The Telegraph has shared a new interview with Tom, along with a gorgeous new photoshoot by Julian Andrews, to promote the release of Starfish next week. The interview reveals Tom's thoughts why on screen nudity sells, his early acting experiences, that he sent weekly body fat percentages while filming Da Vinci's Demons, and apparently he is only on Twitter because he is told to do it! The interview also tells us that Tom's performance in Starfish is sensitive and poignant. Read it in full on the Telegraph website.
Tom Riley, 35, graduated from LAMDA in 2005 and has since starred in productions across stage and screen including The Collection and Kill Your Friends. He portrays Tom Ray, a survivor of sepsis, in upcoming film Starfish, which is released later this month. Tom Riley has been trying and failing to come up with an accurate description of a ‘modesty pouch’. Then suddenly he has it: “It looks like a tiny drawstring bag – although obviously not that tiny – the kind you might keep Medieval coins in. It’s supposed to help spare everyone’s blushes, but once it’s on you look as ridiculous as you would naked. And it’s never comfortable.”
Which is why the 35 year-old chose to go without on his first day of filming for The Collection – Amazon’s lavish eight-part drama series, set in a post-war Parisian fashion house, the final episode of which airs on Friday night. “I was supposed to walk into the bathroom naked and because everyone was filming me from behind, I’d said no to the modesty pouch. Then I walk in to see a trainee sound girl sat on a toilet holding the boom. The girl is literally shaking, and she leans forward and whispers: ‘I’ll take my glasses off for the next take’.
Had the trainee been a fan of Da Vinci’s Demons – the hit US TV show Riley starred in for three seasons until 2015 – she would, at worst, only have suffered from an acute case of déjà vu.
“Being nude, and I mean drastically nude, was almost a prerequisite to playing Da Vinci,” admits the Kent-born actor, who had his own personal gym built for him by the studio and was forced to send in his body fat percentages once a week. “If it feels relevant and important and smart, I’m fine with it,” he says.
Besides, it is Riley’s role in Bill Clark’s low-budget independent film, Starfish, opposite Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt, that required of him the biggest physical transformation - and looks likely to be a professional game changer when it hits the big screen next Friday, The real life story of Tom Ray, a Rutland father-of-two whose life was changed overnight, 16 years ago, when he contracted septicaemia and had to have all four limbs amputated as well as parts of his face removed, Starfish isn’t an easy watch. Nor is it an enjoyable one. But Riley’s portrayal is sensitive and poignant - like Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, never giving in to mimicry.
“There Joanne and I were, thinking that we were making this very worthy film about septicaemia,” he tells me, serious now. “And it was only after we’d sat down with Tom and his wife Nicola for what was supposed to be an hour, but turned into four, that we both realised that actually this was a love story: a real love story about what happens after the easy part; about how you persevere.” Getting the Rays' blessing, and working with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to raise awareness for sepsis – which claims the lives of 1,000 children a year in the UK – is more important to Riley than any potential awards and acclaim, he insists.
And it’s hard to question the sincerity of a man who squirms so visibly when asked about the prosthetics he had to wear during filming – prosthetics it took three hours to put on every day. “Yes I had to drink through a straw, but who cares? I could literally take it all off at the end of the day, but Tom: that’s his life. So it seems a little trite to even talk, let alone complain, about any of it.”
Unfeigned modesty is rare in his industry, not least for someone who is being touted as the Next Big Brit in Hollywood, where he is now based full-time with his gorgeous 34 year-old fiancée, Lizzy Caplan - sexologist Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex - whom he met when she was filming in London early last year, and proposed to in May.
Pretty relaxed, despite having just stepped off the red eye from LA, he has maintained a healthy degree of scepticism about a city “that’s fundamentally just full of people dossing about,” he laughs. “I mean, people have meetings about things that don’t exist and then have to try and fill their day with stuff like psychics and scientologists – anything to give their lives meaning.”
Riley has an easy laugh and a curiously malleable face that can be made to look handsome or bland, tormented or laid-back. But the former Maidstone Grammar schoolboy’s talent was recognised by his own industry peers and the critics, the moment he started working, late for an actor, at 26.
His first film post-LAMDA, A Few Days in September, went straight to the Venice Film Festival and he’s since done David Hare in London and Tom Stoppard on Broadway – but things didn’t come easy enough to make him a brat. “A Few Days In September only sold to a tiny distributor in the end,” he remembers, “so all these promises from all these LA agents just evaporated and I didn’t work for six months. It was as though someone had waved a steak under my nose and then said: ‘Actually no – it’s going to be just scraps for a bit’.”
Riley’s parents being completely removed from the industry – his father’s a chartered surveyor and his mother a teacher – he had no one to warn him of the pitfalls. “I’m sure if they’d known how painful it could be and how much rejection, self-analysis and self-flagellation was involved, they might have said: ‘be a teacher.’ But that false start did make me realise that I had to get better not just at acting but at being at actor.”
He has undoubtedly done both. A scene-stealer as The Collection’s Claude Sabine – a volatile fashion designer in 1947 Paris who bears more than a passing resemblance to Christian Dior and repeatedly clashes with his power hungry brother - Riley has been perfectly cast in Chris Lang’s forthcoming two-part ITV drama, Dark Heart, about a detective haunted by the past. And Starfish could catapult him to a new level altogether - if he lets it.
After all he’s “adamantly against” offering up any of his private life (“the idea of being a ‘power couple’ or in a relationship that is a ‘brand’ is just so unappealing to me”), and is only on Twitter because he’s been told to do it. “If people want to snapchat their way through their lives, fine, but it’s not for me.”
One thing that both he and Caplan are vociferous about on social media is their mutual disdain – and fear – of Trump. “He appeals to the very basest impulses of humanity in all of us,” he moans, “it’s as though the whole world is bringing up its drawbridge.”
As for his next move, he’s keen to balance integrity with studios' seeming desire to have him bare all: "What I won’t do is sign something saying ‘you can have me getting out of the shower every day for the next seven years’."
But he wants to keep working “and nudity sells. The networks know people will talk about it. I mean look at us,” he chuckles, “we’re talking about it.” Riley may be missing the braggart streak of those who continually manage to propel themselves to the forefront, but perhaps we haven't seen the half of him, yet.