Interview with Actress Chantel RileyJanuary 30, 2016
Currently starring as Nala in the Broadway production of Lion King In New York, Chantel Riley is now about to tackle her first big acting role in the movie Race coming out this year. Recently, we had a chance to talk to Chantel about her interest in dance, stage and acting and what she has coming up in the future.
So was performing in some way, shape or form something you always wanted to do?
Yes. I danced when I was younger, like age three to eighteen, and I love performing and being on stage. I thought my plan was to open a dance studio and teach dance but it looks like fate has other plans for me, such as being on a stage of my own, so it’s a little bit different than I expected.
Where did your interest in dance come from?
When I was younger, my mother took me to a dance studio and I remember watching this tap class and being so excited and my mother let me go into the class, to try and participate in the class that was older then I was and it was in that moment that I knew this was something I loved to do.
Can you tell me about the circumstances that led to you landing the role of Nala in the Broadway production of the Lion King?
Sure. Well, they do auditions for things like this all over the world, they currently have the companies spread out all over the world. One of the cities they came to was our home town, Toronto and I was working as an insurance adjuster at the time, nine to five, calling clients who are complaining about their backs hurting and all that stuff and it was about a year and a half in that a friend of mine introduced me, he showed me an advertisement for an open casting call for the Lion King. So I took the chance, went to the audition, I didn’t have any prior experience with acting other than my church play and the church choir, and so I just took that chance. It was scary but very worth it. So from there I took the job as Nala in Germany first, I was there for their ten year anniversary, and then after my run there for a year I was asked to come to Broadway and I’ve been here for three years now.
So what is a typical day like for you, when you’re going to be on stage?
Well, our show is in the evening so most of our days we have free, unless we’re rehearsing or a lot of us take classes or vocal lessons and actually, I started taking Kung Fu. I do that four days a week, two or three hours each time and it’s something I always enjoyed, watching Kung Fu movies and action films, I’ve always loved the idea of being able to do that myself and hopefully one day be a lead in a Kung Fu movie because you don’t really see black women in Kung Fu movies, so I’m hoping to try and break that and make a change. So I love doing that, and if I’m not doing that I’m preparing for the show. Our call time is usually a half an hour before show time and then I get to go in and warm up.
How do you challenge yourself to keep your performances fresh so it doesn’t become monotonous or boring for you?
I like to try new things as much as possible and so I’ll do a scene a little bit different then I normally would, like stand in a new position and the slightest changes can make the biggest difference to your performance. I do work with a lot of great people that help make the show turn out so well, it’s so much fun, it doesn’t even feel like it ever gets boring or monotonous at all.
This year you’ll be taking on your first acting role in the movie Race. What was that experience like for you?
It was really exciting. It was my first role and I was really excited because it’s a great story about Jesse Owens and his accomplishments during difficult times for people of color and I love the fact that I get to be part of something like that. Stephen Hopkins was amazing to work with, a lot of fun and just allowed me to be free in what I was doing by letting me try different things. Being on set was a little nerve wracking for me, it was my first time ever and I was like I’m from Broadway, I don’t do this stuff so I’m glad I started where I did because he was able to teach me so much stuff, great pointers to bring to a set and it’s great to know that the lead who plays Jesse Owens, Stephan James, is also from Toronto, so it’s great to have some people from your home town that you get to work with and can relate with and we got along really well and had a great time.
So how did your part in the movie come about?
Well, I have an agent who is always finding me new auditions to do, I mean you can get fifty auditions and book one so, this one audition just seemed like it was for me. I got the audition done and put it on tape and then booked the spot from there. I was a little nervous because I didn’t have the chance to go into a room and audition, a lot of actors like to go into a room so they can see who you are and get a vibe of who you are and all that stuff, so I was a little nervous but it looks like the tape was all they needed.
Was acting always something that you saw in your future, beyond working on Broadway for example?
Absolutely. This is me, this is something I love doing for a career. Just like some people, say journalists have their stuff, basketball players, that’s what they do but yeah, definitely acting and performing, I love doing it.
In your opinion, what would you say are the best and worst things about being a performer?
The best things are, and I can only speak from my personal experiences, the best thing is being part of this show. The amount of people I’ve been able to come in contact with who have said this show has changed their life or that I inspired them to live their dream and all of that kind of stuff. That’s actually a goal of mine, every night before my performance I do a little prayer and I just ask God that, even if it’s only one person that gets touched or inspired by us up on stage, to make that happen. That’s definitely one of the best things, for sure. One of the worst things well, its live theater so anything can happen, if you mess up a lot, you’ve got to keep moving. I’ve fallen on stage a couple of times but you’ve got to pick yourself up and keep going, so that’s probably the worst part. You never know what’s going to happen but I guess that’s the exciting part as well.
What kind of advice would you have for girls who are interested in stage work or mainstream acting?
The number one thing would be to really trust your gut. I find that in this industry you really have to trust what your heart is saying and trust yourself that you are good enough. I feel like we have a hard time, especially women, thinking their good enough for a certain role or type of film. I just think we need to spend time with ourselves to really push and motivate ourselves and know that we are good enough, and that we can make it and that we are stars and that we are beautiful enough, we are smart enough to be able to be in this industry, because it is still a very male dominated industry. So it’s great to just be able to tell yourself you can make it and you are just as good as them.
What projects do you have coming up next?
Well, other than Lion King, I’m doing about eight shows a week and the Race comes out next month, I’m doing a lot of short films and working with some great people. I did one about two years ago called Teacher’s Nightmare and it’s pretty much just talking about gun violence in schools, so it’s a short film and it will be coming out soon. With the Lion King, I’m contracted year to year so I never really know what’s on the horizon in terms of that as well. Hopefully with all the little things as well as Race, there will be more things coming my way.
I want to thank Chantel for taking the time to speak with us.