Local third grader makes it big in acting

By Donna Hill
For the Fort Bend Star

Singer Songwriter John Legend, who is the executive producer of “Underground,” poses on the red carpet with Maceo Smedley, a local third grader who stars in the television series.   (Submitted Photo)

Singer Songwriter John Legend, who is the executive producer of “Underground,” poses on the red carpet with Maceo Smedley, a local third grader who stars in the television series.
(Submitted Photo)

Goodman Elementary School third grader Maceo Smedley certainly knows how to command an audience and work a crowd. Just ask his mom.

“He was the one in the family to act out plays in our home, and direct his little brother in plays. When we had company over he was always the first to entertain everyone,” said his mother, Shante Smedley.

Goodman Elementary School third-grade student, Maceo Smedley III is co-starring in “Underground”, a television series based on the historical Underground Railroad. The series tells the story of a group of slaves who plan their escape from a Georgia plantation. Smedley plays a young boy named James, a slave during the antebellum period. Underground airs Wednesday nights at 9 p.m. central time on the WGN network.

Ask him if he’d rather be a director than a movie star though and he’ll say director. “I already see what they are doing wrong or right and then I want to fix it or make it better,” he said.

Smedley has appeared in local and national commercials. He was the young boy wrapped up in bubble wrap for the Gillman Honda television commercial a few years ago. His line after parents discover the safety features of the new family car? “Oh yeah – no bubbles!”

He’s performed in nationwide commercials for Post It Notes, Build-a-Bear, and educational videos for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the interactive game Leap Frog.

He may be young, but he knows about working hard at his craft. He prepares and practices with acting classes and goes to auditions. He auditioned to play a young James Brown, in addition to a remake of the television series “The Little Rascals.”

Even though the auditions didn’t pan out, he kept at it. Last year, he did a videotape audition with his agent at Pastoring Bosby Talent Agency in Houston. The audition was for the casting director for Underground. He got the part – without actually meeting the producers.

After the casting people and his agent discussed details, he was sent to the set in Baton Rouge within a week for costume fittings and learning his lines. Initially the show’s producers were looking for an 11 year old to play the part, but after seeing the audition tape of Smedley, decided to make the character the same age as him – 9.

Filming wrapped up in August. The series has been on since March with great reviews. Singer Songwriter John Legend is the executive producer. Meeting him at the show’s premier, Smedley said of the singer “He’s a really nice guy.”

With all his drama experience, there’s actually very little drama at his elementary school. What did he tell his friends when he’s not in class? He just tells them “I’m working” and leaves it at that. Smedley makes ups for missed school with an on set “studio teacher” along with other young actors, where he’s taught English and math.

So how did the acting business start? An agent friend of his aunt gave his parents her business card. Macao was 4 at the time. The parents followed up with a phone call, signed young Smedley for acting classes, uploaded photos (headshots) to acting websites, and the rest is history. His mom and dad, Shante, who works in the Fort Bend ISD curriculum and instruction department, and Maceo Smedley Sr., who is a special education teacher at Angleton ISD, say they never pushed him.

“Even then, it was always his idea to pursue acting, the classes, everything,” she said.

Smedley’s five-year plan includes helping his father preach at his church, The Promise Church, in his hometown of Fresno, where he sometimes performs skits centered around Bible stories. And his backup plan if acting doesn’t work out? President of the United States.

“Then I can tell people of new rules and help the United States grow and have lot of cool things to do,” he said.

He’s also interested in being a mayor, so politics isn’t out of the question.

Smedley just started as center on the school soccer team, and works hard to keep up with both his class work and his acting. Mom takes him to auditions, to school, and after school activities. Dad helps with school and homework, too. Smedley says proudly that his dad “teaches me to work hard, and what I need to do and not need to do.”

“Maceo’s mother and I are extremely excited about his present career opportunities,” his father said. “His personality and positive character has allowed him to do more than we could have imagined. We are proud of him for being able to maintain good grades in conjunction with being a leader on his athletic teams, and meeting the demands of his career.”

His favorite subjects are math, reading and health classes, and he enjoys basketball, football and dancing. According to Principal Carmela Levy-David, Smedley is brilliantly talented and a positive third grader.

“He is always ever to participate in class and school activities. He has impeccable manners, and is loved by his teachers and peers,” she said.

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