Chandler Kinney Talks Growing Up On Lethal Weapon

Photo: Benjo Arwas.
Close your eyes for a second and think back on your high school experience. For most of us, it was a mixed bag of teenage angst, self-discovery, and capricious friendships existing in front of a backdrop of lockers, dances, and classrooms. This was not the case for Chandler Kinney, who graduated this past May. Kinney was educated via an independent extension of a normal high school. In other words, she was homeschooled… but not really. Kinney met with a teacher once a week and did her schoolwork from home or on the set of FOX’s buddy cop dramedy, Lethal Weapon, which kicked off its third season last month.
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Eighteen-year-old Kinney has played Riana, the teenaged daughter of LAPD Captain Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans), since the show first aired in 2016. She’s done so while balancing said schoolwork, a social life and most recently, applying for college. Life has been imitating art for the California native. who has been playing a character experiencing some of the same life moments as she is.
But not even Riana can say that she spent most of high school working alongside seasoned actors like Wayans and Keesha Sharp. Nor does she have the same genuine humility that I experienced when I chatted with Kinney about her work, her other interests (she has a black belt in Taekwondo!), and her plans for the future (she’s taking a gap year before attending UCLA next year).
Check out our interview below.
Refinery29: How did you get into acting?
Chandler Kinney: “I actually began my journey in the entertainment industry as a dancer. That was 100% my dream to become a professional dancer. I never even thought about acting. I started dancing when I was about 3 years old. I got to study with Debbie Allen at her Debbie Allen Dance Academy.”
Wow. That's just greatness.
“Yes. She is a queen. Through my time at Debbie Allen Dance Academy I actually received an audition for a Gap commercial — a campaign. They had looked all over the country and they weren't finding what they wanted so they, of course, went to Debbie Allen and asked her to send over a list of dancers to audition. So I did, and I booked the commercial. It was, to this day, the biggest commercial I've ever done, which is crazy. I loved my on set experience and I thought maybe I could do this. So I started taking acting classes just for commercials, then I just fell in love with it. I fell in love with the craft of acting. The rest is kind of history.”
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Lethal Weapon is your biggest project to date. It's been on for three seasons now. What has the experience been like? Especially working with a great in industry, Damon Wayans?
“It's been incredible, and that's kind of an understatement. Growing up — I say growing up because I think 15 to 18 is a big jump and very pivotal years —being amongst such talented, seasoned artists has been a blessing. I've learned so much. I'm a completely different person today than I was from the pilot. It's just been a wild ride. This season we have a lot of crazy changes but we're super excited. We just premiered last night, and I think people really liked it.”
What are you excited about going into season 3?
“We have a new addition to the cast, of course. Seann William Scott plays Wesley Cole, a former international CIA agent. He honestly is just a true joy to be around. He's a delight. Seriously one of the sweetest people ever. He really brings a new energy and vibe to the show. I think a lot of people will find that the show is lighter in tone. We have two very comedic actors now. I think the show is just generally funnier and and I think there's a lot of great physical comedy in there as well.”
How is it being on set with a funny guy like Damon Wayans? How do you even get through a scene with what I imagine is non-stop laughter?
“It's crazy. We joke a lot. We laugh a lot. Especially when we're at the end of the day and everybody's just exhausted and delirious. It's a struggle. I have to keep reminding myself time is money so we gotta get through this. He's an amazing human being. I respect him immensely. I really look up to him. He's kind of like another father figure to me just because we've worked together for so long and so closely. I really trust him as an artist, but also as a person. It's just been incredible.”
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Riana is a pretty good kid. Do your parents watch the show and think 'Why can't you be more like her?' or is it more of “Thank god you're not like her”?
“[laughs] I would go with the latter. ‘I'm glad you're not like her.’ She is a good kid with a good heart because she tries. At the end of the day, she loves her family and she does really apply herself. However, she's done some things. People forget that she has come a long way, but in the pilot she was smoking weed. She's really evolved, but as far as her growth through the season, I'm really excited. She's turning her focus towards the future and constructing something more than just the conventional life that she's living. She's thinking about college, focusing on SATs, feeling the pressure of getting great scores and have her resume with extracurricular activities, which is so incredibly relatable.”
Yes! Usually the characters that actors get to play are different from them, but at this particular moment, you have so much in common with her.
“Right. She's such a fun role to portray because she hones a side of me that I don't get to express, like that attitude and sassiness. So I think it's in some ways therapeutic. Also, it's great because she's going through a lot of the things that I'm going through as a generation Z teen in today's society. It's been really interesting just going through that whole college process. I can just relate to what she's going through. And she's just dealing with finding her own definition of perfect. Her and her mother… Let's just talk about Keesha Sharp. She's so incredible, and I love her so much.”
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And she's so beautiful! Stunning.
“So beautiful. Unfair. But Trish Murtaugh, she is such a powerhouse and I think you'll get to see we're really playing on this mother daughter relationship this season. As far as Riana just coming to terms with her own differences between her and her mom. As I said, just trying to figure out her role in the family. It'll be interesting.”
Can we expect to see you in any other upcoming projects?
“I can't say anything right now.”
Ok. But I think that's a yes [laugh].
“I mean there's always things going on. Main focus right now is Lethal [Weapon] and getting season 3 up on its feet. We're off to a great start.”
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