Flames engulf an eighteen-wheeler, after one of Juan Riedinger’s characters flicks a match onto the contraband inside. Dressed in a well-fitting tee, he walks towards the screen with a cold stare as the truck explodes behind him. Juan Riedinger is an award-winning actor that often finds himself playing the role of a dangerous man. The Canadian performer is known for his roles in Netflix’s “Narcos” and CBC’s “The Romeo Section.” Season four of the CW’s “Riverdale” will see Riedinger as Dodger, the latest nemesis of Archie. An actor, director and a father of twins, Riedinger is a craftsman that has been in the business for over 15-years. Fero’s sat down with him to chat about his career so far.
You played drug lord Carlos Lehder on Netflix’s Narcos. What challenges came with portraying a real person?
Playing a real person definitely adds pressure to capture the truest essence of that individual. Ideally, if they’re alive, you get to meet that person and interview them. Unfortunately, Carlos is in witness protection and impossible to track down. There’s also not a lot of footage of him out there. But I did find a documentary about him which helped a lot in my research. As an actor, you piece together as many materials as you can, and ultimately, you also have to take some creative liberties, under the guidance of your director.
How was working with the dialect coach?
It was my first time working with a dialect coach, and it was definitely a nice luxury to have. We would do vocal exercises and have conversations regularly in the weeks leading up to shooting, which gave me the confidence I needed to take on a role exclusively in Spanish. Even though I’m fluent in the language, I hadn’t acted in Spanish many times before, and working in a specific dialect is always a challenge. The immersive experience of actually shooting in Colombia for months also added a layer of authenticity to the Spanish our characters were speaking.
You’ve directed 14 short films, you edit and even have a few writing credits. How does knowing other parts of filmmaking affect how you think about acting?
I think the most valuable lesson has been really understanding how acting is only a small piece in the storytelling process. As an actor, it’s easy to buy into the notion that everything revolves around you, since you’re the one the camera is pointing at. But having experienced the other side of the camera over the years has taught me how collaborative the process truly is. It has definitely made acting less precious for me, and allowed me to enjoy it more as a result.
You’ve said in previous interviews you’re in the early stages of directing your first feature film. Anything you can tell us about that?
I prefer to direct other people’s scripts, and I’ve been looking for a screenplay for years now. I think I finally found the one I want to take on as my first feature. We’re in the process of polishing the story, and if everything comes together, we’ll be rolling camera in the next year or two. That’s about all I can say about it. But I’m definitely not rushing the process. You only get one chance to make your first feature, so I want to make sure I do it right.
How has the international festival scene been treating you?
We’ve had a number of great screenings of my short film ‘A Snake Marked’ in North America, but we’ve especially been embraced internationally, with screenings at festivals in Russia, Cyprus, Croatia, India, Hungary, Switzerland, Malta, Kenya, and Bali. I was even fortunate enough to get to attend a screening in Italy this Spring, and was blown away by their hospitality and reverence for the films and filmmakers. Filmmaking is a universal language, and it’s a powerful experience to get to share your film with other countries and cultures.
Any rules of storytelling you follow?
Not really. I’m not a big fan of rules. I didn’t go to film school, and everything I’ve learned came from immersing myself in the process. My gut is my compass. I follow my instincts, along with feedback from other artists I trust. I guess that is my rule – to trust my own instincts, yet to keep my ego out of it as much as possible. And even if I fail, I always learn something.
How did your hometown react when you first started getting roles?
My hometown of Banff, Canada has always been very supportive of my career. It’s a tiny town, and whenever I go back there for a visit, I’m always running into people that have been watching the shows I’m in, and rooting me on in my career as an actor. I’m very grateful for the support from the Banff community. And of course, my #1 fan is my Mom, who still lives in Banff with my Dad. I had to tell her to stop putting announcements in the local paper every time I got a new job. But she still does it.
What was it like to see your name on a Deadline Hollywood headline for the first time?
