Riley Smith Interview

Source: ACT
Date: 2007

Welcome to ACT’s “Celebs for Art Ed” series, giving advice and direction for young talent and their parents to gain insight in today’s most competitive and exciting film and television industries. Today’s interview is from a hot young talent, Riley Smith, who began his walk to fame from the horse ranches of Cedar Rapids, Iowa to the shores of Santa Monica.

It all began for Riley as a teen who was discovered by a talent scout and invited to participate in a talent convention in NYC. From this competition, in which the same year and roommate as Ashton Kutcher was discovered, Smith was signed on to a Tommy Hilfiger modeling campaign and signed to agent Abby Bluestone of Innovative Artists. He used the money he earned on this job and others to pay for his acting classes, giving him a strong foundation to which his credits can attest.

Riley has had the chance to participate in various styles of performing, from slapstick comedy, drama to romantic leads. He appeared in the films Eight Legged Freaks, Not Another Teen Movie, Radio and New York Minute. He had a recurring role in the Emmy-nominated CBS series “Joan of Arcadia” and the WB series “Summerland”, in addition to the numerous guest and recurring starring roles on “CSI”, “Drive”, “24”, “Raising Dad”, “Freaks and Geeks”, to name a few.

Next projects for Riley, include playing the love interest of Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character in the dancing film Make It Happen, co-starring in a zombie movie with Wesley Snipes entitled Gallowwalker, and a TV drama “The Madness of Jane”.

ACT: Wow Riley, it sounds as though you have been on a wild ride! From horses to Hollywood! That’s exciting. I know some of our students would love to hear about your journey, so I’m so glad you were able to participate in our series.

Riley: I’m so happy to help. When I got started I had help from a few different sources of people that had a little experience in the biz, but never from people who had a lot. It’s competitive and no one wants to give there competition a leg up. Which is why I will forever, always be there for people who ask. I want to give other people starting off, the best advantage and insight to achieving there dreams as possible. It could have save me a few years if I would have had it.

And rule #1 in the Riley Smith book, YOU ONLY COMPETE AGAINST YOURSELF! So I never feel as though anyone will steal my destiny if I help.

ACT: Now, before you were discovered in Iowa, did you have dreams of performing or modeling as a child?

Riley: Not real ones. Growing up on a farm in rural Iowa, those kind of things seem so far away and unreachable. I was always the kid entertaining the family with ‘concerts’ at any big family function, and in high school I did theatre but that was the extent of it. I always thought I would have been a TV host or broadcaster. That seemed like a more reachable goal that you could learn at a university and then parlay into acting. I never realized it could be accomplished and actually fast, until I landed in NYC, the day after high school graduation, and saw the response from the meetings I had set up. It was then that the goal kind of became reality and reachable. Because for once I was off the farm and where things happened.

ACT: And then, you competed in a talent showcase / educational event / competition in order to get discovered and can you explain that experience?

Riley: I was approached by a very good talent scout in my hometown named Mary Brown. She asked if I had ever modeled or acted and if I was interested. Next thing ya know I was flown to New York for a Model Competition. There were a ton of Agents and Managers there from all over the world. By the end of that week, I had representation across the board. (modeling, acting). Including my agent to this day, Abby Bluestone at Innovative Artist. On week two I had a modeling campaign by month two a national commercial and by month five a prime time TV pilot for the then WB. It all happened so fast that I didn’t even realize how lucky I was. Those hard knocks came later though….

ACT: Were your parents supportive and how did they react to this sudden change in their lives? Did they move with you so that you could pursue your dreams of modeling and acting? Did they expect that you would be doing something else as a career?

Riley: My mother was very supportive, and I think my father was a little skeptical. I think they thought it was a “summer thing”, and that I would return home for my basketball scholarship and first year of college. Once things picked up and I decided not to return it became a little more serious. They never moved with me because at that point I was 18, but did check up a lot. And I would strongly recommend that if you or your kid is under 18, there should definitely be parental guidance. I knew if I was going to choose this path I was going to have to make it because I wasn’t going to get any financial support from home. My father is a horse trainer and also chose an unconvential occupation over college and his parents made him earn it on his own. So I came from that rule of parenting. I’m actually glad. It didn’t give me an option to lose. Of course now, ten years later, they are very proud of my dedication and decision.

