Note: This interview was done on Mar 14, 2008
Rider Strong is a talented and personable actor who has been in the business for over 15 years. He began his young career in the theater but soon started a long and successful TV ride with the hit 90’s show BOY MEETS WORLD. He has since carved a nice place for himself in the horror genre with CABIN FEVER, TOOTH AND NAIL, and BORDERLAND, the latter two are included in the AFTER DARK HORRORFEST 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR Box Set coming out on DVD March 18th.
The rider was kind enough to answer some of my questions and I must say he could not have been nicer. He talks about the horror genre, his future in the business and his porn star name… trusts me, just go with it.
Rider Strong Interview
Rider Strong: Hi!
HOH: Hi, thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me today.
Rider Strong: You’re welcome
HOH: The HORRORFEST 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR DVD Box Set is coming out March 18th and you happen to be in two of the movies.
Rider Strong: Pretty crazy
HOH: TOOTH AND NAIL and BORDERLAND respectively, could you tell us a little bit about both?
Rider Strong: Well, BORDERLAND is based on a true story about a couple of Americans that went down to Mexico, the Mexico borders. They just crossed over to have a good time and a cult that was practicing human sacrifices and that is the true story part that happened in the 80?s actually kidnapped one of them. We made a modern day version of that and explore the pretty awful things that arise out of that situation. Well, what happens at the weird spaces between countries where it gets complicated as to who is going to investigate these crimes.
TOOTH AND NAIL is a much more straightforward genre horror film. It is a post apocalyptic group of survivors who are stuck in a hospital in Philadelphia and they have an encounter with a tribe of cannibals.
HOH: Is it just a happy coincidence you?re in two of the 8 movies?
Rider Strong: Yeah it was. HORRORFEST actually picks the movies after they are already made. BORDERLAND premiered at south by southwest and about 4 or 5 months later HORRORFEST picked it up. Then almost a week later TOOTH AND NAIL had a premiere screening in L.A. and that night it got picked up by HORRORFEST. It was like ‘Oh my god this is ridiculous! I am the horror movie king!’
HOH: Yes! (Laughs)
Rider Strong: (Laughs) You know I was looking at Bruce Campbell and I thought, ‘Alright, that could be my career’.
HOH: You know I saw the BORDERLAND trailer and it actually gave me chills, that doesn’t happen to me very often.
Rider Strong: Yeah! You know it is an interesting movie because Zev Berman (Director of BORDERLAND) is such a great director, it sort of plays to some of the genre conventions, and in some ways, it is easily comparable to HOSTEL and other movies that follow similar storylines.
We were actually filming at the same time as HOSTEL, the two projects were being made, they knew of each other but they were completely separate. But the thing about BORDERLAND is it is really a different take, it is not exploitative in the way that some of the other torture porn movies are.
It is realistic and much more horrifying because of that. There is plenty of gore and in reality the more gory scene happens in the first 5 minutes, the rest of the movie is just the tension of knowing that there is such awful violence going on, that there are all of this creepy room where they are worshiping these weird spirits, having these weird rituals, that are just sort of incomprehensible. I think it just makes for a really scary movie. It is a much different take than HOSTEL or the SAW movies, which are much more in your face.
HOH: Is there a different vibe on a horror movie set than on the sets of other types of movies?
Rider Strong: Well, yes. There is a level of fun. I mean, horror and comedy sort of go in the same category, which is that you KNOW exactly what you want from your audience. So, everybody on the set is very clear, it’s like ‘Ok, we just want to scare the crap out of them as much as possible or gross them out as much as possible’ or whichever way you?re going in the scene.
Everybody is working to make that happen, how do we make this happen? You know it is the same way with comedy. Every time I have worked on a comedy it is so much fun because everybody is together. I think that your typical SUNDANCE family drama movie is much more complicated.
It is more complicated what you’re trying to get from the audience. It is like ‘do you want these people to be rooting for me or be against me?? I think in horror and in comedy it’s like ‘Nope! We know exactly what we want’. On a horror set your just more relaxed and you can have a lot more fun with it. Plus all the fun make-up stuff, that is another cool part. You’re watching all of these, on both of these movies, some of the best people in the industry and what they can do on a moment?s notice, it is pretty amazing.
