national pageant titles and now it all continues with added facets as a producer and a more seasoned actor, simply because I have the blessings of hard knocks.
Every time a great stride in actor pursuits became a notch on my resume, unforeseeable events sidelined me. Whether it was cancer, or a debilitating electrical central nervous system accident (aka traumatic brain injury or TBI), or woundings that identify me with the #metoo movement. I now embrace those sufferings that are no longer so because such injustices and reasons to weep have served to distill my focus, prioritize my contributions, and imagine my interface with the pandemic altered world much, much differently. It was not until I became more “woke” in recent years of more independent career pursuits of broadcast journalism and then the artist’s life on stage, television, and film that I had to face the ongoing, and often subtle subterfuge of endemic subjugation through systemic and longstanding power inequities that we are all participants of and even contributors toward, sometimes via naivete.
My backstory flows with a lesson that has taken me quite long to implement. Simply put, there is good I can do, but now more than ever before, what I will endeavor to do shall be with projects and people in alignment with what I am certain I am made and destined for. This level of seemingly less busy activity and work is freeing me up to be more judicious, thus fully engaged. Mindfulness must also include compassion and care toward me. As Brene Brown says, “I want to be compassionate through and through…most compassionate people were absolutely the most boundaried. [I am] not as sweet as I used to be…but am far more loving.” May my unfolding story be replete with this kind of wiser, deepened, and destiny-led love, the agape kind of love.
What is an Artivist?
Jane Park Smith: I get little thrills from discovering new words or committing discoveries in life into words…so ARTivism is so thrilling to me! I realized a few years back that I am most motivated most by harnessing my skills of acting, writing, producing, and various other expressions of the arts toward efforts to elevate humanity’s experience and bring about grace-fueled justice to all without boundaries. In my efforts to give back or pay it forward in areas of animal welfare, food access and wellness equity, catastrophic aid, or women’s empowerment, I was often called an activist. I didn’t see myself that way, but when I was selected to be a fellow in Activate (Arts Advocacy Leadership Program via www.artsforla.org) to further my impact in communities in Los Angeles, I had a quiet (and psyche-thrilling) epiphany: the ARTs + the word activist can marry to become ARTivist. Ta-DA! It made sense to me and my heart got happy. I thought I had come up with a neologism uniquely mine and I wore my self-label with pride. Didn’t last long, though…HA! ARTivism has albeit a young, but still purposeful and passionate beginning. That word is actually a portmanteau, (not neologism) which is a blend of words and sounds…reiterating to me that weaving together a nexus of cultural, academic, social, and corporate communities is when we find a most powerful collective identity and power to make a beneficial change. Per Wikipedia, “Artivism takes roots, or branches, off of a 1997 gathering between Chicano artists from East Los Angeles and the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico. The words “Artivist” and “Artivism” were popularized through a variety of events, actions, and artworks via artists and musicians such as Quetzal, Ozomatli, and Mujeres de Maiz, among other East Los Angeles artists, and at spaces such as Self Help Graphics & Art.
Artivism developed in recent years as anti-war and anti-globalization protests emerged and proliferated. In many cases, Artivists attempt to push political agendas by the means of art, but a focus on raising social, environmental, and technical awareness is also common. Besides using traditional mediums like film and music to raise awareness or push for change, an Artivist can also be involved in culture jamming, subvertising, street art, spoken word, protesting, and activism.”
Author M.K. Asante writes: “The artivist (artist + activist) uses her artistic talents to fight and struggle against injustice and oppression—by any medium necessary. The Artivist merges commitment to freedom and justice with the pen, the lens, the brush, the voice, the body, and the imagination. The artivist knows that to make an observation is to have an obligation.”
I am indeed an ARTivist by choice and responsibility …to contribute to the melting pot that is and can be an ever more beautiful America and world.
Share your passions.
Jane Park Smith: Well, I do love eating real (wholesome, sustainably sourced, minimally processed) food. Enjoying the social and gastronomic pleasures of dining has always been a thing for me. It is so much fun to taste dishes and get to know other people through their food leanings based on family and cultural history and discern the complex flavors and aromas from terror with biodiversity in various parts of our world expressed through fruits of the earth. I have a penchant for wanting to feed people well and since my reclamation of health via nourishing foods and non-toxic therapies, food has become an appropriately bigger love and armory of mine.
