IN CONVERSATION WITH CIARA RILEY
Rising star Ciara Riley Wilson will next be seen in the highly-anticipated Netflix series ‘Freeridge’, the spinoff to the mega-successful dramedy ‘On My Block’, which premiered yesterday (2 February). Besides being an actor, Ciara is also a professional dancer and is passionate about fashion design. As a member of the queer community she wants to use her influence to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Ciara, you’re starring in the highly-anticipated Netflix series ‘Freeridge’, which is a spinoff of the succesful dramedy ‘On My Block’. ‘Freeridge’ follows a group of friends who may or may not have unleashed a deadly curse, starting a new adventure. Tell us more about the story of this series and what can we expect.
‘Freeridge’ is a coming-of-age dramedy set in the same fictional town as ‘On My Block’. The new core four consists of sibling rivals Gloria and Ines, as well as their two best friends Cam and my character, Demi. We see the new friends navigate through the misfortunes happening in their lives throughout this curse, as well as just figuring out the curses of growing up. ‘Freeridge’ shows family dynamic, friendship, queer storylines, love triangles and more in a truthful and raw sense, as well as being brash and downright entertaining.
In ‘Freeridge’ you star as the lead role of empathic and spiritually connected Demi, member of the new core-four. How would you describe Demi and her role in this group of friends?
Demi is very passionate, emotionally intelligent and obsessed with all things crystals, astrology and tarot cards. In the friend group, Demi definitely tries to take on more of a leadership role in figuring out the curse, as she has so much interest in the spiritual realm. I think Demi is often overlooked for her sensitivity and not given the responsibility she craves in the friend group. Solving this curse is so important to her to prove to her friends that she is capable. Demi also has a really fun storyline with her longtime best friend Cam. Here we see Demi go through a lot of emotional growth with Cam, having tough conversations about sexuality and owning up to past mistakes.
You are the first in your family to pursue a career in entertainment. What made you fall in love with acting?
I’ve always been a very creative and outgoing person and was interested in the arts at a young age. There wasn’t a single moment I can remember that made me fall in love with acting, it was just what I was meant to do and I never questioned it. Since I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s cool to be able to fall in love with it all over again, and in different ways, as I grow up. I am the first in my family to pursue entertainment, but I definitely think I learned my passion and drive to go for my dreams from my parents.
Who would you describe as your biggest role model in the industry?
With all of the Asian American talent absolutely killing it right now, I’m finding so many new inspiring role models in a way I never saw growing up. I had the opportunity to recently work with Raymond Lee on ‘Quantum Leap’. It was my first time seeing and working alongside an Asian lead on a huge show. His kindness and professionalism were so encouraging and it all reminded me how much representation really matters. I also really look up to two other talented female Asian American performers, Li Jun Li and Leah Lewis.
You are also a professional dancer and excel in jazz, ballet, lyrical tap and hip hop. With your dance skills you got the chance to appear in several music videos for artists like Usher and Chris Brown. What feelings does dance evoke in you?
Dance was my first love and will always be a special part of my life. Now that I do it less professionally, I see dance as a form of therapy. The body and mind are connected in many ways and it’s so healing to silence your thoughts for a while and let your body take over. To me, dance evokes feelings of freedom, healing and pure joy.
Outside of acting, you’re also passionate about fashion design and have taught yourself to sew handcrafted pieces. Your inspiration in fashion design is the 70s. What sparked your interest in fashion design and why are the 70s your biggest inspiration when designing?
I’ve always been interested in fashion, but I officially started sewing in 2020 during quarantine. I mainly did it to alter my clothes, but I fell in love with the process of designing and it soon became a large part of my life. The 70s are definitely my main inspiration. 70s rock and music culture specifically were so full of self-expression, gender bending and a ‘free spirit’ mentality. I also love the classic 70s color palette of earth tones and wild patterns.
In fashion design you are all about sustainability and using the reclaimed materials. Why do you believe sustainability is so important in fashion?
Fast fashion and the quick overturn of trends and clothing has become such an overlooked part of many people’s lives. It’s so important to acknowledge the damage big corporations have on the environment, as well as promoting unsafe working conditions. Each little thing we can do to bring sustainability into how we view fashion can help a lot. For me, I hang onto my clothes and upcycle them in different ways to help combat textile landfill waste.
As a form of theraphy, you write poetry. What makes writing so therapeutic for you?
I love writing poetry. It’s all about just getting your feelings out in a direct stream of consciousness. With that, I can go back and unpack why I was feeling that way and get a better sense of what’s going on in my head. It also helps me share and connect with others in a vulnerable way. It can be hard to talk candidly about your feelings, but with poetry I’m able to express exactly how I feel and be more comfortable sharing with others.
You are a member of the queer community and want to give your time to queer based organizations focusing on BIPOC, while simultaneously using your influence to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community. What are your main goals as an advocate for the LGBTQ community?
I think my main goal is to promote honesty and authenticity when having these tough conversations. When we think of advocating for certain communities, it can feel like we need to make gigantic, world saving changes. But I think if I and anyone else lead with authenticity and be a form of representation for queer and BIPOC people out there, that’s a step in the right direction. I hope people can see it’s okay to be who you are, talk about who you are and be proud of the things you can’t change.
Besides being able to currently watch you in ‘Freeridge’, what’s next for you in your career?
I’m so excited for what’s to come with ‘Freeridge’ and have my fingers crossed that we can continue the story in the future. For now, I’m focused on continuing to develop my fashion design career and come out with my own brand this year.
interview by JANA LETONJA
photography STORM SANTOS