Madison Smith didn’t have to wait long to make use of his acceptance speech as a Leo Award nominee for best supporting actor in television movie.
Thursday was the night the British Columbia television and film industry saluted its best of the year and Smith had his web camera and mic all set to go in case his name was called. Turns out his was the first of many categories on the list for the livestreamed event and the 30-year-old from Prince George was the first to get his virtual mits on a coveted Leo for his role in the Hallmark Channel movie, Write Before Christmas.
“We were just waiting for it to start and I was in no way expecting to win and my plan was to sit back and watch thinking somebody else would go before me so I could see how it works,” said Smith. “In the comfort of my home it felt weird to dress up and I just had a blazer off to the side and when they said they were going to my category first I jumped up and put on my suit jacket. I sat down and it said ‘The host is unmuting you.’ I thought they just unmute everybody and then they said, “The winner is, Madison Smith.’” It was a really good surprise.”
Smith had his fiancée, Hannah Cam, a dancer from Prince Rupert, with him in his downtown Vancouver apartment to celebrate his Leo win, and his parents, Dave and Robin, who moved from Prince George to Abbotsford two years ago, were not far away.
Considered by many online critics one of the best Christmas movies of 2019, the plot of Write Before Christmas revolves around Jessica (Torrey DeVitto), who sends out five Christmas cards to people who have had a strong influence in her life, including her younger brother, Carter J. Winthrop (played by Smith). Carter has just enlisted in the military. His overseas posting forces him to leave his new girlfriend, a fellow private in the army named Angie Dawson (Lanie McAuley), who like Carter is away from home for Christmas for the first time. The movie, shown in Canada on W Network, follows a Love, Actually framework and is five interconnected stories woven into one.
“It was a great script and I really enjoyed working with the director, Pat Williams, and I felt and hoped people would enjoy it, but when you leave something you never think you’re going to win an award for this,” said Smith. “You don’t do it to win an award, you do it so that someone watching at home goes, ‘I really enjoyed that film, that made me feel better today.’”
Write Before Christmas was filmed in Vancouver. According to the Nielsen ratings, the Hallmark cable network drew 1.7 million viewers during the week before Christmas, 200,000 more viewers than CNN attracted that week.
“Christmas movies on Hallmark are watched by tons of people, on Twitter I got more mentions about Carter from that one than anything I’ve done before,” Smith said. “The nice thing about when you watch Hallmark, it just has the ability to make you feel good. You get to watch a show with a happy ending.”
Smith also co-wrote a script with a few friends – The Colour Rose - which was nominated for a Leo this year. Last year, Leia Hutchings of Prince George was co-winner of the Leo for best documentary series, Paramedics: Life On The Line, broadcast on the Knowledge Network.
Smith’s acting career was set in motion about a year after he decided college baseball wasn’t for him. One year at Okanagan College in Kelowna (2010-11) playing in the Canadian College Baseball Conference for the Coyotes was enough to convince him he needed to explore a new career path and it was him mom Robin who suggested he follow up on his childhood ambition to get into acting.
“I remember wanting to do it as a kid, as young as 10, 11 or 12, but I thought if I did a play my friends would come and watch and make fun of me,” said Smith. “Looking back on it, what 12-year-old goes to a play? None of my friends would have ever known if I didn’t want them to. It’s funny the way our minds go.
“My family, we were such movie people. We had a different show for every day of the week and we went to a movie every Friday and I remember thinking this would be so cool to do. But it just never felt realistic. But you grow up and you kind of go, it’s much more doable than I thought.”
Like many in his profession, Smith works in restaurants to pay some of the bills between acting jobs, and with most of the film action centred around in Vancouver he’s always close enough to go see his folks for a home-cooked meal.
“It’s not easy, just like sports,” he said. “If you’re in it to make a quick buck you will be sorely mistaken. You can’t ever stop with your side hustle, you have to have something to fall back on.”
Smith started taking acting lessons eight years ago at the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts and earned his first part in 2012, in a Lifetime network movie, A Mother’s Nightmare. Since then he’s been in at least a dozen movies, TV shows or series, including When Calls the Heart, Garage Sale Mysteries, The Order, Salvation, Riverdale, Aftermath, Supergirl, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Psych.
He’s just about to begin filming Season 2 of the web series NarcoLeap, which this past week was picked up for a sponsorship by Bell Fund. Smith was nominated last year for a Leo for best actor in a web series for his starring role as Aiden Webb in NarcoLeap, about a woman, Chelsey Reist (played by Kelsey Atkins) whose experiences with narcolepsy allow her to transfer her consciousness into other people’s bodies. She and Aiden, her best friend, draw the attention of a secret government agency and become targets of military espionage.
Season 1 of NarcoLeap – eight 10-minute episodes filmed in 2018 – was produced by the Telus-funded Storyhive and is available now on YouTube.
Smith was born in Kelowna but grew up in Prince George. He played rep team baseball and hockey through his teen years and had his heart set on playing sports for a living but that never panned out. He was one of the final cuts of the major midget hockey Cariboo Cougars when he was 17, after four months of intense work on and off the ice trying to make the grade. As devastating as that was, he says it was a life-changing moment that’s helped developed the thick hide you need in the movie business.
“The big thing about being an actor is you have to roll with the punches and I think sports prepared me for that,” Smith said. “I’ll never be as disappointed about not getting a role as I was about the four months of work I out in trying to make a team. That really prepared me well for the rejection you get as an actor.”
Smith says his dream role would be a movie that showcases his athletic abilities.
“I always wanted to play baseball or hockey professionally, so how awesome would it be to pretend to play professional hockey or baseball, that would be the best part,” he said.
COVID has put most film productions on hold and series producers are taking the time to make sure they’ve got all the bugs worked out before they roll the cameras. He was all set to come home to Prince George to play a restaurant chef in Aerial ALPHA, a short film produced by Barker Street Cinema (James Douglas and Norm Coyne), when the pandemic broke out.
With the virus still rampant in the United States and infection rates diminishing in B.C., combined with the province’s tax incentives and a Canadian dollar that’s still low in comparison to the U.S. buck, Smith says Canada is looking more and more like an attractive location for Hollywood producers and the Vancouver scene should benefit from that. The second season of NarcoLeap is due to start production in about two weeks.
“Everyone can’t wait to get together and be on set again,” Smith said. “It’ll be my first time since COVID came up that I’ll be on set and I’m excited to see what the new world looks like.
“I think it will be pretty busy because we are obviously in a better place right now COVID-wise than a lot of places down south and my guess is a lot of stuff will be done here.”