If you watch the Disney Channel, you know Brandon Mychal Smith: he's one of Demi Lovato's wise-cracking improv partners in Sonny With A Chance (and the spin-off, So Random!) and Sterling Knight's rapping BFF in Starstruck, Disney's second most-watched TV movie of all time behind High School Musical 2. Next year, you'll see him in the upcoming Disney flick Let It Shine, a modern day re-telling of Cyrano de Bergerac centered around the teen battle-rap scene in Atlanta -- a departure from the recent High School Musical pop-centric movies coming out of the Disney pipeline.
But Brandon is no cookie cutter teen actor: after growing up in South Central LA and witnessing violence all around him, Brandon followed his dreams and landed the role of Junior on The District, followed by a role on Phil of The Future, and the rest is Disney history. I caught up with Brandon while he was on a break from filming in Atlanta to chat about his high school experience, his favorite way to use his iPhone, and how he pranked Demi Lovato.
You were mostly homeschooled and then went to high school for your senior year. What was your experience like -- were you the jock, the drama nerd, or the class clown?
I took my senior off from acting because I wanted to be a kid for one year. Oh man, I had so much fun. I was the kid that everyone was like, "This dude is cool." I played varsity basketball, I was a geek (I loved math and biology, so I was always staying after class and trying to figure out the equations) and I was very interested in my studies. I was also interested in sports -- I ran track, I played basketball at lunch, I did it all... We went to prom, we threw water balloons at teachers, we just had such a fun time.
Do you miss working with Demi Lovato, Sterling Knight, and Tiffany Thornton on Sonny With A Chance?
Yeah, definitely. We all love each other, we're literally a family. Demi's my sister, Tiff's my sister, Sterling's my brother. It's one big family, so it's always sad to not be able to see your family and hang out with your family, but they're all doing big things. Demi's album Unbroken is amazing, it's doing so well and I'm so proud of her. I hope to get in the studio with her soon and lay some tracks down so I can freestyle with an amazingly talented singer.
Have you made plans to collaborate?
We've chatted about it -- we'll see. We're in no rush right now. But we miss having her on the set, maybe she'll come back and holler at us!
Do you have any funny stories from when you guys were on set together?
Oh my gosh! Every day was funny, literally. We would pull pranks. We had this skeleton called Ortho, I don't even know where it came from. Everybody has gotten scared by it. And when you [get pranked], you have to take it and put it in somebody else's dressing room. I walked into my room one morning, kind of tired, and there's this skeleton with old lady hair [sitting there]. Then it says something and it moves! So I'm like, "WHAT IS GOING ON?!?" I flipped out.
Did you put the skeleton in Demi's dressing room next?
I did! I put it in Demi's dressing room because hers was next to mine. But she wasn't as scared -- she was like, "Ohhh! BRANDON!!!" And I'm like, "Oh Lord, don't get mad at me."
Your upcoming film, Let It Shine, is about the battle-rap scene in Atlanta. Are you doing a lot of freestyling for the role? How are you practicing?
Oh man! Too much freestyling. I don't have enough memory space in my phone anymore! It's great that I have an iPhone 4G because I can just pull out the mic tool. It's like a studio-quality mic, it sounds great when you play it back… And if I get something that's really profound I will definitely write it down on my iPhone.
I'm sure doing improv on So Random! made you a better freestyler. What do you love about being on that show?
We have such a great time... And with the new live audience we have over 300 kids from around the world there and we're just entertaining them, so it really feels like SNL, it feels like live theater.
You're pretty active on Twitter. Do you follow your fans a lot? How do you use social media in your everyday life?
It's great because now with Facebook and Twitter and MySpace and your space and their space, everybody's talking. I love retweeting my fans and talking to them. Once I week I get on there and go, "Do you have any questions for me? I'm chilling, I'm by a computer, I'm not really doing much, I would love to see what you're talking about." It's just a great way to learn about new cultures and new people. I feel like via communication and talking -- whether that's through Twitter, Facebook, Skype or saying hi to people and smiling as you're walking down the street -- that's how we're going to progress and become a happier world. Maybe not more of a prosperous and wealthy world, but we'll be wealthy in love and that's what I'm excited about.
Catch So Random! on the Disney Channel, Sunday nights at 8:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. Central). And be sure not miss Justin Bieber's guest performance on December 4!
Check out this behind-the-scenes video of Brandon and the other stars of Sonny With a Chance.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story indicated that Brandon's first role was on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In fact, it was on The District.