Sam gave an insightful interview to Telegraph and he talked about ‘SS-GB’, stardom and many more. Read the interview below and also check the new portraits out. Enjoy!
Photoshoots > Photoshoots 2017 > Telegraph
Ten years ago, Sam Riley was destined for stardom. His acting debut in the critically acclaimed film Control, in which he played troubled musician Ian Curtis, should by all accounts have seen him promptly moulded into another Hiddleston-cum-Hardy leading man, cast in every period drama and spy thriller going.
He was set to become a household name, even tipped at one point as a contender to be the next Bond.
But when Riley makes his star turn in the BBC’s new World War II drama SS-GB on Sunday – a historical reimagining in which the Nazis have won the war and occupied Britain – it will be the first time many people will have seen him in a leading role since the 2007 Joy Division biopic.
So what happened?
It would appear that the bang with which Riley’s career started was enough to scare him off. His “extraordinary” talent, as one reviewer wrote of his portrayal of Curtis, “transcend[ed] mimicry”. But for Riley’s part, dealing with the buzz of Control premiering at Cannes, its glut of award nominations and journalists going wild for the film became too much to handle.
“My wife [German actress Alexandra Maria Lara, who starred opposite him in the film] said the night after the premiere: ‘I’ve been working in this business for 15 years and haven’t had that moment.
“It threw me a lot higher up the food chain. I arrived a lead actor.”
That leading man status comes as little surprise; a one-time Burberry model, Riley is six-foot tall, with a flick of dark hair, razor sharp cheekbones and a naturally brooding look, all of which lends itself wonderfully to playing a classic tragic hero or troubled action man.
His voice – startlingly gravelly down to years of “misbehaving” – has a touch of Yorkshire lilt to it (he grew up near Leeds), but a boarding school background means he can easily slip into upper crust army sergeant or lord of the manor when required.
Most actors would grab hold of the hype Control created and rinse it for all it’s worth, but Riley chose a different path, choosing instead to follow Alexandra to Berlin, where the couple still lives with their three-year-old son, Ben. It must have driven his agents mad.
“I felt protected there from what everybody was going to try to make me into after Control – a cash cow. ‘While the moment’s hot, let’s get him in as many things as possible.’”
Surely that’s every young actor’s dream? “I was nervous about it, I think, and still am. It’s a twisted mix between being jealous of the success of some of my colleagues and at the same time being very happy that no one knows who I am.
“We have a life in Berlin where if we go to a restaurant, people whisper and recognise Alexandra. And she thinks they recognise me too but she’s not with me when I’m on my own and I can assure her that isn’t the case!”
He is endlessly self-deprecating, describing himself as “Yorkshire’s answer to Tom Cruise” – “I do all me own stunts,” he deadpans – and genuinely seems to have remained a thoroughly normal bloke since that first brush with fame.
And it’s not as if he hasn’t been working in the last 10 years. There was a part alongside Angelina Jolie in 2004’s Maleficent, and last year he played Mr Darcy in the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies alongside Downton’s Lily James. He’s probably done roughly one big job a year since his portrayal of Curtis, he calculates.
“Control is still getting me work,” he tells me. “The thing is, those big roles aren’t out there, and if they are, then Benedict, Hardy or Hiddleston, or Fassbender or McAvoy have to say no to it in order for me to be able to play it.
“I’ve always been picky about what I do.”
That pickiness comes, he says, from the early days when he was still trying to decide whether to pursue acting or commit to the equally stable career choice of becoming a rock star.
Having spent his school days doing every play going – and falling out with the drama teacher “who refused to give me a reference in the end” – Riley failed to get into any drama schools and decided instead to focus on his band, 10,000 Things, which got very successful very quickly before being unceremoniously dumped by their record label following a monumentally bad review from NME.
After the band fell apart, Riley floundered for a while, working in a clothing warehouse and a bar. A low point came when he had to serve the Kaiser Chiefs, a rival band from Leeds, their drinks. He called up his agent to see if there were any parts going, and one of the first auditions he went to was for Control.
But that early knock seems to have stayed with him. Might it be why he remains more cautious than most about accepting acting jobs? “Signing a major record deal when we shouldn’t have done and going for the big bucks was a mistake. [With acting] I just didn’t really want to be in movies that I wouldn’t watch.”
Does he ever worry that this – and his determination to stay living in Berlin – might mean that one day the phone stops ringing?
“There are moments when you think about what you’ve said no to. But until now it’s always the same, I start to fret and then something pops up usually out of nowhere.”
SS-GB – in which he stars alongside Kate Bosworth, who plays an American journalist – seems the perfect fit for him. Not least because he speaks fluent German, and his character is required to be, as one reviewer said: “morally compromised and look good in a hat”.
He plays widowed detective Douglas Archer, the Met’s top man who has sold his soul to keep his position and is working with the occupying Nazis as they sink their claws further into the British way of life.
It’s a role which one suspects will propel him into the spotlight again, which at the ripe old age of 37, I suggest might not be quite as nerve-wracking as it once was. Does he fancy a social media fanbase, like many of his contemporaries enjoy?
His very own brand of Cumberbitches or Hiddlestoners, perhaps? He visibly shudders. “I wouldn’t want to know what people thought about me all the time, good or bad. I know it would obsess me if I could look at my phone and see someone saying: ‘God you t***’, or ‘I love you so much.'”
No risk of that at home, where in answer to the question: “Daddy’s on the phone, do you want to speak to him?”, his son’s most common reply is a firm “nein!”
For now, Riley is very content to play the role of family man, and has “no idea” what his next job will be. “I’m just waiting to be asked to do something that I would leave home for really.
“And my wife’s working so I’m a kept man at the moment. It’s a good life.”
SS-GB begins on BBC One on Sunday at 9pm