‘Pearson’s Chantel Riley Raves Over Working With Gina Torres: ‘It’s Like A Master Class’

Chantel Riley is having one heck of a good year. From 'Pearson' to new music, Chantel is on fire. She spoke EXCLUSIVELY about playing Angela alongside Gina Torres, the 'Wynonna Earp' fandom, her new show, and more.

Chantel Riley
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Image Credit: Amanda Jones for HollywoodLife

Chantel Riley is one busy woman. Not only is she starring as Angela in the new USA drama Pearson, she’s also returning as Trudy in a new season of Frankie Drake Mysteries. Chantel is currently working on a new show called Up Close and Personal, which she is also moderating and executive producing. To top off her already busy schedule, Chantel is also working on new music.

Pearson is nearing the end of its stellar first season and Chantel opened up to HollywoodLife EXCLUSIVELY about Angela and Jessica’s fascinating and complicated dynamic. She talked about working and learning alongside Gina Torres, who plays Jessica Pearson. While she doesn’t know anything about Wynonna Earp season 4 (yet), Chantel gushed about how “welcoming and so kind” the Earpers have been since she joined the show. Chantel also discussed her newest project that she’s executive producing and her upcoming EP.

Now that we’re in the back half of the first season, what can say about where the relationship between Jessica and Angela is going to go and how it’s going to evolve?
Chantel Riley: It definitely started off a little rocky. Angela has a few trust issues, but I think that’s only because she’s a mother and she’s living with her mother so she’s trying to protect her family and her community. So having someone who’s not really from there or grow up there to just come in all of a sudden and be like, here, I can just fix everything, no problem. It kind of left Angela feeling like, well, where have you been all this time? Who are you? Yeah, you’ve got money in but you don’t know Chicago. New York and Chicago are so different. So, that tension really grew, and Jessica has been trying and trying and Angela’s stubborn just like Jessica. So you have that family thing. They are the same in some instances, but just like in any family, you’re going to have some fallouts and then you get back together, you work together, and you love each other regardless. You know what I mean? Family is going to be family forever. So you kind of see that dynamic between the two of them grow and Angela becomes a little less stubborn and mean towards Jessica or cold, I’ll say. You get to see a little bit more of their relationship develop.

What’s that been like for you to really develop this really interesting relationship with Gina as your characters?
Chantel Riley: It’s been great. Most of my scenes I get to spend with her and watching her work. I always tell everyone, it’s like a master class. I get to literally watch her. She’s been in the industry for a long time now, so just taking on how she works as an actor, how she handles herself, how she carries herself now as an executive producer and learning from that. And I’m even taking some of that and putting into my own projects that I’m starting and developing myself. She’s been so open and just warm and welcoming and giving me pointers and tips on how to stay fresh and how to survive in this industry. But she’s also just so real and down to earth and I’m so grateful to have had a chance to work with her.

I love your scenes together because it’s not set in this really high stakes world that she’s usually in. It’s a very personal setting. Their scenes are very poignant and powerful.
Chantel Riley: Yes, absolutely. And it’s so much different than what we’re used to seeing Jessica in. Like you said, we always see her in the office. Like in Suits, she’s up in that office. She’s this big bad wolf that everyone loves or was scared of. But what’s great with this show is that you get to see a completely different side of her. You get to see her with Angela’s kids or Angela’s mother, and you get to see a much softer side to her. Even with her relationship with Jeff. So I love that Pearson was able to kind of give us more of an in-depth look of that side of it.

What can you say about what’s next for Angela now that she’s moved out?
Chantel Riley: There’s only so long that she can stay up in that house. It’s not because she dislikes her, but it’s more so the fact that she’s uncomfortable because she’s up in this big, beautiful apartment. Whereas her family, I’m going to call them, where she pretty much grew up, her community, is out on the streets and they literally have nowhere to live. So that part of her and her heart for the people takes over more than her comfortability of being at home in this nice high rise. So, she makes a decision. She’s not going to be here living comfortably while everyone else is struggling and suffering. So she takes this initiative and is going to go down with her people and fight with them and fight alongside them.

It’s a really interesting push-pull because this is the best version of the situation, but it feels wrong.
Chantel Riley: Exactly. There’s only so much longer that I think she would have been able to stay in that place. In the episode prior, you see her go back to the old apartments and just see everything torn down and you get the visualization of what it’s like now for people. They’re living in tents. They have nothing left. There’s no way she would be able to stay with Jessica that long, and so she packs up her stuff and she makes a decision to head on out, even with the kids.

