Riverdale’s Drew Ray Tanner On Acting, Following Your Heart And Enjoying The Ride
Introducing Drew Tanner
To know Drew Ray Tanner is to love him. I was in the studio positioned behind a set of thick, dark curtains that slice the room in half when he walked in. I could not see him, yet somehow I could sense his energy as soon as he entered the room. With his lively personality, he doesn’t hesitate to make friends and he quickly won over everyone on set. What stood out the most about Drew is that in the midst of his booming voice telling stories or sharing his day on social media, he was swift to learn everyone’s name and include them while he spoke. His energy doesn’t overshadow his awareness of those around him.
From 2011 to present, Drew has played characters in a considerable amount of movies and television series. Like many, his love of acting was born as a child and his investment in the arts played a big role in his life growing up.
One of his most recent roles is in the hit drama-mystery television series, Riverdale, where he plays Fangs Fogarty. In our interview Drew shared with me what is was like for him to get into acting, the lessons he has learned along the way and insider information about playing Fangs.
Growin’ Up Country
Born in Victoria and raised in Aldergrove, British Columbia, Drew is well versed in the life of a small town boy. Though he has been working in and around the city of Vancouver for some years now, he still describes himself as somewhat of a country kid. “I’m a bit of an “inner city country bumpkin” because the small town of Aldergrove is placed between two larger cities. It’s on the outskirts of town and it has lots of farmland and open spaces.”
Drew recalls his time growing up fondly. It’s the memories of time spent with his family that brings forth his love of the place he calls home. “I enjoy both aspects of the country and the city, but I think I’ll always be a country kid at heart. When I lived at home we would go and cut firewood every other saturday, my brother went fishing a lot and we always listened to country music on the radio. I think it surprises people when they meet me and learn that I can sing probably every lyric to every country song from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s.”
Though a country kid at heart, as he grew into young-adulthood Drew found himself taking on a different way of living. One that lead him into a more rebellious teenage lifestyle. “It’s funny because even though I grew up very “country”, I adopted an inner city mentality as a teenager. You know, living in a small town, getting up to no good and sort of rebelling from that societal blueprint.”
Drew describes his city as the red-headed step child of the surrounding cities. During the time of his adolescent years there was no mall, no movie theatre and no rec centre, making it easy for teenagers to adopt a lifestyle that may get them into trouble. “Growing into a young adult in a place like that really took me away from the country persona, but it eventually ended up festering into something really nice. It always surprises people when I talk about my teen years and the trouble I would get into.”
His hometown will always hold a special place in his heart, but as time went on and his acting career moved forward, he made the move into the city of Vancouver. “The city is very loud and runs at a faster pace. I’m not used to it yet. I moved out for a bit when I was eighteen and I bounced around the Lower Mainland for a while, but… the country called me back,” he tells me, laughing. “I have finally made my way to Downtown Vancouver and I’m adjusting to the city life now.”
The Start Of It All
It is common for actors to grow up in an environment that feeds their artistic side, one that develops from family or friends being in the industry and revealing that sparkle it pertains. Drew found his way to the stage in a different way. “When I was little I had a very big voice that carried. I talked a lot and I was a bit of a class clown. My teachers were like, “Okay, what do we do with this little energy ball, this kid with the loud voice? Where do we place this kid?” So, they asked me if I wanted to perform in a school play and I did. I really took to it. There wasn’t a lot of encouragement or discouragement from my family because it wasn’t, “Let’s turn this kid into a star.” It was just an outlet for my energy.”
Once Drew got a taste for being on stage, he never wanted to stop. “I was in every school play after that. I played Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, another time I played Santa Claus. Come to think of it, I think I was the first biracial Santa in town!” Clearly having moved up the character ladder as achild, it’s easy to see that Drew was just as ambitious then as he is now.
Though he started theatre quite young, it’s not the stage where Drew first got bitten by the performance bug. As he recalls, it was long before that at the tender age of five years old, born through a special experience with a beloved family member. “My Grandfather was a newly retired soldier from the Canadian army. He was a very high ranking officer, but to me he was never that army tough-guy. He was always my Pépère, which is French slang for Grandpa. He was always the guy doing magic tricks around the house and from a young age he would get me involved in them. I was crazy about it. I fell in love with the reactions on people’s faces when I would do a trick or perform with him.”
