Arjay Smith has been known for his roles in movies and shows such as, The Bernie Mac Show, The Day After Tomorrow and Malcolm in the Middle. His charming personality and kind wits have led him to his newest role as Max Lewiki, teaching assistant to a schizophrenic teacher on TNT’s Perception. This show not only shows off his impeccable style, but also digs deep into the mind of a mentally disable person and how it affects those who love him and job.
Q: For those who’ve never seen Perception, can you give a brief summary on what the show is about?
Arjay Smith: Perception is a crime-scene type of show, but it meets the world of mental health, and our lead character Dr. Daniel Pierce, which is played by Eric McCormack, he is a neuro-scientist, a philosopher, he’s a teacher at a University and I’m his T.A (teaching assistant). Our show is about breaking the stigma of mental health and our lead character hallucinates and on a day to day basis, he’s dealing with his schizophrenia, but he’s coping with it. Dr. Daniel Pierce is a helper, he and I assist the FBI in solving some very unusual cases and these cases are generally solved through Dr. Pierce’s hallucinations, which is an effect of his schizophrenia. So, his hallucinations are a guide for him to solve these thought provoking cases. My job as his T.A; I’m his voice of reality, Max Lewiki, and I basically keep him on the right path to help him out with what’s reality and what’s a hallucination, so my job is to make sure he doesn’t fall apart on a day to day basis. I make sure, almost like a mother and father, that he is protected especially from the arsenal of the outside world.
Our show is about breaking the stigma of mental health
Q: What are a couple of things that you learned about schizophrenia just by being a part of the show?
Arjay Smith: One stigma is that violence is associated with schizophrenia; people that do not have mental illnesses can commit violent acts and what I have learned with schizophrenia is, it’s treatable. It’s not something that should be just swept under the rug, it is something that I think, if you have schizophrenia, if you have symptoms of schizophrenia it should be addressed because it does affect your life. With schizophrenia it’s an imbalance, but it’s nothing that’s not treatable and what I mean by that is, we have this medication for it, but I feel like when it comes to mental health issues, there aren’t a lot of resources or facilities where people can go, where they can actually get proper attention or proper help and so honestly that’s where I have joined forces with Congress woman Grace Napolitano and she is a huge forefront fighter for getting certain bills passed when it comes to mental health. I am actually with her saying we need to have more resources for these individuals with these symptoms. Schizophrenia is just as severe as having Sickle Cell Anemia, having HIV, the various forms of cancer; it’s something that I’ve learned it’s not something you can take an aspirin for and just call it night, it’s very serious.
Q: How would you describe Lewiki (Arjay Smith’s character)?
Arjay Smith: Well, you don’t find too many black gentlemen with the last name Lewiki, that in itself is a very complex story, but it’s a beautiful story. In season two, we found out that Lewiki was adopted by a Polish family and that’s how he gets the name Lewiki, but Lewiki is a very straight-forward guy, he’s a confident individual. I refrain from calling him a nerd because I don’t think he’s a nerd. This guy’s wardrobe is sharp; he’s on point with his wardrobe, so I think he’s far from a nerd. I think he’s a well put together guy; he’s a straight-shooter with honest intentions and Max takes his job pretty seriously, but he understands he has to have a level of compassion and sympathy for Dr. Daniel Pierce. Max understands that his job is to take care of Dr. Pierce and he has a lot of respect for him. He respects his wisdom, his knowledge and he doesn’t treat his schizophrenia as a handicap, but he understands it’s a condition that can overwhelm Dr. Pierce; his job is to make sure Dr. Pierce is not alone. In season 3, we just discover a deeper relationship between Max and Dr. Pierce especially since he’s a live-in teaching assistant. He wants Dr. Pierce to know that he can trust him with anything and he also wants him to know that he wants to be his friend as well.
Q: How do you feel Max’s wardrobe deciphers from yours?
Arjay Smith: He has a lot more ties and cardigans and button downs than I have, but I’m actually more of an accessory kind of guy. So, I love to wear big watches, I’m really into nice shoes. I used to wear a lot of hats, but I kind of got away from that. My girlfriend tells me I dress really well as Arjay, but Max more so has these color schemes that I just don’t think I can pull off in my day to day life. I’m a very kind of earth tone, low key, like I love grays, browns and navy blue, that’s more so my color scheme, but I’ll definitely say one thing we have in common is the wardrobe defines you. His (Max) wardrobe is one thing I love about the show.
