Interview with “New York Minute” Co-Star, Riley Smith

Date: 2004

Riley Smith gets the honor of being Ashley Olsen’s first big screen love interest in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “New York Minute.” Co-starring in the action comedy, Smith plays a bike messenger who keeps running into (literally) Ashley Olsen’s character around New York City.

Smith’s good looks got him his first few acting jobs but as he explains in this interview, he’s learning as he goes and now takes the business very seriously.


Did you have any hesitation about joining “New York Minute” being that it will be Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s first feature film?

The only thing that made me nervous was that I knew that it was going to be seen by a lot of people. I knew that the girls had such a built-in audience that this was actually going to be a big movie. Where I’m at right now, of course I guess I cater to the teen audience, but I don’t want to get stuck in that genre. I definitely want to have life beyond the teen years. So that’s always in the back of your mind. I think every young guy needs to do one because you have to give back to that audience, you know? And I think if you’re going to do one, then for me, this is the one to do because it wasn’t a typical teen movie in the fact that it’s not a bunch of kids running around in a high school, dating each other and having the typical problems. There’s a lot of adults in it; there’s really only four teens in it – the girls, and Jared [Padalecki] and I.

For me, my character was perfect at the time because I’d just gotten done with a movie called “Radio” with Ed Harris and Cuba Gooding. That character was very serious, very intense. This character on the other hand was more heroic, smiled a lot, and a little bit goofy. The way he bumps into this girl I thought was really endearing. Rather than being like Don Juan, he was like falling on her, ripping her dress, bumping heads with her. I thought I saw a quality in that guy that was, hopefully, going to like be an endearing quality and that was something that I probably won’t get to play for a number of films. I thought that was kind of neat, you know?

Did you do your own bike riding in the movie?

I did absolutely every single thing. They had a stunt double there in case, but luckily I’d done a Disney film before that was on motocross. I’m pretty handy with the bike, so I got to do all that myself.

Was it intimidating to do even a mild romantic scene with a girl who could buy and sell you many times over?

And was my boss (laughing). I was actually not nervous because the girls were the ones who chose us – Jared and I. I mean the studio had okayed us, the director had okayed us, but it was the girls choice who they wanted, and which one they wanted (laughing). We were handpicked, literally, by our bosses and our love interests. A lot of times you go into a film and you don’t know if your romantic lead really likes you. If she really wants to kiss you, if she really wants to spend time with you, and that’s when it’s nerve-wracking. You don’t know if it’s real or it’s fake. In this case, I knew that she had picked me so I knew she was alright with me.

What was it like working with the Olsens?

It was a good experience. They are very professional, very in control of their own careers, and they are hard workers. Not only do they act in the movie but they’re producing it. They would have to – as soon as we got done working – they would have to go do their producing duties and then they’d have to go to school. And they didn’t have a whole lot of time to just hang out and ‘be.’ They were busy girls for the whole two or three months we shot this.

How did you learn to tell them apart?

(Laughing) I didn’t. The one that kissed me I knew was mine, and that was about it.

Did they pull any tricks on you, being twins? Did they switch up for the kissing scenes?

No. they don’t pull those tricks like you’d think, the typical twin tricks. I kept looking for it but… They didn’t mean to put one would sit in the [other’s chair]. Ashley would sit in Mary-Kate’s chair when we were sitting off-set, and that was totally not fair because you think you know and so you go, “Mary-Kate…” and she’s like, “No, it’s Ashley.” They were so cool about it. Like, “No, I’m sorry, it’s Ashley.” (Laughing) Then you’re like, “Why the hell are you sitting in Mary-Kate’s chair?”

What drew you to acting?

I kind of got thrown into acting really quickly. I was modeling in New York and I had a theatrical film and television agent, just because it was kind of like the thing that they told me to do. I booked a job so quick I guess I didn’t really have time to decide if I wanted to be an actor.

What was that job?

It was a pilot for the WB. It was my third month in the modeling business, not even in the acting business. It was my first audition for acting. They flew me to LA and they asked me over there, “Is this your real name?” I was like, “Yeah.” They said, “Why didn’t you change it?” “I didn’t have time to change it.” It happened so quick and then I was automatically hooked. I was drawn to it.

