Bring­ing a Beat Gen­er­a­tion leg­end to life.

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

SAM Ri­ley was hardly an ob­vi­ous choice for the role of Jack Ker­ouac – or rather the Amer­i­can au­thor’s lit­er­ary al­ter ego Sal Paradise – in the long- awaited film adaptation of his clas­sic beat novel On

The Road.

‘‘ I was as sur­prised as any­one else that [ di­rec­tor Wal­ter Salles] was go­ing to hire a York­shire­man to play Jack Ker­ouac,’’ says the self- con­fessed bar fly, best known for his break­through per­for­mance as the late Joy Division singer Ian Cur­tis in the An­ton Cor­bijn biopic Con­trol.

‘‘ But he had au­di­tioned other peo­ple. I mean, my fa­ther is not the pro­ducer or any­thing. I won it fair and square.’’

Five sec­onds into the con­ver­sa­tion, and it’s al­ready clear Ri­ley is a good deal fun­nier than his sullen, in­tro­spec­tive screen per­sona.

The UK ac­tor, who fol­lowed Con­trol with an un­set­tling per­for­mance as the ra­zor- wield­ing Pinkie in Rowan Joffe’s 2010 re­make of Brighton Rock, seems to have cor­nered some­thing of a niche mar­ket in iconic artists.

‘‘ It’s not in­ten­tional. It’s not even par­tic­u­larly in­tel­li­gent, re­ally, to play peo­ple that have such a clear imag­i­na­tion of who they think they are. But they are the roles I have been get­ting of­fered, so I can’t re­ally say no.’’

Con­trol, Ri­ley says, rep­re­sented one of those once- in- a- life­time mo­ments when ev­ery­thing comes to­gether per­fectly.

‘‘ I was re­ally down on my luck at that point, hav­ing just lost a record deal. They were look­ing for an un­known ac­tor to play a singer from a town 40 miles from where I had grown up – it was in­cred­i­ble fate. And then my wife [ Ger­man ac­tress Alexan­dra Maria Lara] do­ing it as well. ‘‘ It changed my life, re­ally. ‘‘ And it’s got me ev­ery job since. Wal­ter saw Con­trol. An­gelina saw Con­trol . . . ’’

That would be An­gelina Jolie, with whom Ri­ley is cur­rently film­ing Malef­i­cent, a re­vi­sion­ist Dis­ney fairy­tale told from the wicked witch’s point of view, in Lon­don.

‘‘ I don’t chain smoke or die – it’s un­charted ter­ri­tory for me,’’ Ri­ley dead­pans.

‘‘ And I get to be funny as well. I am the light en­ter­tain­ment!

‘‘ It’s my last gasp at­tempt not to be type­cast as a de­pres­sive.’’

Ri­ley plays the sor­cer­ess’s trusty raven, or at least its hu­man in­car­na­tion.

Com­edy, pros­thet­ics, fan­tasy, a stu­dio bud­get – these are all firsts for Ri­ley. ‘‘ It’s quite sur­real. I have never done any­thing on this scale ei­ther be­fore – it’s a proper stu­dio mon­ster. It’s great fun.’’ And a nice change of pace from On The

Road, which was shot, guer­rilla- style, over the course of four months.

The weight of ex­pec­ta­tion sur­round­ing the film adaptation, which pro­duc­ers have been try­ing to get off the ground ever since Ker­ouac wrote to Mar­lon Brando in 1957 sug­gest­ing he play the Gar­rett Hed­lund role of Dean Moriarty, meant Ri­ley wasn’t en­tirely dis­ap­pointed when the project fell over the first time around.

‘‘ Part of me was kind of re­lieved that I had joined this list of nearly Sal Par­adises, which was quite an in­cred­i­ble list, and one I was quite happy to be a part of.’’

When the film was fi­nally green- lit, Ri­ley took so­lace in the fact there would be safety in num­bers.

‘‘ We were all in the same boat so that sort of brought us to­gether.’’

Con­trary to her rep­u­ta­tion in the me­dia, Kris­ten Ste­wart, who plays Moriarty’s free- spir­ited wife Mary­Lou, proved to be a re­mark­ably low- main­te­nance co- star.

‘‘ She was just one of the gang. She trusted us. She’s lovely. An ab­so­lute plea­sure to work with. And it was very im­pres­sive for me the way she han­dled her­self, be­ing as fa­mous as she is. I hadn’t seen any of the Twi­light films but I was shocked by the re­ac­tions we got in some places.’’

Ri­ley, who hadn’t ac­tu­ally read Ker­ouac’s book be­fore au­di­tion­ing for the role, as­cribes its en­dur­ing ap­peal to the fact it is some­thing of a youth­ful rite of pas­sage.

‘‘ It con­nects with that pe­riod of life in­be­tween ado­les­cence and adult­hood where you be­gin to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for your own destiny rather than fol­low­ing what your par­ents or teach­ers say.’’

While On The Road is set in a very spe­cific time and place, its themes are univer­sal. ‘‘ The world has changed but peo­ple don’t so much,’’ Ri­ley says.


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