The Life-Affirming Energy of Robert Christopher Riley

The expectation of meeting someone as famous as Robert Christopher Riley can send your brain through a Ferris wheel of emotions. But before I could even meet him, my attention was drawn to a burst of energetic, warm laughter on the opposite side of the room, coming from a happy, welcoming person. When I saw it was Riley, I knew he’d give an honest, open interview­—and he did just that, easily baring his soul about his personal life and his crafts; but not before finishing his attention-grabbing, laughter-inspiring story to his colleagues.

Having a unique start to his now successful acting career, Riley never really viewed himself as an actor until he had first become a playwright. While he was studying theatre at Lehigh University, Pennsylvania, his mentor and first acting teacher, Kashi Johnson, encouraged him to write a play. Untold Truths was about the minority experience in a predominantly white institution. It was a response to racial tensions that students were experiencing; something that was also affecting Riley directly.

Not only did he write the play, he acted in it too, alongside his professor. It was a massive success, selling out the entire run and surprising the budding theatrologist. At the end of it, Riley describes feeling enlightened after being given a plaque that explained his societal responsibilities as an artist. This sparked something inside of him as he realised the tremendous power artists have to make a difference. He knew then that his path was to be an actor, revealing,

At that moment, I realized that was literally what I was put here to do.He realised the tremendous power artists have to make a difference.

After completing his studies, he finally got his TV break when he landed a role on the popular show Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Since then, he has acted in a series of roles including the VH1 television series Hit The Floor. But it wasn’t until the CW hit TV series Dynasty that his supporters began to grow significantly.

His stardom becomes evident as some fans of his interrupt the interview. Their giddy eyes and nervous demeanour show how elated they are to meet him, but they must have sensed how down-to-earth and welcoming he is, because they comfortably explain, “He’s the guy you go up to the TV and kiss, every time he comes on the screen and your husband isn’t looking.” Riley explodes with laughter and states in a Trini accent how nothing makes him happier than putting smiles on people’s faces, greeting his supporters with open arms and warm hugs.

As I pry some more into his role as Michael Culhane on the popular Dynasty series, Riley admits that he had to pull the car over when he got the call saying that he got the role. He realised that his life as an actor was about to change and it made him quite emotional. Like his character, he enjoys having a comfortable salary and identifies with Culhane’s loyalty and the fact that he’s an ex (American) football player, like himself. Riley also jokingly states, “I would never put up with Fallon,” his love interest and the cutthroat female protagonist in the show, played by Elizabeth Gillies.

He and Gillies do seem to have tremendous chemistry and a significant amount of their time on screen is in love scenes. When questioned about the comfort level of working with a much younger actress, Riley praises his co-star on her talent and maturity. He reveals that the running joke on set is, “If you have a love scene, hope it’s with Rob,” as he’s well known in the industry for being very respectful towards the actresses. It’s something he learned from his strong Trinidadian upbringing; something that’s evident any time a female fan comes by to say ‘hi’, which is often.

If you have a love scene, hope it’s with Rob.

The Brooklynite—born half Trinidadian and half Barbadian—states that he would also like to get more involved in local productions. It’s easy to see how invested he is in T&T’s culture and history. His first visit to Trinidad was for his grandmother’s funeral years ago and since then, he can’t get enough of the country that feels like home to him. He jokes, “My grandmother told all my family, ‘I want all of you to go home for carnival.’ Do you know this lady died the week before carnival! I swear she held on as long as she could so that when she passed we had to go.”

His close connection to home is emphasised by the coat of arms tattooed on his back, and he feels this way because of his tremendous love for his mother and grandmother. He also admits openly that while he never really had a relationship with his Bajan father, he felt love and support while visiting Barbados. “I was on the front page of the newspaper the first time I ever visited!”

Not only is Riley an actor and playwright, but he’s also a soca artiste, producer, director and trained photographer. His advice for local actors and filmmakers would be to “tell the story”. He explains, “It doesn’t matter where you are, once you’re telling truthful stories, people will enjoy them.”

He got into soca because he loves the positive effect it has on people. His love of Caribbean culture, coupled with his joy of making people happy, made soca a natural choice for the former choirboy who now has four soca songs in the works with Next Level Studios.

Riley’s fame is rising across the world because of his talent, good looks and the warmth he exhibits on screen, but the gentleman oozes thoughtfulness in real life. He couldn’t see himself doing anything else and it’s evident that he’s right where he’s supposed to be. He continues to use his positive energy and love for his multiple crafts, expressing his emotions through the art he creates with a tremendous amount of commitment and devotion, all the while, never forgetting his love for the Caribbean.