Riley Smith - Rodeo Arenas to Rodeo Drive
Mid-Western charm with a West Coast swagger; Riley Smith is a paradox, a collision of different worlds that should not mesh, but with Riley, they combine to make a powerful force. Growing up in Iowa he conquered the world of competitive horse shows then fate lead him to compete for something harder to grasp than a trophy; screen time.
Acting at a young age alongside Hollywood Icons like Ed Harris, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Keifer Sutherland, he proved his salt and has never stopped working. Rumor has it Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen handpicked him to play the love interest in their 2004 teenage hit, New York Minute.
Riley always had his eye on the prize, at 17 years old Riley was voted President of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association, which boasts a membership of 350,000 members.
“The first thing that taught me how to go for something and that things were achievable was that presidency. It was a big deal in that world. And when I accomplished that, it gave me a lot of confidence and showed me that you can do things if you put your mind to it and work hard.”
At that same age, he was scouted by a talent agent, flew to New York and landed a gig modeling for Tommy Hilfiger. This seems like a lot for a 17-year-old to take in, but living in the big city and modeling for one of the worlds most premier fashion labels turned out to be a good fit for Riley.
“It never scared me because I always wanted to be in that environment. If anything, it was more like a challenge. I also never ventured too far from who I am, so when I was in those places and situations I was handling myself like I always did. When the talent scout approached me and opened up my eyes, I never really questioned whether I could make it, as long as I put my mind to it. And with success came confidence.”
That confidence served Riley well when navigating the ups and downs of acting.
“The reality is there were way more things that I did not get. In fact, way more than I actually did. And there were big roles that went on to be a success, that came down to me and the other guy and I didn’t get it. For a moment it sets you back and you wonder why it didn’t happen. But I didn’t let the losses keep me down, and that mentality worked out for me. I think if you stay positive it will get you to the next thing.”
That “next thing” ended up being a successful acting career receiving roles in hit shows and critically acclaimed movies. If you press Riley to talk about who impacted him the most when acting alongside them, one name stands out among the rest.
“Ed (Harris) I would say is the most intimidating actor I have ever worked with. He’s so intense and so good! When I worked with him the first time, I was just a baby on Radio and I was in way over my head and everybody knew it. But he built me up and made me better. I learned so much from watching him in scenes and on set. He really became a mentor to me by the end of the movie. In fact, on this last hiatus, I made a movie with him where he plays my dad. It was awesome getting to work with him 14 years later.”
Riley is currently in town filming the highly anticipated CW Show Life Sentence. Coming off a leading role on the show Frequency, he’s coming alongside star Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars) and an all-star cast to deliver what is expected to be the Networks new hit show.
“I think that it is the kind of show that the world needs right now. It’s an uplifting story about a girl who defeats cancer and has a second chance at life. It’s also really well written. When they sent me the pilot I laughed and I cried, it was really good! I think Lucy Hale who is the lead is a star and she can carry a show. The minute I saw it, I was in!
Going from being a lead on my show to now not being the lead, I felt that if I could just come in with no ego, contribute and be a valuable asset, then together we can make the show even better.”
Ego may seem like something Riley may be entitled to. But it is his humility and willingness that opened the way for him in acting just as it has in music…Oh did I forget to mention he makes his own music?
“I had always been writing and interested in music, but I didn’t know how to play an instrument. I was doing this movie up here in Vancouver in 2001, and this kid who was in the movie with me was playing music every night after work. We would hang out at the hotel and on set. And I thought that it was kind of cool. So I went over to Tom Lee’s on Grandville and I bought a used guitar and taught myself five chords.”
Riley Turned those five chords into a band and a successful music career. The Life of Riley Opened for headliners like Jordin Sparks and even toured Europe.
“We had decent success but we were never really trying too hard because of our other jobs… mine being acting. And then finally the two worlds merged when I got to do the TV show Nashville in 2015. I had been ready to go solo for a while and then Nashville came up and I started writing with all these great writers. I decided I’m going to make a record down here, and that was my first solo record. The record took about a year to put together because I landed the show Frequency and I was working 70 hours a week and I had no time to work on the record. So I put it on the shelf for about a year while I was up here in Vancouver. When we did the hiatus in January, I flew back to Nashville, finished it up and had it put out by May.”
Riley’s self-titled EP draws its roots from country music, but tracks like Change of Season are infused with an electronic synth sound that makes his music stand out from the pack.
Riley describes his sound as a mixture Indy-Pop Rock and Country Western. To some, this may seem like a contradiction, but then again, to some Riley may seem like a contradiction. Raised in Horse stables in middle America to acting alongside Hollywood elites on the big screen. But just like “Riley the Actor” “Riley the Musician” takes contradiction, mixes it with creativity and turns it into artistry.