I spoke with Algee Smith about his role as Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story, which premieres Tuesday at 9/8c on BET. Algee talked about playing Ralph while having the actual Ralph on set, the boot camp that the cast went through, the wardrobe, working with the cast, his music, his new film about the Detroit riots of 1967, and so much more. Don’t miss this three-night event. The New Edition Story begins this Tuesday, January 24 on BET.
LL: You are playing Ralph Tresvant in The New Edition Story. What was your experience like playing him and actually having Ralph on set? Was it helpful or did it add a lot of extra pressure?
Algee Smith: It was definitely helpful. It was, kind of, like a cheat sheet because I had that actually guy there that I was playing. It was a blessing to have him there, and be alive, and to be able to give me pointers and tips. He give me tips on what to actually do and the way that he felt actually doing these scenes. At the same time, it’s so nerve-racking because, like I said, he’s alive and if I messed it up—he’d have to watch his legacy over and over again in the wrong way. It was definitely a balance between the nerves and it was also a good thing of him being there.
LL: Did he end up giving you a lot of pointers?
Algee Smith: Oh, yeah. I was already smooth before and he just helped me be a little smoother. [Laughing] No. He gave me a lot pointers. I learned how to be a better singer from different conversations that we had. It definitely made me a better dancer. There are certain ways that you can make a move look better and feel better. He was there a lot for the whole process.
LL: How about that wardrobe?
Algee Smith: Oh, man. The hair, makeup, and wardrobe really put us in the times. I feel like when I was in those clothes it made it so much easier to tap into Ralph. It just really felt like the 80s. Other than the stirrup pants and these super-tight pants that I had to wear for the “If It Isn’t Love” video, that I couldn’t breathe in all day, the wardrobe was on point.
LL: Was it important going into the series that all of the members were on board with it?
Algee Smith: I definitely feel like it was because everyone’s story gets told in the film. It’s not just a Bobby Brown movie or a Ralph Tresvant movie—it’s a movie about New Edition as a whole and then it goes in and shows you what their careers are like when they separate from each other. When Ralph separates from New Edition he put out Sensitivity and that went platinum. When Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, and Bell Biv DeVoe separated from them they went platinum. I feel like having them all there was very important because they all got to tell the story that they wanted. They told the story that they wanted to give to the world and told the secrets that only they could tell.
Algee Smith: Yes, a lot. What’s funny about that is that a lot of boy bands that were out at the same time, when BBD came out they paved the way for a lot of urban music and pop music. They were the first to go to the Grammy Awards, I think, when they had on the overalls. Everybody else had on tuxedos and they made their wardrobe acceptable and cool.
LL: What are some of the things that you were surprised to learn about them while you were working on the series?
Algee Smith: Definitely their professionalism. You’ll definitely see that in the series. These guys went through so much drama. Family drama—losing loved ones and at the same time having to go on stage five minutes later after you just heard some tragic news and still being professional. Or having a fight backstage, and almost wanting to kill each other, but still going on stage and smiling at each other for the audience. It was super professional, and at the same time, I was very shocked to know that after one of their first tours that they went on, which easily grossed over a million dollars, they only came home with a dollar and eighty-seven cents to split between five people. When I heard that, that was a huge shocker for me as well.
LL: Can you talk about filming the series, learning all of the choreography, and if you guys actually recorded all of the songs?
Algee Smith: First of all, filming it was just a pleasure. We had a boot camp when we first came in. Boot camp was eight hours a day with a thirty minute lunch break. We did this for about four or five weeks. That really made us a group. When one person messed up, we all had to start over again and do it again. We really became a unit in that time. That’s one of my favorite moments. We did, we got to record all of the songs over. We got to work with the legendary Babyface, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis. They pretty much shaped my whole knowledge of what I know about music through different artists that I’ve grown up with. That was a blessing in itself. And we got to shoot all the videos as well.
LL: They definitely did a great job assembling the cast. As an Empire fan, I can’t wait to see what Bryshere Y. Gray brings to his role as Michael Bivins.
Algee Smith: Let me tell you, Bryshere brought it. I feel like when you see this you’ll understand his range as an actor because it’s not like Hakeem. He really took his time to study and master Mike. I appreciate that about him because we all had to huddle up, like I said in the beginning, this is not about us, it’s about New Edition. If you mess this up, it’s their legacy.
LL: What was it like working with the cast?
Algee Smith: I don’t really like those guys, to be honest with you. [Laughing] It was super cool working with the cast. We all pushed each other. On days when we really weren’t feeling it, we had to remind ourselves that it wasn’t about us, it was about New Edition. We had feuds on set a couple of times. We would get angry at each other about little things, but we would come to the table and remember why we were doing what we were doing. I love all of these guys. They’ve become my brothers and we talk in group chat every single day. I can’t go five minutes without hearing my phone buzz.
LL: Can you talk about what people can expect to see covered throughout the three nights?
Algee Smith: You can definitely expect to see brotherhood, loyalty, triumph, not New Edition against each other but New Edition against the music industry, and New Edition against the crooked business. You can expect answers to questions that everyone wants to know. How did Bobby get out? How did Johnny become a part of New Edition? What made Ralph leave? Questions that everyone has been wondering for years now, and a lot of those questions get answered. They did a really good job with answering those questions.
LL: I’m so glad that they are covering all of the different time periods.
Algee Smith: Yes. The kids are phenomenal. They are just magic. When you see the first night, the kids carry the whole night. It’s only them. I think we come in at the end of night one, but they set the tone for the whole movie. The kids are super solid. They bring so much into it.
LL: Are you working on any new original music?
Algee Smith: Yes, I am. I have music on SoundCloud right now and on my website, but I’m definitely putting out new music after the movie drops. It will be sometime closer to the end of the summer.
LL: What other projects are you working on?
Algee Smith: Other than my music, I just wrapped up on this filmed called the Untitled Detroit Project by Kathryn Bigelow. That’s about the 1967 riots in Detroit. That comes out later. I’m super ecstatic about that. I’ve been hoping that they call me in the editing room, at some point, so I can get a sneak peek.
LL: Did you take the quiz on BET.com to find which New Edition member you are? I’m Ricky.
Algee Smith: I didn’t. I’m definitely going to take it. I’m going to take it today when we get off the phone. You’re Ricky. In what qualities?
LL: Because I’m tender and sweet. [“You’re extremely sweet and for the most part tender like Ricky. Your friends can always count on you to be the voice of reason.”]
Algee Smith: That sounds like Ralph. What? I think they gave you the wrong name. I’m Mr. Sensitivity, you know that right? I’m going to have to take that quiz.
The New Edition Story is a three-night event that premieres Tuesday, January 24 at 9/8c on BET.
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The New Edition Story photo: BET
Algee photo: John Russo