Screenshot of Chevrolet's #DayItForward video.
Diontae Simpson has lived in Los Angeles all of his life. Simpson, an aspiring actor, is a fan of a multitude of larger-than-life screen personas, including Jim Carrey, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kevin Spacey.
But it wasn’t until a few months ago that he got to meet one of his heroes in the flesh. And his encounter was more than just a meet n’ greet: one of his heroes arrived to personally offer Simpson a scholarship, granted on behalf of his foundation and that of Chevrolet, to attend a drama school of his choice.
“I had no idea. It was a complete surprise,” said Simpson.
He had been set up for the occasion, unbeknownst to him, while filming an audition for what he thought was a film role. His professors asked students to perform a monologue on-camera before asking Simpson specifically for a call back on the campus stage.
He arrived on stage, ready to perform.
“Just, please go to the center of the stage there, where that mark is,” said the nasally voice of a man, who, to Simpson, was obscured by the bright stage lights. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“Diontae Simpson,” said Simpson.
“Are you nervous?” asked the voice.
“Very nervous,” Simpson said.
“What are you going to do for us today?” said the voice.
“I’m going to perform a monologue, a piece from Moby Dick,” said Simpson.
Under the pretense of offering Simpson “more direction,” the voice stepped up onto the stage. Moved away from the lights and without the nasal affectation, the man revealed himself to be Kevin Spacey, of House of Cards, Seven and American Beauty fame.
The shock moved swiftly across Simpson’s face, widening his eyes for one surreal moment. “Oh my God,” he said.
Spacey was on hand to tell Simpson personally that he’d been selected for a scholarship to a drama school of his choice (barring his acceptance to the program).
“It was mind-blowing. I didn’t say anything, it was crazy,” said Simpson. “We all wait for opportunities like that to happen. I am so humbled.”
Spacey presented the award as part of a national “DayItforward” campaign, which consists of celebrities working in conjunction with Chevrolet to give back with certain acts of kindness—much like the film, Pay it Forward.
“We are proud to have one of our deserving students at LBCC receive this extraordinary opportunity,” said Eloy Ortiz Oakley, Long Beach City College Superintendent-President in a statement. “We wish Diontae the best of luck and success in pursuing his passion for acting.”
Simpson gleaned all he could from Spacey in his short time with the actor, including some brainstorming on where he could use his scholarship. At the time, Simpson had thought he’d be looking at Juilliard, but he’s since narrowed down his pool of applications to the American Academy of Dramatic Art, the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and the USC School of Dramatic Arts.
The maturation of Simpson’s 10-month-old son likely influenced his outlined goals. While he ultimately would like to be an actor, he’d also like a full bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology. If he can’t make it as an actor, he said he’d like the option of teaching and coaching basketball and football.
“Being in the movies is something I really want to do,” he said. “But [my ultimate priority] is that I can provide for my son and have him in a happy place, with no wants or needs.”
Simpson spent the past year biking to LBCC from downtown Los Angeles precisely because it allowed him to take acting classes and Kinesiology prerequisite courses. Learning from Juilliard graduate Hal Landon, an LBCC professor, at the school proved to be a plus.
Theater Professor Tony Carreiro said Simpson was one of the stand-out performances in A Soldier’s Play, critically acclaimed at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.
“Diontae Simpson has that unique blend of innate talent, a great work ethic, a sense of humility, true artistic passion and a wonderful sense of humor,” Carriero said in a statement. “He has endless potential.”
In the next 10 years, Simpson hopes to be in various motion pictures. But right now, in this instant, he said he’s grateful to have been granted this opportunity, and happy to have learned from LBCC’s finest.
“[Kevin Spacey] helped me in my confidence—I’ve been performing exceptionally well,” he said, as he rehearsed for LBCC’s latest play. “I’m learning from people who have been taught in big schools. I’m grateful for having them as acting coaches.”