The Version Interview... Julia Stiles on Sky Atlantic's Riviera
Riviera is an intoxicating thriller that follows the moral descent of American art dealer Georgina Clios, whose idyllic life is shattered when her billionaire husband is killed in mysterious circumstances. But his death leads Georgina into the shadowy, criminal underworld that lurks beneath dazzling fortunes. It's the latest in a long run of incredible original dramas for Sky Atlantic and it debuts this June.
Julia Stiles tells us more...
The series has many great writers, including Neil Jordan and John Banville. What were your first impressions of the script?
I remember thinking that it was very poetic in a way that I hadn’t seen in a screenplay before. It was really intriguing and I loved the setting. There’s such a nice contrast between what the characters are going through and what they’re doing versus the beautiful, glamorous setting of the Riviera.
To what extent do you build up a backstory to the character?
I only really build up a backstory or flesh out details of things that I think are going to apply on screen and are relevant to the story we are telling. So for, example, what happens to a character on her fifth birthday probably doesn’t matter, but in this situation, knowing where Georgina came from in terms of her education, her upbringing, wealth and class I thought was relevant. Her relationship with her father was relevant because she talks about it a little bit and I think it affects her view, in hindsight, of her marriage. So that was something that I thought through more with the writers than I would have perhaps done on another show.
Was it exciting to be able to explore many different sides to Georgina in depth over 10 episodes?
Yes, I’ve never worked on anything for this long and never played a character for this amount of screen time, so inevitably you get to do more. I was really excited at how much I got to do with Georgina. It’s really rare. It’s a privilege to play a sophisticated lead in a show and have the opportunity to play her in all different situations. At times she is naive and at other times she is cunning.
How would you describe her relationship with her husband’s family?
Fraught. She’s not really welcome in the family. Even Adriana’s fondness for her comes at a price, which is to be more alienated from the family. Her position is very threatened and there isn’t much love among the people who are forced to be together after Constantine’s death.
What characteristics of Georgina’s do you most admire?
Her resilience. One question that would come up is ‘why doesn’t she just leave?’ Of course there would be no show if she did but she insists on fighting for her understanding of her marriage, her understanding of what happens and also her position in the household. I admire that. I think that takes a lot of strength and courage.
The series is shot on location in the French Riviera. How did you find that experience?
It was amazing. It was such a privilege and a delight to be living there for seven months. I would live there permanently if I could. It’s just a lovely place in all seasons. Everything from the language and working with a French crew to the food and the landscape, it was such an adventure.
Did you enjoy working with such a great ensemble cast?
It was fantastic. They’re all so talented. It was a delight working with Lena Olin in particular. She’s such a formidable woman. And the actors who play the Clios children were all unique and interesting. Everyone cared very much about the work we were doing, which was important on the show.
Was it the first time you had met many of your fellow castmates?
Yes, it was the first time I’d met any of them. I also had many scenes with Adrian Lester, who not only directed us in two episodes but is such a talented actor and a fun and kind person to be around. I really enjoyed my scenes with him and I enjoyed being directed by him too.
Having spent time there, is the Riviera really filled with wealth, glitz and glamour?
There’s a mix. There are expensive yachts and estates but there is also a middle class. There are also many people who seem to live very simply. Nice is more diverse in terms of economics than some of the neighbouring towns but there is obvious wealth in the Riviera that I haven’t seen in America. There’s new money in the United States but there’s old money in Europe.
How important is each character’s style and fashion tastes in the show?
Fashion for Georgina is very different to the way that Lena’s character Irina uses fashion and we wanted to make that clear in the show. Irina is showing off her wealth in how she dresses whereas Georgina – because she comes from the art world and has a keen interest in design – has an eclectic collection from around the world and uses it to express her individuality.
Riviera is all about wealth and excess. Property aside, what has been your most extravagant purchase?
I spend more of my money on experiences like travel. But I bought a piano, even though I don’t really even play the piano. I bought it with the intention of learning!
Riviera begins this June on Sky Atlantic.