LAB COATS, COOKIE SALES, AND PINE CONES:
An Exclusive Interview with Shawnee Smith
Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
October 25, 2005
Shawnee Smith has enjoyed a long and varied career as an actress in both television and film. She is perhaps best known for her role as quirky and lovable office assistant Linda on TV's Becker, a character she portrayed for six seasons. In addition, she has tackled the music scene as frontwoman of rock band Fydolla Ho and garnered a following amongst horror fans thanks to her highly memorable part in the Saw franchise. Shawnee is also the proud mother of two--a daughter, and a son due very soon.
In this exclusive interview, we get the chance to learn a little more about Shawnee as she reflects on her long-running stint on Becker and answers questions from her fans.
RadioFree.com: I have to say, between the time we saw you last year for Saw and now, I became a huge fan of Becker.
SHAWNEE: Oh, thank you! It's a great show.
I like the dynamic between you and Hattie Winston, especially.
Aw, isn't that nice? You know what, it's like a life that I lived! Becker was a bizarre kind of phenomenon, kind of like my career. [laughs] It was on for so long, and was just always under the press radar. We never got awards. I think we got like a couple humanitarian awards. Obviously, we had fans...and thank God. And my children thank the people who continue to watch it on syndication. But we never got a lot of press or hooplah--just kind of flew under the radar. Slow and steady wins the race.
Your character of Linda was such a stand out on that show. How would you describe her in your own words?
I miss her. She was delightfully..."clear of mind." [laughs] It's not that she's an airhead or dumb, but she's got a front door and a back door. So things just flow, you know? To me, the most defining moments of Linda were episodes where she'd [do something like] whip out her Cantonese. You didn't realize like she spoke five languages. But she would never identify herself with the fact that she spoke five languages, or that she lived in this multi-million dollar apartment...
What do you think of when you reflect back on the show's pilot episode?
I'll never forget one line from that: "You know, Linda, if you close your mouth, it will keep the words from just falling out like that." [laughs]
You were pregnant the first season of Becker, yes?
The first season, yeah. You'll notice the first year, I wore a lab coat. But second season, when they had those breastfeeding boobs...They were not covering those up with a lab coat! [laughs]
So they wanted you for the role, despite the fact they would have to work in tricks like the lab coat to hide your pregnancy?
Well, my daughter was a surprise. I was actually on a form of birth control. [laughs] And she was definitely a surprise. So we had filmed the pilot, and I didn't know. I assumed I wasn't pregnant...I was like three months pregnant before I found out. I thought I had stomach cancer. And so I was about to go in and get x-rayed and all kinds of things, and then I thought, "Well, I better make sure I'm not pregnant before I get a slew of x-rays," right? So there I was--I had been cast to play the sexy nurse's assistant in this series, and I had to go to my producer and say, "Uh...I'm pregnant for the first time. I have no idea what my body's going to do or what's going to happen." And they couldn't have been more supportive and encouraging. It was incredible.
Linda frequently said, "Okay, here's the thing..." and "Don't yell at me!" Were those intended to be catchphrases?
[laughs] I think there was a real synergy between the writers and how Linda came alive in me. And I think that they fed each other. I think the way that Linda said, "Okay, here's the thing"...These moments would kind of define her, and the writers were always paying attention, and so they'd pick up on it. It was such a collaborative effort on all parts. It just worked.
I watch too many cartoons, so I heard you on Disney's Kim Possible. Do you do much voice work?
That's the only one I've ever done.
You have a voice credit on a video game according to this filmography...
They have my name on it, but it's not me.
Hmmm...There goes that question. I was going to ask if you really enjoy voicing animated characters...
I would love to do it. They called me to do Kim Possible and I did that, and that's the only one I've done. Which is funny, because I get recognized more from people hearing me talk than looking at me.
Do you have to go out of your way to do the voice you did on Kim Possible, and even on Becker?
No. That's pretty close to my voice, isn't it? I don't know, I don't have much perspective.
Maybe Linda's voice a little higher pitched or frantic...
Yeah...She's definitely her own character.
Time for the lightning round. I have a few questions from your fans to mix in. Tim from Nebraska asks, "Given your roles in Saw and Saw II, would you like to be 'the next scream queen'?"
Hey! I got kids to support. Absolutely! [laughs] I could have a worse franchise to be a part of, right?
Thomas from England asks, "Do you get nightmares from the scary scenes that you do?"
Yes, which is why I didn't want to do the first Saw. I saw Saw II a few weeks ago at Lions Gate, and about four days later, I had the most disturbing, violent dream of my entire life. And I woke up like questioning my whole existance! [laughs] And then I realized, as I started thinking about it, there was a saw, there were chains...It was from watching this movie.
Heather from New York asks, "How does it feel to play the only person we positively know is a survivor of the maniacal games of Jigsaw?"
It's pretty bitchin'. [laughs]
Jeff from Canada asks, "Between being a movie star and a TV star, which would you rather do, and which is more fun?"
I just like to work. That's fun for me, and every time I get a job and beat the odds as an actor, I'm very grateful and happy.
Keep on keepin' on!
That's right. [laughs]
Kevin from Texas has a Becker-related question. "In real life, did your co-star Saverio Guerra sound like his character Bob?"
Oh, Saverio! He's a really good friend of mine. In fact, my daughter and I asked him to be godfather of this baby.
Mmm-hmm. He and Alex [Desert] were just over at my house for a cookie sale that my daughter had to raise money to buy her brother a rocking chair. Isn't that sweet? Saverio...It's probably like me--it's just a heightened energy. You know, like him, but at a really heightened state. It's definitely a character. I mean, he's hilarious--one of the funniest people you could ever be in the same room with. But yeah, Bob's definitely a character.
Luke from Rhode Island has a question about your music career. "Are you still planning on working on a solo album with producer Chris Goss?" He also adds that he likes your songs "Head" and "Deciding."
Wow! Thanks for listening. Between being a mom, and working, and growing another baby, I have not had time to give attention to music for a while--for about a year now. But thank you.
Any plans to get back into that somewhere down the line?
Who knows? It would be really fun to be able to combine the music and acting. You know, I got two kids now. I gotta work. [laughs] I gotta earn!
For those who have not heard Fydolla Ho...
Speaking of masochism...
[laughs] How would you describe the music? And where does that name come from?
Like selling oneself...It was kind of my ode to being an entertainer. I'm surprised when I listen to it now. I listen and go, "My God, what a state I was in to make music like that!" It would have been good music for Saw and Saw II, because it is very masochistic.
Did you ever approach the Saw people about getting Fydolla Ho on the soundtrack?
Well, you know what? I should have. I was more interested in getting my friends' band Hydrovibe on the soundtrack. They were on the temp track throughout the whole movie. They're incredible. And then at the very last minute, the music supervisor came in and had, you know...[jokes] "unknown acts" like Queens of the Stone Age and Mudvayne. So they kind of got pushed aside. But yeah, I didn't really think of it. I was more interested in helping my friends--their life is their music--get some work.
Very noble of you.
Yeah? [laughs] I'm a noble kind of girl. I just know what it's like to be broke and struggling to do your thing.
Did you live in South Carolina for a long time?
I didn't. I was born there. My father moved us out when I was about a year old. But I did spend a lot of summers there growing up.
So what's the thing to see or the thing to do in South Carolina?
Well...pick pine cones? [laughs] Let's see...I pick up aluminum cans with my granddad along the side of the highway. We shuck sugar peas...Make pound cake with grandma...And try and stay cool. It's a good life!
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, Shawnee.