As a well-known face in Black sitcoms of the ‘90s, Kellita Smith is widely recognized as one of our favorite aunts. But before playing Aunt Wanda on the famous Bernie Mac Show, Smith graced television screens for sitcoms like Martin, Sister Sister, Malcolm & Eddie, and The Jamie Foxx Show. The Chicago native is influenced and inspired by the likes of her single mother; author and holistic healer, Queen Afua; and the late Janet Dubois. With Smith’s sagacity and uplifting spirit, the entertainer deserves every powerful petal in her big bouquet.
The 51-year-old has made history as the first Black woman cast as the lead character in a SYFY Channel series, Z Nation, playing Roberta Warren. Most recently she has starred as Carla Hudson in the BET+ movie, Influence, based on Carl Weber’s best-selling book. Carla is the kick-a** right hand and second wife to her husband Bradley, her partner in the famed Hudson & Hudson Law Group.
If that is not enough of the ever so fearless Kellita Smith on your screen, she is also Cheryl, a newlywed and beauty salon owner in Bounce TVs In the Cut. The depth and variety of her roles is not lost on Smith.
“I think every character gives me an opportunity to rise to their occasion,” Smith says.
From comedic to clever to commanding and complex, Smith has been nominated for four NAACP Image Awards and two BET Comedy Awards, cementing her legacy as a sharp and witty actress in Black Hollywood.
BET sat down with the starlet as she drank her Cup of CALM ® tea to talk about her current industry accolades.
BET: You play Carla in Carl Weber’s Influence, based on his best-selling book. As the wife of Roger Smith’s character Bradley, you embody mystique and intensity. How was it for your first BET+ movie?
Kellita Smith: I mean what can I say, it was easy, it was seamless, it was effortless, it was kinetic. That was my first time working with Columbus Short (Billy King), Deborah Cox (Savannah Kirby) Todd Anthony (Lamont Hudson) and Roger Guenveur Smith (Bradley Hudson). It was easy. It was almost like we worked before together. It was seamless. Our days were short, our scenes were electric. I loved the movie; it’s always shocking to see how they put it together because oftentimes you are shooting out of sync. For it to come through the way it did, I was very pleased. It was comradery, it was great comradery.
BET: What drew you to the role of Carla Hudson?
Kellita Smith: I like the fact that she’s this techy and you kinda don’t know who the f**k she is for real. She’s Roger’s second wife and she’s the stepmom to Drew Sidora’s character (Desiree Hudson) and Todd Anthony’s character. But she’s like this henchman woman for Roger’s character. She knows just enough about everything. She’s meticulous, she’s calculating, and she gets it done.
This character, you don’t know what the f**k is going on with her, and that’s the part I love. What drew me in is you don't know where she’s coming from or what she’s capable of, you almost think that she can commit the crime and cover it up.
BET: In one court scene after Savannah receives her bail amount, Carla tells Desiree that “Not everything is about the law. Sometimes it’s about numbers, statistics, and a whole lot of common sense." What does that say about her as a character?
Kellita Smith: What I was referring to in the movie was in our firm we use each other's personality and gift in order to move a case forward. At that moment, the judge was a woman and Todd’s character happened to be a handsome young man who dressed well. Putting him out there as a carrot would allow a little softening to the judge. Which means being a little more clever and strategic instead of having Drew take the case, I put a young man in front of that judge.
She connected to the fact that it was a handsome young man as opposed to a woman defending another woman. She’s calculated, she’s clever, you don’t know where she’s coming from or where she’s going with it but at the same time she’s about winning and she’s about doing it gracefully.
BET: With March being Women’s History Month, who else has influenced and inspired you?
Kellita Smith:I think any and every woman that wakes up and smiles is a hero. There’s so much that comes at us that can negate our smile, that can negate that you matter, that can negate that you count. If you can push through anything that does that, and you can smile and give a smile, you’re winning.
BET: Congratulations on making history as the first African American lead on the SYFY show, Z Nation, how does it feel being a heroine to young girls?
Kellita Smith: It’s an honor [but] it’s interesting that I would be the first in 2000 anything as old as that genre is, as long as it’s been going. I’m actually new to the genre, Z Nation kind of introduced me to it. I grew up in the ghetto and nobody likes to get scared just on accident or on purpose. Humor is what most of us African Americans gravitate to, especially if you come from the inner city because what you’re trying to do is, you’re trying not to be somber about life because that can do that to you.
I want to say [my fans] are so invested in [my] character it humbles me that a fan would be that invested, which means you’re doing your job as an actor. Roberta Warren is a role that I would have never thought I would be able to actually get in Hollywood because normally [what they] do is try to pigeonhole you in the role that you last did well.
BET: Playing the feisty business-woman Cheryl who owns her own beauty salon in In The Cut, what would you tell young black men and women is the secret to successful entrepreneurship?
Kellita Smith: You gotta love what you do. That was the thing that acting gave me and it is a self-discovery. No one can give you that passion, it is something you must discover yourself and you discover it through the journey of loving something because nothing feels like a sacrifice.
Society puts the emphasis on money. Everything is about [money]. It gives you almost a conditioning that that is the thing you should be focusing on. I’m learning this at 51 that the love of the thing is the thing. The things that give you peace of mind, the thing that gives you the heart to be able to reveal it back to someone else. It’s not the money, the money will come.
BET: Lastly, after appearing on almost every Black sitcom in the 90s at one time or another, if you could go back and replay one role again who would it be?
Kellita Smith: They’re all of my favorites because I booked them. You had to go into the room, and you had to get the material for it, you had to get the agent that believed enough in you to submit you. Then you have to acquire the appointment because that’s the casting director saying ‘Yeah, I’m willing to see this person.’ Then you have to give them material and then you have to walk through the door and be gracious enough and talented enough in order for them to be on your side.
You have to be able to walk out with enough grace and dignity and order. Then you have to wait for the phone call to happen and for each one of those, I had to go through all that.
So, all of them.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Carl Weber’s Influence is currently streaming on the BET+ app. Season six of In The Cut premieres on Wednesday, April 1 on Bounce TV.