RILEY VOELKEL Words & Photos by CATHERINE POWELL
When The Mikaelsons first infiltrated Mystic Falls on the second season of The Vampire Diaries, it was clear this family was a force to be reckoned with. So much so, in fact, that The CW gave them their own spinoff series, The Originals, and sent the family to the magical city of New Orleans. Come the spin-off’s second season, it was time to introduce a new – but previously presumed dead – Mikaelson to the audience. Enter, Riley Voelkel. Riley’s road to New Orleans, (or rather, Atlanta, where the show is filmed) was filled with a lot of unplanned left turns. Growing up, Riley was extremely focused on school and sports – softball in particular, where she was a competitive pitcher for 15 years. She worked extremely hard as a teenager so she could get into a college with a good architecture program. She got into the University of California – San Diego and one month before moving there she was scouted for modeling. “So last minute I decided to drop everything and move to L.A.,” she says. Her parents were incredibly supportive and offered their full blessing as she took the leap of faith. She had a few successful years as a model and then began booking commercials. Considering theater wasn’t even an extra curricular for Riley in high school, her modeling agent suggested she take a few acting classes to see if she liked it. “I fell in love,” she says. “I had never loved anything that much before.” Riley booked a tiny role in The Social Network and was able to secure an acting agent from that. Since then, things have been progressing very quickly. Riley’s first extended role came when she booked the pilot of the now-critically acclaimed The Newsroom, which first aired in 2012. She was only supposed to appear in the pilot, but during filming, creator Aaron Sorkin pulled her aside and said “I think you’re good, I think I might write you in.” “So I was freaking out, but I was pretending not to be freaking out,” she says, laughing. So she
waited and waited for Aaron to call – despite numerous people telling her to give it up – and eventually was asked back for the season one finale, and then continued her role as Jenna Johnson for two more seasons. When Riley originally auditioned for the role, she knew nothing about it other than it was a small role on an Aaron Sorkin project – and that was enough to convince her to do it. “I got to learn and watch a lot. Everyone was so sweet and so professional. It was just a great start [to acting],” she says. Riley made a point to watch how all the other actors – including Jeff Daniels and Olivia Munn worked so she could leave the project with a hell of a lot more knowledge than she walked in with. “I was just able to watch the best of the best, do what they do,” she says. “I would come to set nervous about working with these people, and slowly learned that we’re all here together and in it for the same thing.” Riley’s role on The Originals was also not originally intended to be as big as it has become – she started as an unnamed character with a mysterious backstory connected to a non-Mikaelson character. During her first day on-set in Atlanta, one of the writers spilled and told her she would indeed be becoming a Mikaelson. Freya Mikaelson, to be exact. “I had my first few scenes with [Joseph Morgan and Daniel Gillies] and we all got along really well, and worked well together on set,” she says. “The reaction to the character was good, and towards the end of Season Two they said ‘Ok, we want you here for a while longer.’” “It was definitely a little intimidating,” Riley says of jumping aboard this ship that’s been sailing on for years. Joseph and Daniel had been working together on The Vampire Diaries for three seasons, and are now on their third season of The Originals. Many of the other cast members came over from The Vampire Diaries as well, or had been involved with The Originals since Season One. Despite her nerves, the chemistry between Riley and
her new cast mates was obvious from the start. “The boys and I just worked so naturally together,” she says. “I think I was always supposed to be a Mikaelson.” While going to set every day was intimidating at first, it wasn’t until Riley’s episodes started airing that she really felt the weight of joining The Vampire Diaries/The Originals family. The two shows have a massive social media presence – something Riley had never really experienced before. “It kind of exploded,” she says. “It was shocking to me and [I was] really humbled by it, because it’s really sweet to think all these people are looking up to you and loving your character.” Riley is especially happy that young girls are identifying with Freya, because she feels the character is an incredibly strong female presence. “Take the supernatural thing out of it and you still have this really strong woman who’s going through stuff,” Riley says. “She has family issues and she has insecurities, but she also just kicks ass.” All of the female characters on The Originals are pretty badass, much to the credit of creator Julie Plec, who has been a huge advocate for having strong women on television. Riley feels extremely privileged to be working with Julie, especially because she really feels like Julie took a chance on her. “She doesn’t just cast people based on talent or potential, but on personality and who she sees these people, and how she sees them on set,” Riley says. Julie is extremely tight with her casts (she runs three shows: The Vampire Diaries, The Originals and Containment) and makes a point to cast people she knows will get along with everyone else. “She taught me that you don’t always need to have so many credits,” Riley says. “She can kind of pick you out because she feels something special about you.” The Originals’ mid-season finale left a lot of things up in the air – and in relation to Freya’s storyline, the pendant containing the spirit and power of her deceased brother NKDMAG.COM
Published on Feb 1, 2016
Featuring: Camilla Luddington, Xosha Roquemore, Riley Voelkel, Floriana Lima, Emily Robinson, Jessica Sula, Roberto Aguire, Alberto Rosende,...