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Interview - LIMBO Star Richard Riehle

richard riehle
Veteran character actor Richard Riehle discusses his career and his role in new horror movie Limbo.


Interview by Mike Vaughn

Limbo, from writer/director Mark Young, premieres August 4th on US DVD and Digital from Uncork’d Entertainment. In the film, a murderer finds himself on trial in Hell, caught between a bitter prosecutor and an inexperienced defence attorney. Among the cast is veteran character actor Richard Riehle, who here talks us through his career and his role in Limbo.

richard riehle

I read that you actually initially didn’t want to be an actor but in fact, a priest?

That’s absolutely true. In fact, I was in a seminary for three years before I went onto college. For engineering in fact, and I almost flunked out. I also was a German major, so I had a year studying aboard. Then, just to sort of get out of school I took all the credits I needed for one semester in Speech and Drama. At that point I was unloading railroad ties in the middle of January in Wisconsin and the guys that ran the department back at the college I graduated from said “Look, do you think you want to persue this?” I said “Well, its better than being out in the cold.” So, they said, “Well we think we can get you into a grad school in the University of Minnesota if your willing to go now.” I said, “Okay.” So, that sort of took me on that path.



I’m curious if your background in Catholicism informed any of your acting roles or choices?

You certainly get quite an interesting education in the seminary and I had grown up in an Irish Catholic family all my life and my godfather was a priest. And, I kind of felt I had a calling and in the end kind of by mutual agreement between myself and the people at the seminary, we felt that maybe I should look at other things as well. But, the idea of Dogma and there being a possible reward or punishment based on how you lived your life. Certainly, many writers have explored that as well so I do kind of look at that in terms of the scripts and the characters I am working on.



Your first Broadway play was 'Execution of Justice'. You had done stage work prior, but was that intimidating?

Well, yes and no. I had been doing theatre work for about 20 years at that point. I had been doing regional theatre all over the country but I had not spent any time in New York. I was doing a play in Seattle called 'Through the Leaves' and the director was Emily Mann, who was at the same time writing the script for 'Execution of Justice'. So, every weekend she would go down to San Francisco and do some research and writing. Then, when she came back, we would read some of the scenes that she had written during our breaks and so I was familiar with it and her. She did the show originally in Louisville at the Humana Fest and the play had been done several times around the country and she wanted to take it to New York. One of the producers had always wanted to do a Broadway show so he booked it at what was at that point called The Virginia Theater. I think named after his wife actually. This was up on 52nd street, which was outside of what was considered Broadway at that time. I got a call from Emily saying, “I can’t offer you a role in the show, but if you are willing to come out to New York and audition I think we can do something for you.” So, it was very exciting to come out. As it turns out there were several people from the cast that I knew. So that helped. Other than Dan White and the attorneys, nobody has a through line, everybody does several roles. So, you're constantly changing outfits and being different people and doing different scenes. So I got to know the cast very well. We had a nice rehearsal period and unfortunately a very short run.



Theatre or film, which would you say gives you more creative range/freedom?

Well I think that if you look at the three main mediums - films, TV and theatre - each of them centres on a person involved. In film it’s the director and editor, and the actors give them the best raw material from which they create the story. And then in TV it’s the writer. I noticed that the first time I did a TV show and it was a comedy and it was shot in front of a live-studio audience. So, if you didn’t get the laugh, they basically would re-write it. They didn’t trust the actor or director to fix it. But in theatre the actor in the end has the most sway in how something is done. Because you have a long, well long compared to TV, period of rehearsal, in which you get to know the character and that character’s place in the story. Then once you begin to perform it's just the actor and the audience. And, you get an immediate response from the audience and if you are making the points that you need to make, whether they are comedic or dramatic. So, I think in the end theatre is probably the most immediately satisfying for an actor. Although, I love doing all of it but there are of course disadvantages as well. But I think probably if I had a choice and if I could continue to make a living in it I would probably do more theatre than film or TV.



Speaking of your film work, I’m a huge fan of Bridesmaids (2011).

Oh, good.



What was Kristen Wiig like to work with?

She was absolutely terrific. It was amazing. The first time I was there was in the scene where her Mother, played by Jill Clayburgh, comes to the garage, Bill Cosby’s garage (laughs). And, she was amazing. Not only had her and her partner written it but, in the performance, there was enough improvising that we felt comfortable doing it. Paul Feig, the director, really supported that. Actually, her real mother was there that day.  And she (Wiig) was introducing her to the members of the cast. It was such a wonderful environment that her and Paul created with this show. It was really such a fun film to be a part of.



You kind of answered my next question, which was regarding how Feig would encourage his cast to riff and improve.

Yeah. There was obviously a script and that was where we started from but there were points where he made suggestions or Kristen made suggestions to add things in the course of the scene. That made it very exciting. My main disappointment was that I was suppose to end up as Jill Clayburgh’s partner and be at the wedding but it turned out she was very sick and they shot her out early and sent her back to New York.



Sadly, I read that she was very unwell at the time.

Yes, she passed away soon after that.



You’ve done two films with Rob Zombie. How did working with him come about?