You’re also on Wynonna Earp. What’s it been like for you to experience that passionate fandom? 
Chantel Riley: Coming on a show that’s already developed, it can be sometimes intimidating because you worry, are they going to like me? Are they going to take kindly to me? Are they going to want me to come back? All the questions, especially with the role that I play, Kate Holliday, who is Doc Holliday’s wife. He’s in a relationship with Wynonna, and so of course, that a ship is huge and everybody loves that. I thought, oh, my God, they’re probably going to hate me. But the fandom, the Earpers, are probably the most loving people I’ve ever met. They’ve been so welcoming, even from when I first tweeted about it. They have been so welcoming and so kind and sending me beautiful messages and fan art and gifts. So, whenever you get to do stuff like Comic-Con or any kind of, Wynonna Con, it’s such a great opportunity to get to see everyone face to face and get to share energy. And just talk about what’s going on in their life or just listen to how the show affected their life in a great way. So when you see something like that, it reminds you that you’re doing something a lot deeper than just standing in front of a camera and pretending to be someone else. You are literally out there potentially changing someone’s life or saving someone’s life. We’ve had tweets upon tweets saying how Wynonna Earp has saved their lives. So, no pressure. I’m so grateful to be a part of a show that has been able to help people in some kind of way.

Have you guys filmed anything for season 4? 
Chantel Riley: Nothing. I know nothing, Jon Snow. We do know it’s coming, but I haven’t read any scripts. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Is Kate coming back? I hope so. I would love that, but at the same time, we’re still just kind of waiting to see what the next steps are going to be.

You also have Up Close, and Personal. What was the inspiration for this project? 
Chantel Riley: I had recently gone on a trip to Lagos, Nigeria. They have something called Nollywood out there, whereas we have Hollywood, so Nollywood is just Nigerian films that are huge and have a huge following and huge production values. I’ve always just been so curious to see how it’s run over there and what it’s like compared to how we run things over here on this side of the world with Hollywood. So I developed this series called Up Close, and Personal to interview people within the diaspora. So within Africa and in America, wherever they are in the world, just get a closer look at how the arts affect their culture. How the arts affect how they run things and comparing it to what we’re so used to seeing on our big screens and in television over here and just having a comparison. I did it because I wanted to kind of make the world a little bit smaller and have people have a better understanding of how things work and not be ignorant of different cultures. I really wanted to put a focus within the black culture and just get everybody a deeper insight on the many, many, many different talented artists that are out there within the diaspora and just be able to share their stories.

Have you started filming that?
Chantel Riley: We started our first episode. It should be coming out really soon, which we did in Lagos. So I was able to sit down with some producers and some actors for that, and then I will be shooting another episode in Toronto, my hometown. So I’ll be sitting down with some actors as well as with that. It’s going to be great because you’ll get to hear about what we love about working in Canada and you’ll hear about what we’re frustrated about.

So you’re definitely not afraid to shy away from anything?
Chantel Riley: Oh no, this show is definitely an opportunity for people to just say what they want to say and just really touch on what they feel they’d love to see change in the industry, especially for black people in the industry. So, it’s definitely like a no-holds-barred, say what you want, whatever you’re brave enough to say. I know a lot of people will hold back because they’re afraid for their jobs or their careers and stuff, but we try to make it as a safe space as possible, and of course, whatever they want to say, they can. If they don’t, they don’t have to.

What’s it been like being both moderator and executive producer?
Chantel Riley: It’s crazy because this is my first time as an executive producer and producing, and so you learn a lot. Of course, shooting the first episode, you pick up a lot of things that you will do and will not do the next time. It’s a lot more work. You got to come up with the questions and you got to do your research about who you’re interviewing and stuff. But it’s all fun because it’s all a learning process and I get to learn more about the people I’m interviewing. I get to learn more about how things work behind the scenes with editing and camera angles and lighting and all of this stuff. So it’s more hands-on, which is really cool. It’s something I’ve always been interested in.

Chantel Riley
Chantel Riley stars on ‘Pearson.’ (Credit: Amanda Jones)
Chantel Riley
Chantel Riley stops by PMC Studios. (Credit: Amanda Jones)

Is there anything you can tease about season 3 of Frankie Drake Mysteries?
Chantel Riley: Frankie has some new hair, which is really cute, but you’ll get to see more action, more excitement. You’ll get to see more interactions between the four of us ladies and tell some deeper stories. It’s going to be good.

On top of all this, you’ve already released a new music video. 
Chantel Riley: I have a new single out called “Not Anymore,” and I shot the video in Lagos, Nigeria. So, while I was doing the Up, Close, and Personal, I was also shooting a music video at that same time. So it was a very busy trip. It’s available on all streaming platforms and all downloading platforms, and that was really exciting. Music has always been a part of my life and it was something I started doing first. It’s always been a dream of mine to put a project together. So finally I’ve been putting all the fears aside and said I’m going to do it. I released the single on my birthday and I’ve been getting some great feedback and I’m excited to share the rest of the project.

Are you working on any other music or do you actively sort of jot ideas down?
Chantel Riley: I just finished getting my master’s done on the EP, so it’ll be like six or seven songs. That’s the next project coming up. Especially for my first project, I definitely wanted it to be as hands-on as I possibly could be. Of course, I’m very open to working with new writers and producers because I think collaboration is better than anything and you get more ideas that way. But I think for this first project I was really hard on myself to force myself to write as much as I possibly could. Of course, you get into your little roadblocks and then you call on some help, but for this first project, I tried to do as much as I possibly could.

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