Q: How do you feel your character has grown during these three seasons?
Arjay Smith: His relationship with Dr. Pierce has become more comfortable, he’s always very honest with him, but you can see that he wants to learn and I think the growth factor over these few seasons, he’s just really found himself as an individual, but me personally, I know what it’s like when it comes to adoption. My father adopted me and I’m a Smith by adoption, but I know that that story helps a lot of people and I think Max, being that he is adopted, that he’s probably in some ways still trying to find himself and his identity. Being that he is African-American with a polish name, I think you see his character understand that he is wanted, he is needed and he is loved and that’s one reason he likes being around Dr. Pierce. Over these seasons I think he really sees how much Dr. Pierce needs him. He also understands that he has to find his own position in life. In this season, there are a couple of moments where Dr. Pierce leans on Max for guidance and assistance when it comes to the crimes and Max is overjoyed. Max knows that these cases are soothing puzzles for Dr. Pierce, but they also keep his schizophrenia in-check. Max sees that he has a sense of entitlement and understands he’s worthy and anytime you have a character who understands their worth, on a story-line perspective in relation to each character, I think Max is really beginning to see his worth, even in his relationship with Dean Haley played by Levar Burton, their interaction is becoming stronger and deeper because they’re learning how to trust each other.
Being that he is African-American with a polish name, I think you see his character understand that he is wanted, he is needed and he is loved and that’s one reason he likes being around Dr. Pierce.
Q: What is it like playing a character that has to keep a schizo-neuropsychologist sane?
Arjay Smith: Well there’s never a dull moment, I can definitely tell you that. Max also brings a level of levity to the show, a little humor, but it’s a very sarcastic humor so, the undertone and watching the show, he takes Dr. Pierce seriously, but he doesn’t take it to the point where he’s offended. Everything Dr. Pierce dishes out to him he takes light heartedly; he understands that Dr. Pierce means well. Playing this character who is pretty much a caretaker, a T.A, a mother-father figure for Dr. Pierce is fun.
Q: Is there anything you’ve learned by being involved in a show that deals a lot with digging deep into the mind?
Arjay Smith: Our mind is super fragile, a lot more fragile than we would imagine. This show has opened me up to the world of mental illness.
Q: How is this role unlike roles you’ve played in your prior experience as an actor?
Arjay Smith: There’s a political stance I’ve had to take as Arjay, like a public service announcement that I’ve had to embrace in my personal life. Max is a good guy and for the duration of my career, I’ve played a lot of good guys. I’m actually looking forward to playing a role one day where it’s a bad guy cause in my personal life I don’t have that demeanor, but to embrace that character would definitely be a challenge, but also see another side of my skills.
Q: Any future projects we can expect from you?
Arjay Smith: Right now I’m actually working on, other than my cousin’s group Def Bananas-is a hip-hop group, they’re a fusion of Dey la Soul meets Neptunes and one strong correlation that has been given to them is the new Naughty by Nature. I’m writing a couple of web series and TV shows which I’m going to push within the next year. I just did a guest star, possible reoccurring role on Sons of Anarchy, which is their last season, where I’m super honored to be in that cast. My girlfriend and I, she’s a writer, we’re writing a couple of feature films together and being a producer is my next journey. I will always be an actor, but I’ve always understood the creative power that one possesses when they are an executive producer and the responsibility and it’s a responsibility I’ve always admired and looked forward too and now that I’m in my thirties, I’m embarking on that journey.
I’m actually looking forward to playing a role one day where it’s a bad guy cause in my personal life I don’t have that demeanor, but to embrace that character would definitely be a challenge, but also see another side of my skills.
Q: Is there anything you’d like Perception fans to know?
Arjay Smith: Just keep tuning in every Tuesday night 10 p.m. to Perception and definitely writing in about the show helps out so much and feedback is great. This year I’m hoping my career takes some profound steps.
Written by Yvette Brown