ABOVE: Brian J. Smith celebrating Pride with the cast of “Sense8.” Photo via Smith’s Instagram.
Brian J. Smith, one of the sexy stars of the cult Netflix series “Sense8,” has come out of the closet.
In an interview with Attitude magazine, the 38-year-old actor talks about the difficulties of growing up in a rural Texas town where he says he “could never be who I was.”
“I was terrified,” says Smith. “At school, I really couldn’t fit in anywhere. I wasn’t a jock or a nerd. Forget about any LGBTQ union or groups. There was absolutely nothing. I was completely alone. I heard all the names: p*ssy, f*ggot… I was constantly having to check myself and make sure I wasn’t looking at someone too long or making someone feel uncomfortable.
“I had to be very, very careful about telling the people the truth about myself.”
It was through his interest in acting that he says he began to find himself.
“In front of an audience,” he says, “I disappeared and became someone else. I had 600 students at school, all of whom probably thought I was an absolute idiot, a nerd. On stage, they paid attention to me, and they saw that I had something. And that’s when I didn’t feel alone.”
Eventually, Smith’s talent earned him a place at the prestigious Julliard School for Acting. He made his Broadway debut in a 2008 revival of “Come Back, Little Sheba,” then scored Tony and Drama Desk nominations for his featured role as the Gentleman Caller in the acclaimed 2013 revival of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” in which two of his co-stars, Zachary Quinto and Cherry Jones, were both out actors.
It was with his role as Chicago police officer Will Gorski on “Sense8” that Smith gained widespread recognition. The Netflix sci-fi series debuted in 2015 and gained an enthusiastic following with its unique story of eight young strangers from different parts of the world who discover they are part of a human subspecies bound together by a deep psychic connection. Created by trans filmmakers Lana and Lilly Wachowski with J. Michael Straczynski, the LGBTQ-inclusive show’s large cast and international locations made it expensive to shoot, and Netflix cancelled it after only two seasons – though demand from its loyal fan base resulted in a decision to film a feature length series finale resolving the show’s storyline, which aired in 2018.
Of his experience on that series, Smith says, “I remember being so relaxed. I thought, ‘Finally, I can just be myself, I don’t have to put on airs for any of these people.’”
The actor says he didn’t come out to his parents until he was 30 years old, but it turned out his fears about it proved unfounded.
“I was surprised. When I came out to my parents they were wonderful. They said they were just waiting for me to say something. They were a lot more advanced than I gave them credit for.
“I think that’s when I became OK with it, too. Just in terms of being, ‘Oh that’s the world, it’s not as dangerous as I thought it was.’”
Asked what he would say now to his younger self, Smith says, “I just would hug him and say ‘It’s OK.’”
“There weren’t enough people there to say to me: ‘You don’t need to be someone different, you don’t need to change who you are.’ What that kid needed was somebody to pick him up and say, ‘You’re perfect as you are, it’s OK.’”
Smith can currently be seen in the new USA Network series “Treadstone,” a spin-off of the Jason Bourne franchise, and is also featured in the BBC One series “World on Fire” in the UK.