Name: Cornelius Smith Jr
Nickname: Neil, C, or Corn
Instagram: @corneliussmithjr
Twitter: @corneliussjr

Who is Cornelius? What is your story in a nutshell?

I’m thinking I’m really discovering who Cornelius is every single day. I think that’s kind of a process and a journey that I’m still on, and still discovering. I’m a person of love and a person of light. Cornelius is focused. That’s who Cornelius is. Mr. Focus. 

I’m a big advocate of faith and follow through. 
I think a part of who I am is someone who meditates and visualizes what I want to do and accomplish. I make it happen. I never give up. Cornelius is not a quitter. 

I’m from Detroit. I was actually born in San Diego. My dad served in the military. Both of my parents are from Detroit. We bounced around a little bit and by the age of 4 or 5 I was back in Detroit and that’s pretty much where I grew up. That’s what I’ve known to be home. 

From Detroit, I went to Cass Tech. I fell in love with the fine arts and had an opportunity to go to Scotland. I had an opportunity to go to the Edinboro Festival. I did a play there and that experience and leaving the country is what really kind of drew my attention to acting and theatre. From there I went on to study. I didn’t change my major though in Cass. I continued to study and I changed it to everything but performing arts. 

I studied Human Resources, computer programming. I really have a love for mathematics and science but I did my first play in high school and then decided to major that in college. I attended Southern Methodist University and I majored in theatre there. After SMU, I went to NYU Grad Acting. Both lovely programs, really taught me a lot as a human being, which informs my artistry. 

After NYU, I pretty much stayed in New York and got on a soap opera and that soap opera then quickly moved to Los Angeles and that’s what got me to Los Angeles and just kind of decided to stay in Los Angeles and continue the push, and continue the vision, and here I am on Scandal. So that was kind of a big small nutshell. 

That’s my story. 

I definitely had my share of “NOs” and “Mays” but I didn’t let that stop me or derail me. I was very persistent, I was very insistent on what I knew to be my truth and destiny. That’s really how I’ve come to this point of my life and I’m really excited about everything else that is coming because I know there is more coming and I couldn’t be more grateful.

When and how did acting start for you?

It started for me in High School. I did my first play and I can remember falling in love with the experience, with the audience, with the process, with everything that is so exciting and tantalizing about performing. I went hard on the paint as they say. Because I was serious about it I wanted to go to school and study it and master all the tools on my tool belt and that’s what I decided to do and the same for grad school and furthering that education. That’s pretty much how it started for me. I’ve done my share of theatrical plays. I’m from the theatre.

I have much love and respect for the theatre. I miss the theatre actually, but it’s all good. I think that ultimately I’m looking forward to a fewer projects that I’m in the mix for and transitioning to film.

Among all of the characters you have portrayed, is there any favorite? Why?

I think right now Marcus might be pushing number 1 as my favorite character that I have played. You know what Marcus is up there but I had the privilege to play Walter Lee Younger in the production of A Raisin in the Sun in Grad School and that was probably one of my most favorite characters to portray, was my favorite experience.

You know a lot of that had to do with the character and the writing and some of those scenes and of course my classmates at the time who really kind of contributed into making that such a phenomenal experience. It was directed by Ken Washington. It was a wonderful experience so I guess that was on the theatrical side but hands down, of all of the television roles that I’ve played and film of that nature. I think Marcus Walker is up there. He is an educated black man, he’s intelligent- being a black man and kind of standing and representing the right thing to do or justice.

I think we don’t have enough, we have some, but we don’t have enough representatives, representing us in that light on television. Given the impact of that and that it’s Shonda Land and they have written such a beautiful, complex, direct character.

It’s really just been nothing but such an honor to play it and I have so much fun everyday playing Marcus and getting to know him more and every time I have a scene with really anybody. It’s always a really beautiful collaboration and lovely experience.

How do you think his complex character in the show can be a great catalyst to the interwoven story of Olivia Pope, Mellie Grant and the people around him?

I think obviously with Mellie Grant, there are stories that can really affect them both. I mean we’ve already seen a spark between Mellie and we saw how that kind of advanced itself. Between Mellie and Marcus. And we got some more answers and some backstory really about what went on with Marcus and Mellie.

In a way, I think it’s interesting that I think Marcus can save Mellie and Mellie can save Marcus. They’re that kind of complex and I think we see how they kind of need each other.

