You probably know Kellita Smith better as Aunt Wanda, the loving but no-nonsense wife of Bernie on The Bernie Mac Show. For five seasons, her role as the aunt of Jordan, Bryana and Vanessa made Warren the on-screen auntie to Bernie Mac Show fans everywhere.. But now, Smith has gone from playing a businesswoman to badass zombie killer on SyFy’s nonstop action series, Z Nation.
Stepping away from her comedic roots—which includes past appearances on The Wayans Bros., The Parkers and The Jamie Foxx Show—the 49-year-old actress plays Roberta Warren, a decorated ex-National Guard lieutenant, who leads a group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse. It’s a role that has garnered a cult following, earning her a position among the minority of black, female actors in a leading role of a sci-fi TV series.
“I feel honored and privileged for the unique experience,” Warren told Shadow and Act. “And I love the idea of a zombie-filled universe, and I love how big the zombie fan base is.” Ahead of Z Nation’s season five premiere on October 5, Shadow and Act caught Kellita Smith between takes, to talk about transitioning between genres, black representation in sci-fi and remembering Bernie Mac.
Shadow and Act: First of all, tell us about why you decided to make the transition into sci-fi from comedy.
Kellita Smith: I decided to transition from comedy to sci-fi mostly for the material. I was looking for opportunities to play a lead role that represented a strong and groundbreaking heroine. It was a very effortless move for me to make, not only because I love acting, but also because I’ve never had the opportunity to focus on different genres.
Black actresses are being represented in so many more film and TV genres. As we’ve seen, Hollywood is starting to see the value in black women as leads. Do you still hope to see more black representation in sci-fi, or do you feel it’s already there and is just being overlooked?
KS: I’m so grateful black actresses are being represented in more TV and film roles, and that more roles are available. It’s overdue, and I hope to see even more black representation in sci-fi. I also feel like there are women already in the sci-fi world that are being overlooked. I’m just glad to have the opportunities that I have had as a black actress.
SA: Do you feel sci-fi will start to get more well-known black faces?
KS: Thanks to shows like Z Nation and The Walking Dead, there will begin to be better known black faces in the sci-fi universe.
What I’ve noticed about your show is the esteemed cast that is featured throughout the seasons of Z Nation. What wasit like working with some of them, like Harold Perrineau and DJ Qualls?
KS: Although it wasn’t for long, working with Harold was a delight; we had a lot of fun together. DJ is like a little brother to me, so we always have a good time, and we work great together.
SA: Give us an overview of season five.
KS: There will be lots of action, love, some killing, some surprises and new faces in season five. The most interesting surprise I’ve noticed on the show this season is a different look and a new strategy in dealing with zombies.
SA: The 10-year anniversary of Bernie Mac’s death recently passed. What do you remember most about him?
KS: His ability to make everyone laugh immediately, his work ethic, his wisdom, and his love and appreciation for us cast members.
SA: Do you see any comedians coming up now that you think emulate Bernie or that he would have loved?
KS: Kevin Hart would be a comedian that Bernie would love; — not only because he’s so hot as a comic right now, but because he tells real life jokes like Bernie did, and he’s constantly working at mastering his craft.
SA: Do you think there will ever be a show that fills the gap that The Bernie Mac Show left?
KS: No. While I think there are plenty of good family sitcoms that everyone can relate to, I don’t there is one that fills that gap.
SA: Lastly, what other projects do you have coming up? Which are you most excited about?
KS: In addition to Z Nation, I am currently working with Dorien Wilson and Ken Lawson on the sitcom show In The Cut, which [airs] on Mondays on Bounce TV. I also have a movie I’m working on, but I can’t give too much on that right now — but exciting things are to come!