By the time Maleficent: Mistress of Evil rolls around, Aurora finds herself with not one magical adoptive but two. While Maleficent grew to love her as a mother, her shapeshifting companion Diaval took her under his wing as well. The film highlights some of their different approaches to parenting, not to mention different views on Aurora’s upcoming wedding, which actor Sam Riley talked to Screen Rant about.
Congratulations on the film. I thought this was brilliant. The first one honestly reminded me of Disney's version of Lord of the Rings; this one reminded me of Disney's version of Game of Thrones. Now, Diaval is in debt to Maleficent, but do you think his life has improved by being rescued by her?
Sam Riley: That's a pretty good question, because I think a lot was made in the first one about him not being thrilled to be a human. He thinks they’re pretty horrendous compared to his bird-like self. But I think it's a gilded cage. I think he loves Maleficent, personally. And who wouldn't want to be her slave?
True story. Your character is very much the traditional loyal sidekick of the ruler in these fantasy worlds.
Sam Riley: Wingman.
Ooh, I like that. How do you research for a role like that? Did you really go to a bird expert?
Sam Riley: Yeah, I like doing all of that sort of stuff for jobs. I was thinking, “How the hell am I going to do my homework on a thing like this?” But Disney being Disney, they could arrange a raven to come in. They’re a lot bigger than I thought they were; this guy was quite intimidating.
They’re quiet, but they are very proud-looking things. Big, huge head. We sort of videoed him and watched him, and we tried to sort of see if we could incorporate little head movements.
They had a motion guy, a physical movement guy, come over. But his area of expertise was apes. So, he arrived in Berlin and started like, “Well, first let me show you my monkey.” It was an incredible monkey, but I need to see the bird stuff.
So, yeah, we did do that sort of thing. Angelina and I, during the first one, said that we wanted our relationship to be a little bit of relief, if you like. To add some humor in it, and that we would bicker with one another a bit like an old married couple. And that's something we tried to develop more in the second one; imagine what it's been like these six years that they now see themselves as the proud parents of Aurora. But the father's softer.
You also get to do something different in this, because there's a reference of you wanting to be a bear and then it happens. Did you do any of the CG for that, to have to prepare to be a bear in the mauling and stuff?
Sam Riley: No, I didn’t. I mean, I could lie and say I did, but no. There were always days where I could be at home.
There’s one funny thing about it; there’s a scene with a cat earlier on. [Queen Ingrith]’s cat can sense that there’s some bird in me, so it’s fascinated by me. They had a stunt man play my leg, so that the cat wouldn't scratch my leg. And two weeks later, they got eight enormous guys in armor to actually jump on my back.
And I was like, “I think there's been some paperwork gone a bit wrong here.” Because I could have won something underneath my trousers, but now I'm getting flattened by 8 dudes. I did that bit, but throwing them all off was intimidating.
You got to share most of your scenes with Angelina Jolie. How have their interactions changed, based on your characters’ progression from the first film to Mistress of Evil? Because in the first film, she essentially creates you. But by the second film, you're established and you've been there for a while.
Sam Riley: Time has passed, and I think she trusts more. In her learning to love Aurora, she also opened up to some extent. She learned to trust people, and she trusts me now. And she knows that I want what's best for her. She thinks she knows best, obviously, though.
That's something that I think sort of happened. I think the first film, which is similar to the reality, I was quite scared by the whole scale of the thing. Not by Angelina, who was warm, but by the presence of this movie star. And I think the second time, I was much more able to enjoy the experience of being myself on set. But I think Diaval has found a bit more confidence.
Can you talk to me about what stood out immediately about Diaval’s mindset when you read the script?
Sam Riley: I think, being a typical actor, I count how many scenes I'm in. See if I'm in it more than the last one. And I think that stood out, as well. I mean, I was happy to have these scenes with Angie, and I enjoyed that there was some humor. Because I don't really get to do that much in my career so far. My first movie, played a depressive, and I think a lot of people have seen me as - I've always played quite dark characters with not a lot of humor. A lot of chain smoking and crying has gone on in my career.
My grandfather, who passed away this year, I always used to make him laugh. He was always like, "Why are you always dying in your films?" So, I was really pleased that I had the opportunity to be a bit silly.
Your character is very much the voice of reason to Maleficent, almost like her conscience. Can you talk to me about how that's different this time around as well? He has the courage to stand up to her, which a lot of people don't.
Sam Riley: I think he probably knows the worst thing she can do is turn him into a worm or something. She blows hot and cold, a lot of us guys know what that's like.
I think... You know, I'm almost forgetting what the question is.
Just about being her conscience and voice of reason.
Sam Riley: Yeah, I think that's something that's grown in time, and I think he knows where her true feelings lie and where her heart is. He knows how much he loves Aurora. Even though Maleficent is resistant to the idea of losing her, he knows that she does want to make a good impression when we go and she doesn't really know how. And I think that he only has the courage to tell her what he thinks she already feels, but he does it in order to make it more obvious to her.
I love something else you mentioned. Obviously, in the historic version of Sleeping Beauty, it's true love's kiss that awakens her. But in this, you almost see it's really parental true love that's a big theme about this as well. Your character he plays the softer kind of father to Aurora, but how does he view Prince Philip and Aurora and the issues that they're going through?
Sam Riley: He's very supportive of the marriage. He likes Philip, and I think that was probably there in the last movie a little bit. It's been awhile since I've seen it. But I don't think he thinks ofthe politics of it; I think he sees her happiness, and he knows that that happiness is genuine and that's all he wants for his child. So, he's all for it. And I think he knows that Maleficent also only wants to her to be happy. It's just that she has a strange way of showing it.
This film has a lot of great messages and themes throughout. What are you hoping audiences take away?
Sam Riley: I haven't seen the film yet. I'm seeing it for the first time tonight, because I can't wait.
But I know from reading the script, and I think there are environmental things going on there with nature and man against nature; pillaging of nature to some extent. And I think the other important theme was one of tolerance and acceptance, and also accepting what is different about us. Not necessarily having to conform, but to accept people for the way they are.
Because we are living, not only in America but in Britain and everywhere, in very a polarized time in history. And what happens in these moments, and what has happened in the past, is that people - races of people or kinds of people - often become the scapegoat. Because when life is very confusing, and we don't know what's happening, it's very easy to say, "This is good and this is evil." And life's obviously not like that. But this is when you want to build walls between different peoples, you make someone the cause of what your problem is. And I think one of the messages here is that we have to live on this planet together, and we should work out a way of living in harmony.
Well, this film's a great allegory for the times we live in. Thank you so much.
- Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019) release date: Oct 18, 2019