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Interview: Britain’s brightest new star, Tom Riley


We speak to the star of Amazon's 'The Collection' and Hollywood's go-to "tortured genius"

Interview: Britain’s brightest new star, Tom Riley
Picture shows: Claude Sabine (TOM RILEY)
Henry Tobias Jones

Amazon’s new TV show, The Collection, is set in the gripping world of a fictional fashion house, Paul Sabine, which has been tasked with restoring Paris as the haute couture capital of the world. Inspired by one of the most prolific and innovative periods in the history of design, The Collection has subsequently been dubbed “the most stylist show since Mad Men.”

At the heart of the story is the brilliant but troubled fashion designer, Claude Sabine, played by British actor Tom Riley – a man not unused to inhabiting the role of creative, albeit tortured creatives. Having famously played the titular role of the Renaissance inventor in Da Vinci’s Demons, Tom has become a star of the silver screen, and the actor producers seem to turn to when they want a tortured genius.

When I ask Tom why he always seems to be playing tortured geniuses he laughs it off.

quote When I ask Tom why he always seems to be playing tortured geniuses he laughs it off. quote

“I like playing artists like this. In the scripts for the first two episodes, there was a lot more of Claude and we shot a lot more involving him. But we began to edit it became clear that he should not only be in the background of the fashion house, but also in the darker corners of the show’s world. By keeping him away from all those creative tantrums, I think he’s a much more compelling and engaging character. So Claude just sort of builds and builds as the season unfolds and I kind of prefer it that way to the way it was initially conceived.”

Tell me about Claude and how he fits in to the world of The Collection?

“Claude is one of two brothers who between them run the fashion house, Paul Sabine. My character isn’t at all like his brother Paul, the usually charming public face of the company. He has an utterly debauched lifestyle, the sort that wouldn’t have gone down very well in the eyes of the public. He drinks through the day, he’s gay, and has lots of secret affairs, and he’s incapable of being involved in the way that Paul needs or wants him to be.”

Interview: Britain’s brightest new star, Tom Riley
The Collection is available on Amazon Prime Video now, with new episodes available weekly

“So in exchange for giving his brother sketches at the end of every day, Claude gets to live the life he wants to lead – without being exposed. As the series progresses, my character realises that he doesn’t want to hide in the shadows any more – with everyone lauding his brother, when the creativity all comes from Claude.”

quote So in exchange for giving his brother sketches at the end of every day, Claude gets to live the life he wants to lead - without being exposed. quote

You say Claude is debauched, but he is also very fragile - almost the first time we meet him he is hungover, naked and covered in bruises, and then half drowned in a bath.

“We actually shot that first, and it’s such a great introduction. In a world where everyone else is so beautifully tailored, he is naked and flying in the face of all that. It was actually a little awkward for me to shoot though – at the bit where I have to pull my pants down and walk into a bathroom, they asked me if I would like a “modesty pouch” but I said my back will be to everyone so I wouldn’t need one. Nobody told me there would be a sound girl sat in the toilet with a boom looking timidly at me. Bit of an awkward first day on set.”

Interview: Britain’s brightest new star, Tom Riley
Picture shows: Claude Sabine (TOM RILEY)

On the rare occasion you do get to wear clothes on camera, what do you think of your wardrobe in The Collection?

“Although the show isn’t directly based on Dior, huge elements of him and his 1947 collection inspired the story and aesthetic of the show. The men are all beautifully tailored, but Claude is the one character you don’t really see in a suit because he doesn’t like kowtowing to the fashion world and getting dressed. So I didn’t get as many bespoke suits made for the show as the other guys, but Claude’s style is totally unique and I have to say I love his leather jacket.”

Apart from his clothes, he also sports fantastic moustache.

“Thanks. I had a beard when I first came in – like everyone else – and they obviously said get rid of it. As men with beards do, I started to get rid of it in stages as a laugh. We ended up with a moustache and I thought it looked good so I went to the team and thought they would never go for it but they did – and so I ended up walking around town for 3 months with a hipster moustache.:

Are you keeping it for the cop drama, Dark Heart, that you have just wrapped?

“Haha no, it’s not an American 1970s drama – unfortunately.”

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