When KJ Smith first appeared on BET’s Sistas she had already been acting for quite some time. The Florida-native got her start in acting appearing in both comedy and drama productions that appeared on both film and television—a career trait that would eventually land her a leading role in what is now the #1 show on BET.
Smith’s role on Sistas did not come without extensive knowledge of both comedy and drama. The sitcom, which sees KJ Smith portray Andrea “Andi” Barnes, requires a knowledge of how and when to incorporate drama into a comedic role. Without the integration of the two the viewer loses a sense of reality, that the actors are playing a scene that feels true to the character.
On the line between comedy and drama:
Often in life there is comedy in drama, and vice versa, and Smith’s intention with bringing that element of reality to both the big and small screen means knowing when to integrate them appropriately. “I think drama can be very comedic,” Smith says. “The other day I was running late—it was like Murphy’s Law, everything literally went wrong … In my life at that moment it was complete devastation but you have to laugh at stuff like that. Like ‘oh shoot’—so I think drama can be very funny,” she continues.
But that doesn’t mean that it might translate easily onto film. As an actress, Smith tethers the line between comedy and drama by recognizing when a comedic break is necessary. Where writers will often write moments like that into a scene, it’s up to the actor to determine how to demonstrate the comedic break without losing the tone of the scene altogether.
“The only time to add comedy to a heavier scene is when it’s a [moment of] truth,” says Smith. “So if it’s honest—for instance [in] one of my recent scenes I was having a mental breakdown. I was pouring my heart out talking about how bad my life life situation is and my sister says to me ‘well my boyfriend took a vibrator and placed it somewhere [I] didn’t expect him to place it’ and we all looked at her and said ‘you won’ and broke into laughter because it was honest. But it was still drama because I’m still upset … [but] that was an honest moment,” she says.
Honesty is what drives Smith’s intention in each scene.
Beyond being entertaining, knowing when to integrate moments of comedy to make a dramatic scene feel more honest—and vice versa—is part of what has catapulted Sistas‘ success since its premiere last fall. The shows portrayal of black women aims to help women around the world—of all backgrounds, races and walks of life—feel better represented in the shows they watch on television. “I want strong images of black women and black sisterhood in the world,” says Smith. “Not just on my own TV or in the televisions of black people, but all over the world—that is important to me,” she says. “Above all my message is about telling our stories so that the world can see that we are not that much different. We experience hurt and love and happiness. Balancing issues, friendship, and family circumstances. That’s my overall goal,” says Smith.
Over time, Smith hopes that viewers will grow with Andi in the same ways that she did. “She is the strongest character I have ever played,” Smith says of Andi. “This is what drew me to her as a character, she is trying to hold it all together—as am I. I needed to be able to tell that story and, honestly, I have been able to work through a lot of my own [personal] stuff by playing Andi,” she says.
For Smith, representation is about more than just making space for people—it’s about giving them the opportunity to share their truth with the world.
Andi’s growth has helped her own, and she hopes that others will walk away from an episode and feel that they’ve connected with Andi in the same ways that she did. “Andi is getting better at listening, and I think that’s essential. She is learning what her friends’ love languages are,” says Smith. “She is learning the value of being honest and to love not so blindly which is a huge trait, because in her case her loving so blindly is detrimental to her career, her life, her friendships—her everything,” Smith says. “She is learning a lot and, honestly, I’m learning a lot through her,” says Smith.
Beyond Sistas, Smith’s flourishing acting career has led her to a handful of upcoming roles that aim to uplift black women in the same ways that her role on Sistas does already. Smith is set to star in a Netflix film with Omar Epps and Nia Long, which will be released this summer. You can catch her as a guest on Black Excellence this summer as well, where she works alongside Kenya Barris, and on The Family Business season two. Finally, KJ Smith is set to star in The Available Wife, which will also be released in the summer of 2020.