The film is a throwback to those early 80’s teen comedies where the nerdy Peyton (Gaelan Connell) is in deep teen-love with Carrie, the hot cheerleader. But, in a fun twist, Carrie plays matchmaker and sets out to help Peyton hook up with fellow dork Samantha (Vanessa Marano).
The film marked Riley’s first starring role and she’s terrific. It’s no wonder why she was cast in a small role in the pilot of Aaron Sorkin‘s hit HBO show, The Newsroom. She was so good, Sorkin brought her back for the first season finale which then lead to her being a regular on season two.
She’s smart, funny and you’ll definitely enjoy this interview where we chat about her audition for Secret Lives, working on The Newsroom, an absolutely nightmare audition(!) and her advice to young actors.
The Secret Lives of Dorks is in theaters now or on VOD (click here to watch it) This is your first major role. How did you get the part?
Riley Voelkel: Pre-production of this film began in 2009 and I had just come back from shooting a small role in The Social Network. I had a few meetings with agencies set up and the agency I ended up signing with wanted to send me out for an audition before they made it official. The audition was for The Secret Lives of Dorks. My agent called me a couple of hours before the audition and told me he had an audition for me for the lead in a film. I was very excited and tried to get the essence of Carrie down in the short time I had. I was a little nervous walking into my first big audition but I ended up having so much fun. I related to Carrie and it felt natural to play her. When I got the news that I got the role, I was in the gym locker room and ran around in my underwear screaming. I definitely received some funny looks from the girls changing.
Your character isn’t the typical cheerleader-type we always see in teen movies. She’s actually relatively nice and tries to help Payton out in the girl department. Was it nice not to play the typical bitchy cheerleader role?
Riley Voelkel: It was. I feel like this aspect gave Carrie much more depth than the typical bitchy cheerleader. She has her bitchy moments, but as the film progresses you see how vulnerable she is and that she’s more than just a stereotypical popular kid; she has a “beautiful soul”.
In the press notes, the director said that she worked with you “intensely.” What did she mean by that?
Riley Voelkel: Well, I think we all worked together intensely as a team to create this film with a small budget. Everyone was doing it for the love of making movies, not for the money and it really took the whole cast and crew to make it happen. We all became very close over the course of shooting and were able to learn a lot from each other. This was my first speaking role ever, and really my first experience of shooting a film. I learned so much and it was a wonderful transition into the industry.
You’re also on Newsroom. Your part was originally only in the pilot. Did you ever expect to be called back for the 1st season finale?
Riley Voelkel: Initially I did not, as the role was meant to only be in the pilot, but I would dream up scenarios on how my character could be brought back, not knowing if that would ever happen. While shooting the pilot, however, Aaron pulled me aside and told me he was thinking of bringing me back. I tried to play it cool when he told me this, but inside was freaking out. I was so excited. I waited awhile during the first season wondering if I indeed would be brought back and then I received the call for the finale. That was a great phone call! I am so grateful to Aaron for creating the character of Jenna Johnson and making me apart of such an outstanding production. It has been such a wonderful experience.
When you were working on that episode, is that when you found out you’d be coming back for season 2?
Riley Voelkel: When I read the line “Hire her..” in the finale script, I knew there was a good chance I’d be coming back for season 2. I loved how Aaron came full circle with my character.
What’s more nerve-racking: Auditioning or your first day on set?
Riley Voelkel: Well, I think both can be nerve-racking, but I’ve found that the nerves that come on the first day of set are usually good nerves. They come from a place of excitement rather than doubt. I crave being on set and love it so much that when I know I’ve gotten a role I can’t wait for the first day. I think as actors we have all have had days where nerves have gotten the best of us, but we always learn from it and try to transfer the energy into our performance. Auditioning can be more nerve-racking because you are not certain what they want to see in the character yet and you make choices that sometimes you question later.
Do you have any audition nightmare stories?
Riley Voelkel: Yes, I was once in an audition with a director, who midway through the meeting, pointed to a couch and asked me “Do you know what that is?” I was confused until he said “That’s the casting couch.” I found myself running out of there! I couldn’t believe that still exists. I always hope actors know they don’t have to ever take that route to be successful.
What’s your advice for young actors?
Riley Voelkel: My advice to young actors would be to stay grounded, grateful and to persevere. I am so grateful to my family for always keeping me grounded and reminding me who I am. I feel like a lot of actors unfortunately let there ego get the best of them and they lose their connection with the rest of the world. If you love acting and making movies, then I think that should be what its all about, not that anyone is better than anyone else because of the career they chose. Keep your friends and family close who truly have your best interest at heart. If this is what you love to do then don’t stop persevering. Morgan Freeman said looking back, what he was striving for he always had and he was always where he was meant to be, even if he didn’t know it at the time. I always think of that when I find myself living too much in the future or feeling down. We are all where we are supposed to be and it will all make sense one day. 🙂