Julia Stiles on ‘Riviera’ and Joining Sundance Now’s Multi-Part Thriller Series
The 10-part thriller Riviera, available at Sundance Now (AMC Networks’ premium video streaming service), follows Georgina (Julia Stiles), a high-end art curator who’s newly married to billionaire Constantine Clios (Anthony LaPaglia) and living in the south of France when he’s killed in a yacht explosion. After his death, Georgina discovers that the man she thought she knew and the fortune that he maintained were tainted by dishonesty and criminal activity, and that Constantine’s ex-wife (Lena Olin) and three children (Dimitri Leonidas, Iwan Rheon and Roxane Duran) are more aware about his questionable dealings and their enemies than she is.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actress Julia Stiles talked about how Riviera came her way, why the project appealed to her, the experience of living and working in the south of France, what made her most nervous about this character, exploring the complicated character dynamics, how she felt about the way the seasons ends, and whether there will be more episodes. She also talked about when she’ll return to work, after having a new baby, the fond memories she has of 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, and what she looks for in a project.
Collider: How did Riviera come about? Were you actively looking for a character that you could sink your teeth into for a bit longer period of time than you get to with a movie, or did this just come your way and the script was too enticing to refuse?
JULIA STILES: It was one of those lucky things where I just got a call from my agent, asking me to read the script. I was at the airport on my way home from filming the Bourne movie, and I really was struck by the premise. I like Neil Jordan’s work and I was excited that he created the show, and the first episode grabbed me. When I asked him what his inspiration for the show was, because I wanted to know that the scenes we would be exploring would be interesting enough beyond the beginning and into 10 episodes or more, he said his idea behind it was that behind every great fortune is a great crime. If you could distill the show into one thing, I thought that was an interesting idea to explore.
And I’m sure the beautiful locations didn’t hurt either.
STILES: It was a delight to be living and working in the south of France for seven months, and to get to see it from the height of the tourist season into the fall and the winter, when it was a little quieter. It was totally a dream, but I wanted to make sure that I’d also enjoy the work part of it, and it was so rewarding. They were really responsive to my input. Every day, we were in a gorgeous location. It was pretty spectacular.
What were you most excited about, with a character like Georgina, and what were you most nervous or worried about with her?
STILES: I was really excited when it became clear to me that Georgina is not to be underestimated, and that she would turn into an anti-hero and do some questionable things because of the circumstances that she’s in. I was also really interested in the art market part of it, the fraud that’s discovered, and the forgery with these paintings. I majored in visual art, but I also think the business side of it is fascinating. And then, I was scared about it being a bit of an unknown when you sign on for a TV show. It’s quite a commitment, which can be great because you’re working with the same people for a long period of time and you get to explore a character for a longer amount of screentime. But a lot of times, you don’t really know what the ending of a season is gonna be because they haven’t written it yet. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, in terms of knowing what you’re signing up for.
At the beginning of this series, Georgina seems to have quite the life, but then it’s all ripped away from her and she’s left to realize that everyone in her husband’s life seems to know more about him than she ever did. Is she as focused as she seems, when it comes to getting answers, or is she freaking out on the inside?
STILES: I think she’s probably more in denial and refuses to accept what’s right in front of her. Originally, the writing of the first episode indicated that when she’s first told the news about the accident and her husband’s death, she bursts into tears, but people don’t really respond to grief or tragedy that way. There are many stages to people absorbing information, and then the reality of losing something, like a loved one, in your life. I also really wanted to explore the idea of her being very rigid and put together on the surface, and keeping all of those emotions inside. The only person that she can trust is her friend Carver, so she does open up to him, but everybody else wants to get her out of there, so why would she trust them and show any kind of grief? To me, that’s psychologically interesting. Also, it’s a really hard thing, to accept the idea that you have been lied to for so long, willfully or not. To me, to watch the process of her coming to terms with that is really interesting. Either she didn’t expect anything and finds it hard to believe when all of it is uncovered because how could she be so stupid, and there are other parts where she was deliberately not paying attention and only seeing and hearing what she wanted to.
How would Georgina describe her relationship with Constantine and what their marriage was like while he was still alive?
STILES: That’s a really interesting question because one thing we tried to play around with is that your memories can change based on what your present situation is. The only time we really get to see them together is in flashbacks. Probably, when he was still alive and she was in the thick of their love and romance and it was new, since they had only been married for a year, I think she had this idealized version of the truth. Because of the age difference and the difference in wealth, I think their bond was almost an intellectual thing, over their passion for artwork. He really appreciated her knowledge about buying and selling the art they shared in their collection, and when someone sees you in that way, it can be very intoxicating, beyond just the material things that he provided for her. She’s not your stereotypical gold digger. They had a deep connection, but then, when she discovers that that was all a lie and part of a fraud, it completely unravels her memory. It’s complicated.
