‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show': Reeve Carney on Playing Riff Raff & the ‘Penny Dreadful’ Finale

     October 20, 2016

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The two-hour Fox musical event The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is a re-imagining of the classic 1975 cult film and follows sweethearts Janet (Victoria Justice) and Brad (Ryan McCartan), who find themselves at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s (Laverne Cox) lair of the bizarre. Over the course of one strange, flirtatious and campy night that includes the birth of a muscled specimen (Starz Nair), the pelvic thrust of “The Time Warp,” a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania and narration from Tim Curry, you’ll want to sing along with every catchy tune.

During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor/singer Reeve Carney talked about how excited he was to be a part of this version of Rocky Horror, finding his inner Riff Raff, his first exposure to the original film, what Laverne Cox brings to the iconic role, and the most challenging number to perform. He also talked about his debut solo album, Youth is Wasted (now available at iTunes) and the artistic statement he wanted to make with it, along with how much he loved his time on Penny Dreadful and when he found out that the show had reached its series finale.

Collider: I’m a longtime Rocky Horror fan and had a lot of fun watching this version!

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Image via Fox

REEVE CARNEY: Cool! I’m so glad you liked it. I’ve never had more fun working with a group of people than on the set of Rocky Horror. It was just absolutely incredible! I wish I could do the project, over and over, again. That’s how much fun it was.

How was this version of Rocky Horror brought to your attention, and what was your reaction when you found out that they were going to do a new version of it?

CARNEY: I was ecstatic! The way it came to me was that I landed on the radar of Kenny Ortega, who I’ve been a fan of forever and was shocked and thrilled to know that I had somehow landed on his radar. I had met him once briefly, backstage at Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark, when I was doing that on Broadway, but he was also a fan of the television show Penny Dreadful, and that’s what made him think that I might be right for this part. I’m really thankful that he felt that way because I had such a blast working on it with him. He’s just such a kind, talented, electric presence. He’s such a wonderful person. We all love him so much. He creates such a wonderful atmosphere on set and I was really, really glad to be able to finally work with him.

When was the first time you saw Rocky Horror and how many times have you seen it, over the years?

CARNEY: I haven’t watched it as many times as some people. I think I’ve only seen it seven times, in total, which is not nearly as many as some people. As a child, I grew up around the corner from the Waverly Theatre and I went to a school, called The Little Red School House, for the first few years of my schooling, until it got way too expensive and I went to public school. I would always see the billboards, walking down the street, for Friday and Saturday nights, and it was equal parts terrifying and intriguing to a young child. That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so exciting that we’re able to present our version of the film in people’s homes directly. If given a chance, I think a lot of families might have even watched the original together, if you didn’t have to go to a midnight showing in a theater. That had an element of danger, which this still has, but when it’s in the comfort of your own home, people welcome the experience more willingly, more so than with film. Having done some TV now, walking down the streets sometimes people feel like they know you because they watched you on a screen while they were lying in bed. So, this is an opportunity for us to present this material and this story to the Brads and the Janets out there who wouldn’t otherwise potentially attend a midnight showing, for whatever reason. It’s pretty cool.

What’s it like to know that this could be the first time that a whole new audience is exposed to the Rocky Horror experience and that you guys could be the only people they’ve seen do these roles?

CARNEY: It’s really exciting for me to think that we could be the first ones they see. It will only lead them back to the original, which is great for the whole Rocky Horror family, in general. It’s exciting and strange to think that teenagers, pre-teens, and maybe younger will watch this with their families. I hope they love it. I had such a blast, and I love all of my castmates and everyone involved so much. I’m excited and hope that a lot of people tune in.

It seems like it would have been impossible to do this without the blessing of Tim Curry, who is so identified with Frank-N-Furter. How important was it to not only have his blessing, but to also have him involved?

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Image via Fox

CARNEY: I was so excited. I wasn’t aware that Tim Curry would be involved, when I agreed to be a part of the project. I was just so excited about Rocky Horror, in general, as anyone would be. I was flying into Los Angeles from Dublin, where we shot Penny Dreadful, and I was on the plane when they made the announcement about both Tim Curry and Adam Lambert. I had no idea until I landed in L.A., and that was a pretty exciting moment for me.

Laverne Cox is an interesting, different and unexpected choice, in the best of ways, to play Frank-N-Furter. What do you think she brought to the role that’s uniquely her, but still pays homage to the original performance?

CARNEY: When you have a performance like Tim Curry’s in the original, it makes the most sense to do something completely different to go as far away from what Tim brought to the character as possible. The great thing about Laverne’s performance is that it stands up, completely on its own. They’re just such different animals, and that’s exactly the way it needed to be done. I’m really excited that’s the direction that Lou Adler, Kenny Ortega and Fox decided to take, whoever made that ultimate decision. One thing that particularly impressed me about Laverne was her ability to gauge the scale of her performance, in connection with the sets and everyone else’s performance. It was just perfectly in between that area of realism and camp, and I thought it was great.

