Tom Riley explains why he felt compelled to take on the incredibly conflicted and slightly wild role of Claude Sabine in The Collection, Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming series about a Parisian fashion house which hopes to restore Paris’ supremacy as the haute couture capital in the aftermath of World War 2.
‘Claude is a character who is caught up in a world he hates but is also drawn to and feels a deep connection to because of his love for clothes, and for design and especially for beauty,’ says Tom. ‘It was this incredible paradox at the centre of who he is that was just far too fascinating to me to not play.
‘Claude is one of the two brothers at the heart of the story but he is the half that stays in the shadows.
‘Whereas his brother, Paul, (Richard Coyle) is charismatic, handsome and very charming, all the things necessary in order to make the House of Sabine palatable to the outside world, Claude is the opposite and has all of the characteristics that would make this fashion house distasteful, embarrassed and ashamed.
‘Despite being extremely passionate about what he does, Claude has no time for networking and schmoozing with the rich. He was part of the resistance during the war and so is very much against anyone who acquiesced with the Nazis and feels these things too strongly for the rest of the world to accept. ‘
As to whether this hedonistic character is a moral one or not, Tom explains; ‘I’d say Claude has an intense feeling of right and wrong but that is part of the problem.
‘His desire to see the world in black and white and not in shades of grey is what leads him into this indignant place where he kicks back against authority because he thinks he is in the right but actually a gentler hand would probably be a better move. Paul knows how to play a part that is necessary in order for their fashion house to appear right to the outside world whereas Claude doesn’t. If he wasn’t so incredibly talented he’d be far too much of a liability.’
At the core of this show is a captivating and impassioned family drama. Tom tells us about Claude’s relationship with his brother, Paul, played by Richard Coyle.
‘They hate and love each other – they were forged from the same fire. They get a kick out of each other, which is interesting. Whilst they find each other funny and at moments, kind they do not see eye to eye on anything. It is like many sibling relationships, you share a sense of humour and a past but that doesn’t mean you share an outlook.
‘Their mother, Yvette played by Frances de la Tour, raised them single-handedly and she cares very deeply for them. However, she also frustrates both of them intensely.
‘Having made mistakes in his upbringing, she believes she is the reason for Claude’s acting up, and as a result of that she is far more protective towards him than she is towards Paul. Yvette also sees Claude as the special one whom she wants to nurture and that creates a problem for the brothers.’
Whilst the intricate family relationships and the drama that surrounds them are important as is the bleak yet fascinating historical setting of post-occupation Paris.
‘There was this intense internal struggle and shame in Paris after the war and this severe period of austerity where people were trying to prove to the world that Paris was still the home of liberal thinking and art and passion.
‘It has been fascinating learning about France at that time. The history is as important to the show as the family drama because it is ingrained in every person. Each character is trying to move forward and forget about what happened in the past but sometimes the past won’t let you forget.’
A key aspect of the show is the glamorous and ruthless world of fashion of which Tom’s opinion has admittedly and drastically changed.
‘In preparation for this project I went to London Fashion Week, and I have seen shows and met designers and I have realised that fashion is as important a mode of expression as any other form of art. Fashion is the art people choose to wear every day in order to express themselves and to show people who the are.
‘Alternatively, fashion is also how people cover up who they are. Working on this show has not only shown me how incredibly cutthroat the fashion world is but also allowed me to understand the importance of it. It has completely changed my view of fashion. I’ll be dressing a lot better now…!’
Whilst clothing is a principal element of the show, a moment Tom will remember from this project was one that did not involve much of it.
‘It was the very first day and we were thrown straight into the deep end. There’s a scene in the first episode where I take all of my clothes off and I get into the bath. Richard and I had never worked together or met the crew and they hadn’t heated the bath so it was freezing cold.
‘It was eight o’clock in the morning on the first day of shooting and it was a case of ‘hi everyone, I’m Tom and this is my bum.’ So I pulled my trousers down, walked into the bathroom and there was this poor sound girl sat on top of the toilet in there with the boom. It was her first job. Ever. I couldn’t stop apologising to her, I felt awful!’
The Collection will launch exclusively in the UK on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 2nd September.