Exclusive: Sam Riley (Diaval) Talks About His First Blockbuster Maleficent
Maleficent is in theaters NOW! Rated PG
Sam Riley, Diaval in Maleficent has been relatively unknown in the US, But that is all about to change. In his home in the UK he is well known for playing Ian Curtis in the biopic Control, about new wave/punk band Joy Division, a film that got him awards, including “Most Promising Newcomer” from the British Independent Film Association. It’s surprising to see an actor like Sam as unknown, because he has the classic makeup of a star – talent and good looks. A scruffy British accent doesn’t hurt things either.
Sam’s cool brooding look dissipated as he brushed his hair out of his eyes sheepishly and looked down nervously. He, like the other stars we interviewed for Maleficent, didn’t know what to expect.
“Um, I’m terrified”, he chuckled after sitting down and grabbing a sip of water. We got into the questions so show him there was nothing to be afraid of…
What was it like to work on a new but yet very old story?
Oh it was, it was really exciting. Most of my films are sort of independent-type cinema that not many people go and watch usually. But I loved it and the lady (Linda Woolverton) who wrote it had written the Lion King as well and lots of other big, you know, lovely Disney movies. They do a lot of remakes and rehashes of things these days, but I thought the way they did this was really interesting. ‘Cause, I mean, what would make a woman or a sorceress curse a little baby? It’s like one of the worst things you could possibly do. And before everything’s so black and white and, and these days, I mean, ladies are still waiting for a prince sometimes but to just lie there asleep is not really the modern way is it?. And the fact that Angelina, obviously, was gonna play Maleficent was very exciting.
Was there research you had to do to figure out how to get into your character? Or did you have creative license because it wasn’t something that you knew?
Well I watched the old cartoon but it doesn’t really do very much in that. The raven always looks half asleep or something, So they organized it so that they could bring a real raven into a room about this big (stretches his arms 4ft across). I’d never seen a real raven before. I thought they were like crows but it’s like this big, it could do tricks and stuff, which is pretty scary. I mean, when it gets its wings out it’s as long as this table. You know, really huge. And they’re very intelligent and they’re kind of vain as well which I thought was funny. But I just watched this raven in a room for awhile, just to see if anything would rub off on me, that I could steal something from it while I’m the man part.. And there was a really nice lady who helped me doing a movement coach. And we, like, tried to copy bits of his movements. And by the end of the session I was actually running around the room flapping my wings. It was horrific. She was, like, “We should film this.” So I was, like, “Under no circumstances do I ever want to see myself running around a room on YouTube going [SQUAWK].” It was awful. But it helps. So once you’ve done something really silly then everything else, it makes you more relaxed, you know. I should have done it before coming in here actually.
How much hair and makeup did you have to go through every day?
It’s about three and half, four hours? But I couldn’t really complain ’cause there were other people that had been in there since three o’clock in the morning. They have to wake them up that early so that they’re ready to work at nine, you know? SO the ladies and guys that were putting all this stuff on, they probably work the hardest ’cause they have to be there at that time and then the whole day they have to make sure things aren’t falling off.
But I’m a really good sleeper. I used to be anyway. I’ve just had a baby, well, my wife.
Thank you very much. So after a couple of weeks I managed to be able to lie down in the chair and while people were, like, gluing things to my face I could actually sleep through it which is pretty impressive. Until one morning they turned the seat back up and realized they stuck my nose on the wrong way, it was sticking up. So they wouldn’t let me do it anymore after that.
What’s your most memorable scene?
The first one really because I was really nervous. I met Angelina before, obviously, we rehearsed and things like that, but I’d never seen her in the full costume. And they drive you from your little trailer on a golf buggy – they don’t usually do that on indy films anyway. And then they had this amazing set there and she was already standing there so I was worried that I’d been keeping her waiting or something which wasn’t a good start.
And she had her back to me and, with the way it was all lit amazingly and then when she turned around it was like… It’s weird because it looked, you know it’s not real, you know, the cheekbones and everything and the contact lenses. But when you look at her in, in all that stuff it kind of, it looks – natural is maybe not the right word but it fits. You don’t think it looks fake or something. In fact I only really saw her in costume for like the first four weeks of the shooting. So it was strange to see her in her normal clothes afterwards. You got so used to seeing Maleficent every morning.
