Riley Smith Interview: ‘Frequency,’ Time Travel, and the ’90s

Frequency stars Riley Smith, Peyton List and Mekhi Phifer
Riley Smith, Peyton List and Mekhi Phifer from ‘Frequency’ at Comic Con 2016 (Photo © Richard Chavez / Showbiz Junkies)

The CW is set to premiere Frequency, a new series inspired by the 2000 film starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel, on October 5, 2016 at 9pm ET/PT. The sci-fi time travel drama stars Riley Smith in the role played by Quaid and Peyton List (swapping the gender from male to female) in Caviezel’s role from the feature film. The series follows Detective Raimy Sullivan (List) who suddenly hears the voice of her deceased father, NYPD Officer Frank Sullivan (Smith), over her dad’s old ham radio. He’s broadcasting from 20 years in the past and neither understands how they could possibly be communicating. Now with Raimy able to warn her dad about his impending death, both of their lives will be dramatically altered forever.

Sitting down for roundtable interviews at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, Riley Smith talked about what it was that he latched onto in getting into his character, working with Peyton List, and the show’s tone.

Riley Smith Interview:

Can you talk about playing this relationship with a daughter when it had been a father and son in the movie?

Riley Smith: “Well, I feel that the father-daughter relationship is the sweetest thing in the world. I don’t have a daughter but I’ve always wanted one. Usually guys say they want a son, like, ‘I want a mini-me.’ I would want that but I definitely want a daughter. I think it’s so sweet. So when I read the script, immediately that’s what popped off to me is that that element is going to be so much stronger for a series and for us as actors to play off of.”

It’s freaky that 1996 is considered the distant past.

Riley Smith: (Laughing) “I know! That was my senior year in high school. For me this is a blast, it’s like literally walking back in time. The music, the look, the feel of it – I knew it so well. Oasis ‘Wonderwall’ is my opening song for me and I got chills when that came on because that was like my song when I was driving in Iowa as a senior in high school trying to get the nerve to move to California to be an actor. And so there it was in this pilot so it’s fun. For me, it’s an era I want to play and I am.”

There seems to be a lot of nostalgia for the ’90s right now.

Riley Smith: “Everything comes back around. Remember the ’80s were popular? It comes with the wardrobe and styles and the hair, and all that stuff. I think everything is about 20 years is what they say. Like the fashion in Paris or whatever, the ’80s was just big and now the ’90s is about to make a huge comeback. Between the ’90s making a comeback and us having a ’90s element and time travel obviously being a big thing this year – and we’re a time travel show – we hit it on the head. We got really lucky that that is all playing at the same time.”

What is the tone of Frequency?

Riley Smith: “Deeply rooted in the characters and in the relationships. The sci-fi time travel genre elements will take care of themselves. We play the scenes as real and deeply rooted as possible. All the surroundings, that’s the surroundings. That’s the fun for the audience. We can’t get caught up in that. We have to stay true to the words on the page and the dynamic of the relationships, and our goals as characters. What’s great about it is we have a very strong goal, an objective, that’s going to give us a timeline, basically a time clock. I did a show called 24 back in the day and everybody really liked that idea that there’s a countdown. We have that countdown on this show. We know exactly when my wife, Peyton’s mom, goes missing. And so we know exactly what we have to do.”

When you’re doing the scenes where you communicate via radio with your daughter, do you get to see Peyton List actually perform those scenes?

Riley Smith: “Yeah. Peyton and I vowed for the pilot that we would be there for each other off camera for the whole thing because it really makes a big difference. Peyton and I have been acting partners for 10 years. Nobody really knows that but we’ve worked countless hours on so many things that we did get, so many things that we didn’t get. We never actually physically worked together in a scene on TV though until now. And so all that history and work that we put in really showed and came across in the bond that we had as father and daughter.

It was very important for us, because we have that bond and we know each other so well as actors, to be there for each other off camera. I’m trying to do it for the whole series. It gets tougher because we’re working so much faster on a series than the pilot. So, I was talking to her the other day about it. I was like, ‘Let’s at least for the beginning of the show until we get it rolling, let’s still do that.’ Regardless, I can hear her in my head. I’ve worked with her so much I know how she would deliver it. But it always sounds better from her than probably a script supervisor off camera…no offense to the script supervisor.”

How would you describe Frank Sullivan and how he’s changed by the arrival of a daughter who’s essentially a voice?

Riley Smith: “It turns his world upside down. He doesn’t believe it at first – not until it saves his life. What I love about Frank is he’s the anti-hero. He’s a flawed human being and for me personally as an actor I was looking for that. It’s hard to find a lead role that’s flawed. A lot of times in a lot of ways they’re generic and perfect. I’m not that guy; I’ve never played that guy. I knew I needed to find a guy who was flawed that you could get behind and root for, and that was Frank.

He doesn’t have a lot of trust. He’s basically given up everything he has and loves for this job. I think after episode one when he comes in contact with Raimy, she saves his life, he realizes at that point forward nothing else matters except finding the person who’s going to do this to his wife, reconnecting with his daughter, reconnecting with his wife. I mean, really ultimately it comes down to Frank realizes that – and a lot of people realize that – ultimately at the end of the day it’s about family. It’s all you really have and the rest of this stuff doesn’t really matter if it’s all going to be taken away from you.”

Watch the full Riley Smith interview:

(Interview by Fred Topel. Article by Rebecca Murray.)