interview by JANA LETONJA

Numéro Netherlands Digital introduces actor Cory Michael Smith as the Cover Star of the day. Cory was recently featured in the drama feature ‘May December’, sharing the screen with Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore. He is also recognized for his role in the Netflix series ‘Transatlantic’. Up next, Cory will be gracing the screen in the historical drama ‘SNL 1975’. He takes centre stage in this exclusive men’s fashion editorial captured by Cody Lidtke.

You most recently starred in Netflix’s drama ‘May December’, whish is loosely inspired by the Mary Kay Letourneau scandal. How was it working on this project, and especially alongside Natalie and Julianne?
‘May December’ was my third film with our director Todd Haynes. Georgie felt like new territory for me and I told Todd that I wanted to physically transform. We chose to do a tragic, rancid dye job on my hair, which made me feel reckless like Georgie. I designed some temporary tattoos, each one giving me a sense of time and history. Our costume designer, April Napier, really helped secure Georgie’s identity, in particular with three chokers, one which had a little heart that felt childish and sad. I loved playing Georgie in all of his tragedy and naïveté and performative angst, and I thoroughly enjoyed being a major roadblock for Natalie’s character. Natalie and Julianne are supreme professionals and extraordinary talents, and to work opposite them was dreamy. I can only hope they enjoyed the experience playing together as much as I did.

The film received various nominations, both at Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and was named one of the top 10 films of 2023. What do yo believe contributed to such success of the film?
When a film feels singular, as I think ‘May December’ does, it’s success sometimes feels like alchemy, but there are ingredients that are notable to me. Samy Burch’s script is a sticky web of moral complications and that makes for a compelling watch. Todd’s direction is incredibly deft and dances tonally between drama and comedy in a fresh, masterful way. His use of Michel Legrand’s music is jarring, surprising and enrapturing. Christopher Blauvelt’s cinematography is milky and murky and you can feel the heavy, damp air swirling around all of these characters in springtime Savannah. And finally, Laura Rosenthal cast an exciting ensemble of actors, of which I was very lucky to be a part.

Last year, you also starred in Netflix’s series ‘Transatlantic’, that explores historic Emergency Rescue Committee that operated in Marseilles, Spain and Portugal in 1940 after the fall of France. What did you like the most about working on such a historical story?
I cherished the opportunity to introduce people to Varian Fry, a mostly unknown American hero who went to the south of Vichy, France to locate some notable Jewish figures who were hiding from the Nazi regime and to attempt to bring them to safety in the United States. Over the course of many months, Varian built out the Emergency Rescue Committee and ended up saving thousands of Jewish refugees, some of whom became influential cultural figures in the mid 20th century, i.e. Marc Chagall, Hannah Arendt, Max Ernst, André Breton. At the beginning of filming, Ukraine was invaded by Russia and suddenly there was a major land war in Europe for the first time since WWII. It gave us a somber sense of purpose in telling the story of refugees forced from their homelands. I suspect this project will stand as one of the most personally impactful experiences in my career. It also initiated my ongoing work with the International Rescue Committee, formerly the ERC, an organization that responds to the world’s worst humanitarian disasters to help people survive and rebuild their lives.


You began your career in the theater, starring on Broadway in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. What is the most thrilling feeling you experienced performing on stage?
My favourite theatrical experience was a year before my Broadway debut when I premiered a play by Mike Bartlett in New York, called ‘Cock’. The New York Times refused to print the title, replacing it with an underlined blank space and photo of a rooster, and referred to it as ‘The Cockfight Play’. It was performed inside a cockfighting arena designed by Miriam Buether. It was a brightly lit 13 ft diameter circle completely surrounded by an audience tiered in five rows. It was my most vulnerable and volatile stage experience and performance, as I could have stumbled into the lap of anyone in the front row at any time and indeed went through a gamut of emotion, disintegrating every night directly in their faces. I loved every minute of it.

Before deciding to focus on acting, you had completely different aspirations growing up. Can you share with us what those were and what then inspired you to pursue a career in acting?
While I was in middle school, my mom worked for a law firm and I enjoyed shadowing a couple litigators in court, having a keen interest in possibly being a trial lawyer one day. But I also grew up studying piano and writing music. I visited conservatories early in high school and realized that the solitary lifestyle of piano performance was not an ideal professional path for me. I did community theater growing up, but it wasn’t until late in high school when I was cast in a play portraying six different characters that I became more aware of a natural instinct toward building specificity with characterization. I decided to audition for college drama programs, was accepted and ended up studying drama for four years. In 2020, during the pandemic, I started studying for the LSATs and reconsidered going to law school. I eventually decided against it.

Which has been your most memorable role so far?
It’s very difficult to choose. I have to give you five, Kevin Coulson in ‘Olive Kitteridge’, The Riddler in ‘Gotham’, Adrien Lester in ‘1985’, Varian Fry in ‘Transatlantic’ and Georgie in ‘May December’.

sweater & trousers ISABEL MARANT
watch OMEGA

How do you usually prepare for new roles? Do you have a specific process of preparation?
Each character requires a different process for me. Ideally, I have months to prepare to create a vivid sense of person and to build a stronger connection to the language and story. But occasionally, casting happens just weeks or days before filming. I’m a cerebral person, so I tend to enjoy the research and development of a character. I study the time period, place and history of the moment. I like knowing what music is popular and creating a playlist. I study how a character uses language. If necessary, I create a detailed fictional past. The physical life of a character often takes more work for me to establish. Sometimes there’s a physical transformation and it requires me trying to break certain habits and patterns in search of new ones. I enjoy the intensive preparation because the freedom that comes from confident execution of the work while the camera is rolling, and the subsequent joy, is the great payoff.

What are some of the passions that fulfil your life the most, outside of acting?
I love being around people, especially in a group with unique points of view. I have wonderful friends with diverse careers, interests and perspectives, and my life is rich because of knowing and spending time with them. Outside of my social life, I follow US and international politics and governance closely. Artistically, I love watching great films, television, dance and theater, and visiting museums. I’m a musician and sing and play the piano daily when I can. I love getting lost in great fiction. I enjoy cooking and sharing a great meal with people I love. I often yearn to travel, to move around and I do so when I can. I have a deep affinity for France, its history, language, food, art. I had the privilege of living there for half a year while filming ‘Transatlantic’. I also love Japanese culture, have visited twice and dream of living and working there at some point in my life.

What aspirations do you have for the future of your career?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with exceptional filmmakers and I hope to continue building a career collaborating with artists I admire. I’ve written my first pilot and have been adapting a novel into a screenplay, so my aspirations to eventually create work as a writer and director are coming into clearer focus.

You’re currently working on ‘SNL 1975’, a series following a troupe of young comedians that changed TV forever. What can you share with us about this project?
All I can share for now is that I’m portraying Chevy Chase on the night of the very first broadcast of Saturday Night Live, a show that revolutionized television and comedy. The film follows the chaos behind the scenes, counting down in real time to the moment America first heard “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night.” The cast is stacked and I’m so grateful to be a part of it.

photography CODY LIDTKE
styling SEPPE TIRABASSI at The Wall Group
grooming RIAD AZAR at The Only Agency
production design MILENA GORUM at Art Department
video director CODY LIDTKE
interview JANE LETONJA