Simeon Daise first hit the silver screen as a kid and starred in Nickelodeon’s Gullah Gullah Island alongside his family. Just this year, the actor has a number of new projects on deck, including Cheaper by The Dozen, a number of TV appearances and a documentary about Gullah Geechee Afro-futurism. LA Confidential caught up with Daise to talk more about All American, his Snowfall debut and the fun of acting with kids.
Season 4 of All American just returned to The CW. What can we look forward to about what’s to come for Jabari and what have you enjoyed most about the role?
What we're going to see more of is just Jabari’s heart, what he stands for and how he cares for the people around him. We get introduced to Jabari as just this misunderstood, rough-around-the-edges kid with a chip on his shoulder. But he has complexities now that we're starting to explore a little more. I think what I love about him, he just represents the underdog. He represents the underprivileged, those kids that get pushed to the wayside because of their past or their upbringing was a squeaky clean. They have all the potential in the world, but no one wants to give them a chance. I love representing that group of people.
The season comes back where the midseason finale ended and Jabari led some juniors to steal the Beverly High School trophy and give it to the seniors. So now all the rap is coming down on Spencer because, as we know, Spencer has a Superman complex, so he has to save everybody. And it's coming down to if Spencer is going to take the rap and get expelled. What we see later is how Jabari responds to Spencer's heroic act.
Snowfall is also about to have a premiere. What was it like being part of Season 5?
It was one of the most fun experiences of my career. They gave me full-range to play and find that character. The character's story arc is one of those characters where even when I read in the auditions, I was like, “Oh wow, I'm invested in this person. What is what is going to happen with this person?” So my character comes in with a bang, he comes in making noise. It’s going to be a big episode, but just the ability to come in and find him and make my own choices and the directors just be like, “Oh, yeah, he knows what he's doing.” That was fun.
What was it like developing this character?
It was my own insight. And that's really the bulk of all the characters I've been able to portray throughout my career. My experiences have aligned with their experiences in some way, shape or form, so it was easy to find their humanity and follow their thought process— how they think about a situation, how they would approach a situation, how they would assess what's going on. It was really all me and then, of course, when you get on set, a director may give you notes. But the majority just gave me free range.
Do you prefer these sort of dramatic roles?
I think I do. That's my bread and butter right there. My favorite actor of all time was Leonardo DiCaprio. I think just watching him, all of his roles have just been dramatic roles, his ability to take someone on the character journey and show this whole range of emotion— because I was attracted to it at a young age, I think somewhere subconsciously I looked to emulate it.
You started working in the industry when you were pretty young. Did you always know it was the right path for you or did you have to grow to find your own self-motivated passion for working in entertainment?
I'm not gonna say I always knew this was a path for me. I definitely knew it was a possibility because I experienced it early on at a high level. But there was a difference between being the cute little child and growing up to be the man. You don't get marketed the same way. You're not in the same bracket. You don't get looked at the same way. I joke with my parents all the time like, “Oh, this was way easier when all of us would just hop in the van doing this together as opposed to me doing it by myself.” There's definitely been times where I was like, “I don't know that this is the path for me. Maybe I should have done something else.” But everybody has their realm of genius, their realm of excellence, and this is just mine. I do this better than I do most things. I do this more effortlessly than I do most things. And it's that on top of the vision of where I want to take it that really keeps me going.
I think because the way the industry is set up, we highlight the wins versus the journey. And so it's easy to want to emulate someone when you think they're winning. But it’s really the journey, the behind the scenes that really makes or breaks people. And I think the truth of the matter is that the journey never stops, regardless of how much you win. I knew that this was a path I was committed to probably in my early 20s. Twenty-one, I was like, “OK, I'm gonna see this out.” Twenty-five, I was like, “It’s gonna be this.” And even still, I’ll be like, “OK, well, it can be this and something else,” but I'm still committed to this.
Let’s talk about Cheaper by the Dozen. Can you tell us more about your character Chris?
Chris is the young high school athlete that welcomes Deja, Gabrielle Union's oldest daughter, to her new school. He’s a nice family guy, well-rounded, great at sports, good heart, likable all-around guy, heartthrob of the teenagers. That would be Chris.
What was fun about the role?
I'm not the villain. I'm not the bad guy. And it was fun even working with a younger cast. Yes, Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff, but with stars are the kids. It's about this family of kids. Just looking back, it's kind of a 360, because I remember being younger than them and starting my career then. I look at the amazing work that they're doing and the energy they bring to set and it's like, they’re just kids having fun. It was a fun set.
Can you tell us more about your documentary project, Saltwata Vibes?
The project started some years ago just with a phone call. I was in South Carolina, and I was talking to my dad just about how we came from the whole Gullah Geechee culture, but we don't have no sound, we don’t really have a music that represents us and how I wanted to do something about that. I came home one day and one of my dad's associates, he was like, “I'm gonna put you on a phone call because he has an idea similar to what you were talking about.” So he put me on the phone with who is now the director and executive producer of the documentary, Sherard Duvall, and we started talking and some things he was saying aligned with exactly what I was saying. So we started with a conversation like years ago. We finalized contracts and everything and started filming in 2020. I was living in Atlanta and the pandemic brought me back to South Carolina, and that's where everybody was based in different parts of South Carolina. My sister, who’s also executive producing it— it’s me, her and Sherard— it was easy for me to just come to my parents house, we would all link up to my parents house and we would just film. We're still pretty much in pre-production.
We're still in the early phases of the project, but it's coming together. So many different elements were coming together or thrown at us because of the pandemic, but also just divine timing and being spirit led. Sometimes you had to wait for something to happen and be like, “Oh, OK, this is why this happened like this.”
Why did you want to tell this story?
I think the core reason is we as a culture have to break out of the narratives that that make us viewed like a limited monolith. There's so many ideas about who we are, where we come from and what we do that just aren't true. And don't represent us now. And there's been a lot of gatekeepers who step up and present these narratives to people only because of a check, because they will get paid to do so or so they can get seen as ambassador of the culture and it doesn't reflect what's going on in who we are in the possibilities that we have as a people, as a culture now. It was just important to expand and change that narrative and break that down and give people the truth, and also allow us as a culture to reimagine ourselves and dream beyond things that we've been told were true.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Marcus Fort