In Maleficent, Sam Riley plays Diaval, who is essentially the right-hand man to the Angelina Jolie character. Those who remember the original Sleeping Beauty surely recall the raven that is ever present. In Maleficent, Jolie turns the raven into a man (and several other creatures too seen in the Maleficent trailer) and we got to catch up with Riley for an exclusive chat about the entire experience.
Riley talked Jolie as acting partner and how her many accomplishments had many on the set wondering how they use their own time! He also talked about being a lifelong James Bond fan and the glory that was filming at the fabled Pinewood Studios in England where the 007 series is filmed.
Movie Fanatic: Your character does not have too much to it in the original Sleeping Beauty. What about it first intrigued you when you got the script for Maleficent?
Sam Riley: The fact that even when I’m not there as an actor, my character is there in the whole film. That’s a strange thing to think about. I really thought it was the best male part in the movie, in my opinion. It was the most developed in a lot of ways. I’d be lying that it wasn’t exciting to think that every scene I was going to do in the movie was going to be with Angelina Jolie. It’s going to be interesting then.
Movie Fanatic: Your expectations for working with Angelina versus the reality of it, were they the same? Were they different?
Sam Riley: I didn’t know what to expect. But, I have worked with movie stars before, maybe not in the same league of stardom. But, my wife (actress Alexandra Maria Lara) has as well. She told me that I would probably find that she’s very easy and cool. It’s the ones who aren’t as famous as they think they are that are the pains in the asses [laughs]. My wife was right about that. You’ve met her. She hasn’t gotten to where she is by being difficult. She’s incredibly hard working and the amount of time and preparation she was putting in behind the scenes to developing the look of her character -- she gave a lot of us a complex about how little we were doing with our lives [laughs]. She does so much. I just had a child, so anyone with six -- I find very hard to imagine, including twins. Hats off to her!
Movie Fanatic: And how was she as an acting volley partner?
Sam Riley: We had a lot of fun. On the page it was already a lot of fun to read. And we rehearsed a couple of times, but not too much. We made each other laugh. And Rob (Stromberg, director) and her thought we should save it and capture it on film when we shot it.
Movie Fanatic: What struck me too about your character in Maleficent is that for a character that could have been only one or two dimensional, you’ve got quite an arc. How did you see that evolution of your character over 16 years and how he interacted with Maleficent in varying situations?
Sam Riley: You know, since it’s not shot in chronological order, you really need to know where you are in that relationship journey. I have a timetable so that on any day when I wake up I can see where I’m at in the story. You can immediately see what’s happened before. There were discussions about how far to take the humor and certainly this idea that it is 16 years… every single day in each other’s company. Maybe not always as a man, but I’m always there. At the beginning, he’s more of this servant and afraid of her. And by the end, he felt he could speak up to her. In many ways, they were like an old married couple [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: While acting in a world that would be added later with computer graphics, did it take you back to being a kid playing in your backyard in how you had to tap so much into your imagination?
Sam Riley: It does, yeah! Those moments you realize what a silly job, sometimes, being an actor is for an adult. Someone will come in and go, “So, now the fairies will float in here… and then you watch them. And then you drop the bracelet on the invisible cushion -- and it’s beautiful, so show that. And then a little person who is covered from head to toe in a blue stocking skips by in between you on a broomstick that has blue tape around it with a ring on the end of it. Now… go!" Sometimes you think, “This is such a strange way to earn a living.” It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s amazing how childlike you have to be.
Movie Fanatic: As someone who grew up appreciating what films were made, like James Bond movies, at Pinewood Studios, what did it mean to you to film Maleficent there?
Sam Riley: It was a big moment -- one step closer to the big job [laughs, of course referring to being James Bond]. On one of the things it’s got 007 written on it, I mean, come on! As a Bond nut, I was in hog heaven.
Movie Fanatic: Of all the memories you’ll have from this Maleficent experience, is there one that will stand out decades from now?
Sam Riley: Yeah, seeing my parents’ faces when they came to visit on the set was one of the highlights. My mum and dad took us to Disneyland, our one family trip abroad. It was a big deal. Then, to bring them to a Disney set… that was just unreal. To be able to introduce them to Angelina Jolie on set and drive around Pinewood in a golf buggy, that was like giving something back to them from me -- which, is not always possible.