ACT: As I mentioned in the summary above, we read that you decided to re-invest in your career by paying for acting classes even after you got an agent, is that right? And why do you think education on this business is so important and do find a lot of working talent in Hollywood still have acting coaches?

Riley: It’s the most important thing! Weather you are just starting or just ending your career, you always have to learn and grow. There isn’t an occupation in this world that doesn’t take some kind of schooling and the same applies in this business. The beauty of acting though, is that there is no wrong way to act, Just different choices to make. And its always good to have a coach’s suggestion as to what the most effective ones might be. The first thing you learn is how “NOT to act”… When you watch a show or movie, the reason you are moved is because you believe the character. That’s not as easy as it looks. And that’s what years of repetition and studying can give you. For my first six years I had a manager that was also a professional coach, and coached me on every single audition and job. I probably spent 40 hours a week in his studio working on material. I cant speak for everyone, but that’s more hours than most people actually work a week. And that was before I HAD the job.

ACT: What was the hardest challenge to overcome or learn to master within this business and what insight can you give our students on how you overcame that challenge?

Riley: The challenge is within yourself. Staying positive, focused, optimistic, and confident. The road is a long rocky one with peaks and valleys. I’ve always said that if you let the high’s get too high the low’s are going to be really hard on you. So I take it all in stride and keep everything in perspective. Just try to remember that there is always someone or some job better and worse. But the gratifying thing is that everyday is filled with a different challenge and un like most coporate jobs, there is no ceiling on how far you can go. And you don’t have to stare out the same office window everyday. Each day I wake up, it is my decision how much work I want to put into my career. There is no “boss” telling me I’m late, or that I have to show up. It’s my choice. And you get what you put into it. The other big piece of advice once you start really working is to ALWAYS be a good person. This business is surprisingly small when it comes to the people that are really writing, producing, casting and acting in all the stuff. I can’t tell you how many jobs I have gotten with the same people because I’m an easy going guy. Life’s too short and the list is too long for people to hire a difficult person. So 9 out of 10 times they are going to go with someone that is good to be around. On that note, don’t get pushed around. Jokingly, a producers job is to get as much out of you as possible for the lowest amount of money, so you do have to stand up for yourself. If you do it the right way, it will be respected.

ACT: What were some of your other jobs that you held in between your acting gigs and did you ever do something you were completely embarrassed doing to make ends meet?

Riley: I have been fortunate and rare in this biz, because I have never had to take a “real” job to survive. But I have done a few movies that I wish would have passed on. Ha. You never know when you sign up for a film how it will turn out. There are so many variables that go into making a film that are completely out of the actor’s control. I always just looked at the positives of the job in front of me and one of the things I have learned throughout the years is to look into the negatives before hand as well. As I have seen from a few of the projects, if the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably pass. So there you go, I just saved you two bad movies at the cost of my humiliation… Then again, and I think most cater /waiters in LA would have taken those movies, so I guess I saved myself serving food too.

ACT: What was one of your favorite roles and/or do you have a dream role that you would like to explore?

Riley: I have a lot of different roles I am proud of for very different reasons. I was very proud of the way my work turned out on “24”.That was a very important job for me in terms of the popularity of that show and the magnitude of weight the character held on season 3. In the movie “Radio”, I got to spend everyday for three months acting opposite of three Oscar award winners. Ed Harris, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Debra Winger. That was an amazing learning experience. I am also very proud of the indi movie I did “Weapons”. The minute I read the script I knew it was going to do well in the festival circuit, and I had always wanted to be in a film like that and in that ballpark of actors. But the role was a big stretch in a lot of ways for me. When I first read for the director I worked my butt off mentally and character wise, but the director didn’t physically see me as the guy. The character was a very urban, poor, gangster kid. They had a distinct vision for him. So I shaved my head, threw on fake tattoos and earrings, sliced my eyebrow, and gained about fifteen pounds. Went back in and won the role. It was a very low budget movie and I didn’t get paid much at all for it. But it did make the best drama category in the Sundance Film Festival and I was sitting front row. ….. Those are the days I’m happy I’m an actor.

ACT: And one last question for fun…. After the convention, did you stay in touch with Ashton Kutcher and are you friends?

Riley: Next question….

ACT: Well, I know you have a lot of work to do, so we won’t keep you. We wish you best on all your upcoming gigs and thank you for sharing with our ACT family.

Riley: Anytime and I hope to see some of your kids on set one day! It would be so cool for someone to say they read this and it helped them understand a little more about the biz.”