Oct. 16, 2007
I spend two hours in a Sherman Oaks park with Riley Weston Tuesday afternoon.
Now 41, she's never played anyone older than 18.
She was born Kimberlee Seaman on August 26, 1966.
According to imdb.com, she got her first credits in 1987. She was featured in the initial episodes of "Growing Pains" in 1988.
"We grew up on three acres," says Riley. "I had horses. I had a dog and a cat."
"In my head, I had to get out [of her small town near Poughkeepsie]. There were two traffic lights. As far away as I could go was California, that was a great place to go.
"Now I can look back and it's the greatest place ever. I go back every summer to the Adirondack Mountains. That's what I call home."
Luke: "Your parents loved you?"
Riley: "Yep. They still do. My parents divorced [when Riley was a baby]. They have a great relationship."
"I've never had one drop of doubt from anyone in my family."
"When I decided to write a book [the novel 'Before I Go'] after 15 scripts, they said, 'OK, how are you going to write a book?' I said, 'I'm just going to take my favorite script and I'm going to write it and I'm going to keep control of it and I'm going to star in it.'
"I didn't set out to be a writer."
"I've always been very unique. I've always embraced my individuality."
"I think I embraced the talents that I have about a year ago."
Luke: "When did the first teacher say, 'You're a great writer'?"
Riley: "No one. Ever. The writing only came out eight years ago out of pure frustration as an actress over the scripts that came in."
Luke: "How would your best friends describe you in high school?"
Riley: "Determined. Really determined. I probably didn't have many great friends because of that because I knew what I wanted to do. Most people, especially in a smaller town, probably don't have that drive or that energy that says, 'I'm not going to stay here. I'm outta here the second I can get myself organized. Then I'm not going to stay in this town and do what most people do -- stay in this town, get married and have kids."
"Since age five, I knew that I wanted to do what they were doing on TV or in the movies. Whatever it took to get there, however long it took, that's what I was going to do."
Riley graduated high school in 1984, spent a year in New York, and then moved to Los Angeles in 1985.
Luke: "When did you move to Los Angeles?"
Riley: "I don't remember exactly. About 1993."
Riley: "Why I lied about my age is simple -- I'm an actor first. Actors lie about a lot of things, namely their age. When I kept getting older and started looking younger, it wasn't even something I thought about. If they need a 14-year old and I look this part, I'll say I was 18 and I'll get the audition and I'll book the part. Then the writing started. Not knowing there was huge age discrimination thing going on for writers... I didn't think I'd last long... I'll be a 19 year old writer. Who cares? If your writing is good and your acting is good, it doesn't matter for an actor, it won't matter for the writer. Apparently I was sorely mistaken.
"I ended up doing [Felicity] as a writer for six months. Then I booked an episode as an actor. There was a woman I worked with for four years before I started working a lot as an actor and writer, she decided it was in her best interest, after reading about a deal I got with Touchstone, to tell everybody about my age. She called everybody from every entertainment network...without any fair warning.
"I was leaving the show to go to the deal at Touchstone. I was going to talk to the president of Touchstone. You said in this meeting you don't care if I'm 18 or 80. I'm neither.
"At the time, it destroyed everything I worked for."
"It's been nine years. That would've destroyed anybody.
"I'm working more now than ever and I'm happier than ever. It's sad that somebody felt they had to do that. On the other hand, it was going to come out eventually. I'm glad it did a long time ago. Now I can enjoy the rest of my life.
"That happened. If you want to talk about DUIs and the arrests and the things that people do that are illegal and endanger other people, this did not. Was it upsetting? Yes. Do I feel bad? Yes. If I had to do it again? I would. I'm an actor first. As an actor, I want to get the audition and to get the audition I had to lie about my age. It's the same as saying, 'You need someone with blue eyes? I'll get contacts.' Does it matter that my hair is dark brown and I dye it blonde? Does it matter if I'm 5' and I say I'm 5'2" to get in the door?
"It's the entertainment industry... If I entertained you, whether as an actor or a writer, and I did my job, I have a huge problem with someone saying that if I'm not a certain age, it makes a difference. It can't. It shouldn't. If it does, what kind of a world are we living in that we forget it's entertainment?"
Luke: "I'm missing the lost years of Riley. You graduated high school in 1984. You say you came out here in 1993."
