Sam Riley on stereotypes, musical ambitions and working with Angelina.
Your new film Maleficent is a bit of a departure for you, in that it’s a Disney remake of Sleeping Beauty starring Angelina Jolie. Why the drastic change?
I was curious about what it was like to work on a bigger scale, not only [in terms of] budget but also green screens and sets. And I really wanted to work with Angelina. Why not? My grandfather, who is 93, is desperate to see me do something amusing in a movie before it’s too late. I want to do things that are different. People will get bored of me chain smoking cigarettes and crying, won’t they?
You play Jolie’s sidekick Diaval – a shape-shifter who flits between human and raven. We read she picked you out specifically for the part. How did that happen?
I think it was Robert [Stromberg], the director, who wanted me, but she also had a say in it. One of the things she did notice was that I had a wedding ring on. She liked the fact that I was married, apparently. I think it made Brad feel more secure [laughs]. You know, [Brad might say,] “Who’s this Northern chap?”
Jolie’s daughter Vivienne plays the young princess in the film. Was the whole Jolie-Pitt gang on set?
Yeah, sometimes. Brad’s a cool guy. It’s a cliché but the really famous people – the stars – are often the cool ones. It’s the ones that are frustrated they’re not as big as they think they should be – they’re the pains in the arse on set. Brad was super nice, we had a drink. It’s always surreal; you’re sort of half paying attention to it happening and half already telling your mates.
Angelina sports some pretty impressive cheekbones in the film…
[Laughs] Before or after the makeup? The amazing thing is you don’t really see where the seams are, so it looks perfect. I remember on one of the first days, Peter Capaldi [who plays King Kinloch] and I were chatting and he was starting to have his makeup put on. Then I went off and four hours later this goblin – or a man with a proper goblin’s head, moving and everything with little hairs in his ears – comes over to me and just carries on the conversation. I was like, “Is that you, Peter, under there?” Unbelievable; it’s insane. So really, you barely noticed Angelina’s cheekbones when everyone else was looking so bonkers.
You went on a month-long ‘beatnik bootcamp’ in preparation for On the Road. How did you go about researching this role?
[Laughs] This is f*cking embarrassing. I didn’t really know anything about ravens, for one thing. So I watched a lot of videos on YouTube. Then they arranged for me to see a movement coach from one of the London drama schools, one of the ones that refused me as a lad. For three hours I sat in a room with a raven. They are enormous; I had no idea. Really intimidating and incredible characters. I studied the raven and then with this movement coach we tried to incorporate things. It made me really glad I didn’t actually go to drama school, because by the end of session I was running round this hall flapping my arms.
Nice. Moving on, you were in a relatively successful band called 10,000 Things…
Are you being sarky?
No! You did release an album, right?
Well, yeah, but we weren’t very successful. We got one of the worst reviews of all time in the NME. We were what you’d call ‘unsuccessful’.
You did also support the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Babyshambles. Do you ever wish you’d made it as a musician?
We gave it our best shot and ballsed it up, spectacularly. But I won’t ever wonder if I could have been a rock star because I gave my young adult life to it until we got dropped by our label. I had a blast doing it. But we weren’t what the public wanted or the timing wasn’t right. I mean, we were better than Kaiser Chiefs
You’ve not done much TV in your time. With the likes of Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey crossing over to the small screen, is that something that interests you?
I just don’t have the attention span to stick with something for that long. It’s like theatre – I admire the actors that can do it for huge runs, but I don’t think I have the capacity, stamina or psychological strength. I used to be a nervous wreck going on tour [with the band]. I’d get so apprehensive and nervous and excited before gigs – especially big ones – that I’d be sick. TV would appeal to me if it was something short, like what Woody Harrelson and McConaughey did [True Detective]. I like the idea of something having a lifespan that’s brief.
And finally, how come you’re not on Twitter?
I am, but I don’t use my real name. I use it to follow what my mates are saying, but I wouldn’t dream of having an official one. Why would you want to know whether people think you’re a w*nker or you’re God’s gift? It strikes me as insane.
Maleficent is at cinemas nationwide from 28 May
(Image: All Star)