Meet Blake Ritson - the deliciously eloquent and talented actor whom we have fallen head over heels for. A true creative, his latest ventures have him nonchalantly juggling photo-shoots, the role of a dark, Armani-clad torturer, and musing over a potential career as a food critic.
Complete with a roaring Dickensian fire, aged wooden beams and bare brick walls, the enchanting British pub we settled into proved to be much more apt than the trendy Shoreditch coffee spot we had initially agreed upon.
Why so apt? Well, I was there to interview an actor; an actor best known for gentrified roles and depicted those who occupy the ‘elevated tranches of society’; an actor who no doubt stole many-a-heart when he played Edmund Bertram in an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park; and yes, if you must know, an actor who “murdered Michael Elwyn’s son”… albeit in a fictional sense while performing in an onstage rendition of Rope.
That’s not to say that this dapper actor wouldn’t be just as at home in the latest coffee joint du jour - take the fact that he dashed off to a shoot with Mr Porter once the interview wrapped as sufficient ‘for instance’ - but both his manner and his eloquence seem to be in their element when complemented by the crackling flames cavorting in the nearby fireplaces.
If you thought I was sitting with personage of 19th century nobility, you’re not to be blamed, but in fact I was sitting with the impeccably cool Mr Blake Ritson, who, for his latest on-screen-venture, will become Count Riario in David S. Goyer’s fantasy depiction of Renaissance Florence: Da Vinci’s Demons. Sure to pronounce his darker side, Riario looks set to be everything Edmund isn’t.
"I’ve played an awful lot of very sweet characters, so suddenly the idea of doing something incredibly dark is quite appealing," says Ritson with his cuttingly British enunciation, and I cant’ help but agree.
Although, on further investigation it would seem that Ritson’s ‘dark’ description of Riario is perhaps a little reserved. “With [Riario] there’s a lot of torturing and killing. It’s not that he’s a raving sadist, it’s simply that cruelty is a part of his methodology and he’ll go to any lengths to get what he wants.” Riario appears to perch menacingly on the exceptionally intense end of the placidity spectrum, worlds apart from the compassionate sensibilities of sweet Edmund.
But the award for the best description of a 15th century religious crusader goes to: “He’s somewhere between a CIA expert in forceful rendition and a mafia hit man… he is a ruthless bastard.” If you aren’t intrigued by now then shame on you, but do allow me to attempt to engage you further.
With a cocktail of British eye candy (Tom Riley, Blake Ritson and the beautiful Laura Haddock to name but a few) and of course the show’s masterful writing, taken care by none other than the co-writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, David S. Goyer, it’s safe to say that Da Vinci’s Demons is destined to entice.
And you need not simply take my word for it. Take a peek at the vamped-up, oh-so tantalizing trailer, where it would seem Goyer’s Batman background is far from absent: “It’s far more Gotham City than Renaissance Florence; everyone looks like superheroes and super-villains.”
In such a ‘ruthlessly aesthetic show’ (N.B. the cast were trained by the same team that prepared Daniel Graig for Bond) the costumes cannot be ignored. With their award-winning costumier Annie Symons and inspiration found in areas as diverse as “Grease and 1930’s couture,” the costumes go further than simply shaping each character’s identity, they work to further enhance the show’s aesthetics.
In lending her sartorial genius, it was Annie who decided to introduce a touch of Italy’s finest into Riario’s wardrobe: “Annie said [Riario] should be wearing an Armani suit - so they got handmade Italian leather shoes and this beautiful Armani fabric with very subtle pinstripes.” All of which is part of what Blake explains to be ‘typical Annie’ - “She’ll find a little anachronistic flourish and she’ll work out what the modern version of it is.”
So who has the best costume? “I’m entirely biased so I think I do! I basically have one outfit for the whole series. It is essentially one uniform that changes subtly because the weather was so bad.”
Yes, that beautifully typical British weather did not case to meet anything other than our miserable expectations but that’s what happens when you film in Swansea. “To be honest, when I heard it was Swansea I was very surprised. They had looked at shooting in South Africa, the States and all over the place but at the end of the day they thought Renaissance Florence could only be doubled in Swansea!
Rather humbly, and in contrast to his merciless character, Blake confesses his favourite part of making the show was the cast and crew: “I love the cast and crew. I knew Laura [Haddock] from Upstairs Downstairs, Tom [Riley] I knew a little socially. I actually knew an awful lot of the cast.” As for working with David Goyer is concerned: “He’s such a force of nature to have on set; he gives an incredible energy; you can almost feel the whole cast kind of feeding off of his energy.”
If you aren’t familiar with Ritson already, allow me to inform you that he also writes and directs in addition to acting. He and his brother (“We both write and we both direct”) have created four short films and have a plethora of exciting new ventures lined up for the future: “We’ve written a film with Hammer Films and the British Film Institute which we’re hopefully directing at the end of this year and then we’ve got three TV series’ in development.” For Ritson, segueing into roles behind cameras has been as natural as being in front of them, especially since writing provides a secondary creative outlet, of which Ritson seems to be in constant search of: “I just love any creative pursuit, I’d love to be an artist, I’d love to be a photographer, I’d love to be a musician…”
Fear not, the film industry will not be losing Blake to the music world just yet: “I love the whole creative process. Right from the beginning of working out how the character dresses, how he walks, how he talks, and just as an art form. I’ve learnt from writing and directing that it’s the most collaborative form there is.”
Interests outside his business lie heartily in food: “I love food generally; I like cooking, I like going out, I like eating.” (Ritson then commenced to school me on London’s top spots) “Gelupo and Bocca di Lupo has the best ice cream in London and Ottolenghi cakes in Notting Hill and Oxford Street are amazing.”
So perhaps in his list of aspirations, Ritson could slide in dreams of becoming a food critic? “Well, writer/director first! But I’d love to be a food critic, although I’d have to be a food critic alongside some other journalistic ambition, I think it would be too indulgent if all I did was food criticism!” Finding as much creativity in food as he does in other facets of life, it seems that creativity is Ritson’s driving force: “I remember going to The Fat Duck for the first time and thinking: ‘It’s amazing.’ There is a real theater to it; there’s wit, there’s tone and there’s a rhythm and it echoes the rhythm of going to see a performance - it just happens to involve more senses.”
Before Ritson departs nonchalantly for his cool photo shoot with Mr Porter - very large suitcase in hand - I can’t help but wonder out loud if his predilection of archaic roles is a conscious decision. “I never think ‘I’m only going to act up until 1940,” I’m always driven by the quality of parts.” That said, Ritson does express a slightly more enthusiastic attitude toward the Lords, Kings, Counts, Viscounts and Dukes he has become famous for, believing that they are potentially more intense roles. “Any character where the stakes are very high is interesting to me because there’s just so much resting on an individual’s shoulders.”
And so it is with a variety of directorial projects, that Mr Porter shoot and of course Da Vinci’s Demons wall within his sights my interview with Blake Ritson comes to an end… but not without one quick espresso in the trendy coffee shop du jour first.