Spotlight: Robin Riker, Actress
Every so often the Oracle selects entertainment professionals with established Hollywood careers to interview about their work, opinions and what advice they have for the next generation of up and comers wanting to make it in Hollywood. This week’s session is with acclaimed actress Robin Riker.
Robin is a third generation actor on both sides of her family. Robin has split her time between stage, film and television since her arrival in Hollywood. Being discovered at a Hollywood lunch counter is the myth usually associated with Lana Turner. In the case of Robin Riker, however, it is actually true, although at the time Robin was behind the counter, serving burgers. Two months after her arrival in Hollywood, a television producer, who was a regular patron of the hamburger stand, decided to produce a story on the aspiring actress for his weekly magazine show. A few weeks later, Robin had 15 minutes of the most coveted tool an aspiring actress can have in her Hollywood arsenal: actual, professionally produced and aired footage. She hasn’t stopped working since.
Her television work includes starring roles in six series, among them “The Gregory Hines Show” (CBS) “Thunder Alley” (ABC) “Get A Life” (FOX) and the ground breaking SHOWTIME series, Brothers (two Ace Award noms. Best Actress in a comedy)
Her first feature film, “Alligator” was written by John Sayles and has become a cult classic and was recently named by the website What Culture as possessing the 12th scariest “monster that comes from below”
With well over 100 credits to her name she has guest starred and recurred on dozens of shows including “Last Man Standing,” “Justified” NCIS, “The Closer”, Bones, Big Love, Boston Legal and Reba.
Her recent stage credits include All My Sons with Neil Patrick Harris at The Geffen, (Ovation nom. Best Supporting Actress), Cannibals at the Zephyr Theatre, Pied a Terre – Off Broadway, Welcome to the Woods, an Off Broadway production and part of the New York 400 Festival , Bernard Slade’s I Remember You with Tony Danza at Garry Marshall’s Falcon Theatre, the late George Furth’s play Sex, Sex, Sex, Sex, and Sex at the Matrix (LA Weekly nom. Best Supporting Actress), Les Liaisons Dangereuses at The Blank Theatre (Ovation nom. Best Actress) and “The Kiss at City Hall” at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Let’s Get Started…
Having grown up with parents that owned and operated theatres must have been very exciting for a child. What are some of your fondest memories from that time period in your life working on stage and behind the scenes?
I did love my childhood. My parents had a very practical philosophy : “If you have children, use them!” So I grew up on stage , backstage, in the box office and selling cookies in the lobby. I think the very best thing about that life was how it taught me we are all in this together. Nothing happens without the help of a lot of other people and every contribution is important and worthy of respect. Also the sense of camaraderie was fantastic. Everyone created together and ate and drank together and loved it. It’s amazing what happy creative people will do for a pot of chili and a glass of wine!
At what age did you know that you wanted to act for a living?
There was never really anything else I ever wanted to be. Oh wait, for awhile there, when I was a kid, I wanted to be either an archeologist , a veterinarian or a stripper but when I realized it was unlikely I’d discover anything like King Tut’s tomb and that sometimes you have to hurt animals to help them and that Strippers actually have to take their clothes all the way off, I went back to the acting thing pretty quickly!
I always knew I would give this career a try. I also love writing and my mother encouraged me to pursue that but I think I chose acting because it was a way of being closer to my father. My folks divorced when I was 8 and my father was a wonderful actor. He wasn’t around very much after the divorce. I think by being an actor it made me feel connected to him.
Was it a hard decision and why did you choose LA over New York in the beginning.
When I finally decided to make the move to LA it was a very easy decision. I had been working in the theatre in the Bay Area and working a straight job as well. It was a great gig at a popular bar in Silicon Valley and when the owners offered me a small percentage of the business I knew it was time to decide on either working for them or pursuing my dream. The dream won hands down.
Since I had grown up doing so much theatre, I chose to try something new. Film and TV were new to me. At the time, Hollywood was the place where most if not all of that was happening so…Hollywood won that contest, too.
Having now split a lot of your time between the big lights of New York City and the palm trees of sunny Los Angeles, which city do you now call home? As an actress, what are the Pros and Cons of each city in regards to opportunities for new up and coming actor prodigies.
Well, I was born in NYC and even though I only spent a few years there as a child, it still feels most like home to me. LA is good but the energy of New York speaks much more to my sensibilities. I love the energy and the way people interact in the city and since everyone walks or uses public transportation, they know how to deal with each other. I love to talk to strangers ( sometimes I even accept candy from them!) and in LA everyone is either in their car or on their cellphone or, worse yet, on their cellphone in the car!! There’s not a lot of interaction.
Creatively speaking, New York is a much better place to be an artist. There is a bit more respect for actors and artists in New York. You can’t just be a beautiful face in New York. Out here, on an everyday basis what is considered important is generally more superficial… more importance placed on looks over talent, on the car you drive over the way you treat people.
So you move to LA and get discovered at a hamburger stand in Hollywood after only 2 months. That really only happens in the movies, it must have been an overwhelming experience to be so lucky when so many others struggle for years to get that kind of exposure.
