Man of mystery
Sherlock star Rupert Graves tells DQ about joining the cast of Riviera for the Sky Atlantic drama’s third season, filming in Venice and Buenos Aires and why he was drawn in by the show’s dreamlike visuals.
At a time when Covid-19 has restricted international travel, one television series ensures viewers can continue to travel the world from their own sofa – and the globetrotting nature of Sky Atlantic drama Riviera was certainly one of the reasons that led actor Rupert Graves to join the cast for the show’s third season.
“I’ve never done any luxurious, jet-setting work really. I have to be honest and say that was attractive. But also I liked the script for episode one [in the third season], which was a really nice thriller,” he tells DQ. “It’s not the kind of stuff I often do. It’s not a period, literary piece, but there is a lot of fun in it, and I’m really being chased around Venice, genuinely.”
Riviera, which returned to UK screens earlier this month, picks up the story of art curator Georgina (Julia Stiles), whose billionaire husband was killed in a yacht blast in season one. A year after the explosive events of season two, Georgina has cut her ties to the French Riviera and is seeking to restart her life in international art restitution, partnering with the charismatic Gabriel (Graves) to scour the world for stolen works.
When Gabriel apparently confiscates a random artefact from a corrupt art dealer, his actions throw them both into the middle of a dangerous conspiracy, leading them from Venice to Saint-Tropez – back to the Riviera – and then to Buenos Aires in a fast-paced adventure that has both high stakes and lavish style.
“I didn’t quite understand who Gabriel was in it, which turned out to be a good thing in a way,” Graves says of reading the first scripts, “because it turns out he’s a man of mystery. I thought it was interesting, and then I watched the first two seasons and I was really struck by it. I enjoyed the slightly hallucinatory quality of it and I like the fact that although it’s an aspirational show, these extraordinarily rich people have something so corrosive in their collective hearts. It’s like a Jacobean story in a way.”
With Gabriel recruiting Georgina to work with him in the first episode, the pair are soon on the trail of a stolen Picasso in Venice before they are pursued by armed men, leading to a canal-side fist fight and a dead body.
“The thing about Georgina is she seems to run towards trouble,” Graves says. “It’s a peculiar man who runs with her into trouble. There are some questions about Gabriel. It’s not a romantic relationship [between them], it’s a kind of friendship – with maybe a very buried sexual kind of frisson in there somewhere. It’s really not played out. Not all the answers are given in this season, but it’s enough to say he’s not quite what he seems.
“I also like the fact neither of them are of that super-wealthy world. They’re both like grammar school kids who end up in this world. I find that in that rich world where you can get anything, nothing actually really matters. Something interesting happens to people when they have that much money, when anything’s possible. People like to strive – and if you don’t have anything to strive for, some sort of malcontent takes over and often they become mischievous, which I think is interesting about Riviera, which captures that really well.”
Graves is particularly intrigued by Riviera’s blurring of reality and fantasy, comparing Georgina to Alice going down the rabbit hole. “It is like being in a dream,” he says. “When you’re in dream and things happen to you, you are swept along by the force of your subconscious. That’s sort of what I let myself do as my character.
“When I got the part, I only had the first episode [to read]. It was the only one that was ready. We often didn’t get the next episode until a week before we were going to start shooting it, so you make decisions based on what’s in front of you. I wasn’t really told what was going to happen to my character, so you are forced to become like a character being swept away on a current and keeping yourself open to possibility.
“I found myself imagining myself in a dream where extraordinary things happen. It was quite a good way of approaching this.”
Venice, Saint-Tropez and Buenos Aires provided Riviera with suitably glamorous backdrops for season three, while Graves says filming ran at a more relaxed pace than other TV shows he has worked on, such as The War of the Worlds, Last Tango in Halifax and The White Queen.
“Venice was amazing because most of it was shot at night,” he reveals. “It’s really interesting being in a place for a couple of months without any traffic. It makes a difference to everything, to your wellbeing and how you get around. It’s absolutely beautiful. Filming at night, there’s nobody about. You have to be quite hushed in those streets or people will tell you to shut up, which is fair enough. But you have the world to yourself and we were lucky enough to be filming in beautiful palazzos that you never get to see the interiors of. It is just gorgeous.
“Then you get to the bustle of a big city like Buenos Aires, where you’re filming in big squares with lots of people. But what’s nice about a job like that is, because the crew is partly from there, you take on the filming culture of the place you’re in, which was interesting. It was a lovely experience filming it. The people and the places were really amazing.”
On set, Graves discovered that the challenge of filming a thriller was having to roll with the twists and turns as they came. “With drama, you can often play a scene three or four different ways and there are good choices and bad choices [for your character to make],” he says. “With a thriller, sometimes you have do things where you think, ‘Oh my character wouldn’t necessarily do that’, but you just have to because you’ve just got to really know the story and work out the most believable way my character would get from A to B with all the narrative requirements. That’s why staying in a sightly dreamy state is a big help.”
Earning a third season is evidence enough of Riviera’s appeal to viewers, who made the show one of Sky’s biggest original dramas when it debuted in 2017. Produced by Archery Pictures and Primo Productions in association with Altice Studios, the show’s cast also includes Claire Hope-Ashitey, Poppy Delevingne, Jack Fox, Franco Masini, Eliseo Barrionuevo, Synnøve Macody Lund and Gabriel Corrado.
Graves puts its success down to its beautiful people, places and costumes. “It’s aspirational and it’s escapism,” he says. “Especially now when we’re all living with Covid and all the rules and regulations, in this show people can just do what they want. If they want to get a helicopter and bomb a yacht, they just do it. There’s a liberation in watching that. It makes you feel a little free for a bit.”
While filming Riviera was unaffected by the pandemic, Graves recently experienced the raft of new production regulations when he recorded a guest appearance in the second season of ITV crime drama McDonald & Dodds. The show stars Tala Gouveia and Jason Watkins as a pair of mismatched detectives solving crimes in the English city of Bath.
“We had to stay in bubbles of six. The cast is put into teams, almost,” the actor explains. “The interesting thing is that, because there’s no mixing between departments and on set everybody stays in their masks, it enforces a kind of focus that is good from an actor’s point of view. The turnovers between shots were quicker because there’s less fiddling. We had to do our own make-up and our own checks. I made a couple of mistakes when I forgot to put on my character’s glasses.
“The strangest thing is you never get to see who the crew are. If I passed them in the street a week later, I wouldn’t have recognised anybody because you never see anybody’s faces. It’s strange, but the upside of the enforcement of restrictions is everybody is a little more focused on set, which isn’t a terrible thing. I’m really silly on set; I like to keep things light, but it’s actually nice having a bit more focus.”
For many viewers, Graves will be most recognisable for playing Inspector Lestrade in the BBC’s award-winning detective drama Sherlock, playing opposite Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. However, if he’d listened to advice from some quarters, Graves might never have taken the role.
“When I went up for it, people were saying, ‘Rupert, don’t do this. The part’s too small.’ I think I was only supposed to be in the first episode originally, but the writing was just too good,” he says of the series, created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffatt and based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels.
“When I read the first script, it was too good. It was too much fun. To be involved in a piece of TV that slightly shook up genres… you can see a lot of stuff now copies the innovations the writers, directors and producers put into Sherlock. It was lovely to be part of something that really caught fire like that.”