Riley Smith previews CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY and his upcoming arc on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Riley Smith has a face you recognize – he’s been in a lot of our favorite shows and movies here at MToT: RADIO, DRIVE, JOAN OF ARCADIA, 24, FREAKS AND GEEKS, and of course MOTO CROSSED! Tonight on The CW, Riley begins a 2 episode arc as the ominous sounding Bomb Maker, and coming after Thanksgiving, he’s lending his talents to the latest Hallmark Hall of Fame movie on ABC, a tear jerker that had me crying from basically beginning to end, CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY (with Andy Garcia, Mary-Louise Parker, and Mandy Moore). I had the chance to chat with Riley in depth about why he wanted to be a part of CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY, what he brings to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and what exactly is going on with the band (The Life of Riley) these days!
I have to say – I feel like I’ve followed your career forever. I remember my sister and I being huge fans of MOTOCROSSED back in the day.
Yeah, it’s funny – you’re the second person today that mentioned MOTO CROSSED. Literally, a casting assistant who was a little bit younger, I went into the casting office, and she had a picture printed out for me to sign, and the casting director was like “what is this?” [laughs] I was like, it was a movie I did a long time ago, and she’s like “people know it?” I was like, yes, people know it, but unfortunately casting directors in the business, producers, they don’t even realize. If it was HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, they’d know! [laughs] We came along before the internet, TMZ, and everything else. I know for a fact in the real world, from the response I get from people, it had an impact.
Talking about CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY – I love a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie; they always get me. How did you get involved with this one?
It has that sentimental thing that all of the Hallmark movies have like that, but there’s this hopeless romance to it, it’s a good script, it’s going to make everybody cry, love the holidays, fall in love! We’re dealing with death in a sense that Mary-Louise Parker’s character has cancer, and is in hospice. You’re dealing with a life, and time, you know, you don’t have a lot of time left with somebody, and so the message with that, about how are you going to spend the very fragile time that we have with each other. Once I got there, and started working on it, it just came to life, off of the page. Those actors, the other actors are so good, they took it to another level. I remember about half way through – our director John Harrison was showing Andy Garcia and his agent, who was there visiting – he was showing them a clip of the movie that he had edited together. It literally gave me goose-bumps and made me well up, and it didn’t look anything like how it read on the page, and I was like, okay, this is for real! I have gotten so much more.
Talking about a cast like that – Andy Garcia, Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore – if they can create this magic that makes you well up like that, as a member of the cast working with everyone every day, I can only imagine how it’s going to affect an audience. I’m a crier, so I’m ready for it!
What’s cool about it, too, is that our director, John, he’s Canadian and he loves comedy, and so he really re-wrote it a little bit, and the way he really directed us – he added a lot of elements of comedy. It lightens it up. There’s a lot of physical comedy. That was really fun for me because I don’t do a lot of comedy, and I loved it – I just needed the opportunity. It was fun for me, I learned a lot. I was soaking it up, and asking for a lot of help and a lot of suggestions. One of the other ladies in it is Cheri Oteri from SNL. She brought her role to life – she was so funny. She really is the comedic relief in it. All of her stuff is with me – I work for her in the beginning of the movie. I’m a landscaper and I’m decorating a lawn for the Christmas spectacular for all of the houses to be judged for their Christmas decorations. She’s phenomenal with the comedic timing. When you have a really heavy story line, and you lighten it up with that comedy, it really makes for a great well-rounded movie.
Working with Mandy Moore – had you met before, or did you meet on set?
I’d never met Mandy before – we didn’t know much about each other, but we’ve run in a lot of the same circles for the last 12 years. In fact, my mother dug up a like, Bop Magazine or Tiger Beat or Teen People – one of those teen magazines from the early 2000s, and it had me and Mandy on the cover! I gave her a good laugh with that one. Turns out that we know a lot of the same people, and connected right away. We went to dinner the second night we were there and got to know each other. She is such a sweetheart. A really great soul, a really good person. I think if anybody was made for their role in that movie, it was her. What a great actor. She plays the hospice nurse for Mary-Louise. She just has that natural caretaker thing about her. I had an amazing time working with Mandy. Other than that, she’s honestly one of the most beautiful girls in Hollywood, just naturally pretty, so that’s not hard to work with [laughs]. We had a really great chemistry – our relationship in the movie develops over time, we peak each other’s interest and get to know each other slowly. It’s a subtle incline, and it’s built up really sweet.
Why do you think that a movie like this will be something that people will gravitate towards, or should be something they tune into?