I certainly realized how lucky I was to have that experience so soon after arriving. But, you know, I have always felt lucky even when “facts” indicated otherwise and I think cultivating that feeling makes a huge difference in a person’s life. I don’t think I booked any jobs because of that little TV spot but it sure made me feel as though the universe had put the stamp of approval on my choice to move to Hollywood.
Did you ever feel guilty that things came fairly easy to you without much struggle in the beginning stages of your Hollywood Career?
No, I didn’t feel guilty…I felt really lucky and grateful. But, because I knew how wonderful it was to be acknowledged and that other people were struggling, people who had been here a lot longer than I, I certainly didn’t go around bragging about my good luck. I just accepted it as a great gift and then had to learn patience!
Was there ever a point after that moment that you had to struggle to get to that next level? How did you do it? What steps did you need to take to get there?
Oh my gosh yes! For awhile it seemed as though everything was a struggle and then I began to really LEARN patience. That is the key to getting to the next level whether you’re a plumber or an artist. Patience and living your real life everyday to the fullest. Finding a sense of community is important and you can do that through finding a good class or cultivating a circle of supportive friends. Another hugely important step to take…and you have to do this everyday… you must give yourself credit for all the things you do towards your career. Going to class, sending out pictures and resumes, getting an audition, reading scripts with friends, going to the gym. Hollywood tends to only celebrate big accomplishments but given the odds against us, every step forward is to be celebrated, I’m not kidding! To this day, I celebrate everything! Even auditions during which I did badly! A glass of champagne is usually involved after one of THOSE!
Having worked extensively in theatre, film and television, which do you find most rewarding? With all things considered equal, If you could only work / act for one these mediums, which would it be and why? Stage or On Camera.
The stage. There is nothing like getting to tell a story from beginning to end in front of a live audience who is taking the ride with you right then and there.
For all the wanna-be actors out there, does stage acting make you a better camera actor or is it vice versa? Are there benefits to pursuing both stage and on-camera work?
Stage work definitely makes you a better actor. The discipline required is tremendous. You don’t get retakes, you have to be able to think on your feet in order to deal with another actor dropping his line, you have to be able to sustain an emotion for longer than a few moments, you must be able to be intimate and yet HEARD! That’s a pet peave of mine: film and tv actors who are so used to the camera being practically up their noses that they can’t be heard onstage. That said, yes definitely pursue both on- camera and stage work. In fact, getting into a play here in Hollywood is a GREAT way to maintain your sense of worth as an actor. If you are waiting only for the type of approval that booking a TV or film gig in Hollywood gives you…you are going to spend a lot of your time waiting. Even the busiest actors DON’T work more than do!
What are you doing in Hollywood right now? Are you working on any film projects or Tv shows that might be airing anytime soon?
Lot’s of fun, I play Clark Gable’s mom…okay…not THAT Clark Gable but the old Hollywood loving mother of an aspiring screenwriter whom she NAMED Clark Gable. It’s a good cast and a very fun story. I also have a recurring role in the A&E series “The Glades” and you can see me (under very suspicious circumstances) in the season finale on Monday nights this September
” This Magic Moment” was written by the very talented Gary Goldstein, we have interviewed him here on The Oracle twice before. Did you and Mr. Goldstein do any collaboration on your character prior to shooting?
I LOVE Gary! No we didn’t do any collaborating because I only met him on my last day of filming. But I’m so glad I did. He’s a very talented writer and although we didn’t collaborate on This Magic Moment, I hope to be working with him again soon.
Do you think Reality Television is good for Hollywood?
I’m not a fan. Reality TV is good for producers who don’t have to bother paying professionals but it has taken a great deal of work away from working actors. It does so by eating up hours of programming that used to be spent on scripted shows. Also, in my opinion, a lot of the reality shows seem to be kind of mean spirited. Someone has to be embarrassed or humiliated in order for someone else to “win.”
Do you have to read for parts anymore or does your extensive resume get you jobs automatically?
Oh yes, I still read for parts and I’m sometimes amazed at who else…much more famous than I …is ALSO reading for the same role! I do get offers occasionally and I love that when it happens. This past Christmas I did a film called Holly’s Holiday which was an offer and a couple of other Indie films lately were also offers. FYI, for any aspiring directors, writers or producers out there…if the script is interesting, I almost always accept an offer!
So you recently did the voice for a character in a video game. What game was it? Was it a fun experience? How did you get involved with the project? Tell us about it…
The game is called Devil May Cry and it was a blast. I actually did 3 characters: a weirdly pretty woman who reveals herself to be a multi-tentacled demon, a teenage girl at a disco and a giant, vomiting slug with a woman’s face..who says show business isn’t glamorous?! It was all motion capture so we wore the black “wet suits” with tracking dots all over them and our make up consisted of tracking dots all over our faces. We shot in a huge sound stage, the same one James Cameron used for Avatar, and it was set up with cameras everywhere. It was very freeing because you never had to think “now where’s the camera?” You could just perform knowing everything you did was captured.
