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Exclusive Interview with Jamie Renee Smith and Sean Murphy Of The Hit TikTok Series ‘Hidden Canyons’

‘Hidden Canyons’ is a series airing its episodes on TikTok and blowing audiences away with each passing minute. ‘Hidden Canyons’ is an LGBTQ+ soap opera filled with unforgettable characters and jaw dropping twists and turns. Each episode is just a minute long, but they all pack a major punch.

The cast includes Sufe Bradshaw (VEEP’s Sue Wilson), Daytime-Emmy-nominee Sean Samuels (GIANTS the Series), Tonatiuh (VIDA’s Marcos Zamora), Jeremy Glazer (Rust Creek, Modern Family, 9-1-1), Brant Rotnem (13 Reasons Why), Jackson Davis (VIDA, NCIS), Jamie Renee Smith (Weeds, True Blood), and Sean-James Murphy (Danger 5, Neighbors). 
Actor Jamie Renee Smith
The binge-able first season won best “episodic” at Outfest 2020 and garnered over 3.5M views on TikTok. Creator Brant Rotnem and his team of talented actors created an opportunity for himself and his community. While many wildly talented LGBTQ+ artists struggle to find space for their voice in the film industry, it seems Brant and his team have found an avenue through the micro-narrative on social media. Today, people are already used to consuming bits of strangers’ lives through snippets on social media – Brant and his team thought, how cool would it be if we added a bit of narrative?

The show is the latest in Hollywood’s move toward shorter content production. With the success of short-form series on YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook Live, and Quibi, productions are adapting to shrinking attention spans. Hidden Canyons follows the trend to its next logical step: bite-sized TV, meant to be consumed in less than the time it takes to brush your teeth.

‘Hidden Canyons’ just debuted it’s second season and we caught up with two of the outstanding cast members Jamie Renee Smith and Sean Murphy;

Actor Sean Murphy / Photo Credit: Alex Vaughan

Jamie and Sean welcome to OLC! pleasure to have you both here. Hidden Canyons, it’s such an incredible show, tell me a bit about it and who you both play?

Jamie: It’s such a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me! Hidden Canyons is an LGBTQ+ Micro-series making it the first-ever minute-long LGBTQ+ Instagram soap series. My character, Violet Thornton is married to Denise (played by the incomparable Sufe Bradshaw). In season 1, we find out that Violet is pregnant with the donated sperm of Denise’s brother and our story explores what happens when a same-sex couple asks a family member to be a part of the conception.

Sean: Hidden Canyons is essentially a queer soap opera made specifically for social media; all our episodes are cut into bite-sized scenes. I play Nathanial, an Australian living in America who likes to stir up trouble. So yes, they wrote the part just for me!

How did you both get involved in the show?

Jamie: I am so lucky. I met Brant years ago (I want to say 2015?) in acting class at Howard Fine Studio. We both immediately had fierce acting crushes on each other. You know those people you see in class who are mind-blowingly amazing? And you think to yourself “I want to be friends with that person”? Welp, that was Brant to a tee. Years later, he thought of me for the role of Violet Thornton and that’s how I got involved – it’s been such an honor to be entrusted with portraying such a dynamic character.

Sean: I know the show’s creators, and they wrote the part with me in mind. How could I say no to such a fun script and talented cast?

How did you both prepare for your roles, and how much of you went into your characters?

Jamie: The preparation for this was such a fun and enjoyable process. Brant and our amazing producing team started by asking us to snap photos of a ‘day in the life of’ our characters…this gave way to a lot of creativity on both ends. There was an extensive backstory that was discussed and plenty of hands-on rehearsal time before filming which made the shoot incredibly smooth. Why more people don’t rehearse beforehand is beyond me. I find it to be such a viable process. I have to say…while Violet’s backstory is nothing like mine in real life, a lot of me went into her. She’s very direct, opinionated, emotional, and demanding. Yep, that is very much me — ha! But in all honesty, the writing was so darn good that it made it easy to create the world of Violet. I’ve never slipped into another character with such ease, and thanks to all thanks to Brant’s seamless writing.

Sean: As the character was so close to my own personality, I took it as a chance not to ‘over prepare’ and relax on set, which allowed me to focus on bouncing off the other actors.

What do you both love about being on the show?

Jamie: The thing I love most about being on this show is that there are so many relevant topical issues that get unpacked. Brant does such an amazing job at commenting on what’s happening in the current climate while doing this through the lens of LGBTQ+ characters. He is incredibly inclusive and has created such rich, dynamic, multi-faceted characters. They are not one-dimensional or reductive, which often happens in the writing of gay characters. Brant’s writing speaks to the nuances of the community asking real and relevant questions; should gay couples structure their romantic relationships like straight couples? What happens when a same-sex couple asks a family member to help conceive? I also love being a part of a ground-breaking format – this is the first time Instagram and TikTok are using scripted short-form content, where each episode is literally a minute long. How cool to be the catalyst for hopefully a ton more short-form scripted content!

Sean: I felt incredibly comfortable with the entire cast and crew in both seasons. When I looked around the set, I saw a diverse queer crew, and it felt like such a safe space. That is rare in Hollywood, and I did not take any of it for granted.

Do you hope to both return for a season 3?

Jamie: I mean DUH, who wouldn’t want to return for Season 3 and keep telling these cliff-hanger stories?! Not to mention being surrounded by immense talent…I keep telling Brant I want our characters’ paths to cross in Season 3!