HOH: Sean Astin is also in BORDERLAND, please tell me you guys talked about LORD OF THE RINGS when you weren’t filming.
Rider Strong: Ah! (Laughs)
HOH: I’ll take questions nerds ask celebrities for 400 Alex!
Rider Strong: (Laughs) Yeah, we talked for a little bit. A lot of my scenes in the movie were with Sean and we sort of bonded. Most of our conversations were about the industry because we were both child actors. We had a lot of the same experiences and we knew a lot of the same people.
When you’re talking about child actors it is a pretty small community so even though he was 10 years older than I was once he was acting we still knew the same people and did some of the same things, So we bonded over that. The
LORD OF THE RINGS was so funny because you knew to realize just how much work it was. Talking to him and realizing we are making this movie, we were so stressed out on BORDERLAND, this little 2 or 3 million dollar movie or whatever it was and we were working so hard and he was talking about how they had 8 units going on at one time. Basically, that is 8 versions of OUR movie going on at once.
They filmed these huge battle scenes and he dedicated a year and a half or two years of his life to making the movie. But what was also great is talking to someone who has had such a huge success like that who had those moments where it was tenuous, where he had to fight to get that job.
That is always so cool to think that even though there was Oscar buzz around his performance and even now it feels like that character was just written for him, there was a time where he had to struggle and convince a great director to take him on.
To give him a shot and to be able to pull it off as he did, so primarily our LORD OF THE RINGS conversations was about me sort of getting into the fact it is possible that these huge movies. That you think of, there are real people struggling behind them and they have to leave their wives for 2 years, so that was interesting.
In some ways, it is daunting because, as an actor, you always want those jobs. I would love to be in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN but could you imagine studying a fighting scene for 2 weeks? I mean, I get sick of having to do more than 4 takes and they do 27. You know?
Rider Strong: Because they can and they have the money so they just keep doing it.
HOH: You have found yourself a nice little place in the horror genre. Do you actually enjoy watching horror movies?
Rider Strong: Yeah, I love horror movies. That’s why I got into it, I was never a huge horror nerd but I loved them as a kid, like most people. My parents wouldn’t let me watch certain movies, so I went over to a friend’s house and watched a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and didn’t sleep for a week.
I mean that was it, which was all it took. It was the fact that a movie could make me feel that intensely about stuff. THE SHINING was the ultimate film for me. I saw that for the first time when I was 13 and I couldn’t even finish watching it the first couple of times because it scared me so much.
Actually when I worked with Eli Roth on CABIN FEVER, I said ‘Ok, just give me the list dude, give me a list of all the movies’, because I knew that he had an encyclopedia of horror films and he was able to produce a list, I think he gave me 50 horror movies for me to watch. I couldn’t make it through all of them, some of them I couldn’t even find on DVD. But that was sort of my education into the deep genre, Eli’s brain. There is this revival theater in L.A. called The New Beverly and they show old movies, double matinees, old double features and Eli took it over for a couple of weeks and showed some of his favorite movies.
HOH: Oh cool!
Rider Strong: Yeah, it was hysterical. So I went and watched MOTHERS DAY, I had never seen it and Eli had talked about how it was one of his favorite movies and it was so funny to see it on the big screen with a full audience of horror fans. But to be honest I think, as an actor, it is time for me to take a little break from horror.
You know for a while there every job I was offered was for a teenager or to be in high school or college because of BOY MEETS WORLD. Then, because of CABIN FEVER, it became ‘Oh, you’re the go-to horror guy’. I read a script like BORDERLAND and my first instinct was ‘no, no I can’t do this!’ but then I found out the people involved, I knew it was going to be a good movie and I had to do it.
I keep getting sucked back in but I think now I am going to have to put my foot down and say ‘light-hearted fare for a little while’. I will always have a special place in my heart for horror, maybe when I return it will be as a director, I don’t know about acting in a horror film.
