If you ask Riley O’Donnell to describe her character in The Hardy Boys in one sentence, she’s quick to respond. “Biff is very strong, curious, adventure-seeking and independent,” she says. In turn, those same adjectives could be used to describe the rising Canadian star of the YTV reboot of the classic literary series.
At 15, O’Donnell has already been acting for years, appearing in wholesome family-friendly fare (Big Top Academy, When Hope Calls) that has endeared her to a young generation of fans. Now, she’s ready for her closeup as the free-spirited Biff Hooper, BFF to one half of the Hardy boys – Joe (played by Alexander Elliott). In a modern take on the original book series from the 1920s, Biff has had a gender swap. No longer a strapping 6″ high school football player who acted as the muscle whenever the Hardy siblings went on their sleuthing expeditions, the reimagined character is now Elizabeth – the “Biff” part coming from an earlier childhood lisp. More charm, less brawn.
“I’m not super familiar with Biff from the books,” O’Donnell admits, “but I can definitely say that my version of Biff is very mischievous, which leads her on some very interesting adventures in the series. I love [playing her] because… she’s very loyal to her friends and she’s always trying to do the right thing, which are both things I try to do [in real life] as well.”
The series, which premiered to solid reviews in the U.S. on Hulu back in December, also happens to be an entirely Canadian production, from the cast and crew to the filming locations. “I think everyone instantly connected and we’re all one big family on set,” O’Donnell says. “It was just the greatest time.”
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Although the first season was filmed pre-COVID and managed to sidestep many of the hiccups and delays other TV productions faced, the pandemic has certainly impacted O’Donnell’s career in some rather creative ways.
“It’s definitely been quite different,” she says. “It’s been an adjustment, but so has everything else. I filmed a miniseries from home [during lockdown] – it was a spinoff of a show I did awhile ago called Big Top Academy. I’ve also been doing lots of auditions from home, [but] it’s allowed me to focus on other things, like school, which is really nice.”
To help you get to know Riley O’Donnell, we asked her rapid-fire questions on everything from her favourite things to her career goals.
Hometown: Oakville, Ont.
Zodiac sign: Aquarius
I can never leave the house without my… “Unfortunately, my phone has got to be the answer.” [laughs]
Current phone background: “I will check right now! My lock screen is a picture of a sunset and my home screen is literally just the colour turquoise.”
Comfort food: “I think ramen noodles.”
TV character: “Of all time? Dwight from The Office.”
TV show: “I feel like I don’t have a favourite, but right now I’m watching WandaVision.”
Film couple: “This is kind of a sad couple, I guess, but Clementine and Joel from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.”
Role model: “I really love Zendaya. I love the variety of things she’s done and I think she’s the coolest person.”
Three things you can’t live without… “Food, water and shelter.” [laughs]
Audition: “I think my first audition was for a commercial for YTV actually. I was probably nine.”
Time you saw yourself on screen: “I think in a commercial for Kinetic Sand or that YTV commercial I did. It was definitely a commercial.”
Time you realized you wanted to be an actor: “I started off with singing, which led me to musical theatre. I think I saw Hamilton and I was like, ‘I want to play Eliza!'”
TV show you binged: “WandaVision.”
Book you read: “I just read Looking for Alaska [by John Green] and Purple Hibiscus [by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie].”
Movie you watched: “OK, this is slightly embarrassing, but I just watched Twilight for the first time. I tried to watch them all because I hadn’t seen them. Everyone was always like, ‘Riley, why haven’t you watched Twilight?!’
Song you listened to: “’August’ by a band called Flipturn.”
Person you texted: “My mom. I just said ‘hi’ and she didn’t answer.” [laughs]
Dream co-stars: “Oh my goodness! Maybe Timothée Chalamet and, I would say, Amandla Stenberg.”
Dream role: “I’ve always wanted to play a superhero of some kind.”
My generation will change the world by… “Creating a much more accepting and inclusive environment of all different types of people and continuing to advocate for what they think is right.”