Growing up about an hour outside of Detroit as the eldest of four children in a strict household, Smith spent her childhood fishing, hiking, playing basketball and softball and, somewhat paradoxically, dreaming of being a hair and makeup artist. She trained in cosmetology while still in high school, and was perfectly content to go from there to working at a salon, maybe even her own one day. “I still think about it sometimes, like maybe some day I’ll go back and get my license,” she says. “You think about, to women, how important it is to have an awesome hairdresser who you love. It makes you feel so good about yourself in such a short period of time and you can’t really underestimate that.” She was happily pursuing that vocation when a boyfriend invited her to a modeling convention. Though initially hesitant, she ended up plunking down the $125 entrance fee (after first calling the Better Business Bureau to make sure it wasn’t a scam) and was chosen to go to New York. “And that was the beginning of the rest of my life,” says the actress, who soon landed job after job, including the European Wonderbra campaign, a contract with Hanes Pure Bliss bras (“If you look at Wal-Mart, you’ll see me on the hangtag”), plus commercials for everything from McDonald’s to Tampax, catalogs and ads for Target and Lands’ End, among many, many others, all over the world. “I always thought that it would be great to make a movie about the ‘meat and potatoes’ models. That’s me: The girls who do catalog, who don’t live life in the fast lane, who schlep around the airports, who fly to Texas for two days to do JCPenney ads, like I’m doing this week,” she says. “We’re the whole subculture of down-to-earth girls who make an incredible living flying below the radar. I started out my career doing Italian Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle and covers for Self and Fitness, which is great. But there is a group of people in the fashion business who are so close-minded and out of touch with reality and have such a warped perspective of what’s really important. I want to look nice, I want to be healthy, I want to take care of myself. I care about looking good. I would be lying if I didn’t; I’m a model. But I’m not saving the world here. I’m not curing cancer, and there is perspective in the business that is like that.” And unlike some actor/models who like to drop that slash when their acting career gets going, Smith is proud — though hardly boastful — of her modeling career and still does it, working almost every day when she’s not at GL. She got her first major acting gig when, after her father’s death, she reprioritized her life. “It was like this: The first year he died, I was in shock, just trying to keep my life together and function; get out of bed in the morning,” she says. “The second year was getting into therapy, trying to come to terms with the feelings that I was having and trying to glue myself back together. I got out of a relationship that I was really unhappy in that I would not have probably had the strength to get out of for a long time, I got back to acting full-speed and started doing things that I really wanted to do but was afraid to because I was a coward.”She took that attitude into a meeting with GL Casting Director Rob Decina, who invited her in based on a headshot sent in by her agent. “We just really hit it off,” says the actress, who also said a quick hello to Executive Producer Ellen Wheeler. Then, about three hours after the meeting, her agent called to say that GL was writing a part for her. “I started crying in the middle of the street. My life has been full of gifts like that. It was incredibly flattering and also a little stressful because I don’t really think I’m that interesting,” laughs the actress, who, a year later, is in a place that she considers the happiest ever. “My father’s death has changed my life in really amazing ways. I started being really honest about the things in my life that I wanted to improve on,” she says. “It sounds strange, but I’m thankful for that. Plus, I get to talk about it and help people, so for me that’s worth its weight in gold.”This article originally appearred in the August 29, 2006 issue of Soap Opera Digest.