HOH: This is a little off topic but I have to ask you about this. You were once quoted as saying “If I ever become a porn star, I won’t have to change my name”.
Rider Strong: (Laughs)
HOH: Please tell me you really said that that is the greatest quote ever!
Rider Strong: Yes!
HOH: Oh Yes! Ok, Good.
Rider Strong: It was one of those things I never realized until I was 15 and then someone finally said (does an impression of a dopey sounding person) “Ride HER STRONG? Oh my god!”
Rider Strong: I was like, OK, now it makes sense. Then it really wasn’t talked about that much until BOOGIE NIGHTS came out and the whole concept of giving yourself a porn name became normal, everyday dinner conversation, everybody would say it to me. Then when CABIN FEVER came out I was amazed at how many of the reviews made fun of my name.
It was like, OK, I get it but what does that have to do with the movie? Roger Ebert was like ‘Porno-named Rider Strong’ and I was like OK, maybe you didn’t love the movie but saying I am porno-named kind of implies I have done pornos and I am named because of that. I don’t know but I have no problem recognizing I have a porno name. The hard part is that some people think I gave the name to myself.
HOH: …and that is even worse
Rider Strong: Yeah! Look, I had hippie parents. I can’t help it.
HOH: NO, It is a great name..
Rider Strong: Well, you know (pauses for a bit) thanks (Laughs)
HOH: Well, you’re welcome
Rider Strong: The name has other connotations so I have had to overcome that a little bit. You know I have an IMDB page like every actor and there is a message board where people can post things about you and someone showed it to me. The MOST postings about me are about my name.
HOH: Oh wow…
Rider Strong: (Doing the cute imitation of a dopey sounding person again) “His name is like a porno film, Oh my god, can you believe this?”
HOH: Is everybody 15 years old? (Laughs)
Rider Strong: (Laughs)
HOH: Well I wanted to ask you about that quote. Just me, asking the classy questions.
Rider Strong: (Laughs) Well you found a quote from me, which is nice. I brought it up first but when CABIN FEVER came out it was like a steamroller, it became this huge issue in major reviews. It was like OK, I know, I know, I’m aware
HOH: How did you get started with acting?
Rider Strong: Well I did theater after school and stuff and that was really it. My first professional job was through an audition, a cattle call theater audition for LES MISERABLES in San Francisco and I got the part out of hundreds of kids who were lined up outside of the theater and that is when it was like, a REAL job.
I had done plays and now they were paying me to do it, which is when my parents started thinking maybe we should take this seriously. My brother and I got into it at the same time and then he started doing commercials and stuff and agents in L.A. started calling saying ‘come to L.A.and make a career out of it’.
It took A LOT of convincing for my parents to commit to it, it is a lot of work on their parts but they didn’t want to ruin our childhood. They didn’t, mostly because we didn’t pack up our lives and completely leave my hometown. My parents still live in the house I grew up in.
HOH: That is really nice
Rider Strong: Yeah and a lot of my friends, who are still my best friends, were my friends before I started acting. During BOY MEETS WORLD I actually flew home every weekend so, that was really great to have my childhood. It was a good experience; it was definitely a quality upbringing. It was also very exciting because I was doing all these big things and meeting these really amazing top people, having a lot of fun on the set too.
HOH: You appear really natural and real on screen, Did you have any formal training or was it all on the job?
Rider Strong: Oh thank you, I did. I had a couple of coaches in particular and in L.A. there is a pretty famous child acting school called The Young Actors Space. Everybody went there, like Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maquire were there. They are like this sort of the older generation. When I was there it was all working actors and it was a great place. So, I went to places like that but I never had a technique, never a method.
I’m actually more interested in it now, I think because I did it as a kid and I started in the theater, I just always wanted it to be fun. It was always about just entertainment and getting a reaction out of an audience, BOY MEETS WORLD was filmed in front of a live audience.
