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Recreating War Time France: A Conversation with Sam Riley

Suite Française

France, 1940. In the first days of occupation, beautiful Lucile Angellier is trapped in a stifled existence with her controlling mother-in-law as they both await news of her husband: a prisoner of war. Parisian refugees start to pour into their small town, soon followed by a regiment of German soldiers who take up residence in the villagers’ own homes. Lucile initially tries to ignore Bruno von Falk, the handsome and refined German officer staying with them. But soon, a powerful love draws them together and leads them into the tragedy of war.

The Fan Carpet’s Jessen Aroonachellum in association with Acting Hour spoke to Sam Riley for the Home Entertainment release of Suite Française



Can you talk about your character in Suite Française, and where they fit into the story?

Well, it’s set in Nazi occupied France, set in a small village. I play a guy called Benoit Labarie, a French farmer who is lame in one leg, which crippled him which meant he unable and he couldn’t fight on the front. Which torments him because all the other men could go out and fight. He’s stuck working on this farm and he’s married to Madeleine Labarie (Ruth Wilson) who is brilliant. And we get a Nazi officer who flirts with her and tries to provoke me into fighting him. And kinda circles around the main love story between Michelle Williams and Matthias Schoenaerts.


What was it like working with Ruth Wilson, Michelle Williams and Kristen Scott Thomas and rest of the cast?

It was cool. I haven’t seen much of Ruth’s stuff but as soon as we were rehearsing I soon realised she was a top class actress and that always raises your game which is a good thing. Michelle, similarly, we didn’t have many scenes together, but it was a treat to watch her work. That’s how are learn.

When you are in the room with Michelle or Kristin Scott Thomas, you just watch how they talk about how they do their hair in the morning and what they would wear and all the little decision they make and keeping their characters. How the protective of they character is fascinating to watch and watching people is great, it makes you better.


That must inspire you as an actor…

It makes you feel lucky. Yeah, like watching Kristin in Four Wedding and The English Patient, with my Mum and Dad and thinking she a great actress and you having a tea and gossip with her years later. It’s kinda surreal.



How much research did you do and what was it like filming on location?

It was great and working, well in some day we were in van but we were in Belgium and when you were looking at the landscape of this old farm and it was an old war time farm. It really does the work for you. Gives you great preparation. I read a lot about the French resistance. There’s a great film called ‘The Sorrow and the Pity’ and it’s about the Nazi Occupation. Which was banned for a long time in France because it showed you how much coexistence there was. It showed how many people went along with it. The vision is about resistance but a lot of it was the upper classes didn’t want their lives to seem messed around with. If they behave themselves, they kept the Manor House. So they behaved themselves. So, a lot of the time it was the working class or the farmer actually who took up the fight. There was some great stuff about farmers taking up the fight and the middle class did the switch to upper class society to Nazi society without much difficulties and I learn how to ride a motorbike and how to plough a field with a horse. Which was interesting.


It must have been interesting when you were filming those scenes?

Yeah, those sort of skills, it’s an old BMW like the one Steve McQueen rode in the ‘Great Escape’ Ticking off the wish list. Then learning to plough. Skills and art that are dying out. Takes a lot of patient to learn those. In a real farm it’s great.


Cool. It must have been an interesting experience for you. I was going to ask you what inspires you as an actor? Do you have any actors that inspire you that made you want to become an actor?

Yeah, so many, too many to mention. Ever since I was a little boy films always had a big effect on me and would lead to certain phases where I would be obsessive with that film or character and I would want to dress like them.

A lot of them were war films. I would watch Richard Harris or Richard Burton before I realise they were great actor in other movies. I wish they are films I have seen. They on my list. Whenever I watch a movie, I’m inspired by the desire to react it. There are so many guys in my era like Gary Oldman and Tim Roth and people like that when I was a teenager. Ray Winston. Then there’s O’Toole, Harris and all the hell raisers. Then, there are all the American guys like Nicholson, Coppola. There’s such a large list of people really.


Excellent. I was going to ask, how was it to work with Angelina Jolie in Maleficent?

It was great. It was nervous, of course by meeting a superstar like her. She was very kind and warm with me. Probably because she could see I was nervous. We had a laugh because we were a bickering couple. We had a really good time. I enjoyed working with Angelina, she is a very impressive woman; so much care in the detail of her performance. The costume, she really created that costume with the costume guy. That was very much her idea. Then in the weekend she’ll pop off to Middle East whist I’ll be watching the football. 

(laughs) She’s a pretty amazing person.



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