EMU grad Michael Bailey Smith carves out acting career with monstrous roles
“I had issues with my knee. I hurt my knee pretty bad right before my senior year (at EMU, where he played tackle, guard and center). I struggled for the rest of the season. I tore my patella tendon and dislocated my knee. It didn’t heal right. During training camp with the Cowboys, I twisted my knee again. (Coach) Tom Landry told me, ‘You’re not gonna last a season,’” recalled Smith, 54, an Alpena native who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two sons.
The actor—best known for playing four roles on TV’s “Charmed” and Ben Grimm, alter-ego of the monstrous Thing, in the unreleased 1994 “Fantastic Four” film—will be one of the guests at the Motor City Comic Con this weekend (May 18-20) at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
“It’s always difficult after you work so hard to obtain a goal that you’ve been working for and when it all goes away, you flounder a bit. That’s what I did for a bit. I went back to finish my degree. I worked a couple a jobs to put myself through school since I no longer had a football scholarship,” said Smith, who graduated from EMU in 1988 with his undergraduate degree in computer-assisted design.
Upon graduating, he moved to San Diego and worked at Xerox. He then got into bodybuilding.
Smith appeared in 1992’s “CIA Code Name: Alexa” opposite soap star Lorenzo Lamas and fallen football great/sometimes actor O.J. Simpson. Along with ex-pro wrestler-turned-actor and former Minnesota governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura, they played “the bad-ass Butler Brothers” on Lamas’ 1992-97 TV series “Renegade.”
Afterward, he got the call to read for the “Fantastic Four,” based on the long-running Marvel comic. Unbeknownst to Smith and the rest of the cast and crew, this low-budget movie was never intended for release.
In 1992, Constantin Films was about to lose its option on the film rights unless production began by a certain date. Production started, but without a big budget needed to finance it. At that point, producer Bernd Eichinger (“Resident Evil”) turned to Detroit native Roger Corman, who has made a career of filming B-movies on a shoestring budget.
When filming was done, the cast did press junkets and attended comic book conventions all over the country to promote the movie, still not aware of the producers’ intentions.
“We believed we had something special. For a million bucks, we did a pretty good job, but the film was shelved,” said Smith.
Once Smith and everyone else involved learned that it wasn’t supposed to be released, they were upset and disappointed. However, bootleg copies made its way around comic book conventions. In fact, the movie can be seen in its entirety on YouTube (A big-budget “Fantastic Four” movie was released in 2005, followed by a sequel in 2007, both of which did well at the box office).
“(Being unreleased) was a blessing in disguise because it became a cult hit. It had legs after that. If it was released, it would have bombed, went away, and nobody would have thought of it,” said Smith.
Smith has guest-starred on numerous shows, including “Star Trek: Voyager,” “The O.C.,” “Roswell,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Port Charles,” “Babylon 5,” “The X-Files,” “The Division,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” among many others. He also had four roles—something not uncommon for actors in genre shows—on “Charmed” as the Source of All Evil, Belthazor, Shax, and a Grimlock leader. Of the four, his favorite was the demon Belthazor, who was voted the most popular demon on “Charmed.”
He’s looking forward to meeting fans at the Motor City Comic Con this weekend. “It’s my first time coming to Novi. I’m from Michigan, so it’s a homecoming,” he said. “I miss Michigan. I miss the smell of Michigan. Places have different smells. Detroit and Michigan smell like home. It’s kinda cool. It’s home.”
The Motor City Comic Con will run Friday-Sunday at the Suburban Collection Showplace, located at 46100 Grand River Ave. in Novi. For further information, see the website.