If you could pick one piece of technology or art to have come out 10 years earlier in your life or 10 years later, what would you pick?
The iPhone. And a decade later. I just would have liked ten more years to actually take in the world around me. Eggplant emoji, winky face.
What is the most interesting conversation you’ve had with someone whom you never talked to again?
I’m not sure about the most interesting, but the conversation that stayed with me the most was when I was shooting a neurosurgery show called Monroe a few years ago. We were on a research trip in a London trauma unit, and a French guy came in who had been beaten up outside a pub. He had massive bleeding on the brain, and was trying to talk to us all about what had happened as he was being anaesthetised – alternately angry, then sad, then confused. Once under, the doctor operating on him told us that due to his injury and the surgery necessary, he would never be able to speak again, and potentially lose other essential functions as well. Not only did I never talk to him again, but he would never talk to anyone. It was desperately sad, and highlighted our fragility so bluntly and harshly.
Would you say you’d rather be friends with someone who likes all the same things as you, or dislikes all the same things as you?
Likes. Because then you’re both coming from a place of shared positivity. Sharing hatred of something can initially be bonding – you see groups of people connecting over a mutual dislike of someone all the time, but that ultimately ends up as toxic. I’d much rather have a friend who’s as excited to go to the same dumb concert that I want to, than one who I just stay inside with – agreeing that we know what we DON’T want to do, but never coming to a decision as to what we do. I’d never see daylight, just argue about what Netflix shows to watch – safe in the knowledge that at least we know which ones we’d hate.
What’s something every actor should know but is rarely taught?
The best way to cry on camera is to really try not to.
You’re currently appearing in The Collection, an Amazon series focusing on two brothers spearheading a mid-20th century Parisian fashion house. How much reference to the look and design of the show was part of how it was initially presented to you?
That was the main push. Oliver Goldstick, the show runner, had immersed himself in that world so deeply that it informed everything he did – from the inspiration for the characters, to the real life events that occur within the series. Chattoune & Fab, the costume designers who were so damn cool they have single monikers like Madonna, were onboard before most of the actors, so we had a very strong idea of just how lavish the look would be before we ever signed on.
As an actor do you find it more challenging to step into a character who is still somewhat of an unknown, or into a world that is more of an unknown?
A world. Because if a character is well-written there will always be something familiar that an actor and audience can connect with. Your main duty is to present someone that resonates with the audience, who’s actions make sense, and who’s emotional arc is such that the viewer can share the ride because they recognise its beats within their own life. But if the world in which that happens is a futuristic dystopia where everyone has wheels instead of feet and the prime minister is a bee then that’s when bringing said realism and resonance to the forefront becomes a real challenge…
You’ll soon be starring in the crime thriller Dark Heart based upon the novel Suffer The Children by Adam Creed. If you could have a panel of experts and all necessary resources at your disposal, what true-crime would you be most interested in trying to solve (or learn as much about as possible)?
At the risk of sounding like a pretentious clown, part of my dissertation for my English Lit degree at uni was a Lacanian analysis of the poetry of Dennis Nilsen, the London serial killer who murdered his young lovers, and then boiled their heads in pans on his stove before pouring the remains and fat away down the drains. (I was a really perky kid as an undergraduate). But in studying him and how he got away with it for so long I became fascinated with the detectives that put him away, and with his bizarre actions throughout his crime spree. Occasionally he would drown his victims and then save them at the last minute in order to feel worshipped. Plus he chronicled the entire experience through poetry and prose. The whole thing was nuts. So that would be the one I’d be most interested to solve. And the good thing is it already has been, so it would be dead easy.
In keeping with the season of Halloween, what is most fear-inducing or unsettling experience of your life?
I don’t think I’ve ever said this in an interview before. First let it be said, I don’t believe in ghosts. However… When I was in my teens I worked at a restaurant in my hometown of Maidstone. I was charged with locking up one night. The kitchen at the back was split into two parts on two levels – the first section for the pot washers and the main service pass, the back the fridges and the area for prep. I was alone. As I headed from the office through the restaurant and into the kitchen to turn the lights out, I stepped down between the two levels, flicked the switch, and when I turned round there was a little girl in a dirty night dress stood in front of me, her legs disappearing into the floor at the knees. I flicked the switch back on and she’d gone. I put it down to a figment of my imagination, but still, slightly jittery, went round switching everything off – a little faster than I normally would. When I got to the office that I’d just left, all the furniture, that had previously been neatly in its place, was piled up in the middle of the room. I ran out of there so fast I forgot to set the alarm.
That night I researched the place online. Turns out that for hundreds of years there had been tunnels going from beneath the local monastery to that building that the monks had used to transport beer barrels. One night during the blitz, those tunnels collapsed, killing some children who had been seeking shelter in them….
I would say that was the most unsettling experience of working there, but we also had a vegetarian woman customer who got so angry at me when I told her that the mysterious chunk she’d found in her risotto was the centre of a portobello mushroom and not a piece of steak that she punched me and ran out into the rain.
I think the restaurant has burned down now. I didn’t do it.
Tom Riley can be seen in Starfish, in select cinemas now (UK). He also appears in Dark Heart from November 9 on ITV Encore (UK).
As told to Paul Vaughan for TPJ
Creative Director & Photographer: Jessie Craig
Stylist: Francesca Turner