Jurnee Smollett’s love of acting was instilled by her mother, Janet, whom she credits in an interview with Backstage magazine for exposing her children to classic films from an early age, as well as being her primary acting coach. Janet demanded quality when her children chose to perform, even for simple, at-home performances. She must have done something right, because all six of the Smollett siblings became child actors who later developed successful careers as performers and entrepreneurs.
Smollett’s stagecraft has such a broad depth of field and powerful resonance, it’s mind-boggling to consider that she lacks a formal acting education. As a child, her deep level of profound intensity was remarkable to the older, more seasoned actors and crew she worked with. At the tender age of 10 years old, she was cast in “Eve’s Bayou,” an R-rated Southern Gothic drama centered around mature themes like infidelity and murder.
This was rather heavy material for such a young actor, and director Kasi Lemmons shared with The Hollywood Reporter how brilliantly young Smollett took on the role: “There’s nothing indulgent about Jurnee’s acting, ever — there’s never a moment where you don’t believe her.” While continuing her conversation with “Backstage,” the actress revealed another time in her career when a big-name director was impressed with her innate talent. While filming “The Great Debaters” in 2007, Denzel Washington engaged her in continual conversations about her character, often asking thought-provoking questions such as, “Well, how would you do it? How would you say it? Trust your instincts.”