Have done any other voice over work in the past? How is it different than acting on-camera? Is it a good job if you can get it?
I have done VO for several things and I love it. You can go to work in your pajamas! And that’s the only major difference. You still have to bring the proper emotion or humor or pathos to whatever you’re recording even if you ARE in your pj’s. And yes its great work if you can get it. I pretty much think all work is good if you can get it!
What would be your Ultimate Hollywood Insider Tip for someone fresh off the bus? Do you have any words of wisdom for the next generation of Hollywood Actor ‘Wanna -Bes’?
If you are brave enough to want to give Hollywood a try I salute you! Everyone should give themselves a shot at pursuing their dream but, if there is anything else in the world you can see yourself doing and being happy…do that instead! Because the harsh truth is: Show business is not a meritocracy… especially in Hollywood. You could be the most talented actor in the world but unless you are also lucky and patient and surround yourself with supportive and real people, your talent may notdo you any good. You have to be strong and find your daily happiness in your real life and not put all the emphasis on what is or isn’t happening in your “reel” life. Then you have the best shot at maintaining your soul and your sanity for the long haul.
So the odds of someone getting discovered in a grocery store or in your case a hamburger stand are extremely unlikely these days. When it comes to getting started in this business as an actor where do you think the best place to start is for someone to get noticed and or on-the-job experience. Is it acting classes, playhouses or just auditioning for everything out there you can? Would you recommend any acting schools or classes out there in LA that would beneficial for a newcomer?
Finding a good class can be an important way for someone new to establish a sense of community in this sprawling town but be careful and trust your instincts. There are great teachers out there but there are also hacks who are more interested in being someone’s ‘guru.’ Any legit teacher will allow you to audit their class a couple of times in order to get a feel for their work. There are also casting workshops for which you pay to be seen by casting directors. Again, check them out ask around and trust your instincts. And by now you know I’m in favor of getting into a play or a theatre company here in town. Sometimes casting directors see you and sometimes they don’t, but your work as an actor will definitely improve.
What are some of the pitfalls new female actresses need to look out for? Does that creepy producer or agent still lurk in the shadows looking to take advantage of desperate girls looking for their big break? Do you have any advice for those struggling actresses?
Yes, I do! And its not just for struggling actresses it’s for the fellas too. There are plenty of creepy producer / agent /manager / directors out there who can smell the hope and desire of newcomers and will use it to their advantage. They can show up in all kinds of situations. And they’re not stupid. They dress well and speak well, they have business cards and a great rap. “ You’re so beautiful (handsome) you must be an actor, right? Here’s my card give me a call…I might have something for you.”
If you meet one of these people, ask around about them. If they are legitimate, someone will have heard of them. If you want to meet with them, take a friend. Even if the friend waits in the outer office ( presuming the agent- manager- director HAS an office) you’re being smart and safe. Trust your instincts!! If something feels wrong you are probably right!!!
Not only are you an acclaimed actress but rumors has it is that you recently finished writing a book called “A Survivor’s Guide to Hollywood: How to Play the Game.. Without Losing your Soul”. (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH THE ORACLE’S OWN HOLLYWOOD SURVIVAL GUIDE… Which we offer for sale on this site) Can you tell us more about what your book entails, when it will be released and why our readers should buy it and where they can buy it if interested?
I had been invited to address the theatre department of Wright State University and, the night before I went in, the title and the opening chapters of this book just poured out of me. It is a funny and truthful book about this wonderful and maddening profession.
Your audience can read some of the reviews themselves by going to www.robinriker.com and clicking on the heading “A Survivor’s Guide to Hollywood” and selecting “raves” from the drop down menu. They can also choose “Waiting list” To get on the well… the waiting list to be sent a book!
I wrote it for veterans and newcomers alike and I have gotten great response from both groups. I have been lucky enough to make my living in this business for a long time and it has been a learning process all the way. In “A Survivor’s Guide” I share with you all the things no acting coach or agent or manager can share. The lessons you can only learn by actually being in the trenches and facing the rejection and day to day challenges that every actor faces. As well as how to keep joy in your life and hope in your heart and the wolf from the door both physically and metaphysically. I share personal stories and give you a totally different perspective on what it means to live this life. “A Survivor’s Guide To Hollywood” will also start showing up in bookstores the 2nd week in September.
We’ll that concludes another great session of The Hollywood Oracle’s Job Spotlight segment. We would like to say thanks to our special guest, Robin Riker for taking time out of her busy schedule to share her Hollywood Story with us. I’m sure our readers appreciated your honest insight and advice about acting and the industry as a whole. In the coming weeks Robin will be posting a few excerpts from her book “A Survivor’s Guide To Hollywood” here on the Hollywood Oracle website. Get a first hand look at what you can expect to find inside this truly entertaining and informative book if you decide to buy it. And check out her website for reviews & updates on it’s progress @ www.robinriker.com
There you have it… So, be on the lookout @ Hollywoodoracle.com for more amazing insider interviews from people who followed their dreams and succeeded. You too can make it happen, if you really want it!
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