Beginning January 11, ESPN star Stephen A. Smith, known to GH fans for his nearly five-year run in the recurring role of Brick, is debuting a new series on ESPN+ called STEPHEN A.’S WORLD. He also serves as an executive producer with his production company, Mr. SAS Productions, and will be welcoming his two A-list pals from the world of daytime, Maurice Benard (Sonny, GH) and Eric Braeden (Victor, Y&R) as guests on Thursday, January 14. He checked in with Digest about his new show and his GH duties.
Soap Opera Digest: So you’re having a busy start to your year, huh?
Stephen A. Smith: Exactly. But that’s the way to be! If you ain’t busy, what are you doing?
Digest: Since the last time we spoke, Brick has popped up a lot more, and you’ve gotten to do scenes not just with Maurice, but with Laura Wright (Carly) and Steve Burton (Jason). As a longtime fan of the show’s, how psyched were you?
Smith: Oh, it was a phenomenal experience. They’ve both been wonderful to me, personally. People actually think I can act now, because of them! It ain’t me, it’s them. It’s how they coach me, it’s what they encourage me to do, it’s the guidance that they provide. Obviously, a special debt to Maurice Benard because that’s who I’ve worked with extensively and he and I are friends, so we talk a lot off camera, we talk a lot on the phone. But Steve Burton and Laura Wright are just phenomenal and I’m huge fans of both, not just as Jason and Carly, but as the people they are off the air.
Digest: Do you think Maurice is jealous that you have scenes with Steve and Laura?
Smith: No! Not at all. I mean, that’s my guy. He knows he’s my guy and I’m his guy. I work for him. I listen to his guidance and when it comes to acting, particularly on the soap opera front, there are two people who stand out in the crowd to me in terms of how they always talk to me and what kind of friends we are off the air, and that’s Maurice Benard and Eric Braeden. He and I are dear friends, we talk all the time and I just love them both.
Digest: Do you think Eric is jealous that Maurice gets to work with you and you’ve yet to pop up in Genoa City?
Smith: (laughs) I wouldn’t say jealous, but what I would say is that Eric Braeden is quick to tell me, “You’re on the wrong damn soap opera! You should be over here!”
Blah, blah, blah. He always teases me about that, that much is true, but in the end, we’re very close. Every time I’m in L.A., we religiously meet for lunch or dinner. Sometimes I even go by the studio to see him and sit in his dressing room — pre-Covid, of course. That relationship just continues to blossom and I’m honored to have it.
Digest: You’ve been recurring as Brick for nearly five years. What does mean to you?
Smith: For me, it’s incredibly humbling, to say the least. I show up nearly five years ago as this character Brick. I had been on for 10 seconds in 2007 during the [Metro Court] hostage crisis, but five years ago, I come on the set and do a scene with Maurice Benard, Sonny Corinthos and Brick are talking, and the minute the scene is over, Maurice says, “Holy s—, you’re a natural! You sure you haven’t acted before?” I said, “No, I haven’t!” He said, “You are a natural at this. I loved it.” And right when he was telling me that, Frank Valentini, the executive producer, comes down and he’s raving about what I’ve done and he says, “Do you have time? What is your schedule like?” I said, “Why do you ask?” He said, “I’d like to make this a recurring role for you.” I said, “Excuse me?” He said, “I want to create this character. Make it yours. I want you to make some guest appearances as Brick. This is your character from now on. Can you do this?” I said, “You’re damn right I can!” And that’s exactly how it happened. There were no agents involved, there were no calls, there was no anything. I did the scene, Maurice loved me, Frank Valentini loved me, and he instantly, on the spot, on the set, asked me if I would do this continuously and I said yes. And ever since then, I went from having three or four lines to 33 lines to 40 lines, etc. I have just been very blessed and fortunate to have their love and support and even with the new show I’m coming out with on ESPN+, one of the calls I made was to Frank, because he’s an executive producer and now I’m going to be an executive producer on my own show, along with my production company, Mr. SAS Productions, co-producing it. I called him to ask for his advice on playing this new role and he provided me the level of counsel that only an executive can provide.
Digest: Do you feel like you own your time on that stage more the more that you do it and get comfortable exercising that skill?
Smith: Sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, I never think like that. First of all, I think it would be insulting to true professionals in the acting industry to feel that way because I know how hard it is. I have an idea of how hard it is for them. I marvel at what I see Maurice and Laura and Steve do in terms of going from scene to scene and the amount of lines they have to memorize and the amount of passion and believability and intrigue they have to bring to each scene. So, for me, I never feel like I own anything! Steve was incredibly complimentary of me, as well, Maurice and Laura, too, but what I always say to them is that my number one focus is making sure I don’t forget my lines — because if I do, I hold everybody up. For me, my number one priority is, “Don’t mess up! Everything else will take care of itself.” I don’t think about anything else. I don’t even think about the public, to be honest with you; I’m looking at Maurice Benard, I’m looking at Frank Valentini, I’m looking at Steve Burton and Laura Wright going, “Did I do okay?” And if they’re happy, I’m happy! That’s really the approach that I have.