Can you tell us about your audition?
It was pretty classic, really, which is more or less they send you the scenes, you know, they email you them and then you, you learn them at home if you’re a good boy and then I flew to London and met Rob and the casting director. And then you do the scene and the lady plays Angelina. You never really know. Sometimes you think you’ve done it well and then it’s still don’t call us, we’ll call you type of thing.
And I didn’t hear anything for quite a long time so I just thought [I didn’t get the part]- and my agent who is really nice said, “Yeah, but you’re not really Disney material, are you?” But he’s got a great sense of humor. (laughs, jokingly) Yeah. I sacked him. So, uh, and then about three weeks later my American agent rang, which is always at night in Europe, and he said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “Oh, I’m in a pub.” And he said, “Well, buy yourself another drink because Angelina saw the tape and you’re Birdman.” So exciting.
Was this the first time that you got to work with small children on the set? And if so, how was it?
Well I wasn’t there the day that Angelina’s little girl was there. But she told me that two of her kids were big fans of my character. And they arrived, they came for lunch one day on set so I thought, oh well I’ll go and (say hi) And I got within about ten meters of them and two of them started crying. So I just sort of pretended it wasn’t me.
Congratulations on your baby. Did you have a boy or a girl?
Boy. A little, little boy. He’s four and a half months.
So have you already started reading stories to him?
Not really. We sing to him, but – I mean, you try absolutely everything at the beginning, don’t you, to see if something will [work and they] go to sleep. We were thinking about whether to bring him over for this but he just started sleeping through the night so we thought if he comes over here… By the time we take him back home he’ll be sleeping through the day and not through this, so. No, but we’re really lucky. He is actually sleeping. It was like a holiday at first — although you wouldn’t, you wake up like four times the first night that he did sleep sort of wondering what’s wrong, you know?
Since your character is a bird and then a human, did you have trouble transferring between the two?
They had the special effects people there on those days to sort of try and explain when she clicks her fingers, you know, do I go down or am I going up into the air or something like that? And the first time it was a bit strange ’cause they sort of went, “Well just go something like that.” (makes a motion almost like melting down) And sometimes you feel really stupid doing these things. But it was good fun. Like, if he’s flying in then he should be sort of off balance. Then when he lands… I’m really curious to see it.
It seems like your character plays her conscience throughout the movie.
When we talked about it in the beginning she said, you know, at the beginning he’s more like a servant and he’s scared of her because she’s all-powerful and everything. But we were talking about it and if you think about it they spend, like, every day together for sixteen years then. She’s isolated herself somewhere, so that I’m the only one who talks to her. So we wanted them to be a bit more like a bickering married couple by the end of it and have these lighter moments. And I can sense that there’s good in her, which she likes, she doesn’t want to admit or something. When I read the script and realized that I’m gonna have every single scene with her I was like, “Oh, well, this is pretty cool.”
Did you get to improvise much?
A little bit of it, sometimes. I mean, the script was so great, you didn’t really feel like you were saying, forcing things, you know, sometimes with lines it doesn’t feel very natural to say them. But this time it was really, it was really great. But there were fun little things that — does she turn me into a squirrel at all? She was always teasing me that she was gonna turn me into a squirrel. Wouldn’t it be funny if I turned into a worm or something like that?
So, no, it was very easy. All actors say that about each other. But I think she knows that everybody’s kind of nervous when they meet her. But she’s got a very disarming sort of smile and way about her that you, you sort of start to forget. But it was a great atmosphere on set because she’s so nice with all the crew and everybody, so everybody’s really happy to come to work in the morning. There was a bit of improvisation but it, it was just the kind of re- relaxed environment.
Did you get to see any of your transformations while you were filming?
No but the director got lots of beautiful drawings that he’d drawn all the animals that I turn into so I had some idea what it would look like. And I think there’s one brief bit of transformation in one of the trailers, but like for a split second. And all my friends are like, “Yeah, that could be anybody, man?” Come on. So. No, really, I’m really excited.
*I was supplied with a paid trip to conduct my interviews and coverage of Maleficent. All opinions expressed are 100% My own.