Riley Smith Breaks Down That ‘Nancy Drew’ Reveal & Hints at New Mystery

Nancy Drew The Girl in the Locket
Colin Bentley/The CW

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 1, Episode 17 of Nancy Drew, “The Girl in the Locket.” If you haven’t seen it, maybe go hang with Tess’s horrible new family and thank your stars you aren’t quarantined with that mess.]

The truth is so not setting anyone free in Horseshoe Bay. At least not anytime soon.

In the last original episode, we learned that Nancy (Kennedy McMann) was actually the baby Dead Lucy had right before her fatal fall from the cliffs. That secret, shared only between our favorite gumshoe and Carson (Scott Wolf), the man she thought was her father, was far too juicy to stay buried. And as anyone who watched the April 8 episode knows, it didn’t take long for the entire Drew Crew — and her real dad, Lucy’s high-school beau Ryan Hudson (Riley Smith) — to find out what was really up.

All it took was an old baby picture of dead Lucy and a fiery ritual to appease the angry sea spirit known as the Algaeca that required the participation of Nancy and a blood relative. Given that Ryan is basically her only real kin (or is he?), of course he had to be brought into the equation, along with the gang, who discovered their connection as sparks literally flew between the unlikeliest father-daughter team.

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Nothing will ever be the same after tonight's bombshell.

So what does this mean for the much-maligned Hudson scion? And will Nancy be able to deal with him as her dad? We chatted up Smith to get some clues about what’s next and how a guy who has spent years giving teen dramas some of their greatest bad guys has found himself playing a father… who’s almost likable!

I talked to [executive producers] Noga Landau and Melinda Hsu Taylor about how good you are at turning this guy from what would be a conventional bad guy into a really sympathetic character over the last couple of episodes.

Riley Smith: I appreciate that, man. That was my goal. On paper, the guy was not very likable. It’s a thing that we’ve slowly developed over the season and Noga and Melinda have really helped it with the writing. I don’t ever mind playing an antagonist or a bad guy, but we have to understand why he is the way he is. What motivates him? What drives him? And if you can find his reason and understand him, then it humanizes him and then the audience can decide how they feel about it.

Nancy Drew - Kennedy McMann + Riley Smith

Kennedy McMann as Nancy and Riley Smith as Ryan (Colin Bentley/The CW)

When did you find out that they were going to throw this twist in there?

I knew from the very beginning. When they offered me the show, they pitched me the reveal idea and I remember my manager saying, “Yeah. There’s a big secret.” And I was like, “God, I hope it’s that he’s her dad.” And then they told me in the pitch, I was like, “I’m in.” I signed on that minute. But it’s been a long 17 episodes to get to that point! [Laughs]

I didn’t know when it would be, I didn’t know how it would go down. And so I had to be very patient. I had to be very quiet about the information, but because I knew ahead of time, I got the opportunity to implement some little nuggets throughout the season that people can now go back and watch and pick up on.

What is this going to do as far as changing Ryan? Because also, they kind of leave it open to possible, there might be another blood relative situation here?

Interesting, Damian. That’s a good take. Yeah. Well, obviously, everything just got flipped on its head and now a lot of characters have to decide how they feel about each other and what this means moving forward. Obviously, part of that was set-up early with Ryan and George (Leah Lewis). She slept with her friend’s dad, which is still crazy to me that I’m the dad in this. [Laughs]

That is the craziest thing! How are you old enough to be the father of Nancy Drew? To most of us, you’re still a 20-year-old bad boy.

I know, I know. It’s weird. I don’t ever play dad and I guess, on Frequency I played a dad, but she was 11 and that one fit. But when they pitched me that Nancy is 19, we did the math and Ryan’s only supposed to be like 35…he had her when he was a senior in high school. So, the math actually works. But when I met Kennedy, she’s a very mature girl just in general and in the way she carries herself, so I’m like, “How am I old enough to be her dad?” Then I felt really old. [Laughs]

But you what’s cool is I just had a little girl myself. My fiancée and I just had a baby girl named Shiloh, she’s seven months old now.

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Congratulations! Wow, what a time to have a baby. Right before the show started?

Yeah, right? [Laughs] We had just found out we were pregnant when we were doing the pilot. We found out it was a girl and then I knew that I was going to be playing a dad, so that really worked in some of the scenes, especially in this last episode with the reveal. Melinda really picked my brain before she wrote it. She was like, “How would you feel if you found this out?” And I just kind of opened up to her how I would feel, now having my own daughter and seeing what I get to do with her every day for just these seven months. I can’t imagine 18 years, to lose all of that, to find out that I never got any of that. This girl turned out to be an exquisite, amazing girl and Ryan didn’t get to be any part of that. That is the heaviest thing I’ve gotten to play. And I love the way Melinda wrote it with that sensitivity, and the way that they revealed to Ryan last, so everyone knew it before him. That was actually tricky to play, too, because in my mind, I’d always thought that we’d all find out together as an “a ha!” moment.

So when I got the script and realized everybody was going to know before me, including the audience, I was like, “This actually makes it trickier.” I had to wrestle with it in my own brain because as an actor, you want to walk a certain tightrope of emotional tone, but in this case, everybody knows before me. So, it was fun and tricky. It ended up being my favorite way it could have been.

Nancy Drew - Scott Wolf + Riley Smith

Riley Smith as Ryan and Scott Wolf as Carson (Kailey Schwerman/The CW)

This gives you so much stuff to play with, not just the loss of those 19 years, but also with what you nw get to do with Kennedy and Scott.

I thought it was brilliant that you see Ryan get the motivation to find out what happened to Lucy, that he’s been in love with her his whole life and that’s really what crushed him and ruined him in a lot of ways. Well, his dad and the loss of Lucy, which his dad caused. There were a lot of things said about Ryan and a lot of people were told to feel a certain way about Ryan, but at the end of the day, you never really see him do anything wrong or bad. You just always hear about how he’s such a bad guy.

Or he says something bad. Like that he’d like to see Owen [Miles Gaston Villanueva] dead. But now, Owen is dead…

Well, he’s been implicated in every murder on the show in some way, shape or form. [Laughs] But it’s cool. It really makes his character so well-rounded. You talk about where he started to where he is now, that makes it very exciting to find out where he’s going to go in the future. I think from this point forward, Ryan gets to become whomever he wants to be, because for the first time this season, he gets to make the decision. It’s “OK, I lost this. This is who I used to be. And if I want to have a relationship with Nancy, I need to change who I am and be the man that she wants to be related to.”

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And how do you think the Hudson family will handle Nancy’s joining their brood?

Well, I think that Ryan is trying to cut himself off from his family and create his own identity, but I’m sure the beauty of having the Hudsons around on the show is that anything could happen. They have the wealth and the power to really do anything they want. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but it could turn into Ryan and Nancy against the Hudsons, I don’t know. I hope so!

Nancy Drew, Wednesdays, 9/8c, The CW