Diana-Maria Riva knew she wanted to act when she was growing up on Cincinnati’s west side, and got involved in the drama departments at St. Ursula Academy, which she attended, and Moeller High School. She graduated from UC’s College-Conservatory of Music and landed her first Hollywood role just a year later. Riva, 51, is best known for films including McFarland, USA and What Women Want, as well as her recurring role on the popular Netflix series Dead to Me.
What challenges did you face while working toward a career in the film industry?
The business is full of obstacles. It’s a constant challenge and a constant “feel good, feel bad” rollercoaster. It’s been a very good career thus far, and I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of amazing characters in both television and film.
How did CCM’s rigorous curriculum prepare you?
I think it disciplined me. We had board exams twice a year, and that really would be the end of the road for a lot of students. There was always a competitive angle that was hung over your head, so it was a brutal but rewarding experience.
What was the most surprising thing about breaking into the industry?
A play I did at Ensemble Theater as part of my thesis project was taken to Los Angeles a year later by the playwright, who asked me to come and continue in the role. From there, I was picked up by a television series. It could have been misleading, thinking that it was always going to be job after job, but that hasn’t been the case. It never really is the case. You have to constantly be working toward something.
Why have you chosen to mentor CCM students for the past 15 years?
This business can be cutthroat, so we have to lift each other up. Along the way, you just want a young person to know that they’re worthy and valuable no matter what [role] they did or didn’t get. I always tell the CCM seniors, when they’re about to do their industry showcase, Take care of yourself first, and the rest will fall into place. If it doesn’t fall into place, at least you still have yourself. Pursuing anything you love and dream about is worth the ride, and you can always change your mind later.