PASADENA, Calif. — As a kid, actress Lauren Lee Smith lived all over the world. But at 17 she put her foot down: No more travel for her. That declaration of independence found Smith leaving her family and returning to Vancouver, where she was born.
Explaining, she says, “I don’t think my stepfather, everything that he did, was particularly on the right side of the law. My mom doesn’t really talk about it that much, but in a sense we were sort of brought up with this idea that we were getting to see the world and explore different cultures and,” she laughs, “live sort of this interesting vagabond lifestyle in a sense.
“When I look online there is this line that I always find that my stepfather was a documentary filmmaker which is, in fact, not true. I think someone very, very early in my career, 20 years ago, didn’t really know where to put what I’m telling you now,” she says.
“We traveled the world quite extensively when I was young and would pick up and start new somewhere else, here and there. And yes, when I was 17, I was like, ‘OK, this has been interesting and fun and I love you all very much, but I’m going back to Canada now where I can get a social security number and get a job and a driver’s license, and do all the normal things!’”
Well, not THAT normal. Because Smith had known since she was a child that she wanted to be a performer. It was a completely foreign concept in her family. And it wasn’t Audrey Hepburn or Meryl Streep or Jodie Foster who inspired her. It was David Bowie and Muppets master Jim Henson, from their fantasy film, “Labyrinth.”
“I took my love of imagination and wonder from (that film) and I watched the film when I was 6 years old and thought, ‘What is this world? And how do I become part of it?’” she says. “It was this imagination that drew me in and this wonder that I wanted to be a part of.”
Ever since she settled back home she has been part of that wonder, working consistently in the field. Among assignments she costarred in 22 episodes of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” played a chef on “The L Word” and performed in “The Shape of Water.”
On Saturday she stars in the new series “Frankie Drake Mysteries,” premiering on Ovation, in which she plays a partner in a female detective agency navigating the Roaring ‘20s.
She and her cohort don’t always follow the letter of the law in targeting the miscreants in their sites. And their pursuits plunge them into every sort of subculture, from jazz clubs to factories to the fledgling film industry.
Smith confides that living the peripatetic life affected her. “I think it created an adaptability in me that I can use in this career,” she says.
“I’m able to pick up and go, in fact, almost to a fault. I have a hard time sitting still,” says Smith. “And you have to adjust to being put into awkward situations and putting yourself out there and reintroducing yourself to people and making new friends,” she says.
“So that’s the sort of good you can take away from it. But of course, it’s also very isolating and difficult when you’re always on the go.”
She and her husband, the German-born Erik Lee Steingrover, have a 3-year-old daughter. And that has changed things too, she says. “My husband is also in the film industry and loves to travel so we’re trying to find that balance. We want to create a very stable life for her and make sure she is able to develop those relationships and friendships and have stability, but also have the zest for life and a love of travel. It’s a hard balance to find,” she says.
Although she cowers at public speaking and admits to being shy, Smith mustered her Canadian grit when she first met Steingrover. “He tried to stay away,” she grins. “He’s a cinematographer and we met on the co-production (of the film “One Way.”) He’s from Berlin and the whole film I tried to get him to ask me out on a date. And he wouldn’t because he was like, ‘I am NOT dating an actress; you guys are all crazy. You all have your own issues. I don’t want to date anyone in the industry!’ But I persevered. And I was adamant that he take me out to lunch,” she laughs. “He finally did on the last shooting day, and our first date lasted two weeks.”
“Frankie Drake Mysteries” premieres at 9 p.m. Eastern and 6 p.m. Pacific Saturday. Subsequent episodes air back to back on Saturdays beginning at 7 p.m. Eastern. Season 2 begins on July 27.
Gritty crime drama not for sissies
If you like your crime as gritty as a backyard burial, as graphic as a bloody footprint, as horrific as a church bombing, Acorn has the show for you. Originating back in 1997, “Trial & Retribution” is the work of British writer Lynda La Plante, known for her cop series “Prime Suspect” and its star Helen Mirren.
The DVD consists of 22 feature-length dramas from the long-running series and guest stars people like Michael Fassbender, Iain Glen, Rosamund Pike and the then-young, impressive Hugh Dancy.
It’s difficult to imagine how a patrician, tea-sipping English lady could write so comprehensively about the seamiest side of the world. But she does. Each tale takes the viewer from the crime to the court — dogging the procedures of the police, which sometimes go astray.
The collection features all 12 seasons of the show plus bonus features, including a behind-the-scenes documentary and cast and crew interviews. It’ll mop up 50 hours of your time, but well worth the eyestrain. The show is also streaming on Acorn.TV.
Morse back on the job
Detective constable Morse will be returning to his job on Sunday as PBS’s “Masterpiece” offers “Endeavour” for Season 6. The show stars Irish actor Shaun Evans as the opera-loving cop who — in his own quiet way — goes about solving the area’s most puzzling cases. Back again will be the wonderful Roger Allam as the unimpeachable DI Thursday.
The show is a prequel to the network’s successful series, “Inspector Morse,” with Evans playing Morse when he was a younger man. Evans says what he enjoys most about acting is the chance to tell tales.
“I really like stories. I like people who tell stories; like the stories we tell about ourselves as well. I’ve always been surrounded (by stories). My family’s from the north of Ireland and they’re great story tellers... the whole thing kind of excites me. So I wouldn’t even limit it to acting. I like books, films, TV. I like the ideas behind stories, so it’s kind of primal in a way. If you think about a father sitting around a campfire telling stories, there’s something about it that’s just amazing.”
Joel McHale, a commerical hit
Joel McHale, famous for his gig on “Community,” copped a new job, hosting ABC’s revival of the old “Card Sharks” game show, premiering Wednesday.
While most people know McHale as the suspended lawyer forced to attend community college on “Community,” few know he started in commercials. “When I moved to L.A ... . I worked at the Wilshire Country Club as a caddy,” he says.
“The problem with that was I couldn’t get away to do auditions and I worked at the Larchmont Wine and Cheese Shop because I love wine and I love cheese. I got very fortunate because I have a terrific wife who supported me those couple of years. And I got a few commercials. If they air, they pay well,” he nods.
Among his best known ads was the one he did for Burger King, which was based on the British version of “The Office.”
“I did an Ameritrade commercial where I sang and danced to about five different songs, and that was quite a day,” he says.
“Another one was directed by Christopher Guest and aired in the Super Bowl. It was a Dockers ad. And, once again, I was dancing. And there were a couple of little black dresses, all the men were wearing dresses except I was wearing pants. When I was in graduate school I was learning to sing and dance and I said, ‘When in the hell am I going to sing and dance? I can’t sing very well. I really can’t dance. And, of course, two of my biggest jobs were singing and dancing.”