Was there a process for finding this character’s look and figuring out how you wanted to sound and carry yourself?

CARNEY: We had a brilliant costume designer, William Ivey Long, who I’ve actually been friends with for a few years now, and he really helped set the tone, early on, in terms of inspiring the hair and make-up team, with his initial sketches. A lot of the clothes, I found myself to be quite comfortable stepping into because it comes from the glam rock world blended with the early sci-fi/B-horror genre. I love all of that stuff, and I tend to wear clothes similar to some of this stuff. It was supposed to look as though he’s been struck by lightening, so I wouldn’t do all of that damage to my version of it, but I think it looked incredible for the character. A good portion of the work you do, as an actor, is internal because you want everyone to feel as though they can relate to thing beyond the surface level, but there was a lot of stuff going on, in terms of the voicing of the character and the character’s mannerisms and movement, and that informs some of the internal work. For this particular character, when you have such an iconic character created by Richard O’Brien, who created The Rocky Horror Picture Show you want to make sure you do the best you possible can to honor his creation and also bring something uniquely your own, not for ego’s sake, but for the sake of a truthful-feeling performance. That was the balance I was trying to strike. I borrowed what I thought was appropriate to borrow from Richard while also bringing in some things I hope would have inspired him. I also have a bit of an entertainment background. My uncle was a very famous actor named Art Carney, and I found, for the first time in any work that I’ve done, that I was able to draw from some of his work for this particular character. I don’t know if it’s apparent, at all, but there were moments where I thought, “Oh, man, this reminds me of Uncle Artie.” So, I found myself, in moments, doing my best to channel Uncle Art.

One of the most impressive things about Rocky Horror is that you do all of those performance numbers in platform heels. Congratulations for pulling that off!

CARNEY: Thanks! I used to play hockey, and I’m not claiming to have been amazing in those heels, but I think the only thing that helped me was having the experience playing hockey, as a kid and a teenager, because it felt like being in ice skates the whole team. It was actually even a little bit easier than that. But, it was fun. It helped me with my character because it automatically made it more difficult to walk, which was something that I wanted to bring into the character of Riff Raff and exaggerate it a little bit more than in the original. I wanted him to have a little bit more trouble getting around.

What was your favorite performance number to do?

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Image via Fox

CARNEY: The most challenging for me was “The Time Warp.” I don’t have a tremendous background in dancing. Out of the three things that I do – singing, acting and dancing – dancing is not something I’ve done a whole lot of. So, “The Time Warp” was particularly challenging because, in this version, Riff Raff leads it, more so than in the original, and I had to know what I was doing. Thankfully, Tony Testa did a brilliant job with the choreography, as did his assistant, Jeff Mortensen, and a bunch of other incredible dancers that helped me, on a daily basis, to make sure that I got to the point where I needed to be. And with Kenny, we had an incredible team. I have them to thank for being able to pull any of that off.

You also have a debut solo album and you’re going out on tour. When you started out on the journey for that album, what were you hoping to accomplish with it, and how do you feel about the end result?

CARNEY: Oh, I’m thrilled! I felt that now would be a good time to release it because The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical and the nature of these particular songs is more closely linked with the style of the music on my record. Honestly, the making of this album was the manifestation of a need to just get these feelings and musical explorations out of me and out there, so that I could make room for more things. I didn’t make it to for any financial or fame-seeking reasons. It’s just an artistic statement. It was my first opportunity to explore a singular vision of what I feel is my true expression as an artist, musically speaking, on record. I’m thrilled with it. There wasn’t anything to influence the direction, outside of anything I felt was appropriate for this body of work. Ultimately, it’s directly from my heart and my soul, and I hope it moves people, on some level, and they enjoy it.

What made you decide on the title, Youth is Wasted?

CARNEY: I was toying around with different ideas, but I decided to call it Youth is Wasted, which is meant to be semi-ironic. I spent a lot of my youth concocting and formulating these ideas, and I certainly don’t look at that as a wasted youth, but it means a lot of things. People can interpret it however they’d like. I’m excited for people to see the artwork, too.

Penny Dreadful was such a terrific show, but it ended a little abruptly for fans who had no idea that the series finale was coming. Did you know, going in, that it would just be three seasons and that would definitely be it, or were you surprised?

CARNEY: No, we weren’t told until about a week or two before the final episode aired that it would actually have the title card, “The End,” and that it would actually be the end. I was like, “Oh, wow!” I would have been thrilled to go back again because I had such an incredible time working on that show. It was so artistically rewarding. I will say that I’m enjoying the sunshine in Los Angeles right now, which is one benefit of not being in Ireland for seven months out of the year. Other than that, I loved every minute of it. So, we weren’t really aware of that, but it made sense to me. To be honest with you, when I read the script for Episode 9 in Season 3, I did wonder if we’d go back, but we weren’t aware for sure until a week or two before.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again airs on Fox on October 20th.

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