After winning us over as Arlene’s (Carrie Preston) rock-god boyfriend Keith in the recently-wrapped final season of True Blood, Riley Smith is venturing into new territory: the Civil War. He stars as Toby Harper in Lifetime’s two-hour event Deliverance Creek, which is the first television project for author Nicholas Sparks. We checked in with Riley last week to talk about working on a Sparks project and going from Bon Temps to back in time.
What was it like for him to take on material from the man who wrote The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, and so many other beloved books? “Obviously I think he’s one of the biggest authors of his generation for romance novels,” he told us. “I hadn’t even noticed that when I read it. To be honest with you, I’ll never forget the first time I’d read the script, because it was one of the best scripts I’d read as a pilot.”
There’s a lot going on for Toby, who deserts the Civil War and comes home to Deliverance Creek, where his path crosses with that of his first love, Belle Gatlin Barlowe (Six Feet Under‘s Lauren Ambrose). However, it’s not a happy reunion, as Belle is engaged in a battle to defend her land and her family by any means necessary.
“What I enjoyed the most about the character is Toby is kind of the light-hearted one,” Riley continued. “He’s a little bit of the comic relief. It’s a very heavy story, but he definitely has moments where he’s got some of the funny lines…I think Toby is kind of a rare breed for [a cowboy]. He’s very emotional and he wears his heart on his sleeve, and I hope the audience really likes that quality about him.”
It’s certainly a change of pace from his last gig on True Blood, but while it’s airing after his arc on the HBO series, Deliverance Creek actually predates it. “I did Deliverance Creek before. I did that last November-December, and then I got True Blood in January,” he explained. “Coincidentally, it’s the same casting directors. I’m forever so grateful for them, Libby Goldstein and Junie Lowry-Johnson and Lisa Soltau, they’re like the best casting directors in town.
“Of course the setting was way different and the characters are way different,” he continued. “More than that, True Blood shoots like seven minutes from my house in Los Angeles on a soundstage. It was really nice to sleep in my own bed and have a seven minute drive to work!”
What’s the same is that both roles are inhabited by an actor who quietly wrings everything he can out of a part. He’s got the looks of a rough-and-tumble cowboy or a rock star – fun fact: he’s the guitarist and lead singer of a band appropriately called The Life of Riley – but underneath that edge there can be a compelling vulnerability, or a quick wit. You never quite know what you’re going to get, and that’s what makes him so entertaining to watch. He makes us remember him every time we see him, so what are the past roles that still stick in his memory?
“I am always happy and proud of my work in 24 season three,” said Riley, who played drug courier Kyle Singer on the FOX thriller. “It was a great role, and it was early on in my career and it was a great test for me. I am also proud of the movie Radio; even though I played the bad guy, he does learn a lesson and come around in the end. I did a movie that went to Sundance called Weapons, and it was a really gritty art house film.”
Off-camera, his personal taste runs much lighter. “I love the single-camera comedies like Modern Family, and the new show last year I fell in love with was The Goldbergs. And [then] dating back to Arrested Development. That style is what I love watching,” he told us. “It’s weird because I don’t do comedy. I’m known as a dramatic actor. [But] because I don’t do a lot of comedy, I love watching it, because I can really immerse myself in it and not think.”
At the moment, he’s thinking about returning to Austin to potentially shoot more of Deliverance Creek, should Lifetime opt to turn tonight’s two-hour event into an ongoing series. “True Blood and Deliverance Creek have pretty much been my life for the last year, literally,” he laughed. The final season of a hit television show and then working on material from one of the most well-known novelists in print – we’d say that’s a pretty good year, and well deserved, too.
Deliverance Creek premieres tomorrow, September 13, at 8 PM ET/PT on Lifetime (check your local listings for specific channel). For more on Riley, follow him on Twitter (@RileySmith).
(c)2014 Brittany Frederick. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.