Sean: Absolutely – I would love to come back for more. I wonder which cast member I get to make out with next.

Now Jamie you’ve starred in a lot of amazing shows, Animal Kingdom, The Bold And The Beautiful, True Blood, the list goes on. But how were you discovered, and end up on all these prestigious shows? 

Jamie: Aw, you are very kind! I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to sustain such a long, rich and varied career. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years now, can you believe it?! I was discovered at the ripe young age of 6 at a talent showcase for youth at the Beverly Hills Hilton Hotel back in the early 90s. I signed with my first agent at that showcase and the very first audition she got for me was for SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COLLEGE YEARS, and I booked it right out of the gates. Too wild. I stayed with that same agency for 20 years! While I did take several acting classes all throughout my career (I still take classes now!) I feel I was born with this in some strange way. I can’t explain it, but acting lives in my bones. However, because of my extensive training in both comedy and drama, I think that’s how I was able to land roles on so many prestigious shows. A lot of times in this industry people pigeon-hole you into COMEDY or DRAMA. You don’t have to choose. In fact, that’s what I love about Hidden Canyons. It’s essentially a soap opera, but there is so much humor and levity woven in.

What’s been the most memorable character for you Jamie throughout your acting career, and what did you love about playing them?

Jamie: I think the most memorable character from my entire career is Tara Westover from MVP: Most Valuable Primate. Yes, you read that title correctly. It’s a movie about a chimpanzee who becomes friends with a deaf girl and her hockey-playing brother – the chimp learns to play hockey and saves the day. Definitely not a kid’s movie (haha). I was hired to portray a deaf character and I learned sign language for the role. It was beyond rewarding. I wanted to put time, research, and honest work into this role; I wanted to do right by the deaf community. This was at a time before deaf actors were truly seen within our industry, so I was lucky to play that role, but I wouldn’t accept a role like that now given how many eligible and amazing deaf actors there are who deserve and need to be seen!  I was so thrilled to see CODA sweep up so many awards this year. I fell in love with that movie! If you haven’t watched it yet, RUN. It’s a must.

Phot Credit: Alex Vaughan

Sean, I’m a fellow Australian and I have to ask you, what was your time like being on Neighbours and what did you learn?

Sean: Oh my goodness, Neighbours! That feels like a lifetime ago. It was one of my first TV jobs, and I think I came back every couple of years as a different character. They would call me back in, change my hairstyle each time, and just like magic, it was as if I was on the show for the first time! Acting in scenes with people I had grown up watching was intimidating at the time, but it probably prepared me well for life in Los Angeles.

Being Australian, how did your acting journey begin and how did you get the opportunity to be in bigger roles in shows like Underbelly and Winners & Losers etc?

Sean: I started out doing lots and lots of theatre, but the kind of shows I did were insane. We liked to call it ‘Trash Theatre’, think; John Waters directing a stage play. While I did theatre, I got lots of small roles in TV, until I got a lead role in the show Danger 5. It is also insane, but it turned out to be an international cult hit. I was brought over to Los Angeles to try out for some big network shows off the back of Danger 5’s success. It’s a series of small steps that start to add up over time.

So for people that are beginners and want to get into acting, what advice would you give to those people and how can they get started?

Jamie: The best advice I can give to beginning actors is – TAKE CLASS. Find a class that works for you. This might take time. But think of it like dating. You have to date around to find someone you’re really into. Once you find that class, that teacher, that community, STAY. For a while. At least 4-6 months. Too many people start training and then don’t follow through. Taking a month of class here or there isn’t beneficial. Acting is a muscle. It’s like going to the gym. You won’t have 6-pack abs if you do sit-ups once a week. But you do that 4-5 times a week?? Boom. Abs for days baby! Same thing with acting. You have to use your muscles in order for it to grow. Also, another piece of advice: YOU HAVE TIME. Slow down. Enjoy the process, as frustrating as it is…that’s where all the good juju is. That’s where the growth is. Oh!! And don’t compare yourself to others. That will be the death of you. Everyone’s journey is so uniquely their own…how fast or slow someone else gets there has nothing to do with you and your timeline. Big lesson there.

Sean: My serious advice to someone who wants to act: If you can be happy doing anything else, do that instead! It is a very rough business, and you need to have nerves of steel to endure the near-constant rejection without losing your mind. But, if you know you have the temperament and talent, and no one can talk you out of it, then my advice is to move to LA as soon as you can. Few people can make a living from acting outside of LA. Most of the big opportunities are here. It’s important to understand that you will be competing against actors that have been here since they were 5 years old and have IMDb credits as long as your arm. So get here as soon as you can.

What does the rest of 2022 hold for the both of you and what do you have on your upcoming acting slate?

Jamie: I’m very excited to share that my episode of Animal Kingdom will be airing this summer!  I’m such a huge fan of the show (and Ellen Barkin!)  so it’s truly extremely exciting to be a part of the final season. I’ve also been in pre-production for a show called Bloody Shame that’s a period piece set in 1948, revolving around a closeted screenwriter who finds a new purpose when she aligns herself with a mysterious woman from her past who is on a mission of revenge. Really juicy stuff! We are set to start filming in April, keep your eyes peeled in 2023!

Sean: My time is mostly spent writing and directing now. I am at a stage with my acting career where I know when I am right for a role and don’t want to run around town chasing any old part. Nothing beats the feeling of playing a great part that suits you. Otherwise, I feel happier writing and directing, so that is where I keep my focus.

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Written by Neill Frazer

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