Interview: Juliet Stevenson on the new season of Sky Atlantic's Riviera

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 the hands of our female protagonist, Georgina.

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Georgina becomes entangled with the Eltham family, an English dynasty that sail in to the Cote d’Azur providing its shores with a dose of old money and bohemian glamour. She goes on to form relationships with the whole family, some that appear genuine from the outset and others that unravel around her as secrets, old and new, become exposed. Juliet Stevenson takes on the role of Lady Cassandra Eltham and is joined on the Riviera by her children, the impossibly stylish Daphne (Poppy Delevingne) and the brooding Nico (Jack Fox) and Daphne’s husband Raafi (Alex Lanipekun).

As Georgina tries to find a way to live with her crime, secrets from her past wash up on the shores of the Cote d’Azur that force her to explore her turbulent childhood against her will. Following an unprecedented and unavoidable visit to her childhood home, Georgina returns with a refreshed sense of self to re-establish her power and position in the family alongside her charismatic confidant, uncle Jeff (Will Arnett).

Elsewhere in the Riviera, the rest of the Clios family is still reeling from Constantine’s death. Christos (Dimitri Leonidas) is on the brink of losing everything, Adriana (Roxanne Duran) loses herself in a dangerous affair and Irina (Lena Olin) struggles to find her lost son, Adam (Iwan Rheon).

The Riviera has never been so tempestuous. Torn between her past and her present, can Georgina navigate her way to safer waters or will she lose her place in a world that she has grown to control?

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JULIET STEVENSON PLAYS CASSANDRA ELTHAM

Q: Tell us about your character.

A: Lady Cassandra Eltham comes from minor British aristocracy. She is property rich, but cash poor. She’s come with her two grown-up children, twins called Daphne and Nico, to this house on the Riviera which has belonged to her family for a long time, but has got run down. In order to cover the mounting costs of running her family estate, she has sold the pile in England and come down to the south of France to try and live there. She’s trying to do up the house and make it into a beautiful home. But little does she know when she arrives on the Riviera what she’s letting herself in for…

Q: Have you enjoyed working with the actors playing your children?

A: Absolutely. My son is played by Jack Fox and my daughter by Poppy Delevingne. I’m the happiest actress on this planet to have these two glorious young actors playing my kids. I take responsibility for them. I boss them around, and they boss me around and do exactly the same things that my own nearly grown-up children do. I’m not just saying this for the purposes of press for Riviera season two. They have been a complete joy.

Q: Did you hit it off immediately?

A: Yes. What is extraordinary is that right from the first day we had some weird familial link. We never had an “I don’t know you very well”, shy, semi-formal period. On the first day we met at the read through, we just clicked. I looked at those two and thought, “They are so like siblings. They even look the same. They’re the same height, practically.” We all three have the same sense of humour. So we’ve had the biggest hoot. We’ve had massive bonding, and I’m going to miss them terribly.

Q: Has your closeness off screen helped with playing the roles?

A: Yes. It doesn’t always happen, but when that glorious bit of serendipity in casting does happen, it’s fantastic. Of course, you don’t get much rehearsal time on a TV drama, but when that casting takes place, you don’t really need it because it hasn’t taken us very long to get that sense of really deep, complicated love, friendship. We understand the shortcuts that we can take talking to each other. That relationship off screen is brought on to the screen quite quickly and easily. I have been in things when that hasn’t happened at all with people playing my mum or my daughter or my son, and that’s really hard work. But I feel really blessed that I have had Jack and Poppy there.

Q: What does the Riviera backdrop add to the drama?

A: The glamour is incredible. I’m not that seduced by glamour in general. I think I’m a little bit suspicious of it. I love France and I know quite a lot of areas of France, but I didn’t know this one. I thought I might be a bit put off by the very wealthy at play all the time. That is of course true, but nothing prepared me for the beauty. We’ve been in Nice and Antibes and Grasse, going as far as Monaco to the east.

Q: Can you please expand on that?

A: There are the yachts and jet-skis and helicopters and all that stuff. But the beauty of the landscapes – that’s what we all love. You get these amazing sunrises and sunsets. You only have to travel a mile or so behind the coast and you get these incredibly beautiful, rugged landscapes. The Alps start very quickly. I went walking in the foothills for a couple of days. Mediterranean smells and sights and sounds – that’s what I’ve adored. You also get this incredible light.


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Q: The production has taken full advantage of the stunning scenery, hasn’t it?

A: Yes. They have found the most amazing locations. When I was watching series one, I did think, “My God, the production values are incredible.” It has beautiful villas, beautiful gardens, incredibly framed by the cinematographers. I do think series one was very beautifully shot, and series two, if anything, even more so. It’s cinematic and ambitiously shot. Lots and lots of thought and lots and lots of resources have gone in to the look of it. It does look a million dollars.

Q: There is a dark underbelly to this beautiful-seeming world, though, isn’t there?

A: Yes. The strange paradox is that it is all being done in this very serene, groomed, exquisitely maintained, manicured environment. Underneath that, there is hell. There is violence, threats, disorder, corruption, murder. But everything on the surface is exquisite. That’s a very fascinating cocktail.

Q: Why would you recommend that people switch on season two of Riviera?

A: Season two is as exotic and as beautiful as season one. The production values are incredible. There is that exquisite, glamorous, picturesque framing and landscape, both inside and outside. You get the characters viewers have grown to love, but you also get quite a lot of new characters coming in to create new interest. There is no question that audiences will be as hooked as they were by series one.

Q: How does the story develop?

A: It becomes very interesting and more and more complicated. Some of the old story gets left behind, and new events and new thrilling narratives begin. It’s a more complicated human landscape because we have got two families now to dance all over this extraordinary piece of storytelling. If any people have dark secrets and skeletons in the cupboard, it’s certainly the Elthams. They are here, and they are up to no good. It’s double trouble!

All episodes are available now via NOW TV and Sky Atlantic.