Instinct Exclusive: A Sit Down With Derek Smith

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Netflix’s Beefy Secondary Character Earns The Spotlight With Pansexual Performance!


Back in May 2019, streaming service juggernaut, Netflix, released what I once described as a ‘gay boy’s dream come true’ in the form of a drama-thriller series, What/If. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet… there’s arguably only one sales pitch: Renee freaking’ Zellweger. The series is full of messy soap opera storylines, but is quite intelligent in its delivery that has your eyes glued to the screen begging for more. Typically, even in the case of the finale season of Orange is the New Black, I would fast forward through some scenes. What/If had me watching every single moment, soaking it all in. Not only was Zellweger a selling point for me, but the likes of an incomparable Jane Levy (Shameless, Evil Dead) and drool-worthy actors like Blake Jenner and Juan Castano checked off all I would want to be on a bucket list for a series. To my surprise, one of the casts secondary characters stole the show. Derek Smith played a pansexual stripper who becomes more than just a third in a gay couple’s relationship. Smith branded this usually-a-one-off-storyline into quite possibly the most likeable character in the series. Stripper with a heart of gold who wants you to discover yourself? Color me interested!


I promise I wasn’t tripping the entire time I watched the series. Smith’s portrayal of Kevin left me with goosebumps. So much to the point where I had to reach out to him and get to know more about the man behind this fantastic representation of a pansexual individual. Let’s be honest: Who doesn’t want to talk to the series’ hottest guy who was naked in a bunch of episodes?!

With the help of handy dandy social media, I was able to connect with Smith himself. Luckily, we’re both based in Southern California and were able to gracefully connect at a hot spot in West Hollywood, Katana on Sunset. Through some nerves, I’d like to assume from us both, we shared a cocktail and chatted about his What/If performance, Zellweger herself, his past and future in acting, and all things ridiculous.

During our conversation, I poked and pried at a variety of topics. Upon meeting him, I was absolutely shocked: Uhhh, you’re blonde?! Kevin, his character in the series, is clearly the hottest Ginger on television. Funny enough, what led to internet memes of him going in a tent with red hair is kind of false! Smith is a natural blonde, and didn’t even dye his hair for the role! Lighting can be tricky! I was completely bamboozled!



I worked through my shock and slowly became in bliss after he referenced my favorite television character of all time, Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City. But, you know I had to question how he’s reacting to what I would assume to be an endless amount of thirst trap messages sliding into this former football player’s direct messages on Instagram. I can guarantee you at least one of you reading this has sent one! Smith tells:

“Part of why I got into acting was vanity based. Now, I just want to work. I enjoy when I’m doing it and I feel really grateful and want to keep working. The fame, if it comes with acting, I’m not sure how to feel about that. I’m already a little overwhelmed with it. At one time, I would’ve been taking advantage of it and responding to (thirst trap messages). I feel like I’m aging myself, but I think I’m changing.”


What I found stimulating, or possibly irritating, is Smith won’t confirm or deny his sexuality. He continues to be quite vague when even suggesting who gives him butterflies and the only amount of hate he’s received from viewers. Smith continues:


“I’m not nervous about being type casted as an LGBTQ character. I don’t believe Kevin was a stereotype. If I was playing a gay stereotype, I may be worried. Kevin wasn’t the typical gay character, because he’s not gay, he’s pansexual. I’m not worried. I know there’s going to be people in middle America who won’t want to watch my work because I kissed a dude. But, I’m not acting for them. [They won’t even watch anyway]. The only backlash I’ve gotten from viewers was ‘Are you gay? If you’re not gay, you shouldn’t have played that role.’ I am so glad I took the role of Kevin.  I’m very open physically. I’ve dated all ethnicities. They have to be funny and must have an edge to them. I’ll say I like someone fit. I wasn’t always this fit. I think it’s important to have a place that we know if we put in effort, we’ll get results. The gym is a clear-cut place for that. It’s nice to have control over one part of your life. I work out every morning, it’s a great way to start your day.”



