'Kindness is super sexy': Taylor John Smith on playing Tate in Where the Crawdads Sing
Taylor John Smith didn’t always know he wanted to be an actor.
Growing up near Quantico, Virginia, Smith always saw himself growing up to join the Marines and, in his words, "fight bad guys and help people."
But when he got older and his mom moved Smith and his three siblings out to California, he found himself in the right place at the right time.
"Funnily enough, my little sister got approached by a casting director at a mall, who was like, ‘I love your love, come check out this acting school," he said in an interview with The Blueprint. "And at 17, I ended up going in her place and falling in love with it. It totally altered the course of my life."
Now the 27-year-old is celebrating his biggest role to date, in a film adapted by Reese Witherspoon and directed by Olivia Newman.
Based on author Delia Owens’ 2018 best-seller, Where the Crawdads Sing, the film adaptation was released on July 15, going on to become a box-office success after earning more than $120 million in revenue on a budget of under $25 million.
The book, which sold more than 15 million copies before the film’s release, spent 135 weeks on the New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list.
But the Crawdads Sing author isn’t without controversy. The Atlantic reported the same week the film premiered in theaters that Owens is wanted in Zambia for questioning as a potential witness in the killing of a poacher in the 1990s.
The film follows Catherine “Kya” Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones), a young woman who raised herself in the dangerous marshlands of North Carolina after being abandoned by her family, one by one, as a child. As a result of her isolation, Kya, known as “Marsh Girl” to residents of the town of Barkley Cove, is ostracized by society despite her resilience and hard-working nature.
While much of the story focuses on a love triangle between Kya and two young men from town, Tate (Smith) and Chase (Harris Dickinson), the film’s umbrella story revolves around the death of Chase and Kya being cast by the community as the main suspect.
What makes Crawdads stand apart from other romance films is its fusion of genres — coming-of-age, survivalism, and a murder mystery — coming together to tell a story that’s more about empowering women than it is about finding your soulmate.
“For a long time, I thought acting was like a solo thing that you did on your own, but I think on this movie, I really got to experience the team aspect of it,” Smith said. “You can't do it on your own.”
The actor, who appeared in the 2018 HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, joked that filming Crawdads taught him to always remember sunblock when it comes to shooting on-location.
But more importantly, Smith’s takeaway from making the film is simple — to stop and smell the roses.
“This life moves very, very fast, and this was one of those movies that made things slow down and made me take pause and kind of collect these memories in these moments that I don't think I've done in past films,” he said. “So I was just grateful to get to be a part of that experience.”
Smith’s character, Tate, who was also played by Luke David Blumm in flashbacks and Sam Anderson in flash-forwards, falls in love with Kya while helping her learn to read and sharing their love of the marshlands. For Smith, playing Tate marked one of the first times the actor connected on a deeper level with his character.
“I’m a big proponent of, like, ‘kindness is super sexy,’ and I think Tate embodies that,” he said.
Playing opposite Edgar-Jones also came naturally for Smith, who said his co-star brought out a sense of sweetness, kindness, and a child-like sense of wonder that made shooting the film that much more authentic.
He may have made playing the role of Tate look easy on-screen, but Smith noted he felt a lot of pressure to honor the millions of fans of the book and make the film adaptation “as perfect as possible.”
“You had this amazing group of women that were just spearheading this, that knew what kind of movie they wanted to make,” he said. “They knew how important it was to so many people that had read it… It was really cool to get to play a small part on the sidelines of that.”
Smith is gearing up to work on his next film, a thriller with Sophie Turner and Hero Fiennes Tiffin called Come As You Are.
The movie follows a group of content moderators at a social media company whose job is to sift through reported content like acts of violence and racism, until one of the employees becomes a vigilante and starts hunting down the people sharing vile content.
And as Smith looks ahead, he plans to carry the lessons he learned from filming Where the Crawdads Sing not just to future films, but also throughout his life.
“Enjoy the moments when it's busy and enjoy the downtime you have, because there'll be a moment in my life where I’ll wish I had nothing but downtime,” he said. “Just be present and enjoy what you’ve got in front of you.”
Where the Crawdads Sing is available now on DVD + Blu-ray + Digital.
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