After Medici, Masters of Florence, Sirens, Riviera season 1 by Neil Jordan is the new prestige series of French SFR Play platform, soon renamed Altice. Our opinion on this first season co-produced with the British channel Sky Atlantic and our interviews of the actors and producers of the series during a press lunch.
Georgina Clios (Julia Stiles), a young curator of American art is married to her employer, the billionaire and philanthropist Constantine (Anthony Lapaglia), when she sees her life shattered after her husband is presumed dead in the mysterious explosion of a yacht in the Bay of Monaco. Georgina, the children of Constantine, as well as Irina Atman (Lena Olin), the ex-wife, try to resume a normal life. But everything collapses like a house of cards, and Georgina’s quest for her husband’s secret activities and the world he lives in drag her along more and more dangerous way.
Riviera season 1 :
“The star is the Côte d’Azur”
At a press conference to announce the production of Riviera Season 1 before the search for the cast, the co-producer and co-writer Paul McGuinness said: “There’s only one star on our show, it is the Côte d’Azur”. So welcome to Villa Carmella on the shores of the Mediterranean sea, a fictional place imagined by creator Neil Jordan (Michael Collins, The Borgias) from an idea of Paul McGuinness. After the disappointing first season of the Netflix Marseille series, it is thus a new ambitious and international series that happens in the South of France. Indeed, the shooting of the Riviera series took place in Cannes, in Grasse – where the Villa Carmella is located – in Antibes, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Monaco, Nice and in interior sets constructed in the town of Beaulieu.
With a budget of 40-45 million euros for ten episodes of 45 minutes for the first season, Riviera Season 1 was written by five screenwriters — John Banville (Albert Nobbs), Guy Burt (The Borgias), Stacey Gregg (The Frankenstein Chronicles), Neil Jordan and Paul McGuinness — and directed by five international directors — Philipp Kadelbach (Generation War), Damon Thomas (Penny Dreadfull), Hans Herbots (The Beast), Paul Walker (Shameless) et Adrian Lester —. Mixed between polar and soap opera, the series drags us into the heart of a very rich family whose world will collapse after the death of the father of the family and who will have to rebuild itself without him.
Manager of the British alternative rock singer PJ Harvey and of Irish pop-rock band U2 for whom he has been in charge of the world tours for thirty-five years from the city of Nice in France, Paul McGuinness is the one who had the idea of this series that Neil Jordan then formatted. And for Paul McGuinness, there were eight important things he wanted to find in this story taking place on the Côte d’Azur: “France, sunshine, yachts, rich people doing terrible things, Russians, explosions, art and art fraude”.
Archetypal family characters
According to co-producer and co-writer Paul McGuinness, the Côte d’Azur, and particularly the Riviera, is a liberating place for a screenwriter because it is a place where all characters are imaginable and credible. And coproducer Kris Thykier to say that it is “a place where money, international jet set, art collide in beautiful surrondinings”. Behind fraud intrigues in the world of art, Russian traffickers, police investigation and Interpol, it is mainly the family of Constantine Clios and its members that are the heart of Riviera season 1.
Georgina Clios, starring actress Julia Stiles (Jason Bourne, Dexter), is the main character of the series and the outsider who will make us penetrate the universe of fantasies, luxury and idleness that arise from closed doors of Riviera’s glittering houses. Married for a year with the rich businessman Constantine Clios, played by the actor Anthony Lapaglia (Lantana, Without a Trace), her honest character will evolve in contact with the dark side of this society, helped by her best friend, Robert Carver, played by actor Adrian Lester (London Spy, Undercover) who also has directed episodes of the series.
But why does not Georgina flee this world that is not her?
For the actress Julia Stiles, it is because she “she insists of standing for herself and her position in that household, I think that it needs a lot courage and strength. She becomes quite conning and maybe ruthless at the end of the show which is an interessant turn. But I feel it’s very rare to see a female antihero in a TV show. It’s very popular to have male who does questionable things but to see a female to do that is unique and that was excited for me”. Indeed, the idea of Riviera season 1 is to reveal to us during the episodes what is hidden under the apparence of the Côte d’Azur and under those who live there through the various sides — implied by the kaleidoscopic opening credits on the song Was It Love? by Isabella ‘Machine’ Summers featuring Lena — of this particularly dysfunctional family in which Georgina is now.
The other important character of the Clios family in Riviera season 1 is Constantine’s ex-wife, Irina Atma, performed by Lena Olin (Alias, Vinyl). For co-producer and co-writer Paul McGuinness, “Lena Olin and Julia Stiles play the rival widows and that produces an unusual form of drama with two tough women trying to win”. The Clios family is also composed with the eldest son, Adam, played by Iwan Rheon (Game of Thrones, Misfits), who even if he tries to keep his distances from his family, can not help to be jealous of his brother Christos and to experience feelings towards his mother-in-law Georgina.
