Riviera is a heady jaunt through the art-dealing world, with strong criminal undertones. In season three, its star (and executive producer) Julia Stiles steps out of the shadow of the Clios family and into her own spotlight, reinventing herself as Georgina Ryland. Co-star Rupert Graves, who plays Gabriel Hirsch, a man who runs around the world retrieving stolen artworks, describes his co-star as “absolutely amazing at drawing you into her”.
Georgina faces each challenge in her signature forthright and fearless way. Now, here’s everything we need to know, from the star herself as Stiles offers up some intel about Georgina, the dynamics between the characters, both new and familiar, and the new locations we’ll jet-set to in season three of the intoxicating Riviera.
“Georgina is a woman who constantly surprises us and surprises me. I think she’s come a long way, she’s faced a lot of tragedy, but she also has a really strong backbone and refuses to back down,” begins Julia Stiles. “The beginning of season three is really exciting, because it’s a new beginning for Georgina – at least she would like it to be. She’s shed the Clios family, she’s shed the estate, she’s changed her name back to her maiden name, Ryland. Time has passed and she’s now teaching art restitution and trying to start a new life, free from all the trappings of her past. That gets subverted pretty quickly, but Georgina’s ready to keep fighting.”
Season three sees Georgina forge a career in art restitution. Seems an interesting choice given her past. Is this her way of righting wrongs? “It’s such a tricky, interesting question. How do you reconcile a character who destroyed a bunch of artwork when we last saw her at the end of season two, and is now so hell-bent on restoring order and making sure that artwork isn’t damaged or in the wrong hands?"
Stiles says that even though that may sound paradoxical, “for Georgina it’s largely rooted in guilt over things that she’s done in her past, but also wanting to have a clear moral code.”
When the season opens, we learn that Georgina has become a lecturer – the perfect job, given what she’s been through – she gets to fuel her passion for art restitution without attracting any notoriety. But this new quiet life is short-lived when a man called Gabriel shows up at work one day.
“After the students leave, Gabriel Hirsch introduces himself. He has come in with his own notoriety, fame and reputation. He gives her a job offer but she’s reluctant because she wants to be under the radar now. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the beginning of our show. They end up going to Venice together to get back a Picasso, and then drama ensues.”
About the nature of Georgina and Gabriel’s relationship, Stiles says, “right from the get-go there’s something really intriguing about [it] because it’s professional, they have mutual respect for each other, and they even sleep in the same hotel room and yet it’s not threatening in any way. But very quickly, they’re both keeping secrets from each other, which is going to complicate their relationship.”
Those secrets quickly thrust Georgina into strife, and create more secrets. “Gabriel does something while they’re in Venice that is going to set off a whole chain of events for Georgina, forcing her to go back to the place she didn’t want to go back to – the South of France. There, she’s forced to do something in self-defence that she has to keep a secret from Gabriel.”
Stiles tells us about more new characters we’ll meet this season, but first, turns to those who pop up from the past, including twins, Nico (Jack Fox) and Daphne Eltham (Poppy Delevingne).
On the dynamic between Georgina and Daphne in season three, she says “the two characters kind of mirror each other, but at different stages in their lives. In season two, Daphne reminded Georgina of everything that was in her previous life, so to speak, meaning Daphne was optimistic, newly married and in love and had the world as her oyster. In season three, we see Daphne in a much darker place, feeling tortured and trapped, whereas Georgina is more in control of her life.
“What I really love about the way Georgina responds to all of that, is she’s quite compassionate and tries to help Daphne, even at the expense of her own sanity and safety.
What about Nico? Well, when Georgina returns to the French Riviera, he is the last person she wants to see, but is the first person she runs into. “They’re still at odds with each other and I think Georgina feels very ruffled by him, because she’s still really determined to prove that she’s different. Nico’s still smug and doing bad things, wrapped up with dangerous people and not to be trusted.”
New characters this season include brothers Cesar (Franco Masini) and Dario (Eliseo Barrionuevo). Their father is Mayor of Buenos Aires, Victor Alsina Suarez (Gabriel Corrado). Well versed in crushing those who dare to challenge his stronghold of power or attempt to uncover his well-hidden criminal connections, he is an intimidating father to say the least.
