From creator/writer Oliver Goldstick (Pretty Little Liars, Ugly Betty), the Amazon drama series The Collection is a family saga centered on the Sabine family and their Parisian fashion house, which has been tasked with restoring the city as the haute couture capital. Paul (Richard Coyle) Sabine is the entrepreneurial mind behind the label while his brother Claude (Tom Riley) is the creative genius, but the secrets that the family is hiding, and their internal rivalries and betrayals, could end their success before it’s ever fully realized.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) talked about playing another (but very different) tortured genius, what drew him to The Collection, how beautiful this series looks, the new appreciation he has for the fashion world, the very complicated relationship between the Sabine brothers, whether he’d like to explore Claude’s life further, why Amazon is such a great company to work with, and whether he’s a binge-watcher himself.
Collider: How did you get involved with this series? After the end of Da Vinci’s Demons, had you considered not signing on for another TV series, or were you open to any medium, if the material was great?
TOM RILEY: I was very anti doing it, if I’m honest. It was very much that feeling of having worked so hard on Da Vinci’s for three years without seeing sunlight that, unless the right thing came along, I didn’t want to do it. The thing I did know was that I didn’t want to shoulder a show on my own, immediately. If something interesting and ensemble-y came along and the part was exciting, impactful and dynamic, then I wanted to consider it. And then, The Collection came along and I read it and thought the scripts were smart and dark and different. The character was different enough, and the ensemble that they were building was fascinating and interesting, and I wouldn’t have to shoulder it. So, I was out here and I met with Oliver Goldstick, the showrunner, who was busy on Pretty Little Liars, and he convinced me. He was very convincing!
What did he say that really convinced you and made you want to sign on?
RILEY: It was more the arc of the show. There were only a few scripts to go off, and in the beginning, Claude is in the shadows of the fashion house. He stays in the background, and he stayed in the background of the scripts. It was about where this character was going to go, how important he was going to be, alongside his brother, and how much it was going to be about fashion. It wasn’t necessarily going to be about fashion. It was going to be a family drama about a family falling to pieces under the weight of all of their lies. I was just like, “That sounds fascinating! I’m in!”
This show seems so visual and so visceral. How much of this did you get out of it when you read it? that apparent in the script?
RILEY: Very much so. Oliver is a very dynamic and imaginative writer, so the stage directions were visceral and very clearly written. On the page, sometimes they were even more fantastical than we were able to translate to the screen. It was even more crazy, out there and strange, on the page. And when it comes to describing how beautiful the dresses are or how unpleasant the murder is that opens the episode, it was definitely all there. The visuals were very music within the script, for us to pull out and make work.
It took people a little while to catch on to the kind of programming that Amazon offers, but they’ve had some real success now with their TV series. When did you realize that doing a streaming series was a viable option?
RILEY: I just think streaming feels like it’s the future. It allows people to watch things in a way that fits into their lives. Prior to this, the idea of sitting down and watching a show every week seemed like a great idea. The minute you’re offered another option, you’re like, “You mean, I can watch this every week, if I want to, or twice this week, if I need to, and not next week, if I don’t have time?” I didn’t even realize it was something we wanted or needed, which is where all great innovations come from. Also, the other great thing about it, that seems to be the case in streaming, is that a lot more scripts are written before you start. Because they are planning on allowing it all up at one time, you have four or five scripts to read and an outline of where it’s going to go. The writers aren’t chasing their tails as much. You’re able to see the beginning, middle and end of a storyline, and that is rare. Streaming allows that, in a way that network TV doesn’t.
When you watch TV, are you a binge-watcher, or do you prefer to savor episodes?
RILEY: I’d like to say that I’m a binge-watcher, but I don’t really have time. I think the most I’ve done in a sit-down is three episodes, maybe. It depends. The other great innovation are things like Transparent or One Mississippi on Amazon, Master of None on Netflix, and those half-hours. It’s a lot easier to watch a load of those because it’s far more palatable to go, “You know, I’m just going to do one more of these.” But if it’s something like The OA, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve watched an hour of that. I’ll leave another one until tomorrow.” When it’s a half-hour, it’s like a little bag of candy. You just keep going back until it’s gone.
People talk about the incredible freedom they get when they’re working with Amazon, and that the creator’s vision is really allowed to come through with little to no interference. How was the experience, for you?
RILEY: Because that’s what the people at the very top are getting, it filters down. They’re like, “We like the script and we like you. The money is there, so go make it.” The confidence instilled by Amazon, in people like Oliver [Goldstick] and Dearbhla Walsh, who’s our head director, just trickles down. Everyone feels like, “Okay, we can put our trust in someone. They’re not coming in, disheartened by a bunch of notes. They’re coming in, empowered by the fact that they can try to create their vision.” That makes for a happier set and, I think, better shows. If the shows don’t come out the way you expected, then at least they got a sense of authorship. There’s some sort of authorial presence behind it. At least, it’s a dignified failure.
What was it like to delve into the fashion world? What sort of insight and appreciation did you get, and how did that influence this project?
RILEY: I got far more insight than I’d ever had before. I didn’t know about the fashion world, or at least I took it for slightly superficial. I didn’t realize the extent of it. It’s an art installation to put out a collection, with the people behind the scenes who are inventing and creating these designs and making sure they’re realized on the catwalk, and just how much hangs on it for the designers. Their livelihoods hang in the balance, as far as whether this year’s collection works for them or not, and there are so many people’s jobs on the line, as a result of that. I just had no idea. I went to London Fashion Week for the first time, after I got the job, and it completely changed the way I perceived it. I thought, “This is a far bigger operation than I ever expected, and it has far more worth than I ever gave it before.” It definitely changed my view of the fashion world.