InterviewSDCC '16TV

‘Frequency’ Star Riley Smith Chats About His Character, Working with Peyton List and More

Nora Dominick ’17/ Emertainment Monthly Executive Stage Editor

Tonight, Frequency begins its journey on The CW and fans are in for an emotional ride. The new drama offered a special preview night screening at San Diego Comic Con 2016 earlier this summer. If that is any indication, there won’t be a dry eye in the house after the premiere tonight.

Starring Peyton List, Riley Smith and Mekhi PhiferFrequency tells the story of Detective Raimy Sullivan (List), who is celebrating her birthday in 2016. When she hooks up her deceased father, Frank’s (Smith), old ham radio, she is able to speak with him back in 1996. Raimy attempts to save his life, but ultimately triggers a “butterfly effect” and changes the present in unforeseen ways. Frequency follows her quest to try to fix the damage and work with her father across time to solve a decades-old murder case.

At SDCC 2016, Riley Smith sat down and talked about his character Frank, how it’s working with Peyton List, what makes Frequency stand out and so much more!

Check out the full interview below.

Emertainment Monthly: What drew you to the character of Frank Sullivan?

Riley Smith: The character. It’s an unbelievable role for any actor. For me, in particular, I’ve been doing this a long time, played a lot of different roles, but for me I know my strengths and weaknesses as an actor and I knew I needed to find a lead role that had flaws. Like a flawed hero and those are hard to find. Usually the heroes are pretty generic and pretty perfect and I will never play a perfect guy, I’m not one. So, as soon as I read the script I knew. The CW had sent me three other new pilots and they said, ‘You need to let us know right away which one you want to meet on.’ Immediately when I read it I was like, ‘That’s it! That’s the one for me. That’s the role I’ve been waiting for, for so long.’

The guy has so many layers as an actor that you can peel away at and he is the hero, but he’s flawed. It’s a fun job to try to get the audience to understand you, root for you. It says right in the beginning, ‘My father’s a bad man.’ So, right off the bat it really sets up one side of him that really, ultimately becomes not true. So then I get to spend the length of the series proving to the people in the show that I am an admirable guy and my heart’s in the right place.

And the writing in the script. Jeremy Carver’s writing just speaks out of me. Sometimes I see scripts where I have to figure out how to make that work, but with his my first read is like, ‘That’s it. That’s it.’ I don’t really have to figure out how I’m going to make this work. it just flows out of me. 

The Frequency pilot is very emotional. How was it playing that?

I get emotional talking about it. It’s really special to me. It’s emotional. 

Riley Smith in Frequency. Photo Credit: The CW
Riley Smith in Frequency. Photo Credit: The CW

I think it really speaks to that need to talk to the people that we’ve lost and also be able to change things that have happened.

It is! The idea is that, is that ultimately better or worse for us? Or is everything suppose to be the way that it is. Maybe for me, it’s like, you need to say what you want to say now. Don’t wait. Don’t think about having the opportunity, do it now! So, you won’t have that regret. The idea of the butterfly effect and how that it can really change the perils of the future.

Mekhi said it earlier in an interview and I firmly believe it, it’s like, everything happens for a reason and we wouldn’t be here today if I had taken a left instead of a right five years ago, ten years ago. For me, I’ve been a journeyman actor who has done a lot of pilots and a lot of shows that didn’t last long and all that led to this. It just feels right. It feels like it’s got the legs, the network, all the things to go the distance. It’s in a great place. 

What are the scenes like with Peyton where you don’t really see each other, but you’re hearing each other through the radio. Obviously acting is so much about seeing the other person, so what’s that like filming?

Well Peyton and I go way back. We go back ten years. We were acting partners for 10 years. So, the beauty of this is, I actually had referred her to the creators. I said, ‘You’re going to get whoever you want for this role. You’re going to get the best girl in town. Such a great role.’ And I said, ‘I know one girl that I work with all the time and I think she’s perfect.’ Light bulbs went off when I told them.

I called Peyton immediately and I was like, ‘You’re going to get this. So get ready.’ We started working on it for her immediately. Between the time that we both got signed on to the time we shot the pilot, we put in so many hours, but leading up to that we put in 10 years of work. We didn’t have to get to know each other. We didn’t have to build that bond, it was already built in. I think that really shows in the pilot.

So to answer your question, when we shot the pilot, if I was on camera she would be hidden away in the corner. We tried a bunch of different things. We didn’t quite have it down yet. One time I had an earpiece in and that didn’t quite work, I couldn’t quite hear. Then they had a little mic hidden somewhere, a speaker, and that was kind of funky. So, pretty soon she was really right off camera, but I couldn’t see her. We made a vow where we were like, ‘I will be there for you every off camera, you be there for me every off camera.’

Hopefully we can continue that in the series. It’s harder because you don’t get as much time and we’re going to be working so hard. On the pilot we were working like 70 hours per week. So, we’re going to need a rest when we get it, but I promised I would be there for her for every off camera line if she wants me to be. 

In terms of moving forward, how is Frequency going to be structured?

We’re going to be pick up on the second episode right where the first one left off. What I love that he did in this next episode is Jeremy does a great job at catching everyone up with flashbacks while leading you through the story. He’s so brilliant at that! It can get tricky, the timeline things, as we’re even reading it. So, on the way over here Mekhi, Peyton and I were together and we literally have our scripts open and we’re trying to connect the dots. We helped each other out a lot. It’s going to be that way for the entire run of the show because it becomes almost a “choose your own adventure” for the writers.

After the pilot, once they decide what’s going to happen with the butterfly effect and how that affects everything it just can go anywhere. That’s going to be the fun, tricky part about it for us too. As an actor, remember your continuity of the motions where you are in each scene and in each moment. So, you know, as an actor that’s the kind of stuff you’re looking for. And still with all this genre stuff, the sci-fi element, the time travel element, it’s really deeply rooted in the characters. It’s just this father/daughter. You don’t see that a lot on TV anymore either. 

Frequency poster. Photo Credit: The CW
Frequency poster. Photo Credit: The CW

The idea that we think sci-fi has to be way out there, but in so many ways it comes right back down to the relationships and the characters themselves. 

Yeah! And that’s one of the things that stuck out in the pilot to me when I was reading it. It just has a little bit of every great ingredient. It’s got a little ingredient for everybody and I think that’s enough and the way that they tie it together I think when people give it a chance, they’ll find something that they like that they can attach themselves too. 

Frequency is so grounded in Frank and Raimy’s father/daughter bond. What did you like the most about that relationship?

Well, a father/daughter relationship is so much sweeter than anything else. We all know that. So, I don’t have any kids yet, I want some and it’s funny because everyone who knows me knows that I want a girl more than I want a boy. I obviously want a boy too, but I definitely want a girl. That’s weird because usually guys want one of their own little selfs. I want a girl. There’s something so touching about that. That was it for me. 

Frequency premieres tonight at 9/8c on The CW

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