It’s a hard-knock life for 15-year-old Eden Sanaa Duncan Smith. She puts in more hours working over the course of three days than many adults put in for their entire week.
And guess what? She wouldn’t change it for the world.
Eden’s day begins at 4:30am. By 6:30am, when most people are just beginning to rouse, Eden is already headed out the door. For the next hour, she will travel from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, to 48th Street in Manhattan, where she attends Professional Performing Arts High School as a dance major. And although school doesn’t begin until 8:30am, Eden—an honor student— arrives an hour early to complete extra credit work.
For the next 8 hours, Eden’s classroom studies will be a frenetic mix of math, English and science, coupled with professional instruction in voice, acting and dance. But that’s not all. At 4:30 when her school day ends is when her workday is just beginning. “Work” may entail either auditions or press appointments or fittings or rehearsals…
These days, however, it’s all of the above, as she excitedly prepares for the opening night of the movie, “Annie,” where she stars alongside Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx, in the role of Isabella Sullivan, Annie’s friend and fellow orphan.
Annie, the movie, opens nationwide on Friday, December 19. But Eden has taken time out of her busy schedule to sit down with The Brooklyn Reader for an intimate conversation on her teen life, set life, her love of Comic Con and her passion for social activism.
The Brooklyn Reader: What do you feel has been the best preparation for doing what you are doing now as a teen actress and successful student?
Eden Duncan-Smith: I’m very disciplined. My mother and father made sure I was a disciplined child, but in a good way. My mom is a minister, so as PK (preacher’s kid), I have to make sure I’m put together all the time. Also, I’ve been a dancer since I was two. I learned to read when I was two. Everything that I’ve done happened at an early age. So, I feel learning at an early age, helped me to develop better skills, because I have more experiences.
BR: What was it like working on set with the other young actors? Tell me about one of your funniest memories on set.
EDS: I’m an only child. So working with the girls all the time, and having them there all the time was like having sisters, and that was really fun! One of my favorite memories from Annie was… well, all the kids from the movie sometimes have to stay overnight in a hotel… So one night at the hotel, they announced there was going to be a blackout. So we went down to one of the other girl’s room, Zoe—the blond girl that plays Tessie in the movie– and as soon as the blackout happened, we walked throughout the entire hotel freaking people out with our phone flashlights. And it was cold so the windows were fogged out, so in case people came out, we wrote all of these scary messages on the window. That was funny!
BR: What do you like to do in your downtime? How do you like to spend your free time when you’re not acting?
EDS: I like social media. I like tumblr. And I’m on IG and Twitter. I also like to draw and write stories. I like to dance. I read a lot. I’m communicating with my Fandom community (a family of people who like the same books, movies, pop, cultures, sub-cultures)– Harry Potter, Marvel and DC– I do not discriminate– and anything dealing with Comic Con, The Mortal Instruments and Game of Thrones. Yes, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones! I also do sign language. From kindergarten to fifth grade, I went to school for English and Sign Language, so I can communicate in sign language.
BR: So I hear you’re quite the young activist. What sort of issues or causes do you stand behind?
EDS: I work with LGBTQ rights; I work with women’s rights, girls getting married at young ages in other countries. I blog for Kevin Powell’s BK Nation; I work with “Girls Be Heard!,” which is a women’s racial/sexuality rights organization that promotes activism through performing arts. I’m really shy. Activism helps me to become someone who’s not shy. I’m more confident in myself.
BR: Do you have any other “teen interests?”
EDS: Well, as far as dating, I feel like girls shouldn’t rush into relationships so fast. I think girls should keep themselves focused on what they have to do instead of conforming to, “Oh, I have a boyfriend,” or “Oh, I’ve kissed this many guys.” I think they should be focused on what they want to do with their lives when they grow up. Even though it shouldn’t be this way, I feel girls have to focus even more than boys do; we have to prove ourselves. Until we can walk down the street and not get catcalls, and until we have the same pay as men for the same job, until woman means human, we cannot be flimsy with our lives.
BR: What advice would you give to other young people who would like to get into acting?
EDS: One piece of advice would be to take a lot of lessons. Make sure you know technique. And take it seriously, don’t play around when you’re learning. It’s a serious business. Learn how to treat people and the press. And learn how to treat people who are not in the business. And don’t be mean or brush off your fans. Learn the greats, people who are legendary. Find icons to model yourself off of, like Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, August Wilson and Steven Spielberg.