Interview : Rider Strong

The first thing you ask a young man named Rider is, well, where did you get that name from? “Hippie parents. My dad’s name is King, so my parents wanted to relate to that without being too obvious…Rider in the Old’ English sense is a knight — a horseback rider.”

One thing’s for sure, having such an original name hasn’t hurt Rider’s acting career. A long time cast-member on the popular sitcom “Boy Meets World”, the young actor can’t seem to go anywhere without bumping into someone’s who knows his name, let alone face. On the set of his latest movie, he discovered he’s got fans in the weirdest of places. “One of the oddest things that we discovered making this movie was the fact that huge, overweight bald men love Boy Meets World. We shot the film in North Carolina, and we kept running into these truckers that were about 400 pounds of muscle who would freak out when they met me, they’d get my autograph and say, "I like that Topanga." Very creepy. In the film, there’s the guy who plays Fenster (the one who gets the screwdriver in the ear). He was a big Boy Meets World fan. During shooting, Eli [Roth, the Director] would motivate him to do stuff he didn’t want to by invoking Boy Meets World. So when he didn’t want to do a scene a second time, Eli said: "You know, on Boy Meets World they had to do it twice." It worked. Even weirder, the guy took his picture with me and started carrying the picture around to local restaurants saying "I did a movie with Boy Meets World!" and they would actually give him free meals. Why didn’t I think of that?” he laughs.

As light as he makes of the situation, Rider’s well and truly aware what the starring role in a big time horror film like “Cabin Fever”, the brainchild of new horror genius Eli Roth, means to his career. “As an actor, whatever you do that makes a name for yourself, people have a hard time seeing you as something different. But I’m fortunate in the sense that I was young and have physically grown up since the show. But you know, I sign autographs everyday, and it’s always for Boy Meets World fans. I don’t really worry about it; if I just keep working eventually people will see me as a whole bunch of different things. Cabin Fever came along like most things — it was just an audition. But when Eli Roth and I met we instantly hit it off and everything just clicked. I knew when I read the script that I was going to have a good chance at being in the film, and that was a tough realization because I was 5 weeks into my semester at Columbia University. When I finished it, I put it down and instantly told my girlfriend, "I’m probably going to have to take some time off of school for this." And of course, I had to.”

The film – about a group of teens staying in the woods who encounter a flesh eating disease – has been a major hit right around the world, as well as winning the praise of critics. Rider thinks he knows why. “I think it is a real genre combo film — it’s absolutely disgusting hardcore horror, but it’s funny. And I think it accomplishes a difficult balance of making the audience care about the characters just enough to get involved in the story, but not too much, so they can still enjoy watching our skin rot off. The psychological element of people turning on each other for self-preservation — I think there’s some ugly truth in there that is scary but recognizable to audiences. I mean, look at how everyone freaked out About SARS or AIDS, suddenly groups of people and whole countries were being avoided. And there’s blood and boobs — what else do you need?” he laughs.

Rider says he was a little frightened about working with a new director, but it worked out well. “Honestly, its very scary at first. You really have to trust your director; they can very easily make you look horrible. Working with someone so new, you have to just close your eyes and have faith in them. But we had a long week of rehearsal before we shot Cabin Fever, and I came to like Eli a lot and trust his storytelling ability. In reality to call that week "a rehearsal period" is kind of a joke — we all just took the opportunity to become friends with each other. And so much of our time was spent listening to Eli tell us the funniest stories. He’s amazing at making the most mundane things entertaining, which is the most important characteristic a director can have. And so after that first week, I had confidence that we weren’t going to be flailing in front of the camera.”

Did they get on so well that Eli wants him in a sequel? “Oh yeah, there will eventually be a Fever 2. And I’ll be in it…but that’s all I’m saying. Eli and I love working together; we’re going to plug each other into as many projects as possible.”

Among those other projects, a slew of theatre work and a DVD. “Yeah, Eli and I did a commentary track together”, he says of the forthcoming disc. “I think they’re going to edit mine in with the rest of the cast. Eli’s ridiculous, he’s planning on having five commentary tracks, anybody who can sit through all five is either a true fan or a true nut-job (maybe a little of both).” Workwise, “Well, I just wrapped up doing 3 months of the National Tour for the Broadway show The Graduate. I got to play Benjamin Braddock with Jerry Hall as Mrs. Robinson. It was a blast and getting back on stage felt great — but damn, it was a lot of work. So I’m just winding down for the Holidays and then I head back to school for my final semester in January. I really want to get my degree before I run off and make more films.”

And he’s about the right age. Have has he auditioned for Superman or Batman, or any of the comic book movies going about? “Nope. I’ve been really sort of removed from the mainstream industry because I live in New York and am going to school. I did audition for Anakin a couple years back. Based on how that film turned out, though, I’m really glad I didn’t get it. My dream isn’t to recreate a well-known character; I think I’d rather originate somebody new and cool.”

And “Cabin Fever” is definitely new and cool folks. In fact, it’s ‘bloody’ excellent.

CABIN FEVER Commences in Australian Cinemas in December

- CLINT MORRIS