Riley Smith believes in destiny. That’s no easy task in Hollywood, a land as full of rejection and broken dreams as it is of opportunities and runaway successes. But the 38-year-old actor, who stars in the television drama “Frequency,” which premieres tonight on the CW network, considers himself fortunate. “My first job was a pilot for the WB and here I am 20 years later working for the same studio,” he says.
Smith considers himself among the lucky ones. “I never had to have a ‘real’ job,” he said. “I got lucky that I’ve always supported myself acting, but I always say if I had the choice I’d probably have 30 credits on my IMDB page instead of 75.” Smith, who moved from Iowa to Los Angeles to take acting classes after high school (he used the money he made modeling in a Tommy Hilfiger ad campaign to pay for them), landed his first acting job within months, on a WB pilot that never made it to air.
Since then, he’s become a television fixture, more handsome than your typical “character actor” but equally versatile — with regular roles on popular shows such as “7th Heaven,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “24,” “Joan of Arcadia,” “90210,” “True Blood” and “Nashville.” He’s also appeared in films including “Not Another Teen Movie” and “Bring It On.”
“I’ve done a lot of failed pilots and shows that got canceled. When you are going through the journey you are always asking yourself, like, ‘Why didn’t this happen?’ or ‘Why didn’t that happen?’ and then when something like ‘Frequency’ comes along it becomes very evident that everything has a reason.”
The show, a reboot of the 2000 movie starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, centers on Frank Sullivan (the role originated by Quaid) a Queens, N.Y., cop killed on the job who manages to reconnect 20 years later with his adult daughter through the supernatural airwaves of an old ham radio.
Because of his long relationship with the parent company Warner Bros., CW offered Smith three different pilot scripts to choose from, and he chose “Frequency,” which also stars Peyton List and Mekhi Phifer. “Peyton and I have actually been acting partners for 10 years and we’ve put in countless hours studying together,” he said of the actress, whom he met through a mutual agent. “We were in the same episodes of ‘90210’ but not in the same scenes. Now we are in scenes together but not physically on the same camera. It just makes sense that I am working with someone who I know so well and that I trust as an actor,” he said of the serendipitous casting.
If he seems overly earnest, blame it on his Midwestern roots. “I have a really strong family back home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I get emotional just talking about them,” he says. “My mom always told me to have faith. That’s kind of what keeps you going.”
Cedar Rapids’ other famous sons include Ashton Kutcher, Michael Emerson, Ron Livingston and Elijah Wood. “I consider myself fortunate to have done well for myself, but you go back to my town and those guys have done really well, so everyone’s kind of unaffected in a way. I almost feel like sometimes people are, like, ‘Man, you gotta pick it up.’ If I was from Wisconsin I’d probably be a bigger deal in my hometown.”
As for his music career — his L.A.-based band, The Life of Riley, has released three albums and he also sang on “Nashville” — Smith says he’s always writing songs when not acting. “I set up a mini studio in my apartment in Vancouver [where “Frequency” shoots] and it keeps me really calm,” he said. He grew up on his family’s quarter horse ranch listening to country music. “It’s sometimes hard to switch back to my Queens accent for the show when I’m listening to country in my trailer. I’ve gotta lose the Southern accent quick.”