I mean, that was pretty cool. When I first became an actor, breaking into Hollywood as a kid from Banff seemed like a daunting feat, so seeing my name in Deadline for the first time was a surreal experience. I now spend half my time in LA and consider “Hollywood” to be a second home.
With Lehder on Narcos and Joe Dupree on TNT’s Claws, you seem to play a lot of characters with ties to the crime world. What attracts you to the genre?
I’m a father of twins and very much a homebody. The crime world seems very far removed from my current life. That being said, I was somewhat of a menace in my younger years. I won’t get into the details, but let’s just say I definitely went through a rebellious, angsty phase, which now feels like a lifetime ago. Not to say that I was ever a drug lord or hitman…but I liked to stir things up. If I were to really psychoanalyze myself, portraying the darker, more damaged characters through acting allows me to tap into what feels like a past life. Maybe playing these kinds of roles is therapeutic in a sense. There’s definitely an escapism that comes when delving into those worlds.
Any new genres you’d like to try out?
Hmm…maybe a Western. I haven’t played many cowboys in my day, and I’d love to earn my “horseback riding” special skill on my acting resume.
Your wife, Agam Darshi, also acts. What’s it like sharing the same passion as your partner?
It’s pretty awesome. First and foremost, there is a level of understanding we have for each other that we both value deeply. When I got the role on Claws, I literally found out with about 3 hours’ notice that I had to get on a plane and fly to New Orleans to work for four months. If my wife wasn’t an actor who understands how our crazy industry operates, that would be a much tougher sell. And I understand completely when the roles are reversed and she has to leave for a stretch. Film and TV are fickle and unpredictable industries, and my wife and I support each other in doing whatever we need to do to allow each other’s careers to thrive. We also respect each other artistically, so it’s nice to have an ally to confide in creatively.
You’ve said before that you’d hate to see your boys turn out like your character Rufus from CBC’s The Romeo Section. How has having kids affected your approach acting?
Rufus was one of my favorite roles to date, but he was usually up to some extremely shady things. Definitely nothing I’d ever want my boys to get involved with. As far as fatherhood goes, it’s the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. When I play with my boys, I notice myself tapping into my own childhood, and they’ve really taught me to be completely in the moment, which is something you lose as you get older. Being a Dad has allowed me to be more present in my work, which makes sense, since acting is really just a form of playing. I think it’s also opened me up, and brought more depth to me as a human, which helps add extra layers to any new character I get to play.
Any tips on work/life balance?
Set aside time for each. Whether it’s time for uninterrupted bonding with your kids, going out with friends, date night with your partner, or work obligations…consciously make time for each, and try to keep it as balanced as possible. Alone time to simply do nothing is also highly recommended.
Any personal sayings you live by?
I read The Four Agreements a very long time ago, and the message really resonated with me. Although the basic principles are not always easy to stick to, I try to follow them as closely as I can. They are: Be Impeccable With Your Word, Don’t Take Anything Personally, Don’t Make Assumptions, Always Do Your Best.
How do you stay focused on improving your craft?
Embracing things that scare you and staying a little out of your creative comfort zone are effective ways to continually stretch your chops as an actor. It’s usually the elements of a character I’m least comfortable exploring that teach me the most. Keep challenging yourself and you will continue to grow.
You’ve been acting for over 15 years now. What was your weirdest role?
Off the top of my head, I’d say the character of Smalls in It Stains the Sands Red definitely ranks up there on the weird spectrum. Smalls is a slow-moving zombie stalking a woman through the Las Vegas desert, and he doesn’t say a word the entire film – yet it’s a leading role. The role had me in heavy prosthetics, and it required five hours in the makeup chair almost every day. Some days I would sleep in the makeup so I wouldn’t have to remove and reapply it again the next day. It was an odd and physically exhausting experience, but I’m very proud of how the film turned out. I had a blast playing a zombie – definitely a bucket list item.