In this interview, Rupert Graves sheds more light on his character, Gabriel Hirsch, an expert in art restitution.
Tell us about your character, Gabriel Hirsch.
Gabriel has a strong moral compass and works to restore artwork which has been taken from victims of the Holocaust and sold and resold many times. It’s a job which requires a little bit of detective work, a lot of legal work and a tiny bit of James Bond-style chasing the artworks down that people have knowingly stolen. He’s interesting because he’s unpredictable.
How would you describe your relationship with Georgina?
At the beginning of season three Georgina is working as a lecturer. She’s given up her life on the Riviera. And from her repute and her fame, Gabriel goes to one of her lectures to recruit her and offers the idea of becoming a partner, and that’s how the relationship starts. He can use her intelligence and bravery as well as her connections. Their adventure begins when Georgina and Gabriel try and get back a Picasso from Venice, but something goes slightly awry and it opens a huge adventure, which is going to take us right through season three.
What drew you to the Riviera script?
I was drawn to the script because it has this sort of blurred reality element, like a dream. I liked that the first episode is set in Venice. It starts off as an adventure and I’ve not done much stuff like that. In this case it’s night-time Venice, which is incredibly beautiful.
My character is sort of dropped into the middle of the most beautiful city in the world, chased by dogs and guns. There’s an event, I won’t say what it is, but Gabriel does something which takes him into a whole other world, which I found very exciting.
How did you prepare for the character of Gabriel Hirsch?
First of all, I looked back over seasons one and two. Then I did a fair amount of research into art restitution, but what I actually did was examine being a character in a dream. That’s how I approached it, in the Ralph Richardson way.
Did you find researching art restitution fascinating?
Of course, it’s an extraordinary world of huge amounts of money and very little regulation. Worth is based on taste and worth can be pushed and hyped in a way that almost no other business, not even music or film, can do. It’s an extraordinary land of opportunity for people who want to make serious money almost by illusion and magic. You’re selling ideas and concepts in the same way that people sell gold and sapphires. It’s a really interesting world.
What dark forces are at play this season?
There are many dark forces at play in Riviera. Money brings its obvious benefits, but it also brings a sort of cynicism. It also brings boredom and massive competition, and I think it takes a rare rich person to keep spiritually alive and interested and engaged in the world, and when you’re not engaged in the world and interested, I think there’s a sort of moral atrophy that happens and I think that is maybe the root of the dark forces in Riviera.
What scenes have you enjoyed shooting the most?
I really enjoyed the action scenes. In Venice there was lots of running down streets at night. We used to wrap at 5am or 6am and it was still dark and there was nobody about. Those walks back from the set to the hotel were some of the most beautiful and magical journeys of my life. We also filmed at a place called Octopussy – it’s a luxurious house in St Tropez, but the funny thing about filming in incredible places is you’re not allowed to sit on the sofas, you can’t have a sip of water. It’s all very prescribed.
Do you think the luxurious side of Riviera is a big draw for viewers?
Riviera is luxurious but also a fantasy world. I suppose that’s what a great amount of money buys, the idea of living in an aspirational fantasyland. But it’s interesting. I don’t wallow in luxury, but I can get into the world of fantasy, of that extreme wealth.
What is your perception of Georgina as a character?
Georgina as a character is fascinating, because she radiates very little, but she does extraordinary things, and I think Julia Stiles is absolutely amazing at drawing you into her. She’s like a kind of hot-wired statue in a way, she reveals very little on the outside, but inside there’s so much buzz and frenetic energy, which she displays incredibly well. When Gabriel hires her, he is very aware of her intelligence and bravery and maybe her moral compass too.
The extraordinary thing about Georgina is you just don’t know where she stands as a moral being and, I guess, Gabriel to a certain extent too. She’s much more capable than Gabriel thought she would be, she completely surpasses his expectations. He starts off being sort of her boss, but very soon the dynamics of that relationship change because of her extraordinary capability and fearlessness. One of the interesting things about Gabriel and Georgina is I think they are both slightly outside the Riviera framework. It’s like they’ve landed in the middle of this opulent, wealthy, luxurious, beautiful, but also very flawed world.
Season 3 episodes of Riviera land weekly at SBS On Demand from Friday 16 October at 3PM. Seasons 1 and 2 are now streaming for catch-up.