The Collection: the complex role reveals Riley as an actor to watch
Three interviews with Tom in one day! What a treat! Elle shared their interview with Tom online, and included some kind words about his performance as Claude Sabine: "The complex role also reveals Riley as an actor to watch. He channels Claude's low moments with an intense gravity, just as he's able to unveil the character's more vulnerable side."
Tom Riley wasn't really looking to do another TV show when he was approached about Amazon's new historical drama The Collection. The British actor, who had recently wrapped three seasons as the Da Vinci in Da Vinci's Demons, hesitated at the thought of offering so much of his time to another series, but ultimately found the story too compelling to resist. "It was the family drama at the center of the whole thing," he says of The Collection, which follows a pair of brothers running a fashion house in post-war Paris.
The series, which premieres on Amazon Prime on February 10, centers on the tension between Riley's moody Claude Sabine, secretly the real artist behind the clothes, and his brother Paul, the public face of the house. Fashion itself, though, "was this expansive world I had no idea about,"
Riley adds. "I took that as the backdrop of this incredible story about a family who is messed up and dark. That was what pulled me into it. It seemed like something special." Working on The Collection served as an entry point into the world of fashion for Riley, who immersed himself not only in researching the era, but also in the contemporary industry. Last spring Riley attended London Fashion Week for the first time, where he sat front row at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi with his fiancée Lizzy Caplan. It was not at all what he expected.
"I like dressing well if I can and if I can afford it and if I have the stuff in my wardrobe," the actor admits. "But I dismissed it as something that was always superficial, and not as much an art form as a business or an industry." His front-row experience gave him a different perspective—"I was so moved by the clothes on the catwalk"—as did the backstage high stakes of "seeing how everything was hanging on this one show. It had all been building to this one collection and now it was over."
Riley was able to take these revelations with him to set in Wales and Paris. His primary focus, though, was on how best to channel Claude, a complicated, damaged man both at odds with his well-to-do family and openly gay in mid-century France. Claude is the genius behind the dresses, but refuses to take the credit or pride in their creation, allowing his mother and brother to control the company. The dresses themselves are certainly a highlight of the episodes, but tumultuous familial feelings are what really drive them. Riley focused on bringing a sense of humanity to Claude, who is surrounded by personal demons and those of his family. But, as he discovered earlier in his career, taking on such a beleaguered character can have its downsides.
"When I first started out acting I used to have real trouble switching off at the end of the day," says the actor, whose first onscreen role was alongside Juliette Binoche in 2006 thriller A Few Days In September. "If a scene was unpleasant I'd go be miserable that evening." Riley soon realized he needed to balance the dark and the light to cope: "The way of doing that is finding the humor. I'm always trying to find ways that characters can be funny, and I think Claude gets a lot of witty lines in."
Claude's sexuality is an important facet of the series, but the show allows it to be part of the fabric of the story rather than an issue. There's an interesting dynamic in the show because Claude doesn't hide his relationships with men, yet his skills and career are kept under wraps. "That was something that really drew me to the part," Riley says. "It's really strange to play a person who isn't closeted in the way you'd expect him to be...the thing he is keeping from the world is the fact he's the genius behind Paul's designs. But in exchange for that he gets to go out and live his life as he wants, and no one talks about it. So he's liberated, but at the same time he's had to give up another part of himself to do so."
The complex role also reveals Riley as an actor to watch. He channels Claude's low moments with an intense gravity, just as he's able to unveil the character's more vulnerable side. Although he became known for his work on Da Vinci's Demons, Riley isn't a household name yet. Still, he's been far from idle; last year he co-starred with Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt in love story Starfish and appeared alongside Danny Glover in Pushing Dead. He'll be in another BBC series this year, an exciting project he's not allowed to mention by name yet—"But watch for it," he notes.
Riley may not have wanted to take on another TV series, but he's overwhelmingly glad he signed on to The Collection, even if there's not yet a confirmation on season two. "It was a great experience," he says. "Every little bit of this world was real—you could touch it and you could see it. That never gets old. And you never know what's going to happen in your career. You just go in and say, 'I hope I can do this. I might not be able to, but I'm going to try.'"