Maleficent finally hits theater screens this week, and I recently sat down with Sam Riley, who plays Diaval, Maleficent’s "loyal bird-man companion." Riley is a vital presence in the film and was, frankly, a delight to talk to. He racked up a slew of awards and nominations for his portrayal of Ian Curtis in Control and has received critical praise for his performances in indie fare such as Brighton Rock and On the Road. Maleficent is his big-budget Hollywood debut, and it’s a pretty sweet set up for him — he shares all of his scenes with Angelina Jolie.
Diaval delivers most of the expository dialogue, which maybe isn’t the most fun you can have as an actor, but Riley explained why he wanted the role and how he and Jolie kept things interesting.
"Well, I know what you mean… He’d sort of come on and explain what’s just happened, just in case anyone hadn’t quite followed it. And they did make me then do it a couple times afterwards just in case anyone really hadn’t followed it, but well, then that’s the challenge, yeah? Because you have to try and deliver it in a way… Well, I think I have my tongue in my cheek a little bit while doing some of them, particularly the complicated sentences… To be able to do all my scenes with [Jolie] was a very attractive proposition, you know, to work with her, obviously. So, I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind so much. And she sort of wanted to develop this idea that if they’ve been spending every day together for 16 years then they probably get on each other’s nerves a little bit and bicker a bit like an old married couple or something, so they sort of developed that more, which made it all the more bearable."
Riley took umbrage at the idea that he would suggest the addition of a Maleficent/Diaval kissing scene, but apparently I wasn’t the only one to ask.
"Yes. What about Maleficent? Doesn’t she find true love? With her loyal, bird-man companion? Um, no, I would never, I would never dare say something like that. You’re not the first person that’s asked me that, though, funnily enough. Maybe there’ll be a sequel…"
He had nothing but praise for his co-star, but recommends caution before pranking her.
"Working with her was great! I mean, everybody says that about everybody, but I was pretty nervous at the beginning. I mean, just to meet somebody that famous doesn’t happen every day… But there’s reasons why she’s got to where she is,[which] is that she’s megaprofessional, but also very easy and uncomplicated to work with, and everybody really loves her being around on set — you know, the crew, because she’s charming with everybody and nobody’s too small in the group or something, and so it made it very easy. And she’s a good laugh. I mean, I didn’t get involved in any of the pranks that were going on because, I mean, you don’t want to start fucking with somebody with the funds and materials that she has at her disposal for a pranking war, but she’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it."
The necessary set up for this quote is that he shot the movie two years ago and he hasn’t seen it yet, so he isn’t always sure what to say about it. Also, his friends are keeping him humble.
"Um, so it’s quite strange, doing these, like yesterday doing the TV junkets and things, and I have absolutely — I mean, I’m not even in the fucking trailer, so… (laughs) I have no idea. Actually there is a split-second, but my friends at home are all like, ‘that could be anybody…’ They’re just taking the piss, but they sent like pictures of superimposed of Michael Jackson’s head on top my body and things, like, hilarious…"
I think his favorite thing in the movie was the horse (mine too!), and you’ll know why when you see it.
"It was BEAUTIFUL. And real! And they built this incredible mask for it, it was really, that was insane. I mean, they’re really beautiful things."
Maleficent opens this Friday, May 30, in theaters nationwide.