English actor Tom Riley, who plays Augie Bidlow in HBO Max’s new gender-bending sci-fi fantasy series The Nevers, has been acting, writing and directing since he first became involved in drama at the fresh age of four (yes, four) in his home town of Maidstone, Kent. He would go on to create his own theater company in his early 20s. Graduate from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Win a BAFTA for Best Actor as Leonardo da Vinci in 2013’s Da Vinci’s Demons. Nevermind a myriad of productions at London’s Royal Court Theatre and on Broadway—including his debut as Septimus Hodge in the 2011 revival of Sir Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Or a string of films, shorts, and hit TV series along the way, and most recently directing his first short film, Toll Road, starring his wife—the American actress Lizzy Caplan. Oh, and he’s now working on the Netflix series The Woman in the House with Kristen Bell. Which is a very long winded way of saying, this is not a man who does a whole lot of sitting around.
Somehow, somewhere in there, he found the time to teach himself and fall for his other love, photography. Here, he walks us through his favorite gear, muses, artists and finding inspiration in crowds.
HOW I GOT INTO TAKING PHOTOS
“A fascination with the composition of shots in films. The type of photos I’ve become obsessed with aren’t necessarily ones that I was exposed to growing up. The first shots I actively remember taking my breath away were images captured on celluloid. The way Terrence Malick shot nature, or Leos Carax faces, or Emmanuel Lubezki light, or Wes Anderson symmetry.
However I got there, the minute I started capturing those moments on camera at home, mostly by accident, but sometimes not, was the moment I fell in love with it.”
“My first that I tried to actually do more than just take everyday photos with was a Leica D-Lux 3 or 4. It was a comparatively base-level compact point and shoot, but such a nice one to get to make all the early mistakes with.
I’m sure if I looked back at some of those SD cards now, I’d cringe so hard at shots I thought were huge achievements at the time.”
“I mean, it’s almost beyond a dream. I would love love LOVE a Leica M Monochrom. Just the most beautiful camera that produces the most beautiful images.
The reason I’ve never splashed out for one is the fact that it feels like so much money for something so niche. Even though black and white is absolutely my jam and the price reflects the level of quality Leica brings to all their products, I just can’t get there psychologically.
I blame my upbringing—I never give myself a treat unless I can convince myself I’ve actually earned it. It’s really getting in the way to be honest…”
FAVORITE PHOTO I’VE TAKEN
“It’s definitely not the best photo I’ve ever taken, but it’s my favorite. I was at the Florida Film Festival and had time to kill before a screening, so I went on an ‘gator swamp tour, obviously. I sat down outside the ticket office and saw this elderly guy on a bench at a distance. He had the most incredible face. I reached for my camera and long lens.
He noticed, and let me take a couple of pics looking straight down the barrel. And then he just got on with his business. Forgetting I was there. He was counting this fat stack of dollar bills on his lap. Shuffling and recounting, shuffling and recounting. And he was doing it with a white flower he’d plucked from the tree beside him clasped between his knuckles. As he counted the money, he kept licking his lips. And then at one point he wiped them dry with his hand, never letting go of the flower, which is the shot that I’d probably call my favorite.”
FAVORITE CAMERA I OWN
“A Sony A6000. I find it the perfect combination of complicated enough to be able to impose your will onto it, and uncomplicated enough to prevent my being intimidated by its interface, or wasting precious setup time fiddling. Its autofocus is nothing to sniff at either, when you’re trying to capture something that isn’t gonna hang around long enough for the perfect manual shot.”
FAVORITE SHOOTING LOCATION
“Anywhere teeming with all sorts of people. Preferably somewhere where cameras are everywhere and it’s easier to blend in unassumingly and unobtrusively. Times Square. Piccadilly Circus. Parties. Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Dollywood…”
FAVORITE PHOTO I OWN BY SOMEONE ELSE
“A personal one, though it does bear all the hallmarks of shots I like. My friend Dianna caught it at my wedding. It’s black and white, completely candid and unposed, yet looks staged. My wife [actress Lizzy Caplan] and I are sitting on the floor laughing, pin-sharp, and behind us, some of our friends are dancing, all out of focus, over and underexposed. It immortalized this moment of joy, both inside us and all around us.”
FAVORITE FINE ART PHOTOGRAPHER
FAVORITE FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER
“I just shot with Randall Slavin, and was stunned at his ability to move so quickly and get incredible shots so effortlessly.”
FAVORITE PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS
“Vivian Maier. Either Street Photography or Out of the Shadows.”
FAVORITE HACKS & TIPS
“For very long exposures, stick a piece of tape over the viewfinder to prevent any extra light from spilling in. I don’t know if that actually works, but someone told me it once and I’ve done it every time since like a good little boy.”
FILM VS DIGITAL
“Digital. I don’t know if that’s a non-purist’s answer. Probably. When it comes to enjoying photographs I didn’t take, I’ve fallen in love with both, I’ve been surprised by which is which, and I would 100% fail a blind taste test.”
“The photographer Greg Williams. He has this ability to capture special split-second moments, particularly at award ceremonies or film festivals, usually in black and white, usually using a Leica, of celebrities with their guards down. In moments of joy, or introspection, or trepidation. Private and public moments.
Sometimes they’re aware of the camera, sometimes not. Sometimes playing up to it, sometimes not. But each one feels like a specific moment. It’s that kind of feeling, of a fleeting secret, immortalized, that I try to achieve if I can. Not with celebrities, obviously. Brad Pitt isn’t as down to have me hanging out in his bathroom.”
“Maybe a jacket with big pockets for fast and easy access.”
“In North London, there’s a great framer called Albion Frames in Stoke Newington, which is one guy’s labour of love. He works fast, treats the subject with care, and isn’t overpriced.”
PEOPLE AND FACES
“People. Every time. People people people. Street photography is the thing that really cemented my love for this. I discovered what I really loved was capturing people.”
“I already mentioned Vivien Maier. Her work was only discovered after her death, and she captured the most heart-wrenching imagery of New York. Another street photographer whose work I admire, especially his composition, is Max Yavno.”
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT TAKING PHOTOS
“The patience that’s required with street photography. The fact that to enjoy it, you have to be happy with failing at it is very humbling. If you see something incredible—the perfect marriage of shot and subject—chances are you’re more than likely gonna miss it, and you’re just gonna have to be ok with that. I find that helps clears my mind, and is a great lesson in giving up control.”
As Augie Bidlow in HBO Max’s Joss Whedon-created series The Nevers.
In Netflix’s The Woman in the House.
As Leonardo da Vinci in David S. Goyer’s Stars series Da Vinci’s Demons.
As Will Wagstaffe in ITV’s British crime drama series Dark Heart.
As Claude Sabine in Amazon’s The Collection.
As Septimus Hodge in Sir Tom Stoppard’s production of Arcadia.