Success has hit 27-year-old Sam Riley so suddenly he’s having a hard time sorting it all out.
His is an accidental career, kind of. An artistically inclined youth who fancied acting, music and writing finds himself as the breakout star of Anton Corbijn’s “Control,” in which he plays late rock icon Ian Curtis of the hugely influential U.K. band Joy Division.
“I had a go at being an actor when I was 19. I’ve always been in school plays, and then I did a summer course at National Youth Theater. Then we all got to go to London and do actory type things, and I wrote two plays that went to the Edinburgh Festival when I was 17, and then I got a lead in National Theater and got an agent from that,” Leeds-born Riley explains in a charming ramble.
He did the rounds, landed some small parts but then told his agent he wanted to be a “credible musician.”
“That’s when I gave myself over to rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. When the label dropped his band, 10,000 Things, however, he realized he wouldn’t be onstage anytime soon and went back to acting.
“I was working in a warehouse in Leeds and gave my agent a call and said, ‘I’m Sam Riley. Do you remember me? Have they cast James Bond yet?’ ‘No,’ my agent said. ‘But they are casting Ian Curtis,'” Riley says in self-deprecating amusement.
More than mimicry, Riley delves into the complicated Curtis, delivering a charismatic, poignant and complex rendering of the musician.
“There wasn’t a particular technique or tactic. The stage mannerism was going to have to be specific, the dance was going to be as close a mimic as was possible,” says Riley of Curtis’ distinctive movements onstage.
“It wasn’t until we started filming that we knew we could all play the instruments,” says Riley. That was a revelation — the actors sing and play live in the film — in bringing the gritty realism of being in the band to the screen. “It’s hard to describe. I did lose myself in the role, especially when I heard the drum kit behind me onstage,” he says.
Riley’s music experience “helped in some respects. It wasn’t clear how much it helped until we decided I was going to sing. So I had to forget everything I had known. But you can’t fake using a microphone and standing in front of the mic. I always thought that performing with a band and acting were the same.”
AN ACTOR SHOULD ALWAYS: “Lie convincingly.”
I’M INSPIRED BY: Alexandra Maria Lara. “My muse.”
FAVORITE FILM CHARACTER: “Clint Eastwood in those spaghetti Westerns, the Man with No Name.”