Riley: "It must've been before. I could call my mother and find out exactly."
Luke: "Were you doing a lot of drugs?"
Riley: "Ohmigod, no. I was a person by myself and hibernated in my apartment just because I didn't know anybody. I think I was here during the riots. I think I watched it on TV."
Luke: "Did you blank out those years? Were they unpleasant?"
Riley: "Apparently. I don't think they were unpleasant. I think I was alone and I was trying to figure it all out."
Luke: "Desperate years?"
Riley: "Any time you come to a place that's foreign to you, that you don't know anybody, and you're trying to figure out your life, it's some sort of desperation. I was very much in my shell at that point. I didn't do anything."
Luke: "Who was president when you moved out here?"
Riley: "Are you serious? I don't know."
Luke: "You got your first paying acting gigs around 1993?"
Riley: "Right. Maybe it was 1991. It could've been earlier."
Luke: "How did you eat?"
Riley: "My dad helped me when I first moved out here. A couple of commercials doesn't pay too shabby when you get residual checks. I had a little apartment. I didn't have a lot of expenses. I didn't have a nice car like I do now. I started babysitting a lot... That's how I met the woman who decided to out me."
Luke: "Where were you when you heard the news you were being outed?"
Riley: "I was in my trailer on the set of Felicity. I was working as an actor. I got a call from one of the trade magazines who said we were coming out with a story."
Riley: "Jenny Hontz."
Eight months after Hontz published this story, she quit Variety and became the vice president of creative affairs at Disney's Touchstone TV/ABC division. She lasted 15 months before returning to writing.
Riley: "It was just a message I got on my machine. Someone being extremely rude and very angry."
Luke: "The reporter was rude and angry?"
Luke: She asked for your comment?
Riley: "Not even. 'We're going forward with or without you.'"
Luke: "Did you call her back?"
Riley: "No. You're talking about a girl from Pleasant Valley who just wanted to be an actress. And all I knew was it was OK to lie about your age to get in the door. Suddenly, not only was it not OK, I was on the verge of losing everything I had worked all my life for. And a huge deal that was on the table [at Touchstone] with my show that I wrote, star in it... It was probably the best time in my life.
"I called my attorney. He said, 'We'll stop that right now.' I said, 'Well, it's true.' It was extremely difficult for everybody involved. My agents didn't know how to handle it."
I email Jenny Hontz: "[Riley] said you were extremely rude. I wondered if you had any memories of Riley and this story. Do you still have a copy of your story?"
Jenny Hontz responds:
Hontz was interviewed about the story on "60 Minutes" and "All Things Considered."
Jenny writes in the Oct. 15, 1998 edition of Variety:
Jenny writes in the Oct. 16, 1998 edition of Variety:
Riley Weston: "Has it happened before? Yes. I'm not going to say who it's happened to because it's been swept under the rug. That many years? Probably not but they don't look like me.
"There are going to be hundreds and thousands [of actors] after me who are going to do the same thing...
"Those were dark months and dark years after that. I'm suddenly hiring a crisis management publicist. It was suddenly watching myself do interviews that were completely manipulated to make it look like I thought it was funny. I didn't think it was funny. I sent apology letters to everybody, from Imagine people (Ron Howard, Brian Grazer) to every person on Felicity... to the lowest person, to the PA, crafts service person, etc... I felt horrible. I was just an actress trying to get the audition."
"There were a lot of years after that where I thought I don't know if this is what I'm meant to do. I'd like to think I'm a decent person who'd never hurt anyone and to go through that and be made a spectacle of was not what I intended. I just wanted to work. If you're in this business, that's what you're thinking. Most do whatever they have to do to make that a reality. Some do things that are horribly inappropriate."
Luke: "So you did answer some interview requests?"
Riley: "I only answered those chosen by the publicist. I only did one electronic (Entertainment Tonight). It was strangely manipulated. I was laughing off camera with the reporter. You never know how someone is going to edit something... Everyone wanted to make it a bigger story...
"I did one print interview -- Vanity Fair. They not only misprinted but outright lied about a lot of things. I had people they interviewed who called me afterward and said, 'I never said that.' They said I wore a pinafore to a meeting. I don't know what a pinafore is. I had overalls. It was for an audition. I'm quoted as saying I wrote baby clothes before baby clothes were cool. I said 'baggy clothes.'"
Luke: "Who was the reporter?"