Cesar is the youngest brother, a playboy with a penchant for hedonism. While he vows to clean up his act in an effort to please Victor, he’s also well aware of the value his family places on the use of violence. It’ll be a challenge for him to curb his impulsive nature and break free of the lifestyle he finds so alluring. Elder brother Dario is much more focused on populating his life with his heart’s desires, including a cattle ranch and the aforementioned Daphne. The sophisticated Europhile has the courage of his convictions and won’t be easily intimidated.
The powerhouse nature of the Alsina Suarez family seems to be familiar territory for Georgina. Stiles agrees. “They’re incredibly threatening and menacing and she’s having to rescue Gabriel from their criminality. Again, Georgina has this great backbone, which is one of the reasons I was intrigued to play her in the first place. Anybody else would have got on a plane out of there, but she jumps face-first into the fire and insists on righting wrongs and finding out what this conspiracy is all about. With Dario, I don’t think she takes much notice of him initially. She just thinks, ‘Oh, Daphne’s newly single and fluttering about.’ But then when she sees Dario again, she starts making lots of connections.”
Two new female cast members include Ellen Swann (Clare-Hope Ashitey) and Alex Harewood (Synnøove Macody Lund). Ellen is chief of staff to Alex, a multibillionaire looking to move away from the tech world where she made her fortune and towards building a legacy where nothing and no one can stand in her way. Collaborating with Victor brings her into Georgina’s path. “Georgina first meets Ellen in Venice, when she and Gabriel are trying to restore a Picasso. Alex is a public figure, who Georgina respects for her success, but she’s quick to be suspicious that Harewood has a connection to the [Alsina Suarez] family in Argentina. It’s a tangled web and Georgina’s going to try and sift her way through it.”
The world of Riviera offers escapism, sure, but it also explores darker themes – “exactly what drew me to the show in the first place, way back in season one”, says Stiles. “It’s a sunny place for shady people, and the original genesis of the show was this idea that behind every great fortune is a great crime. The thick grapevine of this society is sinister and questionable and complicated, and I think those are nice contrasts. In season three, we’ve just expanded it and made it more international.”
“You have this beautiful, cinematic, gorgeous setting, yet underneath it all how people amass their wealth is pretty questionable.”
Speaking of escapism, season three takes us not only back to the South of France, but as indicated, also to Venice and Argentina. Stiles loved the locations that have “only got better and better as we’ve gone from Nice, Cannes and Monaco to St Tropez, Venice and Argentina. These are places people dream about travelling to and often just go to as tourists and here we get to immerse ourselves in these locations and then feel like you become part of the framework.” It is refreshing to hear Stiles’ appreciation for her work. “[Filming internationally is] an extraordinary experience and it makes for a really beautiful setting for a TV show.”
As well as the glittering locations, Stiles cites fashion as a vital part of the show. “Particularly in the Riviera, the way that people display their wealth is either through fashion or luxury homes... all these things that are unimaginable to most people, but they’re part of the escapism of the show.” Georgina certainly looks supremely glamorous, but Stiles points out “her costume is not just about showing off certain brands, it’s showing that she has an eye for design and things that are really well-made and will last a long time. We tried hard this season to have pieces reused and pairing different things together, so you can really show them off in different contexts.”
The first scene this season, where Georgina’s talking to a therapist, is Stiles’ favourite. “It helps us understand her and get inside her psyche. It becomes really trippy and you realise that it’s actually a fantasy sequence in her own head and it’s kind of deliciously naughty. Yes we have all this wealth and luxury and amazing settings in our show, but you do need a spine to that. You need to have these sorts of operatic moments where you understand where this unpredictable and surprising woman is.”
One element of Georgina that Stiles particularly likes is her private moments; because so much of her is public, “it’s interesting to see who she is when nobody’s watching.”
Summing up what she loves about the show and what she hopes we’ll take away from it, Stiles says the show “gives you a window into a world of luxury and wealth that I think is unattainable for most people, but the idea that ‘behind every fortune is a great crime’ keeps this drama intelligent. I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the escapism the series provides, but the conspiracy Georgina uncovers keeps the show sophisticated. I hope we’ve provided that.”
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.