Some spoilers below for the series premiere of Starz's new drama Hightown, so be warned!
In the two years since The Originals ended its five-season run, star Riley Voelkel returned to the role of Freya Mikaelson for an episode of Legacies (which may not be a one-time thing), and also recurred on The CW's Roswell, New Mexico reboot. Now, Voelkel is starring alongside former Chicago Fire star Monica Raymund and 24 vet James Badge Dale in the dark Starz drama Hightown. The new role is quite a gear shift for Voelkel, who portrays Renee Segna, an exotic dancer whose traumatic past partially defines her present.
As witnessed in Hightown's series premiere, Riley Voelkel and Renee were both introduced when the character got called to the strip club's stage, where suggestively athletic dancing ensued. Before too long, Renee was shedding clothes for James Dale Badge's line-crossing narcotics cop Ray Abruzzo, which was no doubt a shocker for Voelkel's large fanbase. Speaking with the actress earlier this year at this year's Television Critics Association winter tour, I inquired about her taking on such a revealing role for Hightown. In her words:
Beyond the whole "being the same person" element, there don't seem to be very many things that Riley Voelkel has in common with Hightown's Renee. Like many in the area around Provincetown, Massachusetts, Renee's life is connected to the drug world, as she's the longtime girlfriend of criminal kingpin Frankie Cuevas (Prison Break's Amaury Nolasco), whose influence is widely felt even though he's in prison. Even though they share a five-year-old son, Frankie still puts Renee is potential danger by having her be his eyes and ears on the outside.
Which isn't to say that Renee is a pushover without her own agency. As viewers will see as Season 1 drives forward, Renee is cognizant of when she's being threatened and has a way of coming out ahead. Part of the character's confidence comes from her exotic dancing gig, which requires a certain amount of bravado, among other skills. When I asked Riley Voelkel about the physical challenges involved with that aspect of playing Renee, she admitted she had zero experience when it came to dancing.
So for all the viewers out there who think stripping and dancing is an easy job to get into without experience, just remember that Riley Voelkel trained for months to get into proper physical shape to film scenes as a dancer, which presumably didn't happen every single day. It clearly takes a lot of strength and stamina to excel in such a position.
Riley Voelkel did say that the exotic dancers who serve as background extras are indeed professionals, and she defended their talents as an art form, saying:
Whereas some performances put actors through situations that they'd never want to go through again, Riley. Voelkel says that she really got invested in the dancing side of portraying Renee. When I asked if she danced more in her free time after getting into shape for it all, the actress confirmed that was definitely the case.
Stay tuned to CinemaBlend for more from our interview with Riley Voelkel, as well as our talk with star Monica Raymund. With more deadly twists and turns to go, Hightown Season 1 airs Sunday nights on Starz (opens in new tab) at 8:00 p.m. ET. Check out all the other big shows heading to the small screen soon with our Summer 2020 premiere schedule.
Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.
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