The last time I wrote about the fascinating saga of pass rushing savant Aldon Smith, the tone was less than flattering. He was denying reports that he got jumped in his old stomping grounds, which to the cynical observer sounded like yet another “wrong place, wrong time” instance for Smith in a year full of them.
SFGate had a story about Smith’s off-field exploits that explored a different side of Smith than we’ve seen. Instead of a man held captive by his surroundings, Smith proactively sought out an uncomfortable situation that challenged both his mind and how he’s perceived.
Smith wants to be an actor, and not just the kind of dumb jock celebrity who does awkward cameos as himself. From the sounds of this story, Smith put his all into a part he landed in “Hypebeasts,” a film about sneaker culture and the underlying racism and violence within.
Smith treats (director Jessica) dela Merced with all the deference of a determined first-timer trying to give his director the best performance he can muster. And although he’s been working on the same 15-second shot for about three hours, the only thing bothering Smith right now is his fear that he’s not doing a good job portraying Jerome, the callous store manager. Just the night before, it took multiple takes to block out his participation in the short’s climactic riot scene, in which Jerome is attacked by a mob of angry kids and goes down like one of the 14 quarterbacks Smith sacked last year as a rookie pass-rush specialist on the 49ers.
“I’m good at football,” he says, leaned up against a car during a short break, “but I’m not good at this. It’s kind of cool, but it also kind of irks me because I’m competitive by nature.”
As for how he got here, it’s simple.
“I invited Jess and a friend of hers to a game when we played the Jets,” Smith said. “Honestly I don’t even know what words got us started. She said she was making a movie about sneakers; I said that sounds dope, send me the script. When I read it, I could really relate to it, especially Jerome. I wasn’t playing a crackhead or something. It was just something that I knew I could do because it was close to who I am.”
The comparison with Jerome in “Hypebeasts” is ironic because the character is much more in tune with Smith’s public reputation than his behavior on set, where he’s been universally praised for his humility and willingness to learn. Over the past year Smith has been involved in a number of off-field incidents, including sustaining minor stab wounds in June and rumors that he was jumped Thursday in Missouri. This is Smith’s second all-nighter shoot. He flew here on his own dime, and his “trailer” amounts to a curtained off corner at the back of the store. He won’t even go home with a pair of sneakers because they’re all the standard sample size 9 and he wears a 13.
Smith sounded quite humble on the set, and received praise for his desire from Grizz Chapman, a castmate on “Hypebeats” who plays Tracy Morgan’s sidekick on “30 Rock.” Because Smith believes in the project, he paid to fly to New York and filmed for several hours with the rest of the crew on Oct. 20-21.
It’s well past midnight, and he has a predawn flight back to San Francisco for the mandatory 10 o’clock team meeting. But he’s unhappy with his work on the speech, and he’s spent the past half hour rehearsing his lines in front of a mirror. Smith asks dela Merced for another take. She makes a split-second judgment call and has the weary crew set up one last time.
A few minutes later the cameras are rolling, and Smith turns to face the line of actors and extras. “Can I get anyone’s attention?” shouts Jerome, suave and smarmy.
Smith nails it. The crew claps, and he smiles brightly. The rookie has nailed it – just in time to catch a flight back to his day job.
Early on, dela Merced worried whether her actor might get in trouble with the 49ers for spending so much time on an enterprise that wasn’t football. But judging by Smith’s stellar performance in last Monday’s mauling of the Cardinals, the Niners’ coaches might want to try adding a few all-night shoots to his training regimen.
Smith collected two sacks over a week later in the 49ers’ 24-3 win in Arizona on Oct. 29, proving where his true talents lie … at least for now. If we can assume that Smith stayed awake and alert during team meetings on Oct. 22, the 49ers probably have no problem whatsoever with their star outside linebacker testing out his acting chops in his spare time. There are certainly worse things he could be doing.