With experience performing magic tricks and then later performing on a stage, Drew holds to the notion that performance and acting are in fact two separate categories. “I truly believe that acting is one thing and performing is another. I think people sometimes put the two of those into the same category, but performing is very different. When you’re performing, you’re keeping an audience in mind and catering towards them. It’s a very exclusive experience for the audience and the performer, which is what magic shows revealed to me at a young age. We did all of these magic tricks and got amazing reactions from family members and that showed me that I could affect people with this. That idea stayed with me as I took the stage in elementary school which then led me to join an improv troupe in high school and to take the stage again during that time. I was able to find a mix of performance and acting. I found a real love for my craft throughout that whole process.”
From The Stage To Television
At eleven years old Drew started to conjure up ideas of moving from stage to television. Growing up, Drew was just as involved in playing football as he was in theatre and he soon caught wind of a Coca-Cola commercial casting young football players. “I thought it would be so much fun. I could gel these two worlds together, if only it was possible,” he said as he looked off into the distance dreamily, then laughing.
Unfortunately, Drew’s family didn’t have the time or the resources to support a child auditioning all the way out in Vancouver. This didn’t bother Drew as he continued to give his all in football, but that desire to audition stayed with him and reignited in his late teen years.
“The idea to audition again came back to me at about seventeen years old. At this point, I had pursued football to a level where I wanted to take it professionally and I had some scholarships available to me to play while attending university. I had sort of given up acting in lieu of training for this sport and I didn’t get to be on stage for a couple of years due to my training schedule. When our senior year of football was over I had the spring to wait to go off to college and do some electives, so I decided to do the spring feature in our school play. That lasted about four weeks and by the end of it I was so in love with what I had experienced that my passion for acting was completely reignited.”
It is clear that Drew was in love; when you know, you know. Following his last high school production he promptly declined his scholarship offers and settled in at home to make a plan for his future; one that would involve full time acting. He described the situation as a “running off to the circus” moment.
With his family being scholarly, intellectual types, I wondered how they took the news of their son “running off to the circus” instead of running off to college. “They were incredibly supportive. My mom is my number one fan, she would support me in just about anything. She’s a teacher and a very intelligent woman, she’s the type of person who can watch Jeopardy and know all of the answers. My brother was a straight-A student, my Grandmother was also a teacher and my Grandfather was incredibly smart. Since I come from a family of intellectuals the natural path for me would have been to attend university. That made me nervous that my mom would be disappointed that I was saying no to an opportunity like this, but she was one hundred percent supportive. Not in a dumb kid, telling him he can be anything kind of way, it was true and honest support.”
Go Go Power Rangers
Having done my own thorough investigation on Drew before our chat (it’s not creeping if it’s for work), I noticed that he was listed as a cast member of the 2017 remake of Power Rangers. I had to know what the experience was like for him on such a big budget movie. When I brought it up not knowing what part he played in it, he gave a little laugh and said, “Oh yes, I was “Young Lover #2” on Power Rangers.” What I was surprised to learn is that this experience not only gave Drew incredibly fun memories, but it taught him a very valuable career lesson.
Previous to his audition for Power Rangers, Drew decided it was time for him to take on roles that he felt had more substance. If a script came his way that he didn’t love, he wasn’t going to pursue it. “Then sides came my way for this project that I didn’t know was Power Rangers, as it typically goes with these big blockbuster-esque movies. The character was named Young Lover #2 and the scene was a newly engaged couple picking out wedding rings for the woman. I’m paraphrasing, but the lines were essentially, “What do you think, pookie? Well I love it, pookie! You’re the best!” Then we butterfly kiss and we smooch and it just made me laugh.”
Due to the artistic stand he took with his agency, he tossed and turned on whether or not he should audition. But to Drew, having substance and depth to a character was not the only aspect of a job that remained important. It turned out that there were other qualities in a character or a scene that mattered just as much to him. “The scene made me laugh, it just did. Because of that, I decided to audition and then I learned what the project was and I got to work for an entire week on this one scene. It was huge! There were stunts involved, I got shot in the leg and I had to wear a squib that simulates a gunshot happening. Elizabeth Banks was also in the scene, in all of her villainous makeup, so we got to see her acting process and it was amazing.”
