Since making a splash as Joy Division singer Ian Curtis in 2007’s “Control,” British actor Sam Riley has been pretty selective with his roles. But as he admits, some things you can’t say no to, like his latest, “Brighton Rock,” based on the Graham Greene novel and co-starring Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis. In it, Riley plays Pinkie Brown, a coldhearted up-and-comer in the 1960s British crime underworld. Metro caught up with the overly humble actor to discuss learning to ride a scooter, the quaintness of switchblades and his next big novel adaptation, “On the Road.”
How do you approach playing such an unsympathetic protagonist?
Somehow you always find things that you understand, even if you think, ‘Well I would never do something like that.’ Up until that point I’d really only played sort of sensitive types, and it’s fun to be cruel and to say things that you’re not really allowed to say in real life. He’s got cold moments, but he’s got a really girlie name, hasn’t he? That’s probably what the whole problem is. You call a lad Pinkie, I mean what’s going to happen to him? He’s either going to be a dancer or a psychopath.
You’ve got some pretty impressive co-stars in this as well.
It’s a dream for a young actor, really, to be able to say that I’ve done a movie with John Hurt and Helen Mirren — and [newcomer] Andrea [Riseborough], who I know is going to go on the up and up. It’s intimidating at first because you think, ‘F---ing hell, what am I doing here?’ But John and Helen are sort of classically trained but also very polite and good fun.
Had you ever ridden a scooter before this?
No, I hadn’t. They had to send me to a scooter test in London for insurance purposes. It was me and two other kids that were learning to be pizza delivery boys. You get like a 10-minute lesson driving around cones in a car park and then bosh, you’re off turned loose in the streets. I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t want one at home. I like doors.
And next, you’re playing Sal Paradise opposite Kristen Stewart in “On the Road.”
It was an amazing experience, quite daunting for everyone involved. You know, there’s an lot awful lot riding on and a lot eyes watching whether we f--- it up, you know?... It was a very exhaustive shoot, lots of things going wrong along the way. You wonder whether it’s ever really going to get finished because so many people have wanted to make it before, and so many incredible actors have wanted to play Sal and never got the chance, and then there’s me, from Leeds doing my fifth film, doing it. It seems a bit nuts, you know?