When you’re a Black woman in Hollywood– it’s easy to be forced into a box. However, Pearson star, Chantel Riley was never going to allow that to happen to her. The Broadway star is a chameleon in the industry who has stunned in so many different roles that can’t be pegged down.
Though she’s currently starring as Angela Cook–Jessica Pearson’s (Gina Torres) no-nonsense cousin on the long-awaited Suits spinoff– Pearson, there isn’t much Riley can’t do. SyFy fans know her as the vampire Kate on the paranormal series Wynonna Earp. She was also recently seen on the Canadian crime-drama series, Frankie Drake Mysteries. In addition to her work on the stage and small screen– Riley is also a vocalist– having just released her first single and video for “Not Anymore” in late June.
Amid the freshman season of Pearson, Riley sat down to chat with STYLECASTER about the series, what’s she’s learned about herself from Angela and why she’s so passionate about uplifting underrepresented communities and Black artists.
“So I have to be honest,” Riley revealed. “I’d only watched a couple of episodes of Suits, before getting my role on Pearson. It’s only because I don’t watch that much television– but I did catch some episodes. When I heard about Pearson–I did go back and do some studying. When I did finally dive in, it made me all the more excited to come aboard the show.”
For Riley–being on a series that is led by an industry legend who also happens to be Afro-Latina is a dream come true. “Working with Gina is great,” Riley explained. “Every time I get a chance to share a scene with her is another chance I get to learn from her. I get a chance to see how she works in front of the camera, and now as an executive producer–behind the camera. It’s a really cool opportunity to take as many notes as I possibly can. It’s provided me with the opportunity of building an actual relationship with her– a friendship. What’s really cool about Gina and the rest of the cast is that we have a group chat. We’re constantly updating each other–sharing news and just supporting each other–showing each other love. It’s just a nice family that we have going on. Knowing that Gina is behind that, and the fact that she’s so loving–it’s just so awesome to be included.”
On Pearson, Angela is a nursing assistant and an outspoken advocate for her community. It’s a trait that Riley admires and has learned from. “I think one of the major things that I’ve learned about myself from playing Anglea is just really about her tenacity,” the Wynonna Earp actress said. “You can see how important family and community is to her. I’ve definitely been inspired–wanting to give back to the community as much as I can. I would literally do anything for my family. I see myself in Angela in that way. With regards to fighting for my community–it’s definitely inspired me as an actor and as an individual to give back.”
Riley’s quest to extend her hands to the diaspora have led her across the globe. “I’ve been able to partner with the Khan Foundation,” she revealed. “The foundation is located in Lagos, Nigeria, and I got a chance to visit earlier this year to see what they are up to. The Khan Foundation focuses on building schools and making sure that kids have the right to education. There are so many children in the various communities–especially Makoko, that aren’t able to go to school because the community is built on water, so transportation is an issue. Khan has been dedicated to building schools and training teachers to come out and teach them. So, getting a chance to go out there and volunteer –I left there knowing that I had to do something. I have a partnership with them now, and I’m helping them to raise money. So we’re actually building our third school that should be opening next week. I’ve definitely taken a page out of Angela’s book.”
Riley’s interest in other communities has also extended to other artists across the African diaspora. “I’ve always been interested in film and television in other countries,” the Toronto native explained. “I used to watch Korean dramas and stuff. Then you get into Nollywood which was like a beast in itself. And when I got to go to Nigeria, I came up with the idea of doing Up Close and Personal which is sitting down with artists within the community–and in the diaspora. Things are so different outside of the States which is used to one way of things happening and things being produced. It’s an entirely different world out there. I wanted to develop this show to shine a light on the amazingly talented Black people all over the world. I wanted to have a sit down with them to discuss their struggles, how they got where they are, and what they would like to see the change in the industry. I’m just excited to put the spotlight on some incredibly talented Black people.
As for her personal ambitions–Riley has her eye on one major goal. “They can keep the romantic genre; I want to be a superhero,” she laughed, “It’s a dream of mine to work with Marvel Studios to become a superhero. I grew up watching X-Men and reading comics, so it’s always been a dream of mine to be apart of that community and of that family. There’s definitely space for it–so I’m just waiting my turn.”
Pearson airs Wednesdays at 10 PM ET on USA Network.