British actor Tom Riley chats with DAMAN about his upcoming shows and why he can’t choose just one career path
Numbers wise, Tom Riley has accumulated 20 television roles, 20 film roles, 17 plays and readings, 13 radio/voice roles and five awards and nominations. It goes without saying that his work has impacted people around him. Riley acknowledges that it is not an easy path to follow, but at the same time he is encouraged to stick to it as best as he can, while still trying not to take himself too seriously. So, join us for a conversation with the actor and you’ll see that all the critical acclaim for his stage, television and film performances stem from something that really comes from the heart.
DAMAN: Hi Tom, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. How are you?
Tom Riley: I’m good, thanks! And you’re welcome. If there’s one thing we’ve all got more than enough of at the moment, it’s time. And yet somehow the last year has also gone by way too fast as well as way too slow.
DAMAN: How’s 2021 going for you so far?
Tom Riley: Better than 2020. And you know what? I’ll take it.
DAMAN: “The Nevers” is streaming soon on HBO and the trailer already has more than 6 million views! How do you feel about that?
Tom Riley: It’s great to see people respond so positively. I think people are hungry for something new and exciting, and “The Nevers” is going to give them that in a big way. I realized recently that its very rare to have a show like ours now, as ambitious and huge as this, which isn’t based on existing IP, isn’t part of a franchise, and isn’t a sequel to something. It’s 100-percent its own thing; a brand-new world for viewers to escape to. There’s not much out there like that and it seems like people are very ready for it.
DAMAN: Tell us about your character, Augustus “Augie” Bidlow, and his role on the show…
Tom Riley: Augie is unlike any role I’ve ever played. One day I’ll talk about how exactly I ended up in the part, but for now I’ll say that it’s a testament to the wonderful creative forces behind the show that it all came together the way it did. Augie is sweet, out of his depth in a puddle and has a wild journey ahead. I love him.
DAMAN: Speaking of which, how did you prepare to step into the role? What kind of ideas did you incorporate into your depiction of the character?
Tom Riley: I grew the floppiest hair imaginable. I think that’s about as much as I can say without spoilers…
DAMAN: What would you say is the most memorable experience from working on the show? Something that has really stuck with you long after filming wrapped…
Tom Riley: We shot the first episode during a brutal heatwave in London, and there’s a sequence in an old theatre, the AC of which had to be off as it interfered with the sound. 500+ crew, cast and extras in musty period clothes. So, the thing that’s probably stuck with me the most is the smell. Like a butcher’s shop full of burned oysters.
DAMAN: Also, congratulations on joining the cast of “The Woman In The House” with Kristen Bell. Can you tell us when will it start filming?
Tom Riley: Thanks! We’re a few weeks into it right now. It’s a blast.
DAMAN: Filming during the pandemic must be quite challenging. Can you tell us how you prepare yourself for it?
Tom Riley: COVID productions are their own thing and it feels like a total recalibration of what the job is. Safety-wise, crews couldn’t be more looked after, with the five-day a week testing and the rigorous protocols that have been enacted across the board. But it does mean that it’s hard to forge on-set relationships in the way you used to. The easy shorthand provided by the intensity of the work has been dampened by the struggle to recognize your colleagues under all their PPE. Before COVID, actors could always end up a little isolated in their little hutches in between scenes, anyway, but that used to be mitigated by being able to hang out behind the monitors or on the make-up truck. Now we’re all confined to strict zones. So, the days can sometimes feel even longer than they used to, I guess, but truly none of that matters when you consider how lucky you are to be working at a time when so many have been deprived of that opportunity.
DAMAN: And is there anything can you share with us about your role in “The Woman In The House”?
Tom Riley: I play Neil, a widower who moves in across the street from Kristen’s character, and whose arrival throws a big fat bomb into her world.
DAMAN: Going back a bit, when was your first encounter with acting?
Tom Riley: Going back a lot. Firstly, watching plays and puppet shows at a theatre called the Hazlitt Theatre, down in Maidstone, a town in Kent, in the south of England. And then later appearing there in an amateur dramatic production of “The Winslow Boy,” which is a play by Terrence Rattigan. That was my first experience of performing with adults, for adults.
DAMAN: And did you know that you wanted to be an actor from there on?
Tom Riley: Yep. To be honest, I knew when I did a school play at the age of about eight based on the Australian soap “Neighbours.” I played Henry Ramsay. That’s a deep cut for all the Craig McLachlan fans.
DAMAN: Tell us about your debut film as a director for “The Toll Road.”