Digest: Do you still get to watch GH?
Smith: Of course! I DVR them and I go home and I watch them. And by the way, with my new show coming out, I’m having both Maurice Benard and Eric Braeden on as guests because the title of my new show is STEPHEN A’S WORLD and they’re a part of my world; they are two individuals that I talk to quite often and I consider friends.
Digest: Tell me about the concept for the new show.
Smith: First of all, anytime you have the four letters attached, ESPN, it’s going to be relatively sports-related. Where the “+” comes in is being a bit different than what you customarily see on ESPN. For example, when I have guests — I’m not that interested in sports guests, per se, not nearly as much as I am in folks from the world of pop culture, Hollywood and beyond, because they love sports as well. Like, Maurice Benard is a huge boxing fan. Eric Braeden is a huge soccer fan and boxing fan and they can talk about those things. But I also want to bring a little levity to the situation, a little bit more of a light-hearted approach than you customarily see me do. Usually, you see me breathing fire and brimstone with my hot takes, the things I feel about what’s transpiring in the world of sports. What I don’t believe anybody has seen enough of is how I really, really have a desire to celebrate other people’s success, their philanthropy, the charitable things they do and how they help make us better, how they help motivate and inspire and things of that nature. It’s sort of a late-night feel in that regard, where you’re looking to come on and just talk about the things that are relevant and pertinent to your life, that celebrate you, that celebrate your contribution to helping make this world and this nation a better place. That’s one of the things that I just have a strong desire to do, to show that light-hearted side of me, because I don’t think people see that enough from me, and certainly, because I have aspirations to ultimately do late-night television someday, to be sort of like an Arsenio Hall or Jay Leno or Dave Letterman, I think this lends itself to inching in that direction. [The show is] the world according to me. It’s a look inside my world — not just how I think, but how I am and how I can be defiant, bombastic, demonstrative one minute, and incredibly fun-loving the next. How I can be somebody who will get in your face and tell it like it is one second, and another minute, I’m making sure to give up my seat or to carry the bags of an elderly person, or hug a little kid because they spotted me and they’ve got some love for me or whatever. I’m the same guy who, while I’ll sit up there and highlight, for example, an athlete who might have messed up in a game, I’m also the guy who will highlight all the good things that they’re doing in the community and beyond. Snoop Dogg will ultimately be on my show. What does Snoop Dogg have in common with Eric Braeden and Maurice Benard? Chances are, not much! But both of them are my friends and they’ll be on the show. What does Snoop Dogg have in common with Sean Hannity? Not much. But Sean Hannity ultimately will be on my show one day. I know him. You just never know. One day, it could be Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube and LL Cool J, or it could be Maurice Benard and Eric Braeden and Steve Burton and Laura Wright, or it could be DJ Khalid or it could be Jamie Foxx or Steve Harvey, or just somebody walking down the street and they’ve got relationship problems because one person loves sports and the other person hates it and it’s affecting their relationship, but here comes the love doctor, known as Stephen A, to the rescue, to resolve your issues and help you out, just to have fun and be self-deprecating and laugh at myself sometimes, and have a good time. That’s really what I’m aiming for the show to be. Something along those lines, but in the same breath, you never know what you’re going to get from day to day because of the potpourri of guests along with different segments that are going to be implemented into the show. It’s all my world. I’m a dad, I’ve got 13 nieces and nephews, I’ve got four older sisters, I’ve got friends from the streets of New York, in the hood, to guys in Hollywood and everything in between. The whole gamut is there and will be put on display. You’ll never know what you’re going to get from day to do, I’ll tell you that much.
Digest: Are you excited for people to expand their understanding of who you are as a man?
Smith: I am. I’m very excited about that because I think it’s time for me to show a little bit more of myself, but I have to admit, I’m a little nervous, too. ESPN, they’ve given me an A team. My producers, my executive producer is the former manager for Steve Harvey, Rushion McDonald — these are top-notch, A-list people who really know what they’re doing and who are overseen by myself along with my bosses, Dave Roberts and Norby Williamson, who are consummate professional and leaders in this industry. When they give you a team that’s an A team, all of a sudden you’re like, “It’s all on me and I’ve got to show up and produce!” That’s really what this comes down to, but I’m blessed and fortunate to have people in my life like Frank Valentini and Maurice Benard and others who remind me of their belief in me and what I’m capable of.