I guess it took me a while to start to respect the craft. At that time, the teen thing was really, really big with the “Dawson’s Creek” and all that, at that moment. It wasn’t so hard to get on a show if you had any kind of character or look or whatever. I kind of flew by on that for about the first year. Then I really started to respect it. I was like, “I don’t want to do it just because I have the look. I don’t want to fly by.” The more I worked, the more I learned. The more I learned, the more I was intrigued because unlike most jobs or school or anything else typical in life, this is something that you can never master. This is something that you can never conquer and it’s something that will never get old. I’m so A.D.D. that that’s perfect for me.

Where did “24” come in to all this?

I was shooting “24” while I was shooting “New York Minute.” I was actually traveling back and forth every other week. I’d do a week in LA and then I’d do a week in Toronto or New York on this film. It was such a great payoff because “24” was so deep and interesting and intense. This was the complete opposite. It was very relaxed, a lot of smiles, heroic… It was really fun to be able to do both.

Both of those projects follow a storyline that occurs in one day. Was that tough? Did you get tired of wearing the same thing?

I really got tired of wearing the same thing. It was like nerve-wracking because “24” wanted to dye my hair a little blonder to be more edgy. I knew that once I did that, I’d be stuck with it for this movie as well. I remember I went in and got a bad dye job. It looked like really blonde and yellow and it was like clumpy. “24” was like, “We love it.” That sucked because now all of a sudden I have to use it on the movie, too (laughing). That was like the worst. But it was cool because over the course of three months it would grow and they’d cut some of it out. It kept getting more natural. I had to talk both hair people into – well, I played them off of each other. I’m like “24” says I can’t change it now. And I told the “New York Minute” people the same thing. So I naturally got to cut more of the color out as I went along.

Do you want to continue to go back and forth doing TV and movies?

You know what’s neat? Now TV has opened up such an opportunity to do movies. It’s like in the 80s, I guess, if you were on a TV show, you were kind of stuck. But now thanks to Ashton Kutcher and guys like that, doing a TV show kind of opens you up to getting good movie roles. If I could do a good series that didn’t limit my character and then do movies during the hiatus, that would be great. But ultimately, I would just like to stick to movies because of the fact that you get to play one character for three months and really dive into it and explore that guy. You also get to move. When you do a movie, you also get to move to another city that you’ve probably never been to. Like in “Radio,” we were in Walterboro, South Carolina. I became a resident of Walterboro for three months and it was a blast. That was someplace I would have never [have visited] but now I’ll want to take my kids to and see how it’s grown.

How do you keep yourself from getting stuck in the teen movie genre? How do you transition out of it?

I think you have to be able to say no. I worked very hard to earn enough money to be able to say no. I thought that that was going to be a good thing, but actually it’s kind of a restriction in a way. Because in the past, I’d work because work begets work. You just kind of keep working but now I think I’m at a point where my management team and I have kind of strategize that you have to now pick projects that are better, and try to keep going forward. It gets hard. The only thing you can really do is try and do something different like “Radio” and other movies. If I can keep doing that, I think that it will break up the monotony and keep me unstuck. But you can’t let money drive you. You have to be able to say no. I think that’s the problem with a lot of people who get stuck in that genre. They don’t have the pride to say no to money. I’m not rich, but I’m comfortable. I’ve never needed anything. I was broke when I started and if I end broke as long as I do what I want to do, I consider myself fortunate. I may not work for two or three months but when I do work, it’s going to be what I want to do.

What’s your ultimate movie project?

This is a romantic comedy and it’s a start. I want to build off of this. I think I’ve been playing a lot of edgy characters and I like playing a character who is disturbed in some way. I think that’s always fun and more interesting. If I’m going to break it up, I want to play a romantic comedy.

Are these edgy characters close to your personality?

I think everybody has got a lot of dimensions inside of them based on past experiences. I think it happens along the way. I like taking things that have happened to me in my life and putting them into my work. I don’t think there’s been a character I’ve played that hasn’t had a part of me in it. I’m not one of those method actors who completely leaves Riley Smith’s body and becomes somebody else. I have dealt with maybe not the best circumstances in life always, but who has? No family is right, and my family was definitely not right. But I’ve taken every single thing that I’ve dealt with in my life – from parental problems and divorce and family issues – I’ve taken all those things and found a way to positively flush them out of me through a character. I think that’s the most healthy way I could do it.