If you saw Scott Alan Smith, BA English ’86, on the street, you might do a double take. Maybe you recognize him from his salad days at Mason, but more than likely you’ve caught him in one of his guest roles on a number of different television drama series.
His resume is impressive. From critical darlings such as Big Love, Entourage, and True Blood to smash hits such as House and CSI: New York, Smith manages to stay pretty busy. His latest role? Smith portrays a bank manager on an episode of NCIS: LA that aired in late February. The common theme in most of his TV acting gigs? “I get to play the lawyers and doctors and distraught upper-middle-class fathers,” Smith says.
He recalls an audition he had for The Practice: “As I was leaving, I overheard one of the [casting directors] say, ‘He looks just like my gynecologist.’” He booked the job.
But Smith wasn’t always Dr. Everyman. Before he moved to Los Angeles, he got his start right here at Mason. Smith took a forensics class with Bruce Manchester and credits the professor, now retired from the Department of Communication, with sparking his interest in performing. Manchester, who coached the forensics team at Mason for 19 years, encouraged Smith to pursue a career on the stage.
Smith worked with Arthur Peterson, an artist in residence at Mason and an actor who played the Major on the television soap opera spoof Soap, on a student-directed project his senior year. After graduation, Smith stayed in the area and continued training at Arena Stage and was cast in a production at the Studio Theater in Washington, D.C.
From there, he earned an MFA in acting from the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and made his way to Hollywood. While he continues to act on stage and in television and films, Smith has made a name for himself behind the scenes, as well.
Beginning in 1997 with a one-act play, Smith has found himself in the director’s chair on many occasions. He recently directed the Road Theatre Company’s West Coast premiere of Lady by playwright Craig Wright, who created television’s Dirty Sexy Money.
He’s also tried his hand at playwriting, co-writing King of the Moon, which his wife, Elizabeth Sampson, directed at the Groundlings Theater in Los Angeles. That play was made into a film that premiered at the 2004 Tribeca Film Festival.
But don’t ask him to pick one: acting or directing. “Do I have to? One so informs the other,” Smith says. “Being a director has made me a better actor and vice versa.” And Smith can add another hyphenate to his repertoire—he has been teaching a text analysis course at Pepperdine University since last spring.
One of the perks of his profession? Meeting all the actors and actresses he’s admired throughout his career. “You’re surrounded by your heroes, and you get to work with them,” he says. “Getting to direct Ed Harris [in the LA Phil’s 2005 Season Opening Gala at Disney Hall] was a real highlight for me.”
And despite his success, Smith hasn’t forgotten where he got his start. “Mason is where I fell in love with my life’s work,” he says. “And being able to go into D.C. and get my start there—it was invaluable and it all came from Mason.”