Age and Hometown: 29; Maidstone, England
Current Role: a Broadway debut performance as suave 19th century mathematics tutor Septimus Hodge in the Broadway revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.
Making His Own Way: “I’m the first in the family to do something like this,” Riley says of making the leap from his riverfront hometown near London to stage and screen. “Nobody could wrap their head around it for the first year. They’d say, ‘You’re doing what? Like on the television?’” Yes, just like on television. After graduating from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, Riley landed a slew of TV jobs and recently starred opposite Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins in the Irish goofball comedy Happily Ever Afters. “I went from playing a borderline psychotic working class Yorkshire man to an autistic art school painter," Riley says of recent roles. “I get bored easily, so I try to do things that are quite different.”
English Heartbreaker: A smooth-talking philanderer, Riley’s character in Arcadia is nearly caught dallying with a married woman in the play's opening scene. “He’s got a quick mind, is easy with insults and is quite seductive,” the actor says of Septimus. “You think, ‘If only I could talk like this in real life!’” Playing a charmer shouldn’t be a stretch for the easy-on-the-eyes actor, right? “Being from the 19th century, Septimus is so far removed from [my experience]," he explains. "He has etiquette and a whole set of cultural manners that aren’t where I come from.” Should Riley need any insight, he can consult co-star Billy Crudup, who won raves as Septimus in Arcadia’s original Broadway mounting. “Billy is such an amazing actor that any advice he could give would be welcomed, but he's too gracious to do so."
New York Life: A veteran of London’s Royal Court Theatre, Riley says he hasn’t felt much of a difference between the British stage and prepping for his Broadway debut. “Just the paperwork,” he cracks. Actually, he’s not kidding: A delay getting visas for Arcadia’s British actors pushed back the first day of rehearsal. “We all started thinking, ‘We’ve got to get there! What if they start without us, and the understudies are better and they tell us not to come?’” he says with a laugh. Job secure, Riley is enjoying exploring New York, "one of my favorite places in the world," and has urged his London-based pals to visit. "I don’t always tell my friends to come see my plays," he says, "but I’m telling everyone they have to get on the plane and come over!”