With a fundamental baseline of letting food be my medicine as Greek physician Hippocrates encouraged long ago, I have enjoyed bringing that aforementioned nexus together. I gathered a team called The E.A.T.S. Community (Entertainers Advocating True Sustainability) to raise awareness about how food choices can heal people and our planet. This project was birthed from my intent to rectify and bring value out of the injustices that allowed sobering sicknesses to upend my life (TBI and cancer as mentioned before.) Through E.A.T.S., I partnered with many individuals and entities to harness writing, filmmaking, comedic new media campaigns as charitable vehicles to underscore the need to change our food supply, not only to disempower the giants of and contributing factors for a chronic disease but to empower people to make food choices that are actually health-giving. I felt so accomplished when we successfully set up a curriculum to teach short filmmaking to low-income students while exposing them to what nutritious, local, and farmer grown food looks and tastes like so the children could make their film to save the world with healthy food choices. Their films were so fun and inspiring!
It was eye-opening to see how many, mostly minority children, see pseudo-foods like chips or highly processed and sugary granola bars as a meal or a filler that has to be relied on as a meal. Such food access inequities and equally disheartening YOLO ignorance about nutrition and food pain me as future generations will inherit the planet and genes we pass on. And with growing concentration and connections amidst fewer conglomerates across the food system that control everything from seeds (for planting) to fast-food chains, the individual may continue to lose agency on what goes in their body and what may be available anywhere at all on the Earth. The reality is, food has never been about the simple act of eating.
You are best known for your roles in Glass (2019) and Boone: The Bounty Hunter (2017). What is your favorite role?
Jane Park Smith: I have so much to be grateful for in every role and project, so I feel that my favorite role will be the next to come forth first as we reemerge into a new world after the reset button we know as SARS-CoV2. One possible role was booked before quarantine and we in fact had online Zoom rehearsals in the spring, but all else has been tabled as we all gain greater knowledge and develop immunity to the novel virus. This role is a live stage play called TEA by Velina Hasu Houston in which I will play Setsuko, one of five Japanese army war brides finding a way to live in a post-war America where ignorance, racism, prejudice, violence, and the struggle to overcome with dignity is more relevant than I had initially realized. TEA has a long history of productions and this stage play that opens with a community-disrupting suicide makes Junction City, Kansas of 1968 not unlike any American city in the year 2020. I am part of the mainstage cast produced by www.herotheatre.org.
For a favorite past role, I did savor playing a mob boss in Fox’s Gang Related. It was great to speak Korean and live out situations and attitudes as a character on screen who was vastly different from who I see myself (and others see me) to be in real-life! And that’s a big relief since this mob boss lady named Su-Jin was often described as a murderous “bi**h” and “dragon lady.” LOL!
In your film, Heartbreak, you are a pro-billiards player fighting for your autistic son. Tell us about the film and why you decided to take on this project.
Jane Park Smith: Heartbreak started as an invitation to send in a self-tape from Los Angeles for production in Florida. Reading the script won me over and I said yes to the audition.
In one family-focused scene, my autistic son no longer recognized me as his mother due to the length of time I had already been away while earning a living to support his care. In this already heart-wrenching online chat scenario, my sister (and son’s caretaker) tries to reason away why my little boy misidentifies my sister as “mom,” but the depth of pain cannot be dismissed and soon after becomes a major impetus to go all-in to win. I knew I wanted to live out this fierce single mom’s growth toward realizing her professional and personal dreams. When director Ralph Clemente (RIP), the beloved founder of Valencia College film school invited me aboard, I knew I had to say yes, even though I did not know how to play pool or nine balls in billiards at all! It was also a big deal to me that the original Japanese lead character would be changed to suit me, allowing me to essentially write in and express cultural truths as a Korean immigrant woman named Mina Lee.
There is often a treasured camaraderie that comes from filming on location among the cast and crew, but this time it was extraordinary. The depth of love toward one another despite setbacks and struggles that come with independent filmmaking was palpable on set and brought so much light and fullness of life in the roles on screen. Even after wrap and distribution of the film, I value some of these key friendships formed especially with the leading man played by Brett Rice and with producer Coach Wayne Catledge. “Coach”, as I still call him out of respect and affection conceptualized the story (and screenplay) based on the real-life story of a woman from Japan he trained to be a champion and he was very involved as Executive Producer and billiards consultant. His goal as a first-time filmmaker and professional billiards player and trainer was to bring awareness to the respectable disciplines of the sport of billiards, giving attention to the physicality and mental agility required to succeed in the sport. A far cry from seedy bar room affiliations playing pool typically evokes.
