Outside of movie buffs, film critics, and die-hard Joy Division fans, most people have never heard of Sam Riley. But that’s not the way it was supposed to be. After his haunting performance as Joy Division front man Ian Curtis in Anton Corbijn’s brilliant biopic Control, Riley was immediately put on the shortlist of actors about to break big.
Then came roles in Franklyn and 13, two films you’ve never heard of. But for Riley, letdowns in this industry are nothing new. He was cut from Michael Winterbottom’s cult classic 24 Hour Party People, and his band 10,000 Things, had their debut album thrashed by critics, ultimately leading to their break-up. Now living a fairly low-key life in Berlin with his wife, actress Alexandra Maria Lara, Riley is forging ahead. First up is a role in Rowan Joffe’s remake of the Graham Greene classic Brighton Rock, where he stars opposite Helen Mirren and Andrea Riseborough, followed by Walter Salles’ long awaited adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, where Riley stars as the Beatnick pioneer’s alter-ego Sal Paradise. We chatted with him to find out what the last few years have been like and where he sees himself in the future.
On the flip side, how do you deal with success, namely with the response to Control?
Seeing it for the first time, that was a very big moment. The first time I saw Control was at the premiere in Cannes. Not only that, it was my first time at Cannes, my first time at a movie premiere, and the first time I saw myself on a screen the size of a billboard. It was also the first time I was on the side of a success. Of course, it wasn’t the sort of film that a lot of people saw, though it got me every job I’ve ever gotten since and many other things. I was prepared for it to go either way. And people were saying I’m “the next big thing,” and I’ve heard that before. But that’s just the start. What I learned from being in a band was that once you get signed, you haven’t made it—your career has just begun. Once Control came out, it got a nice response and prizes, but what do you do from there? I wonder, Fuck, how am I going to top that? Probably never, but I’ve still got to work though.
What was the Beatnick bootcamp you had to attend in lieu of shooting On the Road?
Walter Salles wanted the main actors to get together and hang out with a lot of experts and biographers from the Beatnick generation, who came in to talk to us. We would watch films from that time and listen to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie while doing push-ups and picking our fingers. I learned to type and I learned to speak French Canadian with a Quebecois accent. It was a full schedule.
How’s your American accent?
I think it’s better then passable. I just did the ADR and voice overs. The English have so many different dialects so we have to learn all of them, mainly to tease each other. Speaking like an American isn’t that difficult. Plus, there are a lot of recordings of Jack Kerouac to work off of. But you be the judge. Take someone who doesn’t know I’m English.
How was the shoot? It’s a tough book to adapt into a film and a lot of people have tried and failed in the past.
Well, it was a five or six month shoot. It was hard going. The therapy is going fine, by the way. I should be rid of all of it before too long.
What’s your impression of Hollywood these days?
I don’t know, really. I haven’t been in a long time. I’m hoping to make in roads there, because I figure they must be running out of superheroes pretty soon. Of course, it all goes in cycles, where everything is popcorn fodder and then really good films come out. It was like that just before the seventies, and then all those great films came out all at once. Maybe we’re just on the cusp of people being able to make great films on their own again. Then again, you might see me in spandex in a year and a half.
Read the rest of his interview here