It came about strangely enough because of a movie called Little Big Top, which was about a clown that runs away from the circus and has to be wooed back and Sid Haig played the clown. And I played the guy that ran the circus. We shot it in a little town in Indiana that has a full-time circus there. So, I got to know Sid pretty well through that. When they were shooting Halloween 2 in Georgia they got caught in some bad weather and they needed to switch around their schedule quite quickly, so they needed somebody to play Buddy in that. Sid recommended me and that was terrific. Then, in 3 From Hell I got a call from Rob saying, “This is just a tiny little role but I’d love you to do it.” He said, “What happened was we researched on sheriffs that go on camera and say, “We're gonna look for these people and I was watching this one guy and he looks so familiar, I wonder who that is?” He said, “Oh my God you look just like him.”  It couldn’t have been a nicer experience, both of them were just incredible. He’s a wonderful guy. He always puts together such a great crew.


limbo movie

So, lets talk about Limbo. I’m curious if it was fun to play a demon given your Catholic background?

Yeah, absolutely. Both for the idea of heaven and hell or limbo and the soul being judged, but also for the twists and turns and takes on it that goes in a different direction than what you'd expect. That was the exciting part about it, that you never knew exactly where it was going. For me as an actor, the great thing was that I was there in the room for all these people coming in and doing their parts. Mark would work with them individually on what he wanted in terms of director. So, you never knew what exactly was going to happen when the actors would come in and start doing their scenes. So, I got to watch all these fabulous actors doing their stuff. For example, when James Purefoy came in as Lucifer. I was so used to seeing him in projects being so laser focused and dangerous and that. But he came in and we heard him coming down the hallway. We thought ‘Oh boy this is going to be something’. And, he was actually a pretty laid-back guy. I mean you look at his eyes and you know there is something else going on. It was just how he chose to present himself at that moment. It was great because I got to watch all these actors do all their stuff. That was just terrific.



Yes. And, I love how your character brings some nice humour to the film.

Oh yes. Mark had written a series of sort of these ‘shaggy dog jokes’ and he couldn’t get them all in so he actually put one in during the credits. I didn’t know he did this until I saw a screening of it and I thought that was very funny.



How long did the horn makeup take?

At first of course it always takes a while to figure out how to do it. Horns are actually tough to do because you gotta put a base on them. And the base keeps them from moving around. (Laughs) And then put the horns on so they are solid as well. At first, I was afraid it was going to affect how I did my facial expressions. But these makeup people are incredible. So, I think the first day it took an hour but later on we probably got it down to somewhere between 35-40 minutes.



I'm curious if you had a favourite director you worked with in the past?

Oh golly. I have been so lucky with directors I’ve gotten to work with. In horror I think it would be Adam Green. I have worked with him a few times now. And, talk about humour. He brings a lot of it on the set to a horror film, which is really important. I got a chance to work with Scorsese, which was amazing. Gary Sinise on Of Mice and Men. That whole experience was just incredible. And, of course Mike Judge on Office Space. That whole shoot was a delight. Every day all the actors looked forward to coming to the set of Office Space.



I recall seeing an interview where you say your favourite studio feature was with Richard Donner in Lethal Weapon 4.

(Laughs) Oh yes, that was great. That was amazing. I had met him (Donner), he and his wife came down to Mexico when we were shooting Free Willy. Cause she (Donners wife) was one of the producers on that film. I had met him then and so when I got a chance to audition for Lethal Weapon 4, I was very happy to do that. And, when he cast me that was great. The day that we were shooting there were about 50 emergency vehicles, helicopters, boats and like 400 extras, and it was raining. Just raining incredibly. So, we were there and got into costume and makeup and were waiting and finally one of the ADs came in and said Richard wants everybody to come to his trailer. So, we did. We sat in his trailer and ran through the scene a few times just so we were prepared to just go out and do it as soon as the rain stopped. Then I realised it would take about 10-15 minutes each time to reset, so we couldn’t make any mistakes. Every time they want background off this equipment and people started moving in the background and I was doing this sort of small four-headed scene in front of them. Again, a good director can keep everybody at ease. The best performances come when people are relaxed and he was very good at doing that. So, there wasn’t any real tension in other words.



Now would be the time I would ask you what you having coming up.

(Laughs) Yeah, what is coming out? Probably the next thing that will come out is another sort of horror film. Its called Marfa and it's based on a small town in South West, Texas that is famous for what they call the Marfa lights. At night these strange lights are seen around town. The writer/director got this idea of having four young kids on a road trip and they're going by this sign that says "Check out Marfa", and so they go and check it out and they have some adventure and they meet these strange people. Tony Todd plays the mayor and Stelio Savante is sort of the guide around town. They discover that nothing about the town or their experience is what they think it is. The town is actually where they shot Giant, in fact, they shot a couple scenes in the hotel where James Dean stayed at while he was shooting there.



I’m assuming all filming has halted for you, or are they trying to ease back in?

Well, people are trying to get things started but it's really stop and start. There was a period where everything shut down at the end of March. Then, sort of at the end of April there was this idea that maybe we can begin thinking about doing stuff in certain places. So, I got a few scripts sent to me, really wonderful scripts and they said OK maybe we can shoot this in August. Then things sort of would go up for a while but then I would get a call from my agent saying “They decided they wont be able to shoot until November.” Then I just got a call about this film that they want me to film in Ohio. Now, they decided that they may not be able to do it until the first of the year. So nobody knows when they can get back to it. Everybody is trying to and a couple of them are succeeding…I see where the soap opera General Hospital up the street here is supposed to be going back into production this week.