Joey Smallwood’s Niece, Samora, is Becoming a Big Deal on the Big Screen

Newfoundland’s legendary political figure Joey Smallwood might be done making history and headlines, but his niece Samora is only getting started with her time in the limelight.

As for talking about her uncle in an article about her film career, she’d be the first to say “It’s not off-topic at all! … without Joey Smallwood and his vision (and underdog spirit), I quite literally wouldn’t be here.”

She explains that Joey brought her parents together in a pretty atypical way. “My father came over here from Cape Verde, Africa, as an emaciated stowaway. My mom was just 17 when they met, and she was into The Clash and anti-establishment, so naturally she was drawn to this skinny African guy,” she says while laughing.

“They were facing deportation and desperate of course to stay in Canada and Joey Smallwood, who was very fond of my mother, his niece, Karen, called in a favour to his friend, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, who granted a stay for my father.”

So Joey’s no agent, producer, or director pulling strings here, but without his help way back when, who knows if Samora Smallwood would have been born to become the next big deal in film out of our province. She’s had roles on shows like Suits and Designated Survivor, and this February alone, she’s in 3 shows you can catch on SYFY (The Expanse and Shadowhunters) and Amazon productions (Shelter).

Credit: RobertOShoots

How Did You Go from Mt. Pearl to the Big Screen?

Mt. Pearl to the “big screen” sounds like such a huge jump, doesn’t it? Many of my first experiences with the comforting nature of art were in Newfoundland with my Nan & Pop listening to live music. To this day, whenever I hear a fiddle I get so homesick! As far as first steps go, as sappy as it may sound, it was that I dared to even dream it. Then I got myself into acting classes and eventually a Bachelor of Fine Arts. But it all started in Newfoundland with the warmth I felt in a group watching artists do their thing.

What Made You Want to be an Actress So Bad You Actually Made it Happen?

From a very young age I needed tons of attention! Seriously. And that led to me finding creative ways to get it. I discovered I had a knack for impressions and accents. My pop had a very fancy Camcorder and he loved to record me doing The Queen of England or Forrest Gump. Once I figured out how to make the adults laugh I was hooked.

A young Samora commanding the camera in Bowring Park.

There Must Have Been a Lot of Challenges Along Your Road to Recognition?

To be honest, the biggest challenge I have found (other than the massive amounts of competition) is finding your own voice. It’s a crazy industry, full of tons of rejection and along the way, I feel like I kind of lost myself in trying to be what “they” wanted. I was getting loads of auditions but not really booking much. A good friend gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget. We were having lunch and I was expressing my frustration. Now this is a man who had just come off a Quentin Tarantino film in which he had given a beautiful performance, so he can afford to be generous. And he said “There’s only one Samora. Show them that. Let them see that, because it’s the only thing they haven’t seen.” That may seem obvious and simple but it’s such good advice for artists. If you’re weird, awkward, funny, bi-racial, whatever it is that makes you different, get comfortable with it and share that.

You Have a Role on SyFy’s The Expanse Which Airs this Month.
Tell Us a Little About It? 

I have always been obsessed with SciFi and Fantasy, so to get on this show was literally a dream come true. I really love the genres because they get to explore society and politics in a smart, captivating way, by saying “this is what could happen” if we let things get out of control and if power dynamics are left unchecked.

The Expanse does a brilliant job of that. The creators Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham have created this world where the Solar System itself has been colonized, and what are the ramifications of that? Of course war ensues and the series follows that story and has developed into such a rich piece of storytelling. When I come onto the show, I play a U.N Naval Attaché. I remember reading the script and being blown away by how prescient it seemed. Nevermind that the entire cast and crew are so deeply invested that I was impressed every single second.

Showrunner Naren Shankar and creator Ty Franck were on set with us until the very end. That attention and care is 100% the reason The Expanse is so beloved and well-done.

Shadowhunters also airs this month, What Can You Tell Us About It?

Shadowhunters is all of my childhood Buffy the Vampire Slayer dreams come to life! Vampires and beasts and angel-human hybrids called, you guessed it, Shadowhunters whose job it is to hunt down demons and protect us mere humans (and the status quo). How can it get better? It was a fantastic experience because everyone was so hardworking and friendly. It always feels good to be working in Canada and seeing how huge the industry in Toronto has become. Lisa Parasyn cast me in Shadowhunters and she does Star Trek Discovery as well which is filmed here. Robin D. Cook who does The Handmaids Tale cast me in The Expanse. When I think about how these top-notch shows are filmed here I feel so proud.

The Amazon series The Shelter comes out in February too,
Tell Us a Little About Your Role of Erin?” 

Erin has such a close place to my heart because she is a symbol for the woman and her place in society today. At least to me! You’d have to ask writer/director Jason Mac and Robert Bellamy to clarify, but the story is set in a near-Dystopia and without giving too much away, I will say Erin, like many women today, had to make hard choices and sacrifices to just survive.

It was without a doubt the most emotionally complex role I have played. At the end of the world, who do you look out for? That’s a question that I had to ask myself, and that Erin was confronted with, out of the gate. It’s tough, and, at a certain point, instinct kicks in, that self-preservation thing, you know? Forgiveness, regret, anger, blame, and family are a lot of the themes you’ll see in The Shelter. So you know, it’s a lighthearted, happy go lucky sorta story. Lol.

Tell Us about Your First Big (and Murderous) Role in Berkshire County,
and, Is It True You Did Your Own Stunts?

I’m a big research nerd, it’s actually one of my favourite parts of acting work. So in researching killers, historically, very few are women. Even fewer are random or “non-familial” killers. I really had to get my head around the why. Why would I do this? What is in it for me? And once I tapped into a rage, an anger at the world, of isolation, I was able to bring something deep and dark to it. I cut off contact with friends and family, to really feel that isolation, you know? My character lives in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but time to get angrier and angrier about being slighted by society. There were times when my energy felt so vile I scared myself!

And yes I did my own stunts (and I have scars to prove it)! We got pretty banged up, but it was important for me to abandon all vanity and just become as feral as possible. I am an athletic woman, I do Krav Maga and Kickboxing regularly, so using my body came very natural to me and feels good. To be honest, it’s fun fighting on camera! Doing all the instinctual violent things you’d never do in real life is kinda liberating. I recommend everyone play a villain at least once. And anyone reading who is not an actor, go take a class where you kick or punch something!

Is There a Fellow Newfoundlander in the Film Industry You Admire?

I’d say Mary Walsh is my fave because she’s so friggin’ funny and always speaks her mind.

How About a Local Show or Movie That’s Meant Something To You?

The Grand Seduction and The Shipping News hands down. The Grand Seduction, if you haven’t seen it, you must! A doctor from the mainland gets busted for cocaine possession and in order to practice, he gets shipped off to rural Newfoundland. Not only is the film GORGEOUS to look at (I mean, Newfoundland is one of the most beautiful places in the world), but he does indeed get seduced by the loyalty, irreverence, and resilient spirit of Newfoundlanders. I can’t tell you how much I loved it. The Shipping News has always meant a lot to me because I loved the book so much. And the theme of coming home always strikes a nerve.