Julia Stiles says Riviera script was 'very poetic in a way I hadn't seen before'

Julia Stiles heads up the cast of Riviera, a new Sky Atlantic series penned by Irish writers Neil Jordan and John Banville. The Bourne movies actress talks to Susan Griffin about the scripts, filming in France, and splashing out on a piano

Julia Stiles as Georgina Clios in the Sky Atlantic series Riveria, penned by Irish writers Neil Jordan and John Banville

The series has great writers, including Neil Jordan and John Banville. What were your first impressions of the script?

I remember thinking that it was very poetic in a way that I hadn't seen in a screenplay before. It was really intriguing and I loved the setting. There's such a nice contrast between what the characters are going through and what they're doing versus the beautiful, glamorous setting of the Riviera.

To what extent do you ever build up a backstory for your character?

I only really build up a backstory or flesh out details of things that I think are going to apply on screen and are relevant to the story we are telling. Knowing where Georgina came from in terms of her education, her upbringing, wealth and class, I thought was relevant. Her relationship with her father was relevant because she talks about it a little bit and I think it affects her view, in hindsight, of her marriage. So that was something that I thought through more with the writers than I would have perhaps done on another show.

Was it exciting to be able to explore so many different sides to Georgina over 10 episodes?

Yes, I've never worked on anything for this long and never played a character for this amount of screen time, so inevitably you get to do more. It's really rare. It's a privilege to play a sophisticated lead in a show and have the opportunity to play her in all different situations. At times she is naive and at other times she is cunning.

What characteristics of Georgina's do you most admire?

Her resilience. One question that would come up is, 'Why doesn't she just leave [her marriage]?' Of course there would be no show if she did but she insists on fighting for her understanding of her marriage, her understanding of what happens and also her position in the household. I admire that. I think that takes a lot of strength and courage.

What was it like filming in the French riviera?

It was amazing. It was such a privilege and a delight to be living there for seven months. I would live there permanently if I could. It's just a lovely place in all seasons. Everything from the language and working with a French crew to the food and the landscape, it was such an adventure.

Is the riviera really filled with glitz and glamour?

There's a mix. There are expensive yachts and estates but there is also a middle class. There are also many people who seem to live very simply. Nice is more diverse in terms of economics than some of the neighbouring towns but there is obvious wealth in the Riviera that I haven't seen in America. There's new money in the United States but there's old money in Europe.

Did you enjoy working as part of an ensemble cast?

It was fantastic. They're all so talented. It was a delight working with Lena Olin in particular. She's such a formidable woman. And the actors who play the Clios children were all unique and interesting. Everyone cared very much about the work we were doing, which was important on the show.

Given that Georgina is an expert curator, did you learn a lot about the art world as part of your research?

I was curious about how you price art and so I did some research in preparation for the show by speaking to some curators and dealers about how that works. That was really interesting.

What kind of art do you have in your home?

I find the business side of the art market interesting but it's not what I would put in my home. I really like pieces that have sentimental value to me. For instance I have a piece of graffiti art that I got from the last Jason Bourne movie. I like things like that, that provoke memories or are inspiring.

What has been your most extravagant purchase?

I spend more of my money on experiences like travel. But I bought a piano, even though I don't really even play the piano. I bought it with the intention of learning.

:: Riviera is available on Sky Atlantic and NOW TV

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