Check out our interview with actress Samora Smallwood who appears as Maddi Brewer in the new and highly-anticipated drama series The Kings of Napa premiering on the OWN Network.
The Kings of Napa is focused on a gorgeous and picturesque Napa Valley, California vineyard owned by the Kings, an aspirational African American family whose wealth and status lands them on the pages of design magazines and society pages. The wine business has brought the family success and acclaim, but following the patriarch’s sudden exit from the company, his three children must grapple for the reins to the kingdom—to their own power, wealth and legacy.
Samora plays Maddi Brewer, the insanely cool, chic funny gynecologist and August King’s best friend. As the drama unfolds, Maddi finds herself caught between her best friends August and Bridgette Pierce who are warring over the family vineyard, birthright and what it means to be family.
Follow Samora @samoragloria
Hi Samora, please tell us a little about you?
Hi! I’m a loud, bold, believer. I’m a West African-Canadian Performer, Creator, and Activist. My passion is storytelling and creating stories that empower women and BIPOC voices. I love food, books, fighting for good change, and travel. I don’t sleep much but that’s okay, there’s too much to do!
Describe yourself in 3 words
Creative, Generous, and Joyful.
How did you get started in acting?
Being a kid who didn’t stop putting on accents or shows probably drove my busy mother mad, but my grandfather had all the time in the world for it. He even splurged on a fancy Canon camera to capture my antics, encouraging me to holler and sing to my heart’s delight. My real step into taking it seriously was when I last minute changed my mind about my major in university. I was pretending I wanted to go into medicine, but I decided to go for a theatre degree (with a double major in French to appease my African father who was not too thrilled about me spending so much money on an acting degree).
How has this changed your life?
It set me on my path! One of my favourite things about myself is my ability to have faith. To see the possibility of any dream. That’s where my mantra “Manifest Yo Shit” came from. I didn’t grow up in privilege, I had to work for every single thing, and had many years of real struggle. It’s in those times, that the spark of belief in yourself, in your right to dream, to pursue your heart’s desire is most important. My life changed when I shifted my mindset from “Look at what I don’t have, what I lack” to “I am so grateful for everything already in my life, look at all I do have.” It makes a difference in the whole “law of attraction” energy. Embracing gratefulness and doing the work to heal and believe “I am Enough” was transformational.
What is the best and most challenging part of being an actress?
The rejection is the hardest. No question about it. For every job you book, there are many you don’t. It’s important to learn not to take it personally, and to keep improving your craft and your self-love. Self-love is where confidence grows. Not in external validation. That mindset has helped ease the pain of losing out on jobs I really wanted. And knowing that God/The Universe/Spirit has a plan for me, and for us all. The best part? Telling stories that matter, being bold, connecting with other artists in the work is electrifying. Seeing more representation is very exciting, and my grandfather bragging about me to the family back home is pretty nice, too.
How do you prepare for a role?
It’s different for every project. Some roles demand a lot of voice work. For example, if I’m using an accent, there’s a lot of dialect work that is done. Physically, I drink huge amounts of water, eat well, and exercise. I have so much character prep that I do to know where my character comes from, what they would die for, how they move, and so on. I work with a private coach as well. Reading and re-reading the script many times is important too, because then the ideas will come to you like a reflex. Finally, meditation really helps me stay loose and open to receiving what the character is offering.
Tell us about your work on the highly-anticipated drama series “The Kings of Napa” and about your character Maddi Brewer?
The world is in for a treat with the Kings of Napa! It’s a primetime drama about a wealthy black family that owns a vineyard in Napa Valley. After a tragedy in the pilot episode, the family is pitted against each other as they vie for power and control of the vineyard. It’s got scandal, suspicion, betrayal, beautiful shades of melanin poppin’, stunning fashion, family secrets, lies, and lots of hair and makeup inspo. My character Maddi is a chic, cool, insanely funny gynecologist. She is besties with vineyard manager Bridgette Pierce and the head of the King family, August King. We are “The Crew.” Maddi is a HUGE blessing to me. As I mentioned, characters always come bearing gifts and I believe they come to you at the right time. Maddi allowed me to be bold, unapologetic, sexy, playful, and powerful. There are so many amazing characters in the world our creator/showrunner Janine Sherman Barrois created for this show. The representation in this show is expansive, nuanced, and inspiring. I cannot wait for people to see it! This is the stuff of our ancestors’ dreams.
What kind of roles do you like or would like to play and why?