If you’re now one of the thousands vying to take Smith, a self-proclaimed Viking, on a date, he’s got a little news for you:

“I’m not in a dating mode right now. I’ve been on dating apps and have had a little success. Depending on what your idea of success is. It’s easy to meet people, it’s easy to hook up, but it’s hard to find a true connection with someone online. I’m mostly surrounded by other actors and they all want to talk shop. I don’t really want too. And I’ve gotten really lazy about leaving my house lately. If someone wants to come over for a cocktail, that’d be great. Maybe I’d love to just have appetizers and a drink, bouncing place-to-place, restaurant-to-restaurant. That sounds like a lot of fun. I’d like to see how adventurous someone is to try something new. I think hiking is a little played out. I used to do Runyon Canyon a lot, but then I’d go to The Griddle Cafe and eat all the calories I just burned.”


Yet, when he isn’t spending time at home with his two dogs or his half-hairless cat, Benjamin Button, you may be able to find him at a karaoke bar:

“Karaoke is a hobby because it unites everyone in the room, you’re all singing together. His go-to songs are Blackstreet’s No Diggity and a Pearl Jam song called Yellow Ledbetter. You can’t understand a word the dude says and just mumble the entire time. I love music. I recently have been listening to Nipsy Hustle. I like The Doors, The Animals, The Zombies, Led Zeppelin. I love grunge, as I mentioned I sing Pearl Jam during karaoke. I love a lot of singer-songwriters. This dude Iron & Wine basically just sings poetry which got me through a lot of tough shit in my life.”



Through his infectious laugh, we have plenty heavy-handed conversations regarding depression, anxiety, and the struggles of succeeding in the entertainment industry. In a business where rejection and pain is the normalized, Smith comes clean:

“I’ve been to therapy. I had a difficult time at the beginning of this year. I’m aware depression makes you not want to do the things that could make you get out of (your depression spiral). I would have friends who would tell me to get out of the house, but they need to understand that’s the last thing I wants to do right now.”

Over his infectious laugh, Smith of course discusses meeting the stellar Zellweger and how she is one of my best human beings on the planet. He raves about his work with on-air couple, the aforementioned Castano, Levy, and John Clarence Stewart. We talk about his future in acting:

Good Will Hunting is probably the reason I became an actor. I got compared to Matt Damon, and his character in Hunting, for years. I was an aggressive little dude for a while there. As I’ve gotten older, I know anger is a secondary emotion which comes from fear (and other triggers). I got into this business because I wanted to be a movie star, but I’m not sure if those even exist anymore. In five years, ideally, I’m on a television series which would be a steady paycheck. A series that I would feel good about doing, think along the lines of Breaking Bad. That show would allow me to pursue passion projects on the side. Strangely enough, the majority of my fans are in Brazil, so I envision traveling there, but in the meantime I’ll be road tripping, camping, and visiting cities in the United States.”


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Think I maybe had fun with these folks? While all the overwhelmingly positive feedback for @what_if has been so lovely and humbling, I’m not sure anything will ever compare to the actual process of making the show. Getting to go to work every single day with incredibly talented, genuine, and fantastic human beings was such a gift, and one I will cherish for the rest of my life. Thank you @netflix and my @what_if family for letting me play. And if you STILL haven’t watched, you’re being very un-Kevin. Get on it. K, thanks. p.s. There’s a story behind this tank top, but perhaps one I’ll save for another day. : : : : : : : : : : : : #whatwouldkevindo #talkkevintome #netflixoriginal #whatif #grateful #gratitude #blessed

A post shared by Derek Smith (@derekjamiesonsmith) on


To conclude, I asked Smith the hardest hitting question. Is he Team Britney or Team Christina?

“That’s a hilarious question! (Hesitates) Christina Aguilera. I have issues with her voice, she does too much with it. Just let that note lie and you’ll rule the world! You know what, I’ve changed my mind. Christina when they first started out, but now Britney Spears. Mariah Carey versus Whitney Houston though, Whitney all day! Whitney owned her power and never felt the need to push it.”


If you ask me, I firmly believe Smith is owning his newly broadened power… and we’re all about to witness him take over the globe.

Don’t forget to follow Smith on Instagram and check him out in all of his glory on What/If currently streaming exclusively on Netflix! 


Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one Instinct Magazine contributor and does not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.

Writer’s Note: Quotes have been edited for clarity.

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