I don’t know, when acting becomes all self-absorbed and all about getting into your character, I just get uninterested because it’s not fun anymore, it is just so much work. But actually, as I am getting older and in a refreshing way, coming up against roles that are harder and more interesting and more complicated, I am looking into taking it more seriously with the training and stuff.
So, I’ll probably start working with some teachers or something, just to get exercised. That is really what acting class is, just exercise, like building those muscles. Being able to act on a moments notice, I think when your a kid being emotional is kind of easy. Not necessarily the acting part is easy but bringing emotions out, like I could laugh or cry or whatever at the drop of a hat all through my teens and now it is harder. Being natural in front of the camera might become more difficult as I enter into my late 20’s and early 30’s.
HOH: Is there anyone you have wanted to work with but haven’t yet?
Rider Strong: My god, so many people. You probably meant actors but I have more of a dream list of directors I would like to work with. I have been obsessed with PT Anderson (Paul Thomas Anderson, director of BOOGIE NIGHTS and THERE WILL BE BLOOD). Eli met him and apparently his is a big fan of CABIN FEVER so that’s my IN (Laughs).
I would be an EXTRA in one of his movies to be around that sort of environment because as I get more and more experience in this industry, the more I realize there is a group of good directors. There are A LOT of great actors out there , a lot of great out of work actors and actually finding a director that you can have a connection with and a creative collaboration with is wonderful.
I think that is why the really great directors who are successful tend to work with the same actors over and over again because these stars just want to keep going back to that experience, they are really drawn to working with a good director because its hard. You can be a great manager of a set but not have that much going on creatively or you can be this creative genius and not know how to manage people or manage a set.
So, finding someone who can do both of those things and forging a relationship where you can just have fun, that is a life-changing experience. I think in the theater that is more common, you spend more rehearsal time together and you sort of develop that relationship, on a film set or TV set a lot of the time the director is so swamped. So, that’s my dream list, directors and PT Anderson is at the top of that list.
HOH: MAGNOLIA was like a religious experience when I saw it.
Rider Strong: Oh my god, I think I saw that 3 times in the theater, which I can’t imagine doing now because that is 9 hours total.
HOH: What are you working on next?
Rider Strong: Well, my brother and I wrote and directed our first short film, it?s a 20-minute short. This is kind of the next phase in my career and my brother’s, to move behind the camera. So, that is my newest creative endeavor and I am really, really proud of it.
HOH: Thank you so much for talking to me. You know a couple of my girlfriends got really excited when I told them I would be interviewing you. One even gave me a short list of questions I should ask you and I’m NOT going to ask you any of them. It reads like something out of Tiger beat, you know? “What kind of food does he like?” or “What does he look for in a girl?? I thought, Are you serious? Are you kidding me? There is no way I am going to ask him that!
Rider Strong: (Laughs Loudly) Well, its funny because those are the interviews I did and that is the way I thought interviews went. I was 13 when BOY MEETS WORLD started so when people start interviewing you it is exciting. Like Tiger Beat or Bop, they start coming to you, they take it VERY seriously, and they ask, “OK, what do you look for in a girl?? I thought these were just normal questions everyone asks.
It’s a very odd thing and before you know it, it was like so much of my identity. It sort of got out of my control and you are plastered on everybody’s bedroom wall, it is a very odd experience. It is funny now because I meet women my age or younger and it is always like “OOOOH, I used to be so in love with you!!? and I’m like, ‘You USED to be, what about now?’
Rider Strong: So I am sort of permanently fixed in that age bracket and maybe they are reverted back to being 12 again and that is why her list of questions is like that. ( Snickers)
HOH: I hope you don’t mind if I put your face in little hearts around the article.
Rider Strong: (Laughs) When I was in college the paper, my school did an interview with me and that was the girl’s whole thing, “I have been in love with you for 10 years, why haven’t you called me?? Her whole article was hysterical; it was my face in little hearts, basically mocking me but in a fun way.
HOH: Rider, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk with me.
Rider Strong: Well thank you!
The HORRORFEST 8 FILMS TO DIE FOR DVD BOX SET from AfterDark and Lionsgate films will be available March 18th.