I wondered how I would be able to make my pool shots, although I knew I had to in order to do the story justice. At the time of booking, I didn’t even know how to hold a cue stick! But after 14 hours of training with Coach on location and literally raising my faith to direct my every move, I made every single shot (except one) you will see in the final film. Coach had to reshoot a close-up (on the balls) sequence because the film had already completed principal photography.
It still moves me when I think about achieving such impossibilities as a consequence of actionable, prayerful, collective faith. In making every shot as Mina Lee, I (as Jane the actor) became a miracle on set for the sake of the truth in this most redemptive story and film.
You can see Heartbreak (and me as a leading lady) on many digital outlets now. Here is one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B07QNS7XXC/ref=atv_dp_share_cu_r
Which roles have challenged you? What type of roles are looking for next?
Jane Park Smith: I love roles where I don’t think I can live up to what it requires.
Whether it is doing my own stunts or bringing nuanced, transparent, unfiltered truth to a role, I look forward to the next acting role that makes me walk in greater realms of faith. And after all my preparation, intellectual gymnastics, soulish musings, and pursuits, I will love a role’s challenge and feel accomplished for it in as much as I allow myself to be lost in the freedom of giving it all to support the other actor in the scene, or straight into the lens, or focused in my reality captured on camera.
I find that if I forget myself by becoming alive in an alternate reality of that set with the surprises that make surrender the most authentic soil for expression, then I know I have found more of myself through that ephemeral magic which makes movie making a living dream.
Tell us about your eye-opening series, On the Grid, which exposes the underbelly of sex trafficking.
Jane Park Smith: Without giving away too much because this purpose-driven passion project has been in various stages of development for many years, it would be an absolutely vindicating project for me personally and perhaps a very needed avenue for ARTivism. Why? My home state of California is the highest-ranked for having the most trafficked people out of all 50 in the union and with 1 in 4 victims of trafficking being children, this is an area where the most innocent and in desperate need of help and rescue.
One of the reasons my husband Jon Smith and I started developing this series was to bring awareness of how many of those forced into this lucrative illegal enterprise are literally under our unaware, privileged noses. What better way than to harness mass media to move people to action or at least an awakening! Edu-tain viewers with such gritty, suspenseful, action-oriented, complex characters woven into a global puzzle that they cannot stop watching and in doing so get informed about what is really happening to children coerced by people they usually know and trust. We want to underscore ways to be of help in preventing sex trafficking or supporting saving operations to bring justice to victims of a global network of profiteering, perverse power mongers. Even in the darkness, redemption can and must be, especially for children in this horrific trade.
You are an Author. Tell us about Rocky the Rescue.
Jane Park Smith: Rocky the Rescue is the stage name for my beloved rockstar pup named Rocky Bear Smith when he made my family complete upon his rescue from a garbage dump and finalized adoption. I love him…like a true fanatic furbaby momma! He gets homemade meals with optimized nutritional balancing, intelligent supportive interactive lessons, and lots of love because I consider him a gift in my life and I believe I am to do my utmost to steward all life in my reach and under my care. While this now includes Rocky’s sister Contessa, a dog meat rescue beauty from Korea, I’ll just share a bit more on Rocky.
Rocky is a one-in-a-million-dog as a photographer described him on his first photoshoot when Rocky was just a few months old. Now, he is set trained, quite photogenic, and can work on camera with ease. His give-back method is through one book and another few in the works. His first book was inspired when I saw Rocky rise again after a sports car hit his tiny body while going full speed down a hill. After many prayers by strangers on the street and from me, I took him to an emergency room. In assessing the damage and outlook for his recovery, the veterinarian could not even believe Rocky had been hit by a car. He only had a few scratches on his entire body! I witnessed great grace in this–who else can I attribute such miraculous mercy than to the Maker of all creation who re-gifted me my furbaby boy with another chance at life?!
Jane Park Smith: When I saw how much healing of hurt hearts Rocky did after his near-death accident with his smarts and charismatic personality, I knew he was indeed a dog saved, sent, and saved again for bigger reasons than my joys and heart’s buoyancy. So, his first book Rocky the Rescue: A Collection of His Rescue Tales was written and published! With 90% of each book gifted back to animal rescue charities, Rocky has and will continue to help other rescue pups find forever homes. Perhaps even more so with the next book, an illustrated children’s book where Rocky travels around the world!
You can find out more at www.rockytherescue.com.
Do you have any additional thoughts?
Jane Park Smith: I think I have said quite a bit–enough for now!
Looking forward to our new world with hope and pray that you are, too. May God bless you and keep you …and give you peace.