After making his name playing Ian Curtis in the critically-acclaimed Control, Yorkshire actor Sam Riley talks to Kate Whiting.
Sam Riley is taking a well-earned break.
While the rest of us were left shivering in the recent cold snap, the actor has been soaking up the sun in Dubai.
"I don't want to rub it in but yes, it is nice, I've just been on the water slides," says the 29-year-old, originally from Menston, near Leeds.
"My girl's doing a job here and I've just finished working, so I'm relaxing while she's working hard earning the money."
He's just finished shooting a film with Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham and Ray Winstone in New York, where he insists, it "was minus 14C last week" and he's still reeling from the success of his debut film Control.
Riley's portrayal of Ian Curtis, the troubled lead singer of Joy Division, won Sam the British Independent Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer as well as a nomination for the Orange Rising Star Award at last year's Baftas.
The "girl" in Dubai is his Control co-star Alexandra Maria Lara, who he lives with in Berlin and who he proposed to on Christmas Eve.
Sam's transformation from warehouse-worker in Leeds, to screen icon has been well-documented, but the man himself remains firmly grounded. He is eloquent and self-effacing and despite the accolades for Control, he puts his latest role in quirky ensemble drama Franklyn, alongside Ryan Phillippe and Eva Green, down to nothing more than good luck.
"I was one of the lucky ones, they were willing to work with me and they wanted to offer me the part," he says.
"Working with Ryan and Eva was a pretty crazy thing to do for your second movie. They're both really nice. Most of the people I seem to have met since I've started bumping into famous people, have been very likeable."
Sam admits that after blazing such a trail in Control, his choice of follow-up film would always have been tough.
"It was kind of a part that most actors wait their whole life to get if they're lucky," he says of Ian Curtis. "I wasn't the lead in Franklyn, I'm playing a support to these cool young actors, so the pressure's not really on in the same way and I get to learn a little bit from being there, so I enjoyed it."
It was Franklyn's unusual premise that hooked Riley.
He plays Milo, a young Londoner, who's dumped by his fiancée just before his wedding day and copes by reconnecting with a mysterious childhood friend. In the fantasy universe of Meanwhile City, Ryan Phillippe is John Preest, a mask-clad vigilante who is tracking down his latest victim.
Back in London, art student Emilia (Eva Green) arranges her own suicide as part of an ongoing art project, while Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is searching for his estranged and mentally- ill son. The characters' lives are all deeply interconnected as the two different worlds slowly become one.
"I read the script just after we went to Cannes with Control in 2007. It's hard to explain, but it was a script unlike any I was reading at that time.
"It was like the story that I felt I'd seen the least of. Usually you get stories that you've seen three or four times already, it's a scenario that works, so they keep making the movies. But this one was really odd and pretty cool."
Riley always seemed destined to be famous. He acted with the National Youth Theatre as a teenager and had a couple of small TV roles. But he turned to music, as singer of Leeds band 10,000 Things. In 2005, the group were dropped by
their label Polydor and
Sam went to work in a warehouse folding T-shirts
to make ends meet.
Keen to move on, he called an old agent from the National Youth Theatre, who told him about the auditions for Control and on January 8, 2006 – Sam's birthday – he won the part.
After Control made such an impact, you'd expect Sam was inundated with offers from Hollywood, but he admits it wasn't that easy.
"Once the hype about the film had sort of worn off, once they were onto the next big thing... it was difficult.
"I think people sort of assumed that I would be offered everything under the sun. I was offered some lovely things, but it wasn't like Scorsese was calling me up the very next day.
"I jumped up the food chain, but I'm still a fair way down the pecking order.
"It was quite an unlucky time as well, because the very year Control broke and I could have followed it up with something, there was a big strike and a lot of the American industry stopped making movies," he says.
"There was a period when I went over there to try and follow it up, but nothing was really happening."
That was then – now Hollywood is open for business and Sam has just wrapped dark thriller, 13, with comeback king Mickey Rourke in New York. "In between the cameras rolling, I just had a big grin plastered across my face the whole time," he says. "Getting picked up with Ray Winstone in the car every morning, driving to New York to work, where Mickey's sat in the make-up trailer next to me telling me what he'd got up to the night before, and then going outside to smoke a cigarette with Jason Statham. I mean it's nuts!"
Apart from the beefy roles, the biggest change for Riley over the past couple of years, has been meeting his fiancée, Romanian actress Alexandra, and moving to Berlin. He speaks enough German to get by and Berlin offers him a bolthole away from the UK media glare. "I do like being incognito there," he admits.
"It's only really helpful to be famous so that producers give you a chance if they think you're a big enough name. So you have to try and balance it. You do want people to recognise you, but at the same time, I don't want everyone to know everything about me. And it's not good as an actor, because once everyone knows everything about you, it makes it harder for them to fall for whatever character you're playing."
SAM RILEY FACTFILE
- Sam Riley was born in Leeds and went to school in Rutland, where he was drawn to drama.
- He's due to turn the big 3-0 next year, but says there aren't many things he wants to do before he's 30. "Being able to grow a beard might be nice," he jokes.
- Sam met his actress girlfriend on the set of Control – she played Ian Curtis' lover, Belgian journalist Annik Honore.
- The pair got engaged on Christmas Eve, but Sam is coy about the date of their future nuptials. "I'd love to tell you, but I don't really want any German press turning up."
- Next year he'll be back on screen in 13 which stars Mickey Rourke, Jason Statham and Ray Winstone. Sam plays an electrician, who gets involved with a bunch of gamblers.
And though IMDB is the only source for this, it seems that Sam will be starring in a remake of the novel On The Road by Jack Kerouac, directed by Walter Salles. I'm assuming he will play Sal, and another rumoured castmate is Garrett Hedlund as Dean.. but nothing has been confirmed. Very excited if it goes through though!
For all those in the UK, Franklyn (w/ Sam, Eva Green & Ryan Phillipe) will be in theatres this Friday! SHOW THIS BOY SOME WELL DESERVED LOVE BY SEEING THE MOVIE PLZ AND TY. It looks promising.