Riley Jones is a familiar face to television audiences, having played DC Mark Edwards in ITV’s popular drama series Vera since 2011. As a veteran of the show, Riley has seen the character evolve over the last 13 years, while the audience response continues to be “very positive.”
As production on Vera’s season 13 gets underway, Riley discusses life on the set and the challenges of working on a popular, long-running series. He also shares his experience of working with BBA Management, Bronia Buchanan’s talent agency.
From School to Screen: How Riley Became a Professional Actor
Discovering Drama at School
Riley’s passion for the performing arts started during his childhood. However, he initially doubted that he could turn acting into a career.
“[I] remember doing a couple of plays at primary school that I really enjoyed,” Riley says. “But it didn’t feel like there was any opportunity to pursue [acting] outside of school.”
Despite the limited opportunities for performance during his early years, Riley’s secondary school drama teacher helped foster his interest in acting. “I had a great drama teacher,” he says. “Through her, I found that [acting] was more than just a bit of fun.”
Encouraged by his teacher’s guidance, Riley went on to study GCSE Drama. Many of his drama classmates dropped the subject at this stage: “I assumed they were going to do [drama at GCSE] but they were like, ‘No, that’s not going to be [my] job.’”
Riley adds: “I think that was the moment I realised, ‘This is a bit different for me. This is something I could see myself doing beyond school and beyond studying.’”
During his GCSE drama studies, Riley found himself creating “quite hard-hitting and powerful” work. After completing drama studies at GCSE and college levels, Riley’s aspiration was to attend drama school. But the high costs of tuition meant drama school wasn’t a viable option for him.
“I was like, ‘Well, I can’t go to drama school.’ So I was looking at other avenues and I found this course at Northumbria [University]. I thought, ‘Do you know what? I’m going to apply.’ Luckily I did, [I] got on and it was great.”
“Coming from a working-class family in Newcastle, it didn’t feel like there was that opportunity to pursue [acting] as a career. All of my family were factory workers, manual workers, [or] manual labourers. I’ve been fortunate that I have been able to make [acting] my job.”
Riley’s Advice for Aspiring Actors
There are various ways in which a person can become an actor, and Riley believes young people who want to pursue acting should choose a path that suits them.
He emphasises that drama school isn’t for everyone: “I talked to a lot of actors [who went] to drama school [and] say, ‘I wouldn’t recommend it.’ [But] I talked to a lot of actors [who] have gone to drama school and say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.”
Studying drama at university might be a good option for people who enjoy a combination of practical learning and theory. “You learn how to approach texts. You learn how to warm up. You learn how to use your voice [and] your body. That, to me, was important,” Riley explains.
“But on the other hand, especially in TV, I’ve met a lot [of actors who] haven’t had any [of that] training,” he adds. “They approach every job differently and they’re still doing amazing work.”
“If you think you need to go or you think you want to go [to university], then you definitely should try. But it doesn’t mean you can’t be an actor if you don’t.”
Riley On the Difference Between On-Screen and Stage Acting
Riley has learnt that there are distinct skills needed for acting on screen versus on stage.
“A lot of actors have more experience in the theatre world because of the nature of how you study and the opportunities that are presented to you at a young age,” he says. “From school to college to university, [it’s] all theatre. You don’t get much opportunity to explore screen acting.”
Upon graduating from university and gaining his first TV roles, Riley noticed a marked difference compared to his stage experiences at university. He quickly realised that he would need to “learn on the job.”
Riley started working on Vera when he was 21. Over the course of 13 years playing DC Mark Edwards, he has evolved into a seasoned screen actor.
“I’ve grown up on that show and learned a lot,” Riley shares. “When you’re working with [actors] like Brenda Blethyn, Kenny Doughty, [and] David Leon, every day is a lesson.”
However, Riley points out that acting in Vera is “more similar to theatre than a lot of other screen jobs.”
The usual fast pace of screen work demands effective time management: “You don’t have time to do anything. It’s all very quick. You don’t necessarily get to rehearse. You’ve got to come in, hit the ground running, know your lines, do the scene.”
In contrast, Riley finds the pace of Vera to be slower: “We’ll chat about the piece, chat about the dialogue, chat about the script… If there [are] any issues, we work out how we might change it and improve it. Then we get it on its feet, do it a couple of times, and then the crew are invited in.”
Collaborating With Writers and Exploring Characters
Straight out of university, Riley employed the Stanislavski method to immerse himself in his characters. The Stanislavski method involves techniques that help actors craft authentic characters and embrace a natural approach to performance.
The demands of television acting soon meant Riley had to adapt his approach: “It’s a whirlwind. So my process has changed over the years.” These days, Riley is “always looking at the script. All the evidence is there. You have to really decipher it.”
Riley relishes collaborating with scriptwriters when it comes to exploring and developing the characters he plays.
He explains: “[I] can be like, ‘I feel like this is the character’s intention.’ And [the writers] can say, ‘That’s exactly what I was going for.’ Or they can say, ‘You’re way off.’ Or they can be like, ‘I wasn’t thinking that but that’s really interesting. Let’s look at that.’”
“It’s about going through the script, really breaking it down, really understanding the character but understanding the character within the grand scheme of the text and with the other characters.”
Riley underscores the importance of staying open and flexible to new ideas. In some cases, that means “being willing to throw [your characterisation plans] completely out the window,” as directions can change abruptly.
“You need to be prepared and not precious and just go, ‘Okay, this is the work I’ve done but something out of [my] control has changed.’”
Discovering BBA Management: A Natural Fit for Riley
Before joining BBA Management, Riley had a couple of other agents representing him. His quest to find an agent that he “aligned” with led him to discover Bronia Buchanan’s London-based talent agency.
“I did have a fair bit of interest,” Riley shares. “I met with a few agents but it was BBA that I clicked with. I felt BBA [came] out on top there.”
Riley recalls his first meeting with BBA Management. He describes the encounter as “casual and comfortable.” To Riley, this dynamic is “important because we are working together. It’s not like one’s working for the other. [We’re] a team. With some agents, I felt like [I was] being interviewed. It felt like they were going to be [my] boss.”
“With BBA it felt like we were on the same page. That’s proven to be the case in [the] years that I’ve been with them. I think the difficult thing for an agent is that no two actors are the same. [We] all want something different and we all want a different career. So it’s really difficult for an agent to hear [the actor’s] process too.”
“I think BBA [does] that really well. They have the individual actor in mind, whereas [other] agencies [have an] overarching outlook that you have to fit