One of the UK’s finest young actors, Sam Riley already has a nice line in rebels on his CV. In Control, he made an incredbile debut as Joy Division's doomed lead singer Ian Curtis, and now in his latest film, Brighton Rock, he plays teenage psycho Pinkie Brown in a brave remake of the Richard Attenborough-starring Fifites classic. Next up, he'll be starring as Sal Paradise in the screen adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road. Chris Sullivan speaks to him...
How good are you at riding a scooter after Brighton Rock?
I had to do a test in London. It was quite intimidating because the roads are quite busy and other drivers just don’t respect you. It was a day long course with a really nice fella. It's cool that you get to learn new tricks when you make a film.
And you also learned to be a pickpocket?
Yes. I did. The scene was cut out of the movie unfortunately but I did a thing where I walk up the pier and I help myself to lots of things on the way and I had this great magician who taught me. He explained that a pickpocket would never stick his hands in a pocket that was empty, they clock it first, and normally they do it in pairs. You have somebody to distract while the other does the stealing. It's quite hard but I got quite tasty at it.
Did you lift anything off any of your mates?
I did off [director] Rowan [Joffe] and the DoP once or twice, just to wind them up
When did you first encounter Brighton Rock?
I read it when I was at school. I didn’t have to study it. A teacher suggested it out of the school library and it sticks with you. [Pinkie Brown], the name is weird and mysterious, slightly perverse. I remember it being very dark and frightening that a young boy could create such a storm around him in this adult world.
"I would always have the acid bottle in my pocket, so I could get a feel for it."
Do you ever consider why Pinkie is why he is, or do you just play what is on page?
The book helps that in some ways. There were pretty horrible slums outside of Brighton at the time when the book is set, probably not fantastic in the Sixties either [the remake updates the story to Quadrophenia-era Brighton] and the weirdness of him talking about his parents doing it in the other room at the weekends and how the noises used to revolt him - that all helps when you’re forming the character. All these things and all the little details you find in the book. There are some things that aren’t in the script. It says that Pinkie puts his hands back in his pocket and starts feeling the acid in there to make sure it is there while he is with her. I would always have the acid bottle in my pocket, even if it weren’t in the scene, so I could get a feel for it.
How do you find something to like in Pinkie?
There are the basic desires that some kids have, like Pinkie sees the big gangster Colleoni and wants what he has. You murder someone, and there is a loss of innocence, but it doesn’t suddenly make you worldly in every other way. So he's still an innocent. Real people are contradictory and if you get a great character like Pinkie that Graham Greene created - who is full of those contradictions - or like Ian Curtis, they are dream parts for an actor.
Next up is Walter Salles' adaptation of Jack Kerouac's autobiographical On the Road [pictured above], in which you play the narrator and protagonist Sal Paradise. Did [executive producer] Francis Ford Coppola or [director] Walter Salles say that they liked you in Control when they cast you?
Francis wasn’t involved in the casting. He's owned the book rights for 30 years and he is executive producer but he more or less handed over the reins to Walter for casting. I met Walter when my wife [Alexandra Maria Lara] was on the jury at Cannes. And yes, he had seen Control. I really ought to give [Control director] Anton Corbijn 10 per cent of anything I earn for the rest of my life. He is a great guy and Control’s been an amazing calling card for me.
What can we expect from On The Road?
It was such a crazy experience. There were things that were not in the script and you were asked to do on the day, like improvising with Viggo Mortensen [who plays Old Bull Lee], which is quite crazy. He’s a very cerebral man. He turned up with these beautiful old antique books from the time, like Baudelaire, and things that his character would have had. He had a bag of goodies that he brought with him and a hat, a tie and a shoulder holster. I thought, ‘this guy is f**king cool.’ I was quite intimidated. And Steve Buscemi as well. I spent the whole night talking to him, asking him a million questions about The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs. He was so good humoured. He just sat and talked. He was a dream. I don’t know how the film will look because there is so much material that Walter has got. He could make it a number of ways.
Did you spend much time with your On The Road co-star Kristen Stewart?
She is very good. She’s so good that she is not going to be held back by her [Twilight] franchise. To be that good when she’s like 20 years old or whatever is really remarkable.
Brighton Rock is available now on DVD. On The Road is scheduled for release later this year.
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