TOM RILEY has caroused around the world as Leonardo in Da Vinci’s Demons and strutted his stuff as a gay fashion designer in period drama The Collection — but now he’s ready to take on some inner demons. To say his character, DI Will Wagstaffe, anti-hero of Dark Heart, is buttoned up is an understatement.
Think of post-traumatic stress disorder and military veterans inevitably spring to mind but Dark Heart places the condition in a more domestic setting. Wagstaffe is struggling to come to terms with the murder of his parents, a mystery that forms the deep foundation of Dark Heart and is the keystone factor in Wagstaffe’s damaged personality.
‘He’s kept everything within himself,’ says 37-year-old Riley of Will. ‘He’s putting all his energy into his job and he is suffering from PTSD. My take is that his work is how he’s dealing with the tragedy that’s happened to him. His parents were killed when he was a teenager so he’s a case of arrested development. He’s still that teenage boy full of frustration and anger.’
That frustration and anger make Wagstaffe a dedicated detective but they also make him a loose cannon. Yet Riley baulks slightly at the suggestion he’s a vigilante cop.
‘There are certainly elements in him that are not conducive to being a healthy human being — he’s fighting with the borderline elements of his personality,’ he says. ‘But he’s trying to do what’s right.’
Writer Chris Lang has form when it comes to cop dramas. He’s the man behind three series of Unforgotten, so Riley trusted him when it came to steering clear of maverick cop show clichés. Lang has given Wagstaffe, lifted from novels by Adam Creed, added layers. These don’t include copping off with a sidekick.
Dark Heart’s pilot aired on the ill-fated ITV Encore channel in 2016 and that forms the opening brace of episodes for the new series. But the gap between filming that and the new episodes means certain relationships have moved on.
In the pilot it looked like the relationship between Wagstaffe and DC Josie Chancellor (Bodyguard’s Anjli Mohindra) might blossom but that’s been put on the back-burner. Yes, male cops can work with female cops without getting their truncheons out.
‘We really felt like we’d seen all that before and that wasn’t the direction we wanted to take with this,’ says Riley. ‘Yes, there were hints of an attraction in the opening episodes, but that moment has passed and I guess you could say the mild flirtation has evolved into respect between the two of them.’
Wagstaffe is a loner, with only his sister (Charlotte Riley) and nephew penetrating his emotional defences.
‘He has a kind of charm but he can’t hold down a relationship,’ says Riley.
No such problem for Riley, who married Masters Of Sex star Lizzy Caplan last year. The couple divide their time between LA and London, and Riley says he relished the chance to prowl the capital’s mean streets after three years swashbuckling around the globe as the star of Da Vinci’s Demons.
‘Da Vinci was a super, high-energy show, very flamboyant, huge fun to do, but it’s great to get stuck into something with more naturalism,’ he says. ‘Da Vinci had a global audience, it was big in a lot of countries, but it wasn’t watched so much here.’
Dark Heart will bring him to a wider UK audience. On homegrown channels he’s built a solid career as a supporting man but not the lead. When talk turns to roles he recalls fondly, he mentions The 12 Days Of Christine, the Inside No.9 episode in which he co-starred with Sheridan Smith.
‘One of the best half hours of TV that’s ever been made,’ says Riley, to which I agree. ‘So good, you’d forgotten I was in it,’ he cuts in just a tad waspishly. (I confess I had, which is a compliment to Riley, as he disappeared into the role.) He takes it all in good part because there’s little of the luvvie about him. But I might have caught a glimpse of his dark side…
■ Dark Heart is on ITV tonight at 9pm and after on ITV Hub