The Wylde Interview: Alex Lanipekun

Interview by David Newton / Photography by Etienne Gilfillan

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The first series of Sky Atlantic’s blockbuster series Riviera rapidly became its biggest-ever hit and, to my mind, it’s not hard to see why.

Take the deceptively trashy tropes of Eighties super-soaps like Dynasty and Dallas, then ramp up the drama to a far higher setting, with truly great actors interpreting mature and believable storylines, sprinkle liberally with stunning locations, gorgeous clothes and an unmistakeable aura of gilded privilege and you might just begin to get what lifts the series above the norm. It’s fast paced, nasty, tense and a lot of fun. And, inevitably, a second series was commissioned pretty darn quick.

It’s showing now on Sky Atlantic, and, as rather a lot of characters met gruesome ends in Series One, it became a necessity to introduce some new, er, blood. One of these is Brit actor Alex Lanipekun, veteran of the quality thriller genre, notching up roles in Homeland and Spooks before joining Riviera, in which he plays Qatari millionaire Raafi Al-Qadar, married to the impossibly glamorous Poppy Delevingne.

We met up with Alex for a shoot-and-chat and wanted to know, first and foremost, the lowdown on the new series…

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Wylde: We are colossal fans of Riviera; I’ve watched the first series twice! And Series 2 looks every bit as great as the first…

Alex Lanipekun: Thank you so much; I hope you really enjoy Season 2. I’m really excited for it; it’s certainly bigger and bolder, and I hope that fans of the first season will get all of what they expect – and more! We certainly dialled everything  up a notch. Julia [Stiles] has been comparing it to Shakespeare-meets-the Greeks, and I think that pretty much sums it up, to be honest. We’re all really proud of it; we worked so hard to give fans of the show a great ride. I like to think of it almost like a gothic melodrama; it reminds me of that in the size of the story and the big emotions, and hopefully grounded by pretty real performances, to keep audiences not just entertained, but also invested in the story.

What drew you to appearing in it? 

Very simply, I knew people who were already on the show. I’d worked with Dimitri [Leonidas] before, and Lena [Olin] and I’d also worked with Juliet Stevenson, who’s playing the matriarch of the new family that comes down to the Riviera, of which I am a part, and it just seemed like a great opportunity to work with some fantastic actors again – not to mention Julia Stiles. So that was the long and short of it; I’m always attracted to the talent that’s attached to the project.

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Had you seen it before you joined?

I’d seen the first episode, just because I wanted to watch the people whose work I valued, and I was like: “I want to check this out, and see how they do it, and what the landscape of the show is.” I tend to watch the first episode of a lot of things, because I have work colleagues in a lot of shows, and so you just want, when you bump into them, to be like: “Oh, I saw that thing you did!”

How would you describe your own role in the drama?

Well, for me, I just felt like the people behind Riviera were trying to not just put a little colour down in the Riviera [laughs] but also bring in a character, Raafi, who was a good man and, for me, compared to the type of parts I’d played in the past, it was an opportunity to play a really positive, family orientated character. And I just think the way we’re going now, in society, and the way we’re having more diversity in shows… When I came out of drama school, it was a slightly different industry to the one that’s developing now and I just felt that was a really positive thing, a really important thing. And that’s really how I saw Raafi, when I read him on the page, I just felt like, [executive producer] Kris Thykier and people at [production company] Archery Pictures and Cameron Roach at Sky, were really trying to bring in a character of significance who had a moral backbone and was really family orientated – to his detriment, sometimes.

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I think one lesson that Riviera teaches us is that there’s good and bad in everyone; certainly no one is 100% good! What would you say your own bad points are… and your own good qualities?

[Laughing] Absolutely no one is 100% good! I’ve said it before, but I kind of look at Riviera and it reminds me of the beginning of David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet, where it’s a beautiful, idyllic suburb and we’re slowly moving through the neighbourhood and then we get on to these beautiful front lawns and we get into the grass and the more we zoom in we see all the crawling things, and that’s how I see the show; it peels off the veneer, the glamour and the sheen, and then underneath it you see all the human frailty that has existed in every great drama and in the hearts of all humans. My good and bad points? Ah, that’d be telling! Not sure if I trust you yet… I’d have to get to know you a bit more!

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We hear that you are writing a sci-fi drama… sounds amazing! Tell us a little bit more about it.

So, last year I wrote and directed my first short film [Run], which we took to festivals around the world, and had a really great response; we won an award at the Ischia Film Festival. It was always planned that it would be the pitch for a feature, so that’s how we strategised it. But we also wanted it to work as a standalone piece. And thankfully, because of the responses, we were able to go out and meet with producers and production companies, and so now at the moment I’m just about to deliver the first draft. My writing partner and I have always had a great interest in cinema, and we just wanted to put more diverse faces in cinema. There’s a lot of people doing it now, and there seems to be the appetite for it, and there seems to people who are really excited about helping those voices be heard. I’m a great believer in self-responsibility. You can complain all day about opportunities, but actually people are making movies on their iPhones now. The kids nowadays have got so much access to technology that they’re really pushing the envelope and I just applaud them; I find them constantly inspiring, so I thought it was about time I did the same. I’ve always written, but we’ve taken it to the next level now, and we’re really pushing forward with it. The technology is there now, as that fantastic film Tangerine showed, for example, or, more recently, High Flying Bird. People are really doing it and getting fantastic results. So I think it’s important to be part of the conversation, because there are so many incredible voices that, in the past, just weren’t able to be heard.

