You likely know him as Chief Shepard in the Netflix series “Mindhunter,” now filming its second season in Pittsburgh. A Washington, D.C. native, actor Cotter Smith lived in NYC and Los Angeles before falling hard for Pittsburgh while filming here. From films such as “The Post” to TV shows like “The Americans,” he’s appeared in numerous productions, as well as on stages nationwide. Meanwhile, Smith’s 25-year teaching career includes a recent position as Drama Department Head at The New School.
Here in Pittsburgh, Smith is currently teaching a Stanislavsky acting technique called “Active Analysis” — which he describes as a “fascinating and freeing Russian technique that was suppressed by Stalin and only just now finding its way to the U.S.” About his newfound home, Cotter says: “I have been humbled and overwhelmed by the open and generous embrace of the theater artists here and feel more at home than I could ever have imagined.” He adds that he and his wife Heidi are now “happily settled in Edgewood on a quiet street with a lovely front porch, far far from the madness of New York City.”
What upcoming events are you excited to attend?
For play, I love spending Sunday summer mornings with my wife at Bach, Beethoven and Brunch in Mellon Park.
For work, I look forward to portraying the lead prosecutor of the 1912 Senate investigation into the sinking of the Titanic in the local PMI Productions film, “Unsinkable.”
Best part of your job?
The always changing and unexpected challenges.
Favorite local role or project to date?
How did you come to be living in Pittsburgh, and what about the city resonates with you?
My wife and I came to Pittsburgh from New York City for my role in “Mindhunter,” a David Fincher series for Netflix, and very quickly knew that we had found the home we were looking for. We officially became residents a year ago and couldn’t be happier. We needed to escape the hectic pace of the big city, but find a place where we could stay involved and fulfilled both creatively and professionally. Both the film and theater communities here have been surprisingly welcoming and there is the unexpected bonus of my being able to continue my teaching career as well, having already been invited to do so at both Carnegie Mellon and Point Park University. I couldn’t have designed a better place to call home.
Which one of your roles is most like your actual personality?
I usually play rather stern and tough authority figures which couldn’t be further from my actual personality, but I grew up with those guys so I know how to channel them. However, the role of Howard Ratliff in Horton Foote’s “The Old Friends” at Signature Theatre in New York was one very close to my kind of guy.
What major differences have you observed between living in Pittsburgh and New York?
Pittsburgh is friendlier, quieter, greener, less pretentious and more welcoming.
What are your impressions of the film industry in Pittsburgh?
I believe the film industry here is on the launching pad and very much primed to grow. Not only can you recreate countless different types of locations, but the acting pool here is extremely deep and incredibly talented.
What advice would you give to local actors just starting out?
See as much of the great local work as you can to find out which places match your interests. Find a teacher you trust who understands and challenges you. Follow your heart and don’t let the inevitable disappointments of this crazy business get you down.
Podcast you’re addicted to?
The Reviewniverse co-created by my talented stepson Chris Mueller. A wild and crazy comic tour with two guys hired to review everything in the universe.
Ideal date night in Pittsburgh?
Dinner with my wife and then shooting pool at Murphy’s Taproom in Regent Square.
If you could remake one classic movie what would it be, and what role would you play?
“High Noon” — Gary Cooper’s role of Marshall Will Kane.
What book is on your nightstand or in your e-reader right now?
The FDR biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin called “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.”
Which Pittsburgh band would you like to play in your living room?
Bastard Bearded Irishmen. My wife and I met them at Murphy’s Taproom during one of our pool shooting nights. While they finished a photo shoot at the bar for an album cover, we had a fun night of connection with them and she cajoled them into going to their cars and getting their instruments. They did and they gave us a crazy wonderful impromptu private concert. It was a fantastic and forever memorable Pittsburgh night.
What’s one thing in Pittsburgh you are most looking forward to trying or seeing?
A Steelers’ game.
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