On the cover of Rollacoaster, the iconic actor discusses her role in Sky’s Riviera, the surprises in store for a new season, and her dreams of directing.
Taken from the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue of Rollacoaster. Pre-order your copy now.
There are more than ten things I love about Sky original Riviera, but Julia Stiles as Georgina is definitely one of them. In her longest running television role, Julia Stiles has introduced viewers to the glamour, secrecy and chaos of the French Riviera. In season three, premiering on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV on 15th October, we will continue to follow Georgina all the way to Argentina as the series takes on new twists and turns.
Julia has been able to achieve a rare feat, finding success after success with her projects. Back to the early days of her career, Julia starred in the modern classic 10 Things I Hate About You, opposite Heath Ledger as well as action-film royalty, the Bourne films. Now with Riviera, Julia is reaching even new heights as an actor and producer.
Julia Stiles sat down with Rollacoaster to discuss her role in Riviera, the surprises in store for a new season and her dreams of directing. The series has been one of Sky’s smash-hits, thanks in large part to the incredible performances by Julia. Not only as an actor, but also a producer, the captivating world of the French Riviera and the mayhem that comes with it is brought to life by the talent of Julia Stiles. So pull on your long white gloves and fire up the yacht, season three is almost here.
Have you been able to stay busy over the last few months?
At the start of the year I was still filming season 3 in Argentina in January, February, March and then we got one of the last flights out before the pandemic hit North America. We were going to go to New York because I’m a New Yorker, but my husband’s Canadian so we decided to come to Vancouver and we’ve been here. We will probably make it back to New York when everything gets better. And I’m actually going back to work pretty soon, surprisingly. I had thought in March that I wasn’t going to be working until next year. I’m going to start filming a movie called “Esther”, which is a prequel to “Orphan”. When I was sent this script, I was really hesitant because just trying to visualise what being on a film set would be like during coronavirus was kind of intimidating. Particularly because film sets are usually full of people and lots of contact. I also was really skeptical about the horror genre, it’s not really my favourite. But I read the script and I thought it was a really fun part for me, so I wanted to explore it. We start in October in Winnipeg, which is a small town in Canada that I think has very low case numbers, so hopefully will be safe. It’s bizarre because I wasn’t really expecting to have anything to work on this year. But it seems like the industry is adapting slowly.
Season 3 of Riviera is coming out in October. This is one of your longest running roles, has it changed your approach to constructing your character?
Yes, but I think, maybe not as deliberately as a film. With a film you have the script start to finish, in and out, so you can kind of craft around that. With a TV show, and particularly Riviera, when I signed on to season one, I didn’t really anticipate that I was going to be doing it three seasons later, that I’d be playing this character. For a role that exists for so long, it becomes a little bit more of a collaboration because I’m working with the writer to start writing to my strengths and also working with them to make the rewrites and make changes or gear the story in a different direction.
Has your perception of Georgina changed over the course of three seasons?
There are things that I discovered about Georgina as we’ve gotten deeper into the show, I started off season three going, “Okay, what does Georgina want now?” because the first two seasons were a lot clearer to me. The first season she was grieving the death of her husband, trying to unravel that mystery. Season two was basically, how she can get away with murder. Season three, we started off kind of with the clean slate because Georgina had tried to distance herself from the family and was starting fresh. So my question was what does she want as she gets wrapped up in the conspiracy, but the answer to that didn’t become clear to me immediately. Halfway through the season, there’s a scene where she’s trying to convince her friends to get on an airplane and go to Argentina with her, she’s kind of keep exploring this mystery and she says, “I’m sick of wealthy people doing whatever they want and getting away with it just because they can, just because they have money”. And that was that was a line that in, hindsight, became what I thought was her motivation for everything in season three. My point is that it’s very much like an evolution when you’re working on a TV show. It’s not maybe as clear in the beginning, where you’re going to be going, so I think it’s fun.
Riviera has been one of Sky’s biggest successes as a TV series. Why do you think audiences engage with the show and what about Georgina resonates most with them?
What I find compelling is that she’s such a reckless character and just jumps straight into the danger zone, she doesn’t run away from it. And from hearing friends of mine react to the show or describe what they like about the show, it’s being surprised by her balls and her courage and fearlessness. There’s also just the setting, not in a superficial way, but just this entry into a world of extreme wealth that most people will never be able to have access to: the houses, the yachts and the travel, too. Especially now, when there’s been so many restrictions. Looking at a story where we travel all over the world in such a glamorous way is very engaging. The show started in the south of France, but now it’s expanded. I think part of the popularity is that it’s escapist in the most positive sense of the word. For me also, while playing Georgina, one of the reasons that I love acting and wanted to get involved with film and television in the first place, is because you have this opportunity to say all the things and do all the things you can’t really do in real life. Whether it’s the costume or the setting and also the things that Georgina explores, it’s fun to watch. She’s a lot more confrontational than I am in real life, which also makes it a great role to play.
The show is famous for its backstabbing and surprising twists. Do you think it’s possible to give characters the label of hero or villain? Do you think of Georgina as one of the other?
Yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of secrets and people appear different to how they actually are. In season one, it was her relationship with Irina, the ex-wife and sort of matriarch of the estate. At times they would be adversaries, at times they would be allies, and it was usually because of some alliance or a mutual self-interest. Just when you thought their relationship was figured out, it would change. I think it’s similar in season three in Georgina’s relationship with Daphne, which starts off as friends, but then quickly they become adversaries and back to allies when they have the same mutual self-interest. It’s complicated when you try to think that somebody’s either a villain or a good guy because they will probably be discovered it’s the opposite as the show progresses.
How will the new locations introduced in this season affect the show and your character?
The traveling, particularly having a storyline in Argentina, which is so far away from, literally and figuratively, the south of France is really expanding the show. The setting of the Riviera was a character, the title character of the show, with all the glamour and had elements to explore. The Georgina in season three is very different from the Georgina in season one and two. Just by virtue of what she’s been through, she’s taken her maiden name again and she’s really trying to distance herself from her past. She’s probably bolder because of her secrets, but at the end of season two, she literally and figuratively burned the house down. In this season she’s trying to shed her past and I think that maybe there’s something about having nothing to lose that can make her bolder in season three, and I think the new locations help with that.
Has being a producer on Riviera impacted how you see a project?
I think so. It makes me more proactive. If I’m just an actress for hire, I usually am very deferential to the director and their vision. There’s that expression “Hit your mark and bark,” With Riviera, I still had a lot of respect for the directors, but I maybe took a bit more of a front seat just because I’ve been in it for such a longer period of time as opposed to the director that would come in just for a couple episodes or an actor that would come in a few days a week.
As a producer and actress on Riviera, and with such an extensive filmography, are there any ambitions you still have in the industry?
I think the line between film and television is pretty blurred and, actually, there is so much more opportunity in TV for good quality storytelling. What I’ve learned with Riviera is that when you spend that amount of time on a character in a story, it can be so much richer than just working on a film for a couple months. I think television has a lot to offer. I’ve directed a couple of short films and I’ve also learned from my time acting and producing on Riviera over so many months and years that I do have a really good understanding of how a set is run and the process from start to finish of putting a TV show together. So I would like to direct a longer piece, but I have to find what that story is to do it with. That is sort of a long-term goal.
Sky original Riviera Series 3 is coming to Sky Atlantic and NOW TV today.
Carlee Wallace for Art Department LA
Lisa Aharon at The Wall Group using Sisley
Erin Klassen for NOBASURA using Oribe
Christina Culver for NOBASURA
Wedgewood Hotel & Spa Vancouver