Chris Riggi may be on his way to stardom, but first he’s got to turn into a hairy beast and howl at the moon.
The 24-year-old actor from Saratoga Springs snagged a meaty role as Jacob White, a high school guy who turns into a werewolf, in the current PG-13 comedy movie “Vampires Suck.”
Directed by Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg, writers for the “Scary Movie” series that spoofed classic horror films, “Vampires Suck” parodies the “Twilight” films and Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling vampire-romance novels. Besides Riggi, the co-stars include Ken Jeong (Mr. Chow in “The Hangover”) and Matt Lanter from the TV series “90210.”
Chris is the son of Michele and Ron Riggi, known for their palatial estate on North Broadway near Skidmore College. His mom, a former New York City dancer who grew up in Broadalbin, is president of the board at the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga Springs. Dad is CEO of Turbine Services Inc., an international turbine parts company based in Saratoga Springs.
The youngest of four Riggi children, Chris attended Caroline Street Elementary and Maple Avenue Middle schools, and as a boy, did his first acting at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Spa State Park.
For high school, he went to Walnut Hill, a Massachusetts boarding school specializing in the arts; then spent a year at DePaul University. He studied at the New York Film Academy and at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute.
Riggi, who lives in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, has a recurring television role as Scott in “Gossip Girl,” a teen drama that premieres its fourth season on The CW on Sept. 13. He has also appeared on TV in “Lipstick Jungle” and “Law & Order.”
The Gazette caught up with the busy actor last weekend, when he was in Saratoga Springs to visit his parents and attend the Dance Museum’s annual gala and induction of Michael Jackson into the museum’s Hall of Fame.
Q: You are definitely the best-looking guy in “Vampires Suck.” Is your role as Jacob White attracting attention?
A: This is definitely my biggest acting role so far. . . . Since “Twilight” has such a big fan base and we’re spoofing them directly, we’re going to get people who aren’t “Twilight” fans and people who are “Twilight” fans. So, we’ve got the best of both worlds.
Q: Was it uncomfortable wearing werewolf makeup?
A: Yes, it was. The hands were molded to my hands. They were latex gloves. I lost circulation in my hands a lot. But the nose was easy. The toughest thing was the wig. It’s hard to get used to long hair. And I had a tail most of the time, so I had to have a stool. I couldn’t really sit down on a chair.
Q: And that hairy chest? That’s not your real hair?
A: No, no, no. I’m not that hairy. You go home and you’re cleaning it off. You track it into the apartment. You’re shedding like a dog, basically.
What’s great about it is that I get to change. Regardless of what movie you’re doing, you want to pick a role that you can just be different, to change throughout the course of the movie. I think that’s what the point of acting is, to go through the story, to go through what the character is going through. With this guy, it’s funny because he goes from a boy who turns into a wolf and into a Chihuahua and then back to a boy again . . . I had the most fun of anybody else, I think, because I got to be a werewolf and a Chihuahua.
Q: You get to be a Chihuahua? Your mother loves Chihuahuas and owns more than a dozen of the dogs. Isn’t that a funny coincidence?
A: Yeah, it IS funny. I have a dog [a Chihuahua] named Stella. I wanted to use her in the movie, but they already had a trained one that they were going to use. In the trailer, you can see me turning into a Chihuahua.
Q: You were a wrestler in high school and have a black belt in Taekwondo. How did you prepare for the role of a muscle-bound werewolf?
A: I stuck mainly to weight lifting and a steady regimen of running. Basically, wake up in the morning, run three miles, and three hours later, go to the gym, and then run at nighttime. So you’re constantly working out. A lot of protein. I ate five, six times a day. It was about three months of hard lifting and running. When it came to stunts, it was pretty easy for me to do it. I’ve always been athletic. Even though I stopped playing sports and went into acting, it comes back to me pretty easily. The hardest part was gaining 15 pounds.
Q: Have you read any of the “Twilight” books or seen the films? Are you a Twi-hard?
A: I hadn’t before the movie. And then I had to when I knew I had the job. I started watching “Twilight” every day and “New Moon” every day, and became a fan of the movies. It’s one of those things you get curious about because it’s such a global phenomenon. I ended up enjoying it. The film has made me a bit of a Twi-hard.
Q: Any upcoming movie or TV roles?
A: With “Vampires Suck” and “Gossip Girl,” I have really grabbed some credit and respect when meeting a director about another film or a producer or audition. I’ve been going on more auditions and meetings than ever because my movie is coming out. There are so many things up in the air. There’s a drama in the works, there’s a comedy in the works. There’s a thriller. I don’t know which one I’m going to sign on for.”
Q: And what will Scott be doing in the new season of “Gossip Girl”?
A: I hope Scott comes back and learns to have a good time. He went away to Boston, and hopefully the fans of the show and the writers and producers will allow that character to come back. I’m not sure what they are going to do. Hopefully, he’ll come back to New York City with a smile on his face, not quite so serious.
Q: How old were you when you decided to pursue an acting career?
A: My mom was a dancer, same as my grandmother. She was a dance teacher as well. I used to go to their recitals and performances when I was a little kid, at Proctors. Then, I started taking improv classes at the Home Made Theater in the park. I was just kind of thrown into it. My family, we’re all movie fans. We all love film and we love performing. I’ve been performing since I was a kid. Doing improv scenes at dinnertime with my sister Rochele to make the family laugh . . .
Being around the stage and watching my mom dance and teach these kids to dance. . . . The stage was always a breathing creature, a very comfortable arena for me. The smell of it, the look of it, going into a theater when it’s empty is my favorite thing to do. I do that before every show that I’m in. Theater is something I want to get back into.
Q: How often do you come home to Saratoga Springs?
A: Every other month. Always for the holidays. They are important. But sometimes I won’t see the family for six months. I go and re-charge my batteries. I’m proud to be from upstate. I’m proud of being Italian.