You never know what can happen or where a job will lead you in this industry. To Drew, sometimes saying yes to a project is much better than saying no. He shared with me how he decides what projects to invest in. “I learned so much from the Power Ranger’s experience. It taught me that yes, there are times where you need to take artistic stands and love the projects you’re auditioning for, but I think there are also times where you have to ask the childlike version of yourself, What do you think of this? If you get a laugh out of them, I think you should do it.”
“You want to find a balance between doing what speaks to your heart and being emotionally available to what comes your way. I think when you start out as an actor you want to say yes to everything, but you also don’t want people’s perspectives of you to be formed by being quick to say yes to something that doesn’t fit your trajectory. It’s important to keep that part of you that stands your ground and makes a choice, even though it can be very difficult to say no. You’ve got to listen to your gut! If I hadn’t have read that script and felt a little heartbeat, I don’t think I would have done it. Because I felt that, I didn’t care what the project was, I just enjoyed it and that’s what drove me to pursue it.”
Drews journey into Riverdale dates back to the beginning stages in 2015. Initially, they had him read for Jughead and then later for Reggie. Not knowing quite what direction they were wanting to go with the show, all Drew could do was give his take on the characters and try his best. As we know, he didn’t book either role, but due to his lack of knowledge of the show the rejection didn’t phase him.
“Flash forward a year after that, the show had come out and it had great success. I wasn’t sure it was a show that I would watch, so I never did. Then one day my friends invited me to go to this diner all the way out in Mission. I was like, “What’s so special about this diner?” They explained to me that they had to get these milkshakes there. I asked if that was really all they wanted to go so far for and they confessed they were looking for Archie.”
Upon arriving to Rocco’s Diner, Drew saw something that would start a change in his views on the Netflix original. When they pulled into the parking lot he saw a line up around the block. Fans from everywhere were waiting to get inside the famous Riverdale diner for a shake. “We took photos while they drank their milkshakes and it was a fun little experience! It made me realize the size of the impact the show had. After that I went back and watched the show from the beginning and I realized how beautiful it truly was and how great of a job the show runner had done in creating it. It’s just so precise and I loved all of the cultural references that he had done. It turned out to be a show that I was truly into and I found myself binge-watching it.”
Having auditioned for the show in the past and now becoming a fan of it himself, Drew decided to put in the work to get cast. “I made it sort my “manifestation” goal to get onto the show. I really started to write my goals down that I wanted to be on the show and be a part of what they were creating. I would have swept the floors and taken out the garbage to be on that set - whatever they would have asked me to do, I would have done it. That’s how badly I wanted it.”
You would expect to hear that Drew did audition for Riverdale again, but what you may be surprised to learn is that he still had not been called to audition for Fangs Fogarty. “When I auditioned again it was for Sweet Pea. In the scene that I was reading there was this character named Fangs who has to go and challenge Archie on the North side of town as an initiation into the Serpents gang. When I was done auditioning for Sweet Pea, I went in again and read for this Fangs guy.”
Drew immediately took to Fangs. He loved the idea of playing such a complex character who went and took matters into his own hands. “I felt this bursting in my chest when I auditioned for Fangs. I could step right into his shoes and see where he was coming from. I knew what he was going through. Since Fangs is a victim of his circumstances, he doesn’t have quite a full scope of the ramifications for some of his actions. I was very intrigued by the young, teen gang mentality and what the initiation process would actually be like, not to mention what would drive him to desire the gang life. I really got to indulge in that psyche, which was awesome.”
He invested time into studying films and projects that related to this lifestyle which helped him to see where the characters were going. This was an exciting part of the process for Drew. “To follow the footsteps of the characters I was studying from other films and novels was a great guideline of where to go with Fangs.”
What’s Next For Riverdale
Season three of Riverdale is fast approaching its release date of October 10th of this year, and it seems to be one fans will love. “We’re ramping up for an exhilarating season of Riverdale this fall! Recently we all watched the first episode together and it was phenomenal. We were all so pumped to see it, there is so much in this season that the fans have to look forward to and that I’m extremely proud of. It’s so good,” he tells me enthusiastically.
