Jason Matthew Smith counts among his credits dozens of film and TV appearances, spanning from Six Feet Under, 24, Playmakers, Rebound and Bones to Big Love, Sons of Anarchy, NCIS: Los Angeles, Longmire and Six Gun Savior. But, thanks to Star Trek, he's achieved cult favorite status. And that's because he played a character credited as Burly Cadet in Star Trek (2009) and Cupcake in Star Trek Into Darkness. Smith filmed a death scene for Into Darkness, but director J.J. Abrams cut it, letting Cupcake live and paving the way for the character to return in Star Trek Beyond. Sure enough, Cupcake -- now a/k/a Hendorff -- was back in Beyond... until he wasn't.
Smith worked for three months on Beyond, but only learned during the premiere at Comic-Con that all of his scenes, including a second death sequence -- had hit the cutting room floor. So, guess what? Smith and Cupcake/Hendorff could wind up, having twice dodged the Grim Reaper, in the next Star Trek adventure. StarTrek.com caught up with the gregarious and tall Smith at Comic-Con, and we can run our coversation now that it's no longer a spoiler that his character isn't actually in the film.
What was the whole Comic-Con Beyond premiere experience like for you, from the perfect weather to the red carpet, and from the IMAX screen to the live orchestra?
I think it was earth-shatteringly, mind-numbingly awesome. For me, I've never really been a part of something so big before, a premiere like that. I don't think there's ever been a premiere like it, with the drones flying overhead and people dressed up out front, and the media outlets, tons of them, the outdoor IMAX, the 90-piece symphony and the choir singing, fireworks, lasers. It was just incredible.
Word is that, deep down, you're a Star Wars guy. Did you have to go to your personal dark side to be in Star Trek?
You know, I think there's room in the universe for both.
Can't we all get along?
Yes, we can all get along. They're apples and oranges, so to speak. I just happen to prefer the apples, I guess. Well, maybe Star Wars is the orange and Star Trek would be the apple; I don't know why. Being a fan of Star Wars, it doesn't really affect the whole Trek universe at all because hardcore Trekkies, they love Trek no matter what.
How did you go from being Burly Cadet to Cupcake to, now, Hendorff?
It's kind of been the evolution of my character. I credit it to campaigning J.J. so heavily on the first one to give my character a name. Cupcake just kind of stuck after the first film. I'm not actually referred to as Cupcake in the second one. Even though I'm credited as Cupcake in that, it's Lieutenant Hendorff, but everybody knows me as Cupcake, so it stuck.
How surprising and surreal is it that he's become this cult figure to the Trek fans? He was even in a comic book…
That's true. I've seen that comic book. It's quite amazing the detail that they go into on the history of my character, and I find it personally fascinating, the involvement that he was with the captain and with the Uhura and everything like that. It's really been a blessing to have that sort of opportunity. I think that my character has become like a meme for Star Trek, for hardcore Trekkie fans. I'm kind of like a Where's Waldo kind of thing.
Tell us about dying in the second one, and then not dying. You shot your death scene right?
That is true, yes.
Was that a bat'leth to the neck? How did you die?
Yes, it was. That's how it was, a Klingon. When the stunt guy did it, he said, "Look, dude, I'm a professional. You're not going to die." They used a real Klingon blade with the sharp end on it. I was like, “Does it have to be metal and sharp?” They stopped it an inch from my throat. I'm like, “Oh, my god.” That was quite shocking, but when I saw it in the theater, they cut it out and I was…
You were sitting there with your wife, preparing her to see you die on screen...
Exactly, yes. It didn't happen.
Now, you don’t meet your maker in Beyond, either. On the other hand, Hendorff couldn’t die for one very, very major reason...
So, the shock was that they cut out everything that I did, 100%. I was in a state of shock about the whole thing. All my scenes, everything got cut from the final film. I talked to J.J. and Justin (Lin) about it, and I said, "What happened?" They said, "Dude, you are like a glitch in the matrix. We have now killed you twice on camera and you are still alive." So, there is the possibility and potential of maybe doing a fourth film.
How weird is it? We don't see you at all?
And how did you learn about what was going on?
At the (Beyond premiere) screening. That was when I found out. It was a totally crazy moment where I'm with my wife again, sitting, and I was like, "Where is it? Where did it go?" The official word that I got was that the story went through a series of rewrites and the with narrative of what they were telling, my stuff didn't fit in that, so it had to go away. Again, they said I am still alive.
We’re glad you’re alive, but how did you die?
By the hands of Idris Elba’s character, Krall. Now I've been beheaded by a Klingon and also… what do you call it?... had the life sucked out of me by Krall.
Be honest. Do you want those scenes to be on the Blu-ray?
If they are, you're dead...
They won't be on there. I know that they won't be on there. Maybe in the extended version (of Beyond) there will be other scenes that I shot, but that scene I don't think will be in there.
Even though your scenes aren’t in Beyond, how did you enjoy working on them with Idris Elba and Justin Lin?
Oh man, they were great. I really found newfound respect for Idris. He's already an incredible actor, but working with him just… He never complained, always worked so hard. He was in makeup four hours a day to get ready, and it took an hour and a half to get off at the end of a 16-hour day. The guy is just a super human being. He’s an amazing actor and very generous as an actor as well. And Justin, just such a cool guy. Really cool, very friendly. Kept the set very loose. He has a great eye and is very tech-savvy. He knows everything there is to know about how to integrate CGI into the camerawork.
The story goes that you emailed Simon Pegg to get yourself in Beyond…
That's true. 100% true.
He's not writing the next one. Who are you going to email? Are you going to guilt the hell out of them because they cut you out of this one?
Exactly. Exactly. I think J.J. owes me one after this one. Who knows who's going to direct it yet, so we'll see.
Give us your background. How, why and when did you get into acting?
I’ve been doing it my whole life. I got drafted to play the giant in Jack and Beanstalk in kindergarten. They had no other big guy. I was about a foot taller than everybody else. Then, later, I caught the bug in high school, and still didn't think I could make a living at it, but I loved it. I said, “Well, you know what? If there is going to be a chance that I could do it, I've got to learn a craft.” So I did eight years of schooling between undergrad and graduate studies. Then I came out here (to California), and it's been a series of successes and failures and failure to launch. I am, like I was saying, the glitch in the matrix at this point right now. I'm right there on the cusp of something big happening, and it's always right there. So, it's like a carrot dangling in front of your face. You just keep going for it.
What’s next for you?
I don’t have anything completed at this point. I have two films that I'm working on right now. Both are projects that I'm doing with my wife. She's producing and writing them. One's a romantic comedy, and the other is an action comedy. We're supposed to shoot them back to back. They’ll be indie films. We have investors already set up. I'm going to star in the romantic comedy. The other one, I'm probably going to be in more of a producer role. It's a foreign-language film, so it's going to be shot in a local dialect in Morocco, Berber.
Anything on the Trek experience we’ve not asked that's important to you, that you think people would want to know?
The only thing I can think of is just how incredibly grateful I am to Trekkies for embracing my character. I think for being a redshirt, playing just a small part in this whole thing, the love and the welcoming that I've been given by the Trek universe has been overwhelming and I'm so thankful to all the fans who have embraced me.