INTERVIEW: Actor Richard Riehle Has The Best Seat In Limbo

Limbo is a new dark comedy film from Mark Young (Southern Gothic) about Jimmy, a murderer on trial and legendary actor Richard Riehle (Office Space, Star Trek) sits at the epicenter of the courtroom action that’s deciding on the fate of Jimmy’s eternal soul.

In the film, Lew Temple (Walker, Texas Ranger, The Walking Dead) plays Jimmy, a murderer, and maybe a good guy in awful circumstances. Jimmy’s on trial in Hell. Cassiel, played by Scottie Thompson (MacGyver, 12 Monkeys), is ready to defend Jimmy who she believes harbors some good. However, opposing that point of view is Lucian Charles Collier (Lords of Chaos) as Balthazar. In the middle of it all is Richard Riehle.

PopAxiom and Richard discussed the road to reaching 400+ IMDB credits, the roles he gets recognized for the most, and having fun in Limbo.

Enough Foolishness!

Richard Riehle grew up in Wisconsin. Being an actor wasn’t on the radar. “I was in my 4th year at college, and I couldn’t afford to stay any longer. A friend recommended I finish off my credits by taking speech and drama. So, I signed up for everything. I spent a semester living in the theatre basically, and I got my degree …”

After college, Richard “… ended up back in Wisconsin, unloading railroad ties. It was not the most pleasant way to spend a winter.”

A few professors encouraged Richard to head to grad school. Richard became part of the Notre Dame theatre community. “I was already doing all the technical stuff,” Richard says, “ but I auditioned and was cast for a new play.”

The play was the thesis of a young playwright. Richard explains, “… it was sort of a version of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest only it was set at Great Lakes Naval Hospital after the Korean war. An alcoholic sergeant was taking over the ward, and a nurse is trying to keep him in check.”

The play turned to a hit on campus “… people all over the school saw it. People started asking me about doing different roles, and suddenly I was doing all this acting.”

Richard needed more roles. “My advisor sent me to this theatre he used to work in outside of Detroit called Meadowbrook. I got some roles under my belt there.”

It’s said that all artists get a sense of “imposter syndrome” at some point in time. “I thought, ‘This is crazy. I barely have any training.’ But I decided to keep doing it until somebody says ‘Enough of this foolishness, get out there and make a living somewhere else.’ Knock on wood that no one’s said that so far.”

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Boldly Going …

To date, Richard Riehle’s appeared on Star Trek as three different characters on three different series. The first was as Batai on the award-winning Next Generation episode “The Inner Light.” TV’s schedule back then didn’t “… give you much rehearsal time for working with other actors. While they would do changes on the set,” Richard says, “Patrick Stewart and I would take that time to talk about the characters.”

Richard next appeared on Star Trek: Voyager as Seamus, the lovable drunkard in two episodes centered around the holodeck town Fair Haven. “They had originally planned to use the holodeck town a few more times, but it never happened.”

During Star Trek: Enterprise, Richard returned to the 24th century as Dr. Jeremy Lucas in two more episodes. Richard explains his experience on Star Trek as simple as possible. “I loved working on Star Trek.”

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About Limbo

Limbo is an indie film with a high comedy concept. How did Richard get the part of Philip? “It was interesting. I know the casting director. I’ve done several shows that she’s put me in. She said, ‘We’ve got this low budget film that’s interesting that you’d be great for. Can I send you the script?’”

Of course, Richard said yes and soon, “… read the script,” He says, “and it was so intriguing. The story of Limbo is great, but then to discover that it’s a sort of MacGuffin to what’s really going on.”

Richard’s character, he says, is, “ … so strange. He’s this minor demon there to do a stenographer job, and he’s having such a great time telling bad jokes and trying to lighten the mood.”

About writer-director Mark Young, Richard says, “… he’s terrific.”

Richard’s place in the Limbo story puts him at the center of supernatural courtroom drama. “It wasn’t until I started shooting that I realized I have this amazing front-row seat to all these actors taking their turn.”

Being An Actor

Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but also processes. Famously, Jim Carrey became Andy Kaufman 24/7 for Man on the Moon. Meanwhile, other actors turn characters off and on at will. For Richard, he says, “There are some roles that bleed over, and at the end of the day, I’d still have some of that energy.”

Richard continues, “I spent 20 some years doing theatre before any film or TV. When you’re doing the same show eight times a week and trying to keep it fresh, it’s much more technical, and you can’t live the character 24/7.”

For Richard, his process is simple to start. “I read scripts very carefully and figure out what’s trying to be said by the script. I look at the character and see what his purpose is in telling the story. Then I let myself be moved by the other actors and their characters.”

Aren’t You …

Richard’s in Star Trek, plays the unfortunate, but ultimately victorious Tom in Office Space, and strict father Walt Finnerty in Grounded For Life, among 100s of other memorable characters. Which one does he get recognized for most often? “… people do recognize me as Batai [from Star Trek]. The role I think I do get recognized for the most is Tom Smykowski from Office Space.”

Richard shares his experience of being recognized after having 400+ film and television roles. “I was doing a show in New York while I was in Grounded For Life. I noticed people recognizing me, and I found out that about 50 percent recognize me from Office Space. Another 10-15 percent would recognize me from whatever movie was playing on late night. Sometimes it was Joe Dirt or Jury Duty or The Fugitive. Immediately I knew what was on TV that week.”

Perhaps because he’s been in so many roles, Richard gets recognized for things he hasn’t done too. “Another 10 percent were sure that I was a teacher at their high school or worked at their local deli.”

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Mainstream To Indie

It’s possible that Richard’s done it all as an actor. “I’ve done 15 Santas. I love doing it. One Christmas, I could be in Harold and Kumar as a bong-smoking Santa, and the next, it’s Santa with talking dogs.”

Richard’s gone from small stages to large ones and back again. Yet, he still looks for challenges. “That’s the interesting thing. About, oh, 15 years ago, I made a shift in the things that I was pursuing. Up until then, my agent would try to put me in bigger movies. When I see movies, I gravitate towards independent films because they’re usually fascinating ideas that someone spent a lot of time getting made. They have so much passion and energy to them.”

As one might expect, “It’s not cost-effective for agents to look at independent film,” Richard says, “But they got me auditions for three of them one summer. One was Palindromes by Todd Solondz; another was Mysterious Skin by Gregg Araki and Ken Park by Larry Clark.”

Richard earned some major indie movie cred. More importantly, he explains, “Each experience was 180 degrees different from the one before. Each of the characters was so totally the opposite of the others. They were all things I’d never done before. I said ‘This is what I want to be doing.’”

Wrapping Up

With such a long career and so many great actors, who does Richard hold dear as inspiration? “There’s a fellow by the name of Booth Colman who made a number of films. I did three or four plays with him back in Michigan, and it was amazing to watch him work. How he developed his character and how in the moment he was while performing. Murray Abraham, who I worked with in New York. It was incredible to work with him on stage and see him find new things to add to the role.”

Richard sends some love to his former sit-com family. “The whole gang from Ground For Life was wonderful.”

Limbo is out on a streaming service near you. So, what’s next? “It’s hard to say. There’s a movie called 30 Seconds In Hell, which they want to start shooting in September down in New Mexico. It’s sort of a re-telling of the gunfight at the OK Corral. They bring back all the dead participants from the fight, and they recreate who did what.”

Is Limbo on your watch list?

Thanks to Richard Riehle and October Coast
for making this interview possible.

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.