Interview: Actress Rileigh McDonald

Actress Rileigh McDonald is poised, intelligent, and talented.  At only thirteen years old, her resumé boosts a USA Network guest spot, a leading Broadway spot, and now, the role of Frannie in the Off Broadway drama “Good for Otto.”

In February 2018, Rileigh was named one of the “3 Young People to Watch in Theater This Spring” by The New York Times.

Everly Mag talked to Rileigh about her top 3 acting projects, what audiences can expect from “Good for Otto,” and her advice for aspiring young theatre professionals.

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Rileigh McDonald, 13, Left.  Image: The New York Times


Everly Mag: What are your top three acting projects so far?

Rileigh: Good for Otto, Matilda the Musical on Broadway, and The Sinner.

Everly Mag: Why did you choose each project?

Good for Otto

Rileigh: This is the Off Broadway show I am currently working on. I was excited to audition for this project because it’s an important story written by one of the greatest playwrights of our time, David Rabe, and directed by Scott Elliott, who is an absolute genius. And, of course, there’s the cast – it’s like a dream having the chance to work with each of them. I’m very grateful they chose me for this project.

Matilda the Musical on Broadway

Rileigh: This one’s kind of obvious, right? Matilda is my hero, and I really hoped for the chance to play her. Sometimes I still can’t believe it actually happened. It’s an incredibly moving and powerful show. At every performance, I focused on making sure every kid in the audience knew that they had the power to stand up to bullies and change their stories for the better. Having the opportunity to bring Matilda to life on a Broadway stage will always be one of the great honors of my life.

The Sinner

Rileigh: I played the recurring role of Young Phoebe on the Sinner on the USA Network last year, and it was pretty incredible. I pursued this role because Phoebe was a dark and complex character, and I wanted to explore that and see what would happen. My scene partner, Augie Murphy, and I had a great sister-like chemistry, which I think came across pretty well. Everyone on set was so supportive and committed, and all of that fed into a cool vibe that helped Augie and me really get in touch with our characters.

Everly Mag: Tell us a little about your newest show, “Good for Otto,” which opens on March 8.  What are 3 things audiences can expect to see?

Rileigh: “Good for Otto” takes place in an outpatient mental health facility, where two counselors, played by Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, do their best to help their many patients navigate their situations within the already-strained health care system we all live in.

Image: Serge Nivelle

Here are three things you can expect:

  1. You can expect to laugh and cry. A lot of times in life, comedy finds its way into the tragedy in our lives to help us get through it.
  2. You can expect incredibly moving performances from each and every cast member. The story and characters are so compelling and human, they may resonate with you on many levels.
  3. From my character, Frannie, in particular, you can expect to feel uncomfortable. Frannie is stuck in a horrible situation, and she is coping with it the only way she knows how. Her foster mother, Nora (played by Rhea Perlman) and her counselor, Dr. Michaels (played by Ed Harris) are trying to help her, but it is neither simple nor easy.

Everly Mag: What are the 3 best things about working as a professional actress?

Rileigh: The [first thing is] getting to play interesting characters.  It’s fun discovering who they are and what makes them tick.  [Second], working with people, whether other actors or directors or crew, who care about telling great stories.  There’s something about being part of a great team that brings me a lot of joy and inspiration.  [Third], feeling like you make a difference when you work on projects that inspire, educate, and/or entertain people.

Everly Mag: What are the 3 hardest things?

Rileigh: First, the erratic schedule.  Sometimes I’ll go a little while without having an audition, then several will come all at once. So, sometimes I’m up late doing self-tape auditions, which often requires memorizing pages and pages of lines in a very short period of time.  Second, not getting a part you really want. In this business, you get a lot of [rejections] before you get a “yes.” That’s normal, but sometimes disappointing.  Third, Balancing work and school. I think a lot of kids will understand this. Whether you’re into sports, music, drama, or any kind of extracurricular activity, it’s important to keep up with homework and studying, too.

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Image: The New York Times

Everly Mag: Who are 3 people who inspire you in your acting career and why?

Rileigh: I’ve thought a lot about this, and I think the three people who inspire me most are actually groups of people.

  1. The first group is the women actors who have been fighting for respect and equality for women in the entertainment industry. Women like Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Gillian Anderson, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and many others who have bravely stepped forward to bring balance to this imbalanced industry. As a female actor, my path ahead will be easier because they are blazing the trail. I am grateful.
  2. The second group is the teachers and coaches I have had since I was really little who believed in me and taught me how to be an actor, singer and dancer. They taught me how to be a professional. I feel like it’s important to always be learning in order to be the best I can be. My teachers and coaches make learning such a joy, and I appreciate them more than I can say.
  3. The third group is my family. My mom, dad and brother Charles have been my rock since day one. Without them, I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dreams. They support me unconditionally, and they are my biggest cheerleaders. They give me courage and confidence, and they are my safety net, always.

Everly Mag: What are 3 things you want to do with your career in the future?

Rileigh: First, I want to write!  I love writing. It’s my favorite part of school. Someday, I want to write a play or short film and see it produced! It would most likely be a horror/thriller, because that’s my favorite genre.

Second, I want to direct!  When I’m working on a project, whether it’s on stage, TV or film, I am always fascinated by everything that goes into telling the story. A director does so much more than direct actors – and I hope to have the chance to try it someday!

Third, I want to act in a horror/thriller film. Not a gross slasher film, but something really scary and suspenseful.

Everly Mag: What are 3 interests you have outside of acting?

Rileigh: First, I love to draw and paint. I honestly spend hours sketching people’s faces with as much detail as possible  Second, I watch a lot of comedy. Whether it’s sketch comedy, like SNL, or stand-up comics like John Mulaney or Jim Gaffigan, I cannot get enough of the creativity involved in comedy writing and performance. Or maybe I just love to laugh. 

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Image: Rileigh McDonald Instagram

Third, I love hanging out with my friends. I don’t want to brag, but I have the best group of friends a person could ask for. We go to movies or shows, we go ice skating, and generally spend our time together laughing and being as goofy as we can possibly be.

Everly Mag: Describe your personality in 3 words.

Rileigh: Creative, empathetic, observant.

Everly Mag: Finally, what are three pieces of advice you have for young actors?

Rileigh: Be supportive instead of competitive with each other; you won’t enjoy this business otherwise. My cast mate from Good for Otto, Kate Buddeke, said something really profound and perfect the other day, “In the end, all of us actors only have each other, so it’s important not to waste time creating petty rivalries. We have to stick together.”

Behave like a professional at auditions and on set; be the kid everyone enjoys working with.  

Don’t give up. You’re going to get a LOT of rejections, so just learn to accept that. But, if you really love acting, then keep going!

Want to know more?  Follow Rileigh on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more.

Feature Image Credit: Rileigh McDonald


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