I think the cast, first of all – that’s going to catch everybody’s eye. I don’t think anybody’s really used to seeing that kind of cast for a movie of the week. The timing is perfect. They’re premiering it Dec 1, a Sunday night, which is right after Thanksgiving, so the whole week of Thanksgiving, I’m sure America will be force-fed the promos for it [laughs]. I know that the promo is going to look amazing. The cast is great, and then the story-line with the Christmas feel, that time of year. I think it has all of the elements that a family is going to watch while they’re putting up the tree. I am a huge Christmas fanatic. Ironically, the first Sunday after Thanksgiving is always the day, I’ve done this for 10 years, at my house, I have a Christmas decorating party at my house. I have so many decorations that I collect every year. I get them out of storage, I set them on this huge table in my house. I have everybody over, and I let everybody go wild. Everybody grabs stuff and starts putting it up, and at the end of it, it looks like Christmas just shit all over my house [laughs]. Anyway! This year, I’m super excited – what we usually do is decorate the house, have some eggnog, and when we’re done, we watch a Christmas movie like CHRISTMAS VACATION or HOME ALONE, one of the good ones, and then this year, we’re going to have CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY playing live, so that’ll be great!
I saw that the Beasties have descended upon you on Twitter about the “Bombmaker” we’re going to see soon on BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Riley’s episodes premiere Nov 18)! It sounds dangerous, ha!
[laughs] Imagine trying to go through Canadian customs with a work visa that says BombMaker. That was the first funny moment before I even really got into Toronoto. I had trouble getting out of customs, and really wondering why my title was BombMaker, I had to explain that it was a TV show. The Beasties have been really cool to me on twitter so far! My role is just that – the Bomb Maker. Can’t talk too much about it because I don’t want to give away storylines! Look, let’s be honest, anybody that is making bombs is a bad person, but he doesn’t have any malicious, bad intent. I think, for him, it’s literally just a job that someone’s hired him to do, so he’s going to do it, and he doesn’t have any personal, emotional interest in what he’s doing. He’s a very tactical, smart Bomb Maker that is going to cause some problems in the beast world.
Is this a character that we could see you come back?
I’ll let everybody figure that out when it airs [laughs]. So when episode 8 is over with, it should shed some light on that haha. For me, this is perfect. I literally has just gotten done with CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY – I had been gone for about 6.5 weeks; I got home, I was home for a week, and they called and said do you want to go to Toronto for 3 weeks? I liked the show, and it turned out that the EP / director of my episodes had also directed me on 90210. I loved him, and I thought, let’s go up and play for a while. I love the city of Toronto. I shot NEW YORK MINUTE there, so I knew the city pretty well. This fits in perfectly in between a couple of things for me. I love the CW Network – they’ve been super good to me, and keep me busy, so when they ask me to do something, I always like to be a part of it.
We talked about it or I mentioned it – you’ve had a varied career, playing different roles here and there. Is that by design? Are you trying to avoid being pigeon-holed?
I would like to say that yes it’s by design, but it’s not been by design. Literally, the way it’s panned out, looking back, I honestly wouldn’t ask for it any other way. I’ve gotten to do a lot of different roles, different genres, I’ve worked with a lot of different people. Which for me, has been amazing, because I take something from every person that I’ve worked with. If I was on one show for a long period of time, it limits all of those things that I’ve had the opportunity to do, which is work with a lot of great people, in a lot of great places, paly a lot of great characters. Those are the upsides to not having your own show for 5 years, which by the way would be amazing [laughs]. I think that’s what we all want, but if that’s not the case, I would say that I’m in a really nice position in my own situation.
If you had a show that you knew would be on for 5 years – what character could you see yourself playing for that long?
It changes by the day, because I do like to play a lot of different roles. I’m not a character actor, but I really pride myself on being a character actor. A lot of times people assume a character actor would be a real “character” and I always pride myself on trying to make every character I play unique. I don’t know, what I would say today would probably change tomorrow. I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer, and I always wanted to be a lawyer that fights in court [laughs], so for me, definitely that is one thing that I would want to do. Right now, it’s an age thing, a timing thing. Opportunities don’t come along as much because of my age, but as I start to play older roles in the future, I know that those will come. I can’t wait to play a lawyer; I think that will be a blast. It’s funny – the position I’m in, every year I do a pilot that could possibly last 5 years; possibly not make the air. Which the latter happens more than not [laughs]. Every time you’re doing these test deals for pilots, you’re literally having to structure your brain to think “okay this is a role I could have to do for 5 years; I’m signing a 5 year contract. This may be a long term thing. Is this what I want to do for 5 years?” So you have to take that into consideration in case this is the one that ends up being your ER. There’s a lot of different things I want to play; hopefully, if I get enough series that go 5 years apiece, I’ve got plenty of time to play. Eventually, I want to play a grandpa! [laughs]
What about music – I know your band is still active, are you guys still playing shows?