For his part, Christos, played by Dimitri Leonidas (Monuments Men), is the one who Constantine has designated to be the heir of his empire. But drug addicts, Christos may not have enough strong shoulders to perpetuate such a legacy and will finally have to accept who he really is. According to the actor Dimitri Leonidas, is “the expression of the way this family has been functioning, in a sort of dysfunctional way. He is a an expression of the trauma, the way he has been raised by his family, you have quite an overbearing mother and a slightly tyrannical father. And even in the father’s absence, we sense what his influence was on Christos. He was raised in a way that messed him up a litte bit. The relationship with his mother is quite complex where they quite codependent on each other. Me and Lena Olin who plays the mother have spoken about the fact that when she broke up with her husband, Christos maybe became a husband to her and his mother has a closeness maybe not quite healthy. And in some ways, that made Christos’ attitude towards women a little strange”.
Finally, in the family Clios, I ask for the youngest one, Adriana, played by the French actress Roxane Duran (Mary Queen of Scots, Les Témoins). Her first appearance in Riviera season 1 which shows her scarifying her arm after the death of her father is particularly violent. It is around this key scene that the actress built her character: “There is a line that was cut at the end of the first scene where she was seen to be scarifying herself. She was doing that because she could not cry, for me, it was the most beautiful thing that could be said about her but that we had no right to put in words, to reduce her to that. From the moment we found the secret of Adriana, it belongs to us a little bit and I did not want it to belong to anyone and that we could settle her, for me, it is the key “ .
And like the other characters in the series, she will change over the episodes and show other sides of her: “She is a strong head but at the same time, she is a girl who had always everything. With money, you can be unpleasant because you always have what you want because you buy it, or in any case, people respect you because you have this status, this possibility. And I think that from the moment she loses this, she realizes that all she still has is the family: her brothers, her mother, her mother-in-law, and even if we have all our problems, our flows, they are the only people who can really help her and love her as she is. I think she is the element that tries to bring the family together and hold it together”.
A season 2?
In the end, Riviera season 1, which can remain various events such as the murder of the Monegasque businesswoman Hélène Pastore in 2014 or art fraud affairs such as that one revealed in the case that opposes The Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev and the art dealer Yves Bouvier since 2015 will be able to seduce by its thriller side carried by strong female characters and beautiful scenery but it can deceive the audience too by its soap opera side that we can recall by certain choices of direction such as so obvious zooms on silent reactions of characters.
In any case, even if the shooting of Riviera series could suffer from the Brexit (the referendum which confirmed the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union) — to the point that producers have considered shooting some scenes in Croatia to reduce costs after the change from euro to pound sterling —, a second season of Riviera series can be done if the first season is a success. And if this season 2 could take place in other countries, the Villa Carmella on the Côte d’Azur as well as the Clios family will remain the central core of the story.
Small bonus to our article, discover below trivia of Riviera season 1 told by actors and producers during the press lunch.
First series trivia: In order to prepare herself for the job of curator of her character, Julia Stiles “did more research about the business side of the art world in preparation of the show because I find it fascinating. Paul McGuinness gave me an interesting book called ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ [Editor’s note: this Sarah Thornton‘s book has been published in the United States in 2008] and I watched a few documentarys about the pricing of art and i spoke to some dealers just to understand what that job is actually like. I watched some of the auctions broadcasted online just to see how it work with the gestures. I find it fascinating but i think Georgina has a genuine appreciation for art but also a good business sense. And how you price art is fascinating to me and i hope we do a second season that will explore that even more because I think that is one of the things that make the show very unique”.
Second series trivia: The actress Roxanne Duran who plays Adriana told us the surprising scene of the episode 2 where she throws herself naked against a window to help her brother Christos in bad posture: “I am a very demure young lady. You didn’t think of yourself during that moment, and I was so vulnerable at that time. To stick to a window and see his brother sitting at the table with strangers, it’s very violent, and Philipp Kadelbach [Ed.: one of the irector of the series] told me that this was the only way she had found to protect him and it was so surreal. One might say that it is just a provocation but no, her body is also her instrument: the more she is vulnerable, the more she sees trouble in others and the more she strengthens herself, her body is not so much for her”.
Third series trivia: The episode 5 of Riviera season 1 is particularly challenging for Christos. His violent confrontation with Georgina during the gala will force him to fall the mask and stop pretending what he is not. For this actor Dimitri Leonidas, “in episode 5, Christos has quite a tough time as the episode goes on, it gets worse and worse for him and there’s one point where I spend quite a lot of time in makeup and they wanted me to look like shit, like really bad. And I was on the set and they looked at me and they came running over me: ‘Dimitri, what happened? – No, I’m fine, this is makeup’. I looked fucking terrible. It was quite funny on a show about glamour that Christos is litteraly falling apart”.
Fourth series trivia: Co-producer Kris Thykier revealed that they have worked with a gallery in the UK to be sure that the art side of Riviera season 1 is credible. For example, in the fifth episode, there are several sculptures by Lorenzo Quinn, author of giant hands at 2017 Venice Biennale, in the garden of the villa.
Interviewed on June 14, 2017 at Hôtel Lancaster (Paris, France).
To learn more:
- Riviera season 1 is available on French SFR Play platform since 16 June 2017 and on Sky Atlantic since 15 June 2017