Two women who’ve been married to the same man are bound to have an unusual relationship. What was it like to work with someone as bad-ass as Lena Olin, and what did you enjoy about playing that dynamic?
STILES: She’s amazing! I so loved working with her. I think our relationship off screen really informed a lot of what you see on screen. We both, as actresses, have a lot of respect for each other, and that infused what could have been a very stereotypical relationship with much more deep layers. Yes, there is the obvious competition, jealousy and rivalry, but when they have a similar agenda, they’re actually allies and there’s an undercurrent of mutual respect. To me, that makes it more interesting. And Lena’s character is able to really level with Georgina in a way that’s surprisingly honest. Even though it seems like maybe it comes from a place of rivalry and competition, it’s also honest, which is something that Georgina needs, at this point . . . One of the things that I noticed with Riviera is that there are three major female leads in the show, with me, Lena Olin and Roxane Duran, who plays my stepdaughter. It’s three age groups, so I thought, “Okay, Lena will be the matriarch and Roxane will be the ingenue, but I’m in this middle area. What can I do with that?” And I was really, really pleased with what they came up with. I’ve noticed that there might be fewer roles for women in their 30s, but the ones that are there are so much more interesting because the tropes that are so easy to fall into don’t quite fit in that age category.
Georgina has very interesting relationships with all three of Constantine’s children. What was it like to explore those dynamics and see how she was with each of them?
STILES: With Adriana (Roxane Duran), she’s maternal, or like an older sister. With Adam (Iwan Rheon), he’s sweet and always there, and maybe she kind of trusts him, but he’s a bit weird. And then, with Christos (Dimitri Leonidas), that is such a combative relationship and it’s quite frustrating for both of them. They’re really at loggerheads, most of the time. Episode 5 is a big turning point for the two of them, where so much stuff happens that they’re forever indebted to each other, in some way. I liked seeing how the relationships turn and change.
How did you go about getting into the mind-set of this woman? Was there any specific research or preparation that you did to understand someone from her background, who’s in this world and who has an occupation like this?
STILES: It was more about how to get out of her mind-set. I made a conscious effort to not take the work home with me because she’s going through so much tragedy that I didn’t want that to sully my life outside of work. The reality of her situation is pretty sad. But the art business and art world was really fascinating to me, in terms of research, just to wrap my head around the practical things when it comes to buying and selling art and how you approach that, and also just to be able to appreciate some of the amazing artwork they have in their home. That’s more of an intellectual thing. Viscerally and emotionally, I was really conscious to, at the end of the work day, leave that behind. Especially in the beginning, she was crying and there was so much tragedy. Later, she becomes quite ruthless, which is really fun to play, but is not necessarily admirable.
By the time you got to the end of this and found out all of the reveals, how surprised were you by the way that everything played out, and how do you think audiences will react?
STILES: I really was excited about the final couple of episodes, and we worked really hard to get them right. I fought really hard to have Georgina take control, as much as she could, of the situation. One of the first things that I really liked about her was that she sticks up for herself and she had a backbone. She could so easily leave. She has nothing in this world, except for material stuff. You get the feeling that it’s so empty without her marriage. His family wants her gone and she’s always under threat of going to jail. I really wanted to see her do something with all of that, and she does. At the very end, we’re left with something that I think is very shocking, but in context, it’s also hopefully very satisfying. You want to see her act out.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing next, as an actress? Do you already have something lined up, or are you going to take a break and focus on being a new mom for a bit?
STILES: A bit of both. I don’t suppose I’ll go back to work until next spring. I’d like to have some time with my newborn baby. And it’s not official, but I think we’re going to make more of Riviera. In an ideal world, I’ll be bringing my little newborn to France.
You’ve done some pretty seminal movies, including 10 Things I Hate About You and Save the Last Dance, that mean so much to so many people. What do they mean to you? Do they feel like long ago moments, or will those memories always be special to you?
STILES: They do feel like long ago moments. It’s almost a different chapter in my life. Certainly, I’ve learned a lot from that. It’s really nice that people still remember them and are enthusiastic about them. I am reminded and look back fondly on that time.
At this point in your career, what do you look for in a project and what gets you to decide that something isn’t for you?
STILES: Usually, I’ll pass on something if I feel like I can’t contribute anything to the part. If I don’t feel in my gut that I can do something with the role, I’ll graciously step down. Sometimes it’s practical reasons. I’ve turned down some things for early next year because I really want to spend time being a mom and spend time with my baby. That’s precious time that you don’t get back. When you’re in a committed relationship, you have to factor in the other person and what being separated means, and figure out if there’s a way to make it work, so that we don’t have to be far apart. He works in film, too, so we’re both juggling that.
Riviera is available to stream at Sundance Now.