Naya Rivera’s Traumatic Experience as a Child Actor

The late actress Nya Rivera rose to fame after starring in the hit series Glee. Before that role made her a star, she was a child actor. Here’s what Rivera once said about the traumatic experience she had during the early years of her acting career.

Nya Rivera’s early acting career

Naya Rivera in 2011 | Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic
Naya Rivera in 2011 | Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic

Rivera entered the entertainment industry when she was a baby. In her autobiography, Sorry, Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up, she says her mother got an agent for her “before she could walk.” Her mother’s determination paid off. At the tender age of 7 months, Rivera was featured in a Kmart commercial.

Although Rivera was a child, entertainment wasn’t all fun and games. She said she had to work for her money. “Even as a tot model, I couldn’t just stand there, nor was it all fun,” wrote Rivera. “It was work! I’d have to do stuff like hula-hoop, blow bubbles, pretend to laugh, or (the worst) hold hands with other kids—usually their hands were sweaty and clammy, or they’d pick their nose right up to the very last second, then reach their fingers toward mine.”

Nya Rivera’s first television role was in the CBS series ‘Royal Family’

At the age of 5, Rivera landed her first television role on the series The Royal Family. She played the character Hillary Winston from 1991 until the show ended in 1992. The series featured late Touched by an Angel star Della Reese and late Sanford and Son star Redd Foxx. Rivera said she became very close to Foxx. She revealed in her book that she didn’t know her grandparents, so Foxx was like a grandfather to her.

“I played the youngest grandchild, Hillary, and Red Foxx and I were intergenerational BFFs from the moment we met,” wrote Rivera. “He started to tell people that I really was his granddaughter, and I believed him. He and his wife were so nice to my whole family; they were always bringing me souvenirs from their trips, like a floral lei from Hawaii, or a tiny ceramic red fox—get it?”

Nya Rivera said the cast and crew of ‘The Royal Family’ were really like family

According to Rivera, the cast and crew were really like a family. She said every week they would eat together. Family members, friends, and the cast and crew spent time socializing. “On set, the cast and crew really were like family,” wrote Rivera.

“Every Thursday, Redd’s friend Bubba would make gumbo for everyone, and on the days when my mom wasn’t eating gumbo, she was talking about how good it had been or how good it was gonna be. I was the weirdo kid who loved shrimp, so I gobbled it up right along with her.”

Nya Rivera’s traumatic on-set experience

Although Rivera said she had good memories on the set of The Royal Family, there was one memory she had that wasn’t so good. The actor said she was practicing her lines with Foxx one day when something unusual happened.

On October 11, 1991—less than a month after The Royal Family had premiered—Redd and I were running our lines on set. He was sitting in an easy chair, and I was standing on my mark in front of him, when all of a sudden, he kind of slumped over and fell to the floor. For a while, no one moved. One of the producers even yelled, ‘Redd, come on!’ Everyone assumed it was just part of his routine, so we waited patiently for him to stand back up. Except, he didn’t.

[Della Reese] rushed over, leaned down to him, and heard him saying, ‘Get my wife–get my wife.’ Della stood up and started screaming, which jolted everyone in the room into action. He was the first person I knew who died, and I still remember his funeral—which was held in Las Vegas—very vividly. It was open casket. He looked very kingly in a white suit, and it was a fitting tribute to a man who liked to live large.

Nya Rivera in Sorry Not Sorry

Rivera said years later Glee was filmed on the same Paramount lot where The Royal Family was filmed. The lot brought back many memories for her. “It made me think about my TV beginnings, and Redd, a lot, wrote Rivera. “Someday I’m gonna take that fox and a Ouija board over to Stage 16 and see if I can say hello. I’d love to tell him what I’m up to.”

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