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And if acting and writing weren’t enough, you have a music career under your belt as well. What are your best memories of those days, in ONE?

Yes I did used to be in a rap group called ONE, who were mostly based in North London. To me, that was about brotherhood, really. There were three different groups, all from the local area. I had a friend who I went to boarding school with, and he was a music producer, and I had my friends who I grew up with in my area, so I brought him into the group. We had a couple of other music producers in the group, but it was mostly MC’s. When we all came together, we were formed in the flames very much; young, adolescent males dealing with teenage-hood and writing about our experiences. Some of it was pretty painful, but I guess they were growing pains and I made some brothers for life. I look back on those days as my most informative, my most educational; they made me, in many ways, the man that I am today. They ironed out a lot of creases in my own character, and hopefully that was the same for everybody. I don’t speak to much of those guys that often any more, because our lives took us in such different directions, but I do speak to some of them once in a while and it’s amazing to have gone through something so intense with a group of people and come out the other side of it. The most encouraging thing for me now is that the industry is much more open; there’s a generation of rappers and artists in urban music who were just ignored by wider mainstream society. I remember I met the late, great, Tony Wilson [of Factory Records] once. I was working in a bar and he came in, and we chatted all about music, and talked about Factory and all those days, and he was like: “There will never be a black Hip-hop scene in the UK, because it’s American music.” And I think even he would have been surprised by how Grime and our own unique version of Hip-hop has emerged in the last few years. It’s incredible to see, really inspiring.

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What music are you listening to right now?

Right now, I’m listening to a lot of French Hip-hop, mostly, because of spending 6 months in the Riviera. One of the AD’s is a good friend and she was serving me up loads of good music and another guy was passing me loads of stuff, so between the two of them, I got all the great French Hip-hop and I’ve been using it to attempt to learn a bit more French. My GCSE skills have sadly faded over the years!

What do you do for fun (in London)? Give us your secret tips! (We’re talking bars/restaurants/areas to visit etc)

Well I’m vegan, so there’s lots of great new vegan spots popping up all the time. I just went to Vegan Tuesdays down at Tibits, just off Regent Street; it’s really great. And obviously the old classic Mildred’s [in Soho], which they’ve now expanded to locations in Camden and King’s Cross. But what’s really fun is walking through street markets now. Down in Brixton Village there’s a great little vegan spot now as well; Eat of Eden, which I think is fantastic. In the Summer or Autumn, there’s nothing better than a walk along the Thames. Take a book with you, find a little bench; it’s a great place to clear your mind, sometimes. 

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Our favourite question to ask (always produces the BEST replies!): what weird dreams have you had recently?

It’s all a bit of a weird dream, this life, isn’t it?! I don’t tend to dream that much any more. When I’m out, I’m out and it’s darkness… and then I wake up. I’m sure there’s something going on but I wouldn’t be able to tell you what. I do meditate a lot nowadays; I find that’s really good. I wish they taught it in schools; I think it’s a bit of a game-changer for people. I do very simple breathing exercises and affirmations and I find that sometimes I go off on weird little tangents and I find myself daydreaming as a result of the things that I’m meditating on. They’re always pretty weird, but they’re always very progressive in nature; there’s a definite direction to them. So I like to attach visualisation and intent and see where my imagination goes. That probably sounds kinda weird… but I find it works for me.

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What’s next, career-wise?

Mainly just focussing on the film right now. I have a writing deadline, which I’m over! So I’m desperately scrambling this week, with my writing partner to just get that done and that’s pretty much consuming all of my mind. There’s always acting work, but this is my passion at the moment. You have to make choices along the road about which way to go, and it’s important to not be pulled off the path because there’s an easier one of least resistance, you know? If you want to achieve your dreams and goals, you have to stay focused, and things like paying the bills and the mortgage and those over-the-head anvils, thankfully, for the moment, I’m free of. So it means I can actually focus on the things that you dream about. An actor’s life means that that only lasts for so long before you’re back in the hunt again, so I’m enjoying the ability to focus on the things that I’m really passionate about… until I take a look at the bank balance and realise I’ve got to get back in the grind again! 

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Riviera series 2 is on SKY Atlantic Thursdays at 9pm and available on Now TV

Photographer's Assistant: Paolo Navarino

Grooming: Jade Bird at Nylon Artists

Many thanks to Atlantis Bookshop