Actor and singer-songwriter Riley Smith is premiering his new song “I’m on Fire” exclusively for readers of The Boot. Press play below to listen.
Fans of CMT’s Nashville might recognize Smith: He played brooding rocker-turned-country singer Markus Keen during the show’s fourth season (when it was still on ABC). Smith has also made appearances on HBO’s True Blood and True Detective, and has a leading role on the CW’s Frequency.
During his time on Nashville, Smith recorded four songs that were released as part of the show’s soundtrack; now, he’s preparing to release his first project as an artist himself. “I’m on Fire,” Smith tells The Boot is about the time he’s spent on the road — specifically, it’s “the story of one of the many times I just needed to go home.”
“”I’m on Fire” exemplifies the synergy I found while living in Nashville: Tim Lauer was producing my music for the show Nashville, and then set us up on a co-write with Mathew Perryman Jones, who I had been a fan of for a long time,” Smith shares. “The three of us sat down, and the premise just flowed out of us. Working with them was effortless, yet deep and meaningful; within a few hours of our write, we had perfectly captured my tone and sound.”
“I’m on Fire” will appear on Smith’s forthcoming self-titled debut EP, which is set for release on July 21 and was produced by Kevin Leach; it’s the record’s lead single. Smith describes the project as “loner music.”
“There’s a common theme of distance and space running through the EP,” Smith says. “I want the EP to hopefully transcend to anyone who’s ever felt alone.”
When Frequency premieres in October, one of the most compelling elements of the show is the central relationship between Raimy Sullivan (Peyton List) and her estranged father, Frank Sullivan (Riley Smith). Before seeing the pilot, I wasn’t sure how the storyline — based on the 2000 film of the same name — would play out and if I would be captivated by a show about parallel timelines and time-travel. After watching the pilot at Comic-Con, however, I was utterly sold on the show thanks in large part to the incredible emotional core, and the relationship between Peyton and Riley’s characters. While at Comic-Con, we had the opportunity to sit down with Riley Smith at a roundtable and discuss his complex character, Frank’s relationship with Raimy, and what the future holds for Frank.
As you likely noticed from the promotional trailers and from our interview with EPs Jeremy Carver and Jennifer Gwartz, The CW’s Frequency tells the story of an estranged father and daughter, rather than a father and son. When asked about the switch, Riley Smith noted that he was a fan of it: “I feel that the father/daughter relationship is the sweetest thing in the world. […] When I read the script, immediately that’s what popped off to me. That element is going to be so much stronger for a series and for us as actors to play out.”
While Peyton List’s Raimy lives in 2016, Frank Sullivan exists in the past — more specifically, 1996. “It’s literally like walking back in time,” Riley said about the opportunity to time-travel to an era with significance for him. “I knew [the 90s] so well. Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ is my [character’s] opening song, and I got chills when that came on. Because that was 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.”
As the EPs noted in our interview, Frequency is a mix of a few different kinds of shows. The Sullivans are a broken family, and so one of the most integral elements of the pilot is the strained relationship between Raimy and Frank, and the solid relationship between Raimy and her mother. But in addition to being a family-centric drama, Frequency is also a genre show and one that incorporates elements of a police drama, too. When discussing the tone of the story that the show is telling, Riley noted that it is “deeply rooted in the characters and in the relationships,” which is extremely evident while watching the pilot. Relationships are central, whether it’s Raimy’s relationships with her family, her co-workers, or her boyfriend. As Riley then accurately pointed out, the successful basis of any show — but especially Frequency — is one that is firmly grounded in its characters and their central motivations.
“The sci-fi, time-travel elements will take care of themselves,” Riley pointed out. “If we play the scenes as real and as deeply-rooted as possible, all the surroundings? That’s the surroundings. […] We [as actors] 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.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of Frequency (and the thing that could make it an extremely tricky show down the line like Doctor Who or Legends of Tomorrow) is the sci-fi element of time-travel and timelines. Raimy makes choices within the pilot episode that don’t just affect her and her own future, but the future of the people she loves and is ultimately trying to protect. And while the idea of parallel timelines can get convoluted pretty quickly, Riley also discussed the frantic energy and figurative “ticking clock” that the show has, akin to 24 (a show he also used to be on). Frequency’s premise now hangs on the idea that though there may not be a race against time, Raimy is also going to be fighting time and the consequences of her actions.
Because of the premise of the show — especially in the pilot — Raimy and her father Frank are separated by the span of 20 years. When asked whether or not Peyton and Riley got the opportunity to see each others’ scenes in order to play off of them, Riley revealed that he and Peyton have actually been acting partners for the last decade! “Peyton and I vowed from the pilot that we would be there for each other, off camera for the whole [show] because it really makes a difference,” Riley said. “Peyton and I have been acting partners for ten years. […] We’ve worked for countless hours on so many things that we did get, so many things we didn’t get. We’ve never actually physically worked together in a scene on TV though, until now. And so all that history and work we put in shows across that bond we had as father and daughter. So it was very important to us — because we had that bond and we know each other so well as actors — to be there for each other off camera.”
Riley then went on to mention that he wants to try to be off camera for scenes with Peyton for the whole series, but it will get tougher as the show has begun a tighter and quicker shooting schedule. Regardless of whether she’s physically present, Riley mentioned that he hears Peyton in his head, and knows how she would deliver a line.
Riley’s character, Frank, is complex and layered. He’s not necessarily the villain of the pilot, but he also doesn’t always act in the way that he should (prime example: sacrificing his family for his job). But Frank, in spite of his issues, is turned upside down by contact from Raimy in the future. “His whole world is turned upside down,” Riley said. “But what I love about Frank is that he’s an anti-hero. He’s a flawed human being. And me, personally, as an actor […] it’s hard to find a lead role that’s flawed. A lot of times and in a lot of ways they’re generic and perfect. And I’m not that guy and don’t want to play that guy. So I needed to find a guy who was flawed but who you could get behind and root for. And that was Frank.”
“In isolation, he doesn’t have a lot of trust,” Riley continued. “He’s basically given up everything he has and loves for this job. […] But ultimately […] Frank realizes, like a lot of people realize, at the end of the day? It’s about family. That’s all you really have. And the other stuff doesn’t matter because it’s all going to be taken away from you.”
Frequency debuts on October 5 on The CW. Be sure to check it out, listen to the full interview with Riley Smith below, and stay tuned to our site for more interviews with the cast and others post-Comic-Con coverage!