Riley: "Ned Zeman.
"He tape recorded it so I know there were no misunderstandings."
The article appeared in the January 1999 issue of Vanity Fair.
"Youth Or Consequences: When youth-obsessed Hollywood thought Riley Weston was 18, the actress was showered with opportunities- a writing job and a guest role on the new Warner Bros. show 'Felicity' and a $500,000 deal with Disney. Her unmasking as an ancient 32 sent the entertainment industry into an uproar..."
Riley: "It taught me a lot about the business of Hollywood which I had no idea before this happened. It's nasty. It can be cruel. It can be unfortunate. It can be full of lies. Me included. I lied. I'm the first one to take responsibility for that. Any time anyone asks me the truth about any project or script, I start off by saying, 'We all know I lied once so I won't do that again. I hate it and here's why...'
"Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who won't do that and cop to anything they have done."
"Do I wish anybody ill who interviewed me or lied or misprinted? No."
Luke: "Why not?"
Riley: "I'm really happy with my life. Those who live in that angry energy that want revenge, that want horrible things to happen to those who've done horrible things to them. What's the point?
"My greatest day will be standing up on a stage one day and saying, 'These are the people I'd like to thank: How many of you have said really mean stuff? Pretty much everybody. Everyone raise your hand. I thank all of you because you've made me this incredibly smart, incredibly talented, and incredibly strong person I never thought I was and gave me the opportunities I never would have had if you weren't such boneheads.'
"No, I won't say that part.
"My life is too great to wish bad things on other people."
Luke: "Can you relate to the delicious feeling it was for thousands of people when they saw you fall?"
Riley: "I would hope that most people would've related... I know that nine out of ten actors are lying about something... There were a tremendous amount of people that kept their mouth shut and did feel, not sympathy... I think a lot of people sat back and said, 'That stinks.' Because of what they do behind closed doors that they know not to be the truth. More people than not thought that's too bad. They wouldn't admit that because then people would say, 'What are you lying about?'
"There are some people in this town that wait for the Britneys and Lindsays to fall...and that's sad."
"It seems like such a waste of energy to put such negativity in other people's lives."
Luke: "You don't get any joy when you see people fall, like Britney and Lindsay?"
Riley: "I really don't. I feel sympathy for them. You wonder where their families are... My family would never have allowed me to get to that point. They would've pulled me out of Hollywood so fast and put me in a place where they could smack some sense into me."
Luke: "Before this incident, did you get joy out of the destruction of other people?"
Riley: "I'd like to say no but maybe I did."
Luke: "It's human. It's as primal a human emotion as any... Your story was lying on the roadside [like a car wreck], what a great metaphor about Hollywood."
Luke: "You don't get joy out of gossiping about people?"
Riley: "You are a bad man."
"I try not to gossip, which does not mean I don't read every weekly magazine out there."
Luke: "You read them because it is so delicious seeing these people fall apart. It makes you feel better about your own life."
Riley: "That upsets me. How could they throw it all away?"
"You're very bad."
"In Riley-land, we don't want to be negative. People love to come to Riley-land because of that. It's a lot of fun. We go on rides and eat cotton candy and eat cookie dough nobody gets fat. There's no negativity about others or ourselves."
Luke: "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being a saint-like devotion to truth, and one being completely manipulative?"
Riley: "A nine if not above a nine."
Riley says she was married "for under a few years."
She doesn't want to talk about her marriage.
Luke: "What type of man do you find yourself attracted to?"
Riley: "Men who are real.... Someone who is not negative. Someone who sees that the glass is half-full all the time. If you put it out there that it's going to be good, it's going to be good... Someone who can love the Adirondacks."
Luke: "Are there any things that turn you on in a man that you wish didn't?"
Riley: "Holy crap. What kind of interview is this?"
Luke: "You may be attracted to prisoners?"
Luke: "No violent ex-cons?"
Riley: "No. You're a dark man. There's a lot of stuff going on behind those dark eyes."
"There's nothing that would embarrass me. I'm goofy and silly and at times immature."
Luke: "How important is a man's professional success for you to find him attractive?"
Riley: "Nine or ten. Not financially. Just do they feel successful and are they happy with what they're doing? They have to be...always striving to be better and do more. I'm so focused and determined, someone who's not, it just wouldn't fit... Every hour of the day is planned out... If somebody didn't have that kind of energy, they just wouldn't get me."