It’s likely accurate to guess that we are all curious as to where we’ll see Fangs Fogarty go in season three. Drew takes his role as Fangs seriously, never wanting him to be only defined by one thing and constantly seeks to gain a better understanding of his character to create a wider view of his personality. “I try to look at him with clear eyes and seek out new paths for him so that we don’t just see him as this kid in a gang. Throughout season two I was always looking for things that he would be interested in and trying to see what he offers to the group. In real life social relationships there tend to be specific roles that you play. While you want to be yourself, you might still find yourself being the logical one or the shoulder to cry on or the comic relief. Having those different roles is what makes a group work so well.”
Focusing on his own character with that vision in mind, Drew was able to discover deeper levels to Fangs. A big discovery for Drew came in what may seem like the unlikeliest of episodes for the tough gang member: season two, episode eighteen. The infamous musical episode. “I really found more of Fangs voice, no pun intended, and his interests in the musical episode because it was such a free and inclusive episode. It was free of a lot of the mystery and murders that the other episodes have. It was just some kids having fun in musical theatre. I asked myself, What would Fangs be doing? Maybe he was looking for that escape. I connected very deeply with that
Feeling as though Fangs could truly be himself in that environment opened up a whole new side to the character Drew has been playing over the last year. He shared with me that this is the progression that Fangs will take in season three as well. As the Serpents have lost their homes and are now living in what they call “tent city”, Drew got to explore Fangs and his reaction to being in this environment. The fans can expect to see how the stakes are raised and just how far Fangs will go to protect the ones he loves. “I think you’re going to see him willing to do whatever is needed for the greater good,” Drew tells me, leaving an air of mystery as to exactly what that means.
Advice For Other Actors
Playing different roles and getting into character takes skill. With his knowledge of film and theater and being a successful working actor, I wanted Drew to give our readers advice that has aided him in his thriving career. “I feel like I need to be about twenty years older to give advice,” he chuckles. “But if I could, I would share the advice that a beloved coach and a past classmate gave to me.”
“I started training with a gentleman by the name of Andrew McIlroy who is based out of Vancouver, B.C. He coached me from a young age and gave me invaluable advice for scene studying. He taught me to always ask the big and little questions about my characters. I ask myself these questions every time I get a scene, which has been incredibly helpful as they can lead you to a lot of different places you’d never thought you would go with a written character, but it can truly lift them off the page and give them life. Ask yourself, what’s your characters social class? What would they wear because of that? How do they view things because of that? Where do they hang out? Do they drink tea or coffee? And so on and so forth. The list of questions is infinite and more and more will grow out of the initial ones you start asking.”
“Sometimes the answers to these questions don’t come right away. Sometimes answers for one question come out of you asking another one from the list and sometimes it’s about going out into the world and trying to feel your character come off of the pages, crawl up under your shirt and poke through your heart,” he says as he literally brings his hand up through his shirt to mimic a heart beat. “Whatever it takes, do the work to connect with you character and the scenes. The hard work always pays off.”
Another piece of advice that Drew always carries with him is that given to him by a former classmate. “This classmate and I used to work on scenes together before class all the time. We would work on auditions together and be up all hours of the night working on characters, trying to perfect bringing the character to life to book the part. I was really hungry for it, I wanted it so badly. One night he said to me, “Hey, I know you really want this, I know you’re taking this seriously, but I think you need to remember to never leave the five year old version of yourself in the hallway when you go into that audition room.”
“When approaching acting in general, it’s so good to keep that childlike perspective because the younger version of yourself would be thrilled to be experiencing this. Maybe you find issues with the politics of the industry or maybe you won’t like the feedback you get, but the younger version of yourself is probably just happy to be in the room acting and playing pretend. Not losing that part of yourself was some of the best advice I’ve ever been given.”
Drew is a firm believer in never forgetting the reason that got you into the audition room in the first place or the spark in you that caught their eye. Even when times are tough and bookings are few and far between, continuing to work on your craft and staying grateful will take you so far.
To see more of Drew’s projects and life-happenings, follow him on instagram @Drewraytanner and don’t forget to watch him as Fangs Fogarty in Riverdale’s third season, coming to Netflix on October 10th.