Riele Downs is entering a new phase in her career.
An actress since the age of three, Riele was cast in her first starring role in 2014 on the Nickelodeon series Henry Danger. After five seasons on the television series, Riele landed the lead in the paranormal YA comedy film Darby and the Dead, which premiered December 2nd on Hulu.
We sat down with Riele to chat about her career, her honest thoughts on social media, and what it was like starring in Darby and the Dead.
Riele’s young start in the industry was alongside her sister while growing up in Toronto, Canada. “My mom was an actress, so she got my sister into it pretty young because we were always performing and doing that type of thing anyways,” she tells us. “So she’s like, might as well do it as a profession. My sister and I did a lot of commercials and movies together in Canada as kids.”
Though Riele acted throughout her childhood and teenage years, her role in Darby and the Dead was her first leading role in a film as an adult— an incredible experience largely thanks to her cast and crew, which included Moana’s Auli’i Cravalho.
“We shot in Cape Town, South Africa, so that was awesome. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. It just has so much history and culture and beauty. It was just such a scenic place to wake up to and it inspired me to get up and work,” she says.
“The cast and the crew were truly incredible. I know everyone says that, but they just made it so easy to come to work every day, it didn’t feel like work. It felt fun. The director was very collaborative and he would take in our ideas and allowed us to play with things to add more depth to our characters. All of my cast members were so talented and committed to their job, it just made it very easy to work.”
Riele actually has a lot in common with her character Darby Harper— an introverted high school student who develops the ability to speak with the dead.
“I would say I’m more on the introverted [side] and she’s a very lone wolf. She has a few people that she’s comfortable with and I feel like I can relate to that,” Riele explains. “But in terms of style, I feel like that’s where we differ the most. She just wears black and she doesn’t really want to do makeup, which I understand those days for sure — just wanting to be comfy and do nothing. But I also have days where I just want to go all out and do all types of colours and wear crazy outfits.”
It’s no surprise that Riele loves to experiment with her look, as she herself is a budding designer with a clothing line in the works. “I’ve always loved designing ever since I was a kid. One of my best friends and I would always design at age four. I feel like that’s something everyone does with their friend. But I’ve always been someone who just wanted to wear anything as long as it looks cute to me,” she says. “I had so many skirts that I would wear as tops. If my mom put me in something that I didn’t like, as a baby, I would truly just cry and scream if I didn’t want to wear it. So I’ve always been someone who wanted to wear what she wanted to wear. I just feel like [the reason] I love fashion so much is because there is no right or wrong. Somebody could see something and say ‘oh, that’s like the worst thing I’ve ever seen’. And then it’s like someone else’s favourite piece that they feel most at home and that expresses who they are. So I just think it’s a beautiful thing when there is no wrong way we just all have our own expression.”
Riele looks to Pinterest for her inspiration when it comes to design and is loving the deconstructed looks sweeping the platform right now. “My favourite thing going around right now would probably be how everything is very deconstructed and layered. I love adding a new piece to an outfit making it a whole look. There really are no limits anymore. I’ve seen pants that have like a million charms on them or lace on them. Just adding any type of different texture to a piece of clothing is really fun,” she explains.
With more than 3 million TikTok followers and over 2.7 million Instagram followers, it’s safe to say that Riele is beloved by her fans, but that doesn’t always mean she appreciates the platforms they follow her on. “I think we’re all discovering, at least in my generation, all the unhealthy parts of Instagram and TikTok, and social media in general that we never really thought of as kids,” Riele tells us. “I remember the turning point in which social media went from being exciting and fun to being more of a pressure and feeling like I actually don’t want to post this and now I feel like I have to. So I definitely had to take a large step back from, it’s not somewhere that I spend a lot of my time anymore.”
Riele says that ultimately, she does come back to social media because of her fans and the ability to spread awareness. “It’s the only place that I can actually connect with them and share things with them,” she explains. “And since they do so much to support me, I have to give back and I do want to interact with them and see what they’re doing, see how they’re doing so and share things with them that they can hopefully follow and enjoy.”
“And secondly spreading awareness,” she continues. “I feel like that’s where social media shines – all of us who would have never had this type of outreach in the past are able to share these things. And obviously in the world right now, there’s so much that can be shared about social justice all across the globe. Now we can literally inspire millions of people just from sitting in our home to support a cause.”
On the causes she’s most passionate about, Riele says that influencing young people to vote is a big priority for her. “I think for us young people to go out there and use our voices to have a say in what this world is becoming really important.”
When it comes to beauty and skincare, Riele knows what she likes. “My perfume that I use it’s from Le Labo and it’s called Bergamot. Pat McGrath also has this great blush, it has even a bit of glitter in it and it’s called Paradise Venus. I feel like blush is making a big comeback, even using it on your nose a little bit. For hair care, I’d probably say, SYS Cosmetica Aloe Vera Spray. It works great on my hair just to moisturise it and to de-tangle it,” she tells us.
“What I’ve been realising is, first of all, there’s the societal beauty standard. And if you feel like if you don’t adhere to that, then you’re not beautiful. But really, and truly, everyone has their own internal beauty standard,” she says. “And we’re looking at people who maybe don’t think of themselves as beautiful and we think they’re beautiful. It’s to try and appeal to everybody. But I feel if you love yourself and you love the way you look, then the right people will think the same of you. You also don’t need anyone’s approval. People like to act like there is a beautiful and not beautiful but it’s just not that black and white, I think it’s very grey.”
You can watch Darby and the Dead, streaming on Hulu now!