For a whole year, I manifested working “In a highly anticipated US television series with creatives of color I admire”. Oprah Winfrey is the Executive Producer! She’s been a lifelong inspiration to me and to people around the world. Oscar-winner Matthew Cherry directed our pilot episode. Creator Janine Sherman Barrois is a literal powerhouse queen. Winnifred Jong is pure magic. Our cast is absolutely spectacular. Isaiah Whitlock, star of my favorite show of all time “The Wire” is a castmate. I manifested it! I couldn’t admire the entire team more. What’s top of mind now is Emotional Resonance. Power. And challenging the status quo. Those are the kinds of roles I want to continue to play.
What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Touching people with my work. Showing that women of colour look and act like me. That you don’t need to be certain size or meet someone else’s beauty standards to be on TV. I am stepping into my power and doing the work to heal that voice of self-doubt, and inspiring others to do the same. It doesn’t matter where you come from: you matter, and you have a right to go after your dream. It all comes out in the work.
What’s your advice for the newer actors?
Study! Take it seriously. Work on the craft. Don’t compare your talent or dreams to anyone else’s. Take social media breaks. Connect with people on your level, and don’t make icons of anyone. Heal. Meditate. Confront your confidence issues and “fake it til you make it” if you have to. Don’t back down, be bold. Read. Read books. Examine life. Go people watch. Be interested in others. Cultivate your curiosity about life. And always help from where you’re at.
What would you say are the greatest lessons you learned so far in this business?
That the reward for hard work is more work! Become a good communicator. Build your confidence. Be open to learning – you’re not always right. And that your time is coming.
How would your best friend describe you?
I’m lucky to have two best friends and I asked them both to answer this question (and held my breath as they did!). One said “passionate, smart, charismatic, funny – a force to be reckoned with” and the other replied “beautiful inside and out, charismatic, vibrant, a force of nature. Someone who’s caring and loving and warm, who always tries to see others and make them feel welcomed. Nurturing, intuitive, and deeply spiritual. Someone who is here on a mission to make the world a better place.” And now I’m in tears. Thank you for that question!
What’s next for Samora Smallwood in 2022?
I have a number of projects coming out this year but my greatest work is a series I am developing about a disgraced female cop on the hunt for a notorious sex-trafficking kingpin. In the process, she uncovers repressed childhood memories that may lead her to him, to the truth about her family, and may be the key to solving the decades-old mystery of her missing sister. It’s an intersection of race, gender, and trauma and its generational effects. It’s a deeply personal story of mine and ultimately, it’s a story of healing.
What is your favorite healthy food?
And your favorite cheat food?
I’m the cookie monster on cheat day!
What is your own definition of happiness?
That my family is taken care of, that I have a platform to make good change, and the work I’m doing matters to the community.
If you could meet someone living or dead, who would it be and why?
Angela Davis (to thank her and talk about what we need to do next), James Baldwin (to drink good French wine, and hear him tell it like it is), Marilyn Monroe (deeply underestimated, I think I’d like to have a fun girls trip with her, away from the wolves, and bring along our fave photographer to capture it all) Mata Hari (profoundly misunderstood and horribly treated, Mata Hari was an extremely successful artist, & an instinctual businesswoman—I’d like to hear her side of it), and Mary Magdalene (it’s a very private why)
Best advice ever given?
“Don’t take it personally” and recently from Oprah Winfrey herself, “Be Obedient to the call of the dream.”
Do you support any charity?
For my series, I work with a community group called “The Wellbriety Circle” which is a community of women who are survivors of violence and of sex trafficking. I support Red Door in Toronto, a domestic violence shelter. My work with ACTRA as Councillor and Diversity and Inclusion Committee Co-chair is a huge way that I give back to the community and make good change for performers of colour and in the industry at large.
Where do you see yourself and your career in 5 years from now?
I will have a thriving production company with a mission to amplify female filmmakers and BIPOC creatives’ voices. We will be creating projects that are hugely entertaining yet challenge the status quo, upending the norms of the thriller genre for example.
Favorite song? Why?
Can’t choose just one. These are my ALL-TIME faves.
“Let’s Groove” by Earth Wind and Fire, “Never Too Much” by Luther Vandross, “Straight to Hell” by the Clash, “Quiet Storm” remix by MOBB DEEP & Lil Kim, and “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton. All because they make me feel something which all good art must.
What do you think of Social Media?
It can be fun, and it can be a good branding tool, but you can’t take it too seriously. It’s not a place to debate with people about your beliefs. And when you start comparing yourself or your body to others it’s, time to LOG OFF!
Where can we follow you?
Check out my website www.samorasmallwood.com