It’s always been a passion project and a hobby and the guys in the band are my best friends. It never really will ever go away. Anytime we want to do it, we can. At the same time, because it is a passion project for us, we all have real jobs, mine being acting. Unfortunately, my job is the one that really screws us up because I’m never home; I’m literally always gone. When I’m working, and I’m away from home, I take my computer, my guitar, I have a whole little rig, and I take it all with me everywhere I go. I constantly write and record demos on the road, and when I come home in between jobs, and we get together, everyone puts in the pile what they’ve been working on, and we sift through it and decide which ones we want to take to the next level, and that’s how every album comes up. Most every record we’ve made comes between work, and then we try to sprinkle in some shows. It’s tough. We’re going over to Europe to do a festival called One More Shot, OMS, and we’re going to be over there in Birmingham, England. We’re going to do that, and I wanted to do a tour around that. We try to tour in Europe about twice a year, but this trip, I don’t think we’re going to be able to, because I gotta get back for a job I can’t talk about yet [laughs]. I’ve had to cut tours short because I got a job and had to leave. It’s hard for me. A lot of my friends who are musicians, that’s all they do and can plan shows a year out. If I do that, I end up canceling half of them. It’s really slowed down a bit. It’s something I was doing right before you called, and I’ll do it when we hang up.
Music has a calming effect – always settles me down!
Listening to music, even if I’m not playing, I am always listening to music, going to shows. I saw Two Door Cinema Club and St Lucia by myself in Toronto, and I had a blast. They were awesome.
I’ve started to go to shows by myself, because I need to be seeing music live.
It’s one of the things you can do without having a friend go with you!
Exactly, because you’re, by nature of a concert, going with people who also enjoy what you’re seeing ha! Being away from TV for a while, do you get a chance to watch TV?
I love my TiVo or whatever you call it these days. I say TiVo, and everybody laughs at me. DVR! I love mine. I have a lot of shows that I have to watch and they get stacked up on TiVo. It used to frustrate me, but now I’ll literally come home, and not tell anyone I’m home for a few days, and I just lock myself inside and go through all of my shows and movies that are on my DVR. I love that! Sometimes it’s better to have to wait for them to pile up.
I did that last weekend – got home from LA, and told no one I was home so that I could get through my hours of TV without them bothering me ha!
Yeah!! I know, it’s great! What’s funny is, I would say 90% of my TiVo is filled with comedies. I don’t comedy, really. I want to, but I do drama. But I love watching comedy. NEW GIRL is at the top of the list; those guys are so great. MODERN FAMILY is amazing. The new show THE GOLDBERGS is my new favorite show! I love that show! One of my new favorite dramas is THE BLACKLIST.
So good! James Spader is incredible!
Dude, it’s so amazing! I like a lot of those like FIRST 48, or the DATELINES. I had an acting coach when I first started off – best advice he ever gave me. If you watch TV and try to learn things, watch really stuff like DATELINE where people are really talking about a murder. Watch their emotions. Their emotions aren’t what you see on TV like cry on cue when you talk about how your husband died. It’s not that. On like a DATELINE, you see someone laughing when talking about someone who’s dead, and then all of a sudden at the weirdest time, they cry. It’s so random, but it’s real human emotion. I study those as much as anything! And then I get drug into the story of what happened – I love playing investigator and trying to solve it.
I’m never right when I do that. I could never be a cop.
Once you know shows, you can kind of see the formula, and you can get ahead of the game. I like watching the real raw human emotions. Not that I’m just trying to learn from others pain!
What music do you listen to when you have downtime?
Everything! I absolutely love every kind of music except for heavy metal. It’s gotta have a good melody. Right now, electric pop is my favorite kind of music to listen to. I love that it’s all happy. There was a time where music was dark, and aggressive, and bitter, and right now, music is pretty happy. I love that. It wakes you up in the morning, makes you feel good. For me, electric pop, I love like Empire of the Sun, Passion Pit, MGMT, M83, Two Door Cinema Club.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST airs Mondays at 9/8c on The CW. CHRISTMAS IN CONWAY premieres Sunday, December 1, at 9/8c. You can find Riley online at @twitter.com/RileySmith.