Tom Riley: “The Toll Road” is a short starring Martin Starr, Billy Gardel, Anthony Carrigan and Lizzy Caplan, which we put together a couple of years ago in 24 hours, took on the festival circuit for a year or so and which can now be seen online via the new shorts streaming company WeVe.
DAMAN: What was the inspiration behind “The Toll Road”?
Tom Riley: A fantastic script by writer Richard Galazka, that felt funny, moving and also timely.
DAMAN: What do you hope will audiences take away from watching this movie?
Tom Riley: That no matter how angry, or hurt, or scared we are, we’re all gonna have to find some way to communicate with one another if we want to get through this time of outrage and division unscathed. I don’t know exactly what that looks like, I just know that ignoring hundreds of years of societal evolution and civilization in favor of our most primal of impulses probably ain’t it.
DAMAN: How was the shooting process for the film and how was it working with your wife, Lizzy Caplan?
Tom Riley: The process was the same as all films: Not enough time, not enough money, unexpected pitfalls, unexpected gifts. But Kids at Play, who funded the project, were incredibly supportive and generous, and that helps you through the darker moments. As far as directing my wife is concerned, I don’t know if you’ve seen her recent performance in “Castle Rock,” but Lizzy is genuinely one of the most brilliant and surprising actors of her generation, and the best way to direct someone as talented as that is to stay out of her way.
DAMAN: Now, we read somewhere that you’re a big Tom Hanks fan. Tell us more about that…
Tom Riley: I don’t know where you read that, but I do know that if you’re not a big Tom Hanks fan then you’re probably a monster. Have you seen “Splash”? The guy impersonates a Swedish scientist to smuggle a mermaid out of a lab so they can’t dissect her. I mean come on…
DAMAN: Other than an actor, you’re also a director and producer. If you had to choose just one among those three, what would it be and why?
Tom Riley: I can’t choose. The first one you get to make fire, the second one you get to make fire while putting out fires, and the third one you mainly throw water on the bad fires, while simultaneously keeping dry any good ones the directors and the actors are making. It’s all juggling fire in the end, I guess, and I’m just lucky to be at the circus.
DAMAN: Out of all the characters you’ve played so far, has there been any that really took an emotional toll on you? And as you move on, how do you handle that kind of pressure?
Tom Riley: Um … maybe “Bouquet of Barbed Wire”? That was a TV show I did for ITV in the U.K. and is one that I retroactively feel the emotional toll of, in light of the last few years. I played an emotionally abusive, manipulative, cruel man, who acted predominantly from a place of pain and rage, and lacked the skills to deal with that in anyway except by spreading it outwards. It’s one of the few jobs I took home with me in the evenings, drained. Looking back at that now, my tiredness feels like nothing compared to the exhaustion this kind of behavior has inflicted on the world for as long as men and male violence have existed, but it maybe goes a little way to explaining why it left me so tired. Its inevitability felt insurmountable. But the last few years have given real hope that that weary inevitability is being slowly eroded in the face of noble resistance, brave and bold voices, and a refusal to concede that this dangerous dynamic is something society just has to accept as an inherent fact. Which is wonderful, and hopeful, and righteous.
DAMAN: What about your dream projects? Do you have a bucket list of stories or people you really want to work with?
Tom Riley: I’ve been lucky enough that the projects which have turned out to be dreams have been the ones I least expected. Likewise, some of my best friends from this job and best working experiences have been with people I never would have predicted. So, I’m not going to tempt fate by saying how I want to play Hamlet opposite Al Pacino, because that’s the kind of grand claim that could lead to me one day going home complaining that goddamn Al upstaged me again during the “To be or not to be” soliloquy by pretending his trousers were falling down.
DAMAN: What are your hopes for the future of the movie industry in general?
Tom Riley: I mean, everyone gets so scared that streaming will ruin it all, just like the move from black and white to color did, or the upgrade to talkies. But it just means we have to renegotiate a new landscape, right? Get more creative. Lean in. I just really hope I get to keep riding the bronco as it mutates. Change is good and progress is gonna happen with or without you, you know? So, some movies we’ll still want to share with strangers in a cinema, others with our families at home. But whatever form the future takes, we’re always gonna want stories.
DAMAN: And for our last question, what is your secret to living a full life?
Tom Riley: Get up at 1PM, go to sleep at 2PM, and use the hour you’re awake to eat.
PHOTOGRAPHY MITCHELL NGUYEN MCCORMACK (LOCATION IMAGES), IAN PHILLIPS (DAYLIGHT STUDIO PORTRAITS)
STYLING KIMBERLY GOODNIGHT
GROOMING JAMIE TAYLOR AT THE WALL GROUP
PRODUCTION MEDIA PLAYGROUND PR
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