But that’s my personal opinion, I don’t know what’s in store or really how the writers are going to address Marcus and Mellie because they obviously left some questions on the table that need to be answered and I won’t know those answers too. But I think just really on the show (Marcus) he, whoever he comes in contact with, there’s a certain amount of accountability and directness and truth telling that he brings to all of the relationships. If you look at all of the people on Scandal, everybody is kind of corrupt and if they’re corrupt we’ll call that darkness. Maybe Marcus can definitely shine some light on each of those characters or help them see the light and make them more accountable and really hold the moral line with everybody.

In selecting a role are there any types of role that you prefer over the other?

It depends on the role. I just like people and characters that I can relate to, that I can plug into, that I can understand and that are just really complex because human life and human beings are complex so I guess I prefer complex roles over simple roles if that makes any sense.

Describe acting with a particular food. And why?

I can’t really think of a particular food that I can associate with acting at this moment but I think just like with cooking and acting. When you’re cooking food you have to be prepared.

You have to obviously have a game plan or know the recipes, which means you know knowing your scenes and making those choices in the scene. You have to do some amount of research whether you researched the recipe or you’re researching the dish that you want to cook. Some type of knowledge of the tools meaning the stove, which pan you’re gonna use, which tools or utensils you might need for cooking that are gonna assist you. These tools are the same tools with acting in terms of your instrument, knowing your body and being connected with your body in your emotional life and being open and free to respond and react.

And then finally with cooking you have to cook. You have to execute. You can have a game plan but it has to be executed as you saw fit.

That’s the same with acting. Many times in acting, I think some actors, myself included we come in with a game plan of how we want to play a scene or what a scene is about and then in the process of executing that it’s either executed or not. It’s challenged or not, it might change. So kind of being open to that change is really what it’s about and living in the moment.

If you’re not living in the moment when you’re cooking, if you’re not paying attention, chances are you might mess up your dish. So both require a healthy amount of being present, and being knowledgeable and kind of being on point with how you’re going to tackle the task, the dish, the scene, the play whatever it is.

What keeps you busy aside from acting?

I love to travel, spending time with family, I exercise. I, on occasion give talks and lectures to students and I guess that might be in the realm of motivational speaking so I’ve been dabbling in that. Acting is really taking a good chunk of my time right now so the small free time I get, like I said I either travel, relax, do some motivational speaking, read, meditate and exercise.

How do you balance your time?

I make an effort to balance my time. Obviously work is work but I think work is separate form your life and how you live. So I balance my time by 1. staying present, 2. Putting myself first and making sure I’m well rested and that I’m prepared. But also I take some time out for me- partly for meditation daily. That’s just time for me and God to have a conversation and to just fill myself up with peace and love every single morning.

No matter how busy one gets, if you can manage to kind of take that kind of time out and more- just time for you where we’re not always working.

I think that’s definitely a symptom of current culture is work work work and I get it and that’s real to a certain extent. Balance is key. It’s premium and it’s prime and so I think the more that we find that, the happier that we are whether that’s balancing it out with family time, or with friends, or traveling, or another non profit business or for profit business. I guess you really have to balance it with whatever makes you happy or brings you joy and each person kind of has a different outlet.

Any upcoming projects that can get your fans excited?

I’m on the mix for some things. I can’t speak on it yet but if my fans follow me on my Instagram and on my twitter account I definitely will keep them posted when I can speak on it and when I know some solid details.

Dream project?

Doing something with Steven Spielberg. Just working with him would be a dream opportunity. I’m a huge fan of Marvel and comics so I guess dream project would be something in the world of Marvel, some superhero action, tight suits, saving lives and kicking butt.

Book you’re currently reading?

I’m currently reading “Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self” by Anodea Judith. Great book. It is really insightful and really helpful. It’s kind of rocking my world right now. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in obtaining balance and more understanding about yourself.

And Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping. I dare somebody to take me up on that recommendation. It will really give you some healing.

Currently watching...

The Young Pope on HBO

Any advice you can give to any aspiring actors out there?

Don’t view an obstacle as something that is supposed to stop you but view it as something that you are meant to overcome and get over.

Faith and follow through anything that you want but you have to be crystal clear about what it is you want and then you have to follow it through, you have to see it through and you have to view that path of destiny, your destiny as a matter of fact and not a suggestion.

If you were going to have a book, what title would it be?

Wow...umm...I got it. I had to think about it for a second. I would title it “Break Through Inside to Break Through Outside” YEAH! That’s deep!

If you will be given the chance to help a charity, what would it be and why?

I would help out any charity but specifically The Lupus Foundation. My mom passed away a little over three years ago and she had Lupus and that is something I would help, if and when given the opportunity I would champion in a heartbeat.

Photography & Interview IRVIN RIVERA