Luke: "Do Jack and Madison have sex [in Riley's novel]?"
Riley: "They do. And in the movie version, you'll see."
Luke: "When did this book come to you?"
Riley: "It was a script first. I gave it to a few people who seemed to really like it but without me starring in it. I kept thinking, 'I'm not selling out.' I just wasn't ready to give it up... This was my Rocky. It's in development as a feature."
"I sat down one summer, I had the script to go by, and I just started writing."
It took three months to turn into a novel.
"The first award was a Booksense award. They pick 20 books. It was with Stephen King and Nicholas Sparks... It was ridiculous. It was incredible."
Luke: "I want you to play a gossip columnist."
Riley: "You're an evil evil man."
"One of my favorite shows is 'Dirt.'"
"You especially would love the show. It's so dark and so disturbing."
"It's your kind of show because she runs a magazine called 'Dirt.'"
Luke: "Is your mother like Ann [in Riley's novel]?"
Riley: "Only in the good ways. The one that will totally support whatever her daughter wants to do."
Luke: "Did you get spanked?"
Riley: "I got hit once by my mother. Across the face. I was 15. It was well deserved."
Luke: "What was it for?"
Riley: "I can't say. That's a whole 'nother area. It was to shock me out of a bad place. We'll leave it at that until interview number two."
Luke: "What are you best at?"
Riley: "I'm best at being positive."
Luke: "Why do you write so much about high school?"
Riley: "It's what comes easiest for me. Those characters are the easiest to write. I love writing about the angsty teen more than anybody."
Luke: "How do you feel about the interpretation that Being Bailey is really the story of Riley in Hollywood?"
Riley: "That could be... It's true. Every one of my scripts, there's a piece of me in it."
Luke: "How big a component of your happiness is your work?"
Riley: "A couple of years ago, all of it, which made me not as happy as I am now."
"I'm a part of a great church. I have great friends. I have great family. I love what I do."
Luke: "How do you feel about growing older?"
Riley: "If I looked older, I'd feel differently. I feel like I'm an infant. Age doesn't matter. You can be anything you want at any age. It's all a state of mind... There are friends I have, I don't know how old they are. I don't care. It wouldn't matter if they were 19 or 99."
Luke: "Do you think human nature is basically good or basically bad?"
Riley: "I believe that human nature is basically great."
Riley: "If I believed it was negative, it would be negative. If I believed that human nature was filled with negativity, that's what I would get."
Luke: "How much does empirical reality figure in your belief?"
Riley: "I don't know what that means."
Luke: "In the 20th Century, 400 million were murdered. How much does that matter in deciding if human nature is good or bad?"
Riley: "There are unfortunate events that happen in the world that we have no control over. But if we believe that all of us that everyone was filled with negativity, I can't imagine what a horrible place it would be to be alive."
In the past year, Riley completely changed her view on human nature. "The other side [that believes human nature is basically bad] doesn't do any good for anybody."
Luke: "What does your church teach you about human nature?"
Riley: "That people are basically good."
"Hollywood, the entertainment industry, is what you make of it. The people I work with are amazing. The people I get to work with, I would not want to work with anyone else... They are fantastic people."
Luke: "You really believe that what we put out into the world comes back to us? Would you say that is 100% true?"
Riley: "One hundred per cent true."
Luke: "Is Hollywood a meritocracy?"
Riley: "In some aspects. Some people find sucess...on levels that have nothing to do with merit. Your last name can give you notoriety. How much money you can have can bring you notoriety. A reality show can bring you notoriety."
Luke: "Why is it so important to you to star in 'Before I Go'?"
Riley: "Why was it so important to Sylvester Stallone to star in Rocky? If you have a dream... It's funny that anybody cares. I want to star in it. I wrote it. I wrote the book. I wrote the future soundtrack... I only wrote it with me in mind."
Luke: "How much of a challenge will it be for you to pull off Madison [a teenage girl]?"
Riley: "None. The only challenge I'll have is the skating. It's not about me playing a 17-year old. That's what I just did last week. The roles I play are all around that age range."
"When someone was interested in this project a couple of years ago, I hired a private coach and skated for a couple of months. She said that if she had me when I was age five, I would've gone to the Olympics because I was the right body type and the right size. I was doing single jumps within four weeks."