Crime as an art form

Cor­rup­tion and mur­der on the Riviera: the con­cept was enough to hook ac­tress Ju­lia Stiles

Central and North Burnett Times - - READ - BY Seanna Cronin

BE­HIND ev­ery great for­tune is a great crime. That quote, at­trib­uted to Honoré de Balzac, and made fa­mous in Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather, is the cen­tral premise of the lav­ish crime thriller Riviera.

Those words were cen­tral to co-cre­ator Neil Jor­dan’s pitch to the 10-part drama’s star Ju­lia Stiles, who plays an Amer­i­can art cu­ra­tor for the su­per-wealthy.

“That con­cept was enough to sus­tain my in­ter­est and an au­di­ence’s in­ter­est for more than just a few episodes,” Ju­lia tells Week­end.

“There’s a lot to ex­plore there. I just felt the set­ting – this beau­ti­ful, cin­e­matic set­ting – as a back­drop for all this cor­rup­tion was in­ter­est­ing to me.”

But it wasn’t just Neil’s pitch, or even liv­ing in the French Riviera for seven months, that sealed the deal for Ju­lia. It was the fact that her then fi­ance, now hus­band, cam­era­man Pre­ston J Cook – whom she wed in Seat­tle last month – would also work on the se­ries.

“Be­fore I knew he was go­ing to work on it, I was pan­ick­ing quite a bit about be­ing away from home for that long and that far away,” she says.

“But the fact that we could be there to­gether was just a de­light. The lo­ca­tion was even more ro­man­tic be­cause we got to share the ex­pe­ri­ence. You spend so much time at work, so to be able to share that with your spouse is a dream come true.”

In Riviera, Ju­lia plays Ge­orgina Clios, whose bliss­ful life of lux­ury is torn apart when her bil­lion­aire hus­band of one year, Con­stan­tine Clios (An­thony LaPaglia), is sud­denly killed in a yacht ex­plo­sion.

Ge­orgina finds her­self in­ter­twined in the art world, the last un­reg­u­lated fron­tier for money laun­der­ing, and in the messy re­la­tion­ships of the Clios fam­ily: Con­stan­tine’s first wife Irina (Lena Olin), moody el­dest son Adam (Iwan Rheon), play­boy and heir to the fam­ily for­tune Chris­tos (Dimitri Leonidas) and trou­bled teenage daugh­ter Adri­ana (Rox­ane Du­ran).

“The rest of the fam­ily wants to get rid of her – there’s a lot of an­i­mos­ity there – and Iwan’s char­ac­ter seems to be the only one Ge­orgina can trust,” Ju­lia says.

“But he’s mys­te­ri­ous and also has his own bag­gage. Ge­orgina doesn’t quite know what to do with him.

“There’s the pos­si­bil­ity he has a bit of an in­fat­u­a­tion with her that could be quite dan­ger­ous.”

While she only has a few key scenes with him, Ju­lia is full of praise for her Aus­tralian co-star An­thony LaPaglia.

“An­thony was great to work with,” she says. “He was such a trooper. It’s hard to come in to a set where ev­ery­one’s been work­ing to­gether and you’re kind of the guest.

“The cameo he came to shoot was sup­posed to be his only scene in the first episode, but we wanted him to come back so they wrote some more flash­backs. I re­ally loved the way that her mem­ory changes over the course of the show based on new in­for­ma­tion that she’s given.”

As well as con­tend­ing with things like Con­stan­tine’s fu­neral and the read­ing of his will, Ge­orgina sets about piec­ing to­gether the mys­te­ri­ous details of her hus­band’s death and se­cret life as lo­cal author­i­ties carry out their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

She is filled with self-doubt as she dis­cov­ers she was com­pletely naive about her hus­band’s true busi­ness deal­ings and that paint­ings she bought or sold on his be­half may have been forg­eries.

“I was struck in my read­ing of the pilot episode that she does come across as naive, but she’s got to go some­where,” Ju­lia says. “I made sure in my dis­cus­sions with the pro­duc­ers and writ­ers that she was go­ing to evolve into some­body who would rise to this oc­ca­sion and be­come ruth­less and cun­ning.

“She ques­tions her­self, you know, was she wil­fully ig­no­rant? What’s more dev­as­tat­ing for her is how she could have been so blind to it all.”

Be­hind the de­signer sun­glasses, Ge­orgina is also a woman try­ing to cope with grief.

“In the first ver­sion of the script when she finds out her hus­band died, she im­me­di­ately breaks down sob­bing. That didn’t ring true to me,” Ju­lia says.

That scene was sub­se­quently changed, as were oth­ers. Jor­dan, best known for di­rect­ing In­ter­view With The Vam­pire and more re­cently as the cre­ator of The Bor­gias, has pub­licly dis­tanced him­self from the Sky At­lantic se­ries, which he says is “quite dif­fer­ent’’ from his orig­i­nal vi­sion. Still, Riviera is some­thing Ju­lia is proud of.

“Even with all the script changes, the first episode re­ally stayed the same largely,” she says. “The later episodes changed, but I think the show is still fo­cused on that cen­tral idea. By episode five it starts to get re­ally good and all the wheels are in mo­tion.”

Ju­lia has some fa­mil­iar­ity with the art world, al­though not at the same mind-bog­gling heights as de­picted in Riviera. Her mother is an artist (spe­cial­is­ing in ce­ram­ics), she grew up in the arty en­clave of Green­wich Vil­lage in New York City and grad­u­ated from New York’s Pro­fes­sional Chil­dren’s School.

“I do have an in­ter­est in art, not just a pure in­ter­est in beau­ti­ful vis­ual art but also an in­ter­est in the busi­ness side of it,” she says.

“I think that comes from grow­ing up in New York City, sur­rounded by artists for most of my life.

“I’ve al­ways had this back­ground of a con­sid­er­a­tion about try­ing to ful­fil your cre­ative drive but also mak­ing your liv­ing as an artist. How do you put a price on art? It’s some­thing re­ally in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore through the show.”

A sec­ond sea­son of Riviera has not been of­fi­cially con­firmed yet, al­though Ju­lia be­lieves it’s highly likely.

“I’m re­ally ex­cited at the pos­si­bil­ity of a sec­ond sea­son,” she says.

“Where we leave Ge­orgina at the end of the first sea­son opens up a whole world of pos­si­bil­i­ties in terms of where you could go.”

Her next role, though, is that of a new mum. Ju­lia and Pre­ston are ex­pect­ing their first child any day now.

“It’s all go­ing to be new to me,” she says. “It would be lovely to bring my new­born to the south of France.

“I have no ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing a work­ing mother, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m lucky that I have op­tions. I’m happy I’m go­ing to be a mother and have a job.” Riviera airs Wed­nes­days at 8.30pm on SBS and is avail­able to stream on SBS On De­mand.

PHOTOS: JOHN WRIGHT/SBS AND AP

Ju­lia Stiles stars as Ge­orgina Clios in the TV se­ries Riviera and, be­low, she is ex­pect­ing her first child any day now.

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