To actress and model Michelle Ray Smith, timing is paramount. Along with an engaging personality and ravishing looks, being in the right place at the right time has helped her land many plum modeling jobs, as well as a starring role as Ava Peralta on CBS’ Guiding Light. “I’m punctual,” says the Bloomfield Hills native, who can be seen in print and television spots for L’OrÃ©al-Garnier. True to her word, the chestnut-haired Smith called our offices for a scheduled 10:30 a.m. interview precisely at the allotted time. She chatted with Hour Detroit in late summer from her apartment in Brooklyn.
I’ve always heard that the shooting schedule for a daytime drama is pretty grueling. What’s it like for Guiding Light?
I’ve been on the show now for almost two and a half years, and when I started, we would shoot one episode a day. Now it’s changed dramatically. Sometimes, I shoot three to four episodes, or parts of them, in one day. Sometimes, we’ll shoot two weeks ahead. It’s pretty much all over the place.
How would you describe your character, Ava Peralta?
Ava is a very hard-working, headstrong woman. She was raised by her mother, who was a maid and worked for an affluent family. Ava grew up being very grounded, loyal, and honest. But once I arrived in Springfield [the fictional town where the drama is set] I found out that I was adopted, and my birth parents are two of the most manipulative people on the show. So, within the last year, my character has been exploring the darker side of her personality.
There was a lot of luck involved on the road to your modeling career.
That’s right. I was working at an apprenticeship at the Ginger Group Salon in Birmingham. My boyfriend at the time heard on the radio that Model Search America was coming into town. So I went to the search and I was picked to go back to this big convention, where I was discovered by a lot of agencies. But one in particular flew me out to New York and got me started in the business. That was the first day of the rest of my life.
Besides beauty, what other attributes should a model possess?
Being patient and taking care of your body are important, but having a great attitude and being positive and proactive are important to clients as well. I was in Hawaii this past weekend doing a shoot for Eddie Bauer. I got on the plane, got four hours of sleep, worked a 12-hour day, but I didn’t complain. I was thankful to be there. Even after 15 years of modeling, I still thank my lucky stars each time I get a job. I’ve been very blessed. When you have that proactive, positive attitude, clients want to take you on trips. I mean, who wants to take some crabby, snotty girl on a trip somewhere? It makes everything more difficult.
That Dentyne Ice fire-escape commercial brought you a lot of attention.
I really enjoyed it, but I’m very shy about playing that overtly sexy type of girl. I’d rather play the funny girl. That was probably my favorite commercial. But there was another one I did that was really fun. It was for Nabisco Cheez-Its, and I threw a flowerpot out a window on a guy’s head and it cracked and he passed out.
You were brought up in Bloomfield Hills. Do you have happy memories of your time there?
Oh, yeah. I loved growing up in Michigan. I loved it so much that a few years back I bought a house in downtown Birmingham. I had that for a couple of years and would commute back and forth from New York to Birmingham. I went to Eastover [elementary], East Hills [middle school], and Lahser [high school] in Bloomfield Hills and played basketball at Lahser. A lot of my childhood memories are from Lake St. Clair because we had a cottage on an island there. On weekends, we’d pack up our station wagon and head out to the lake and go fishing.
You’re involved with several animal charities, including the French Bulldog Rescue Network and the Rottweiler Rescue. What attracted you to them?
I’ve always been an animal lover, and I have two French bulldogs living with me. The New York Post is coming over in a couple of hours to photograph my apartment for a spread in their home section, and I’d never realized it before, but all of the art in my home is of animals. I have dogs, cats, everything. I just love animals. How can you not love something that doesn’t do anything but love you unconditionally?
You’re also involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Could you talk about your volunteer work and losing your father to suicide?
I lost my dad — it will be four years this Sept. 30. It took me about two years to get myself together emotionally. I was sitting at home by myself two years ago around Christmastime and was watching Larry King Live. Mariel Hemingway and Joan Rivers were on — celebrities talking about losing a loved one to suicide. So I called AFSP and left a message and said, “This is Michelle Ray Smith, I play Ava Peralta on Guiding Light, I lost my dad to suicide, and if there’s anything I can do, please let me help.” I got a call back about a month later, and they asked me if I wanted to host their black-tie event at the Museum of Natural History. Every opportunity I can, I help bring attention to mental illness and depression.
You had a role in the film Kimberly on the Lifetime Channel. Would you like to do more film work?
I would. I have a film coming out called Wedding Daze with Jason Biggs, set for release this fall. It’s a cute, small part at the beginning of the movie. I’m working at this lingerie boutique and Jason comes in and he’s looking at panties. I approach him and help him make a selection. It’s a very funny little scene. I think people’s perception of me coming from modeling is that I’m a little snooty or stuffy. I’m completely the opposite. I’m a total goofball.
You admit on your Web site (michelleraysmith.com) that you love reading gossip magazines. How about dishing some gossip of your own? Are you seeing anyone?
Yes. I have a boyfriend. His name is Michael, and we’ve been going out for about a year now. He works in finance, which is really nice because we complement each other really well. I’m kind of the creative one, and he’s the more mathematical one.
There are lots of romances on Guiding Light. Before you met Michael, did you ever date any of your TV colleagues?
Never. I’ve always stayed away from dating people I work with. I think that no matter what field you’re in, that’s a good idea.