Sam Riley on How Quickly ‘Maleficent: Mistress of Evil’ Came Together

     October 21, 2019

From director Joachim Rønning, the fantasy epic Maleficent: Mistress of Evil delves deeper into the bond between the dark fae Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) and her human goddaughter Aurora (Elle Fanning), as the complex family ties that bind them are tested. And while the impending nuptials between Aurora and Prince Philip (Harris Dickinson) are a cause for celebration and a uniting of two worlds, they also lead to new enemies and unexpected allies.

While at the Los Angeles press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down and chat 1-on-1 with British actor Sam Riley (who plays the raven Diaval, Maleficent’s constant companion and favorite bickering partner) about how his father was convinced that they’d get to do a sequel, when he found out that he’d get to reprise the role, what he enjoyed about the direction Diaval takes this time around, his reaction to working with co-star Angelina Jolie, transforming into this character, and how surreal it is to get to be on such elaborate sets.

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Image via Disney

Collider: This character seems like it’s so much fun to play. Did you have some idea that you would get to revisit him, or was it a surprise to you?

SAM RILEY: It was kind of a surprise ‘cause so much time had passed since the last film. My dad was convinced that they would do a sequel, at some point. We were looking online at box office figures and everything, and he definitely thought that, at some point, it was gonna happen. I was really thrilled, to be honest. I’ve never done a sequel before. I hadn’t been killed off, in the first one, so it was possible. I enjoyed the first one, but I was just beginning to really enjoy, when it was all over, with my anxiety and my fear of the whole thing. So, this time, I was happy to be able to go back and just enjoy it. 

At what point did you realize that there actually was going to be a sequel? How far ahead did they call and tell you?

RILEY: It wasn’t a whole lot before. There wasn’t a massive amount of notice, which was quite surprising. My dad was like, “I can feel it, it’s gonna be this summer. This is happening. Angie will probably wanna do a movie.” I was like, “Dad, you have no idea.” He works in the textile industry, by the way. So, I rang my agent and was like, “My dad’s convinced that they’re gonna do the sequel. Have you heard anything?” And they were like, “Well, funnily enough, Disney did ask about your availability.” So, there wasn’t a lot of notice, but I was available.

Since he does get to come into his own a little bit, were you surprised at the direction that Diaval takes in this?

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Image via Disney

RILEY: Yeah. Angelina is more influential than I am, but we both enjoyed what we were starting to work out, in the first one, with the idea that they were bickering with one another, and that he also really does know where her heart lies and can see past her angry sorceress front. So, we talked about what’s been happening, in the last six years, and how we’ve become the mother and father of Aurora, to some extent, but that the two of them are still bickering with one another, like an old married couple. That’s a lot of fun to play with anyone, but it’s great fun to play with her, obviously.

What have you enjoyed about that relationship, and about sharing that with Angelina Jolie?

RILEY: I’m a huge fan of Angelina Jolie, as so many people are. When she comes on set, I still go, “Fuck, it’s Angelina Jolie! Wow!” With the horns, especially. But, she’s really lovely. We get on really well. We got on well, the last time, but we got on even better, this time. And I never really get to play comedy, in my career. I’ve been pigeonholed more as the dark, troubled characters, or psychopaths, so that was nice. I really enjoyed being silly. And she has great ideas. (Director) Joachim [Rønning] let us mess around, a little bit. We knew that it was going to get quite dark and serious, so we wanted to make sure that there were also some playful moments.

Did you ever get disappointed that you didn’t get some of the wild hair and make-up and prosthetics that some of your co-stars had, or were you fine with not having to go through that for hours?

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Image via Disney

RILEY: I actually had a lot of hair make-up. In the first movie, I had some of the most because I had a whole chest piece. But my nose wasn’t real, there were scars, and a wig. I still had two and a half hours, or so, in make-up. It was worse in the first film, so I was really happy to not be one of the dark fae. When I saw my pick-up time, it would be five in the morning, but then I’d see 1:30am for the dark fae, who had to sit for six hours to get make-up, and then be ready to start work at seven. So, I was happy. I was working with the same people that did it last time, so we we’re friends and would just chat away. What I’ve learned, in the years in this business, in my experience, is that there can be long periods of time without work. I’ve had that, in the last 10 or 12 years, as an actor. So, I don’t see being in make-up for two and a half hours. I’m grateful to be working. There are worse things. I’ve had real jobs before. 

Do you think Diaval wishes he could just go off on his own, or does he love bickering with Maleficent too much?

RILEY: I think he’s in love with her. That will be Maleficent 3. Otherwise, why would you stay, unless it’s sort of submissive thing. I think he just likes it.

It’s funny that he finds himself in the middle of this big battle that he didn’t ask to be a part of, and he has to save people. 

RILEY: And he’s not really the butch guy. He’s happy that he can be there to help, in the moment that he is there. He loves Aurora and he wants the wedding to go ahead. He sees how happy she is. But he has no idea what’s going on, when all of the other characters turn up.

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Image via Disney

How cool was it to be on such incredibly elaborate sets?

RILEY: A lot of it was practical. I’ve done really low budget films, and medium size ones. I love the whole process of being on a set, and all of the people coming together, and to witness something on that scale is really exciting to watch. It’s like herding cats, sometimes. Sometimes you’re just like, “How the fuck are we gonna do this? There’s a hundred extras.” There were so many dark fae. At one point, I saw a group of 200 people in one corner and they weren’t in costume. I was like, “Who are they?” They were the make-up artists because every one of the fae needed three make-up artists. I don’t even know how any other film was being shot in England, on that day, because every make-up artist in the country was there. It blows your mind, that stuff.

And with all of that going on, your director had to keep everything straight, in his head.

RILEY: Yeah. Joachim did an incredible job of keeping track of it. On the last days, everybody who was in the movie was there, so you’re dealing with a lot of actors and a lot of questions, not only from the actors, but from every single department. And then, there are all of the things that aren’t there. And there are the things that you have to change. You have to roll with it.

Did you have a moment on set, where things just felt so surreal that you couldn’t believe this is your life?

RILEY: On this one, there were many times like that. We shot the banquet scene over 10 days. You tell a friend what you’re doing, and it’s pretty nuts. They’ll say, “What are you doing today?,” and you say, “Well, we’re shooting a scene with Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie.” It was very fun. Every day was pretty extraordinary.

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil opens in theaters on October 18th.

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