But with roles on the stage, in the television series 19.2 and even a part in the Hollywood movie X-Men: Days of Future Past, 25-year-old Smith-Johnson's career is thriving.
He already earned nominations for outstanding emerging artist and outstanding lead performance by an actor at the METAs (Montreal English Theatre Awards) in 2013 and 2014 for his roles in the Black Theatre Workshop/Persphone Productions Oroonoko and in Social Studies at the Centaur.
Tomorrow night, Smith-Johnson will receive the Gloria-Mitchell Aleong Award for artistic achievement at the Black Theatre Workshop's 29th Vision Celebration Gala.
Smith-Johnson told CBC Montreal's Daybreak this is his first award win and he’s surprised and pleased at how far he’s come.
He thinks there is more opportunity for young black actors these days, even if some stereotyping still occurs.
"We're changing. It will take time but it's getting there. In Fantastic Four in the comic books, the Torch is white. In the movie, he's going to be played by a black actor."
The Black Theatre Workshop Vision Celebration Gala is also honouring writer Dany Laferrière with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award.
Fabienne Colas, manager of the Montreal International Black Film Festival, and Quincy Armorer, artistic director of the Black Theatre Workshop, are set to host the event.