He's played doomed pop stars, Beat Generation heroes and Brighton gangsters.
Now, Leeds-born Sam Riley is starring in the biggest film of his career - the Angelina Jolie / Disney mega-event Maleficent.
Here he talks to Esquire about growing a good moustache, singing at pedestrians and beating the Germans at penalties at his wedding.
The last time I...
...Put on an accent
It was probably for Maleficent [Disney’s Sleeping Beauty reboot; Riley plays Diaval, the right-hand raven of Angelina Jolie’s evil queen]. I was an Irish raven. Southern Irish… well, Dubliny. I’m just covering all bases so I don’t offend anyone from Cork. I thought he should have come from Leeds.
… Grew a moustache
This was last summer, for a film called Suite Francaise. I’m very proud to say that at the age of 33, I was finally capable of puberty. It took about two months, but for the next five or six months I had a very spiffy moustache. It was a bit more Freddie Mercury than Clark Gable, but I thought it was very dashing. I took a lot of selfies. I was tempted to keep it for the premiere of my wife’s [the German actress Alexandra Maria Lara] film, Rush, but she begged me not to.
… Ate a bratwurst
uite a while ago. The thing in Berlin [where Riley lives] is currywurst. It isn’t a curried sausage, it’s a bratwurst that’s drowned in ketchup with curry powder sprinkled on top. It’s good after a few pints. Or litres, as they have here.
… Sang in public
In the car. I think it was Elvis Costello. My inner frontman is released on unsuspecting people crossing the road at traffic lights. I wind down the window deliberately so they can hear me singing. What a twat.
… Had a lie-in
Well, my wife and I have had a baby boy and even during the pregnancy there wasn’t a lot of sleep. I just went to New York for two days, and usually it’s nice to spend the evening in the hotel bar or go out, but I just went to bed. It was the first time I’ve ever done that in my adult life.
…Smoked a cigarette
Unfortunately was this morning. I did give up for three weeks when my son was born. I moved on to those ecigarettes, those ones that look like Doctor Who’s screwdriver, that you don’t want to get out in public.
… Got stopped in the street
In New York. That made me feel very international. It was a Joy Division fan [Riley played Ian Curtis in the 2007 biopic Control]. It’s always a Joy Division fan. It doesn’t happen all that often actually, though it’s nice when it does. Usually it’s, “Excuse me, are you Pete Doherty?”
… Strolled the Yorkshire Dales
It was a great hangover cure. You walk across to the hair-of-the-dog pub at the other end. I’m going to England this weekend, I’ll be taking young Ben, so I’m pretty sure that will involve my brothers and friends wetting the baby’s head, like. I’ll probably be taking him for a stroll on the dales in one of those irritating things young fathers wear.
… Played football
When we got married. We did a penalty shoot-out between the German guests and the English ones. I thought it might break the ice. The pictures are hilarious because on the one side there’s all the German guests laughing and enjoying it and thinking it’s great fun, and then there’s the English guests looking like it’s happening all over again. But we did ’em. I think a whisper must have gone around that if they were going to have a good party they should probably let us win.
Maleficent is out now