The actor unpacks filming for season 3 of Sky’s Riviera, fleshing out the role of Ellen, and her hopes for the future.
Riviera’s Clare-Hope Ashitey found herself Stateside for the majority of lockdown. Normally based in London, she somehow wound up all the way in North Carolina alongside her husband and in-laws, allowing for some much-needed quality time for the long-distance lovebirds while filming ceased on productions across the globe.
You’ll recognise Ashitey from her roles in BBC’s Top Boy, Doctor Who, and Doctor Foster, where she played the supportive and generally iconic Carly. But after joining the cast of Sky’s Riviera this season, starring alongside the likes of Poppy Delevingne and Julia Stiles, viewers will see Ashitey as they’ve never seen her before, trading in the suburbs and inner-cities of the UK for the glamorous coastline of Southern France and a world full of art-dealers and murderous yacht excursions.
Ashitey plays Ellen Swann, Chief of Staff to Alex Harewood. Having worked for countless multi-millionaires before Harewood, she’s well aware of how the filthy rich operate and play dirty to get ahead. At times this has caused her to question her own moral compass, but ultimately, it’s the chess moves she makes here that will determine her path in the Riviera universe. For her own sake, we hope she chooses the right ones…
We recently caught up with the actor to unpack what’s in store for season 3, how she fleshed out the role of Ellen and all her hopes and dreams for the future.
Hi Clare, how are you? How’s lockdown been, what have you been up to?
I’m pretty good. Lockdown has been many things. I normally live in London but have wound up spending it with my husband and in-laws in North Carolina. We still normally live on different continents, so it has been great to be in the same place for so long. But I do miss home. And being in America during the pandemic and in the run-up to an election has been very intense.
How did your role in Riviera come about?
I had worked with one of the producers before and Kara was very lovely and thought of me when they were developing the role of Ellen that I eventually played. I met with Kara and the showrunner Kris to talk about the new season and the role and it all unfolded from there.
You’ve played a wide range of characters in your career, how did you approach playing Ellen?
For me, it always starts in the same way – trying to understand who this person is and what brought them to the situation that we meet them in. I think that if you can flesh out the life of a real person then it makes their journey on-screen more believable and interesting. So I did the same with Ellen. I worked with the creative team to build a backstory for her that I could use to inform what happened in front of the camera.
Your character Ellen is Alex’s Chief Of Staff; how would you describe their relationship and how do you think their relationship impacts Alex’s personality?
Alex and Ellen definitely have a strange relationship. I always liked that. There’s a co-dependency there fighting with the natural boss-employee hierarchy and Alex’s in-built distance from, almost distaste of, human connection. I think Alex’s relationship with Ellen is one of the closest bonds in her life and there are moments when she seems to enjoy having an almost-normal friendship. But there are also moments when she reacts against that and overemphasizes the hierarchy. Maybe she feels like that kind of emotion is a weakness.
What was a challenge that you faced during filming and what was your favourite part?
The answers to those two questions are the same for most jobs I do. Time is so limited and can have a profound impact on our ability to tell stories with care. But projects can’t be open-ended; there are logistics and budgets to take into account and we all have to do our best to work together to make the whole machine function.
My favourite part of any job is almost always the people and Riviera was no different. We had such a lovely team of cast and crew. Being on location and away from home is often disruptive and difficult but, on the upside, it’s also like a great, big summer camp and when it goes well, you make temporary family with wonderful people.
Could you relate to Ellen in anyway?
Yes and no. I think most human behaviour is driven by a handful of base motivations that we can all relate to somehow. But what we turn those motivations into can vary so wildly. Ellen makes a lot of choices that I wouldn’t but that’s sometimes what makes a character so fascinating to play. You have to get to know them and understand why they have done things in that particular way.
What do you think is next for Ellen on the show?
It could be almost anything! That’s part of what is so great about the Riviera universe. Whichever path she takes, she’ll have to first deal with the consequences of her choices in this season.
What’s next for you/ what are you most excited for?
An end to the pandemic and a peaceful US election. I’m due to be working on a television pilot in the States. Our industry is all over the place at the moment, with people and productions trying to figure out a safe way to return to work. I’m a little anxious to go back to set but also looking forward to it. Coronavirus has been so devastating for so many parts of society and the entertainment industry is no different. It’s a business where a huge amount of people work freelance and live without the stability and safety net that traditional employment often offers. I’m excited for a time – hopefully in the not-too-distant future – where my friends and colleagues can go back to work.
Sky original Riviera Series 3 is coming to Sky Atlantic and NOW TV today.