Interview: Julia Styles on the return of Sky Atlantic's Riviera.
Sky Atlantic’s massive original drama Riviera is back! This intoxicating thriller follows the moral descent of American art dealer Georgina Clios, whose idyllic life is shattered when her billionaire husband is killed in mysterious circumstances.
Riviera’s highly anticipated return picks up in the immediate aftermath of the explosive first series finale, where the Clios family is faced with the tragic death of one of their own. Only this time, the blood is on Georgina's hands.
JULIA STILES PLAYS GEORGINA CLIOS
Q: How would you describe your character?
A: For the audience, Georgina is the window into this world of wealth and glamour. Unlike every other character in the story, she does not come from this luxury lifestyle. She’s very much worked her way up in the art world and does not have that sense of entitlement and privilege.
Q: How has she changed since the first series?
A: In season one, she was very much trying to be accepted into that world. But now she’s become more sceptical and, without even realising it, has been corrupted by this sunny place for shady people that she lives in.
Q: Tell us more.
A: The original idea for Riviera came from that famous quote about the setting – it’s a sunny place for shady people - meaning that you can have this glamorous setting, but there’s all this corruption going on underneath. There was also the idea that behind every great fortune is a great crime. So this wealth didn’t come out of nowhere. It was on the backs of other people and dirty deeds. As the centrepiece of the show, Georgina had to begin as someone who was an outsider in this world. But now that she’s been accepted, she’s been a bit corroded by her environment. So you have these glamorous, beautiful people who have lost touch with reality.
Q: What motivates her to stay in this malign world?
A: One of the biggest questions is why she doesn’t just leave since it’s a pretty difficult place to exist in, despite all the wealth and glamour. But Georgina has a backbone. She’s a fighter. She’s not going to back down from intimidation or difficult circumstances.
Q: The female characters are very much in the foreground of Riviera, aren’t they?
A: Yes. One of the things that is really surprising about this is that if you have a show called Riviera, which is set amongst the wealthy and the elite in the South of France, it could so easily be just about businessmen or gangsters and girls in bikinis. There is an element of that, but actually most of the central characters are women, and some of the strongest characters in the show are females. It starts with Lena Olin’s character Irina. She is just a formidable presence, and we do focus on that. Unexpectedly, Riviera is not about the male moguls in this world or the girls in bikinis frolicking around them. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. It’s the women who are driving this show.
Q: How do you go about playing Georgina?
A: Now in season two, I feel that a lot of what I do is instinctual and unconscious. I have absorbed so much of this character that performing her is less in my head and more in my heart. At this point I can act more from my gut than my mind. I also enjoy the fact that the writers write more specifically to my strengths now.
Q: Do you also enjoy the fact that the character is not always predictable?
A: Yes. One thing that is really fun about playing Georgina is that you can’t always predict what she’ll do. She is a fighter and is trying to keep her world together and not end up in jail, but she does make some weird decisions and things unravel despite her best intentions.
Q: Why is the French Riviera the ideal location for this drama?
A: One of the first things that drew me to the show was the fact that the settings are so beautiful. The South of France is an amazing place to work in, and for a TV show it offers endless beauty in a way that I don’t think you could replicate if you were filming anywhere else.
Q: Is there a contradiction between the beauty of the location and the ugliness of the characters?
A: Yes. You have a murder mystery crime drama set in that beauty, the sunny place for shady people. Oftentimes, when I’m filming, I step out of character and say to myself, “These people have everything in terms of wealth and anything that money can buy, but they lack so much. They lack a moral compass, they lack humility, and they lack love and affection and real concern for each other.” Which is an interesting contrast.
Q: Riviera capitalises on the breath-taking landscapes of the South of France, doesn’t it?
A: Yes. We do get our money’s worth in terms of production value here. We shoot on location a lot. That means travelling around the south of France a great deal. Every week you’re in an amazing villa with a beautiful scenic view. We really take advantage of the fact that we are actually shooting in France.
Q: The production is blessed with these locations, isn’t it?
A: Yes. We are incredibly lucky to be able to film in the south of France, and we make the most of that every day. We are at a beautiful villa or by the sea or driving on the winding roads outside Monaco, and it feels very special to have that reality and use that setting, which I don’t think you could fake if you were shooting anywhere else.
Q: Finally, season two of Riviera really ups the ante, doesn’t it?
A: Absolutely. We had a read-through in the middle of season two – episode four, five and six – and I walked away going, “Oh my God, this is our show, and it’s gone to a whole new level.” There is so much crazy that happens – incest, murder, lies, deceit – but it somehow works for the show because we are in a heightened reality. I feel like you just go along for the ride. If Shakespeare and the ancient Greeks had a love child, it would be the second season of Riviera.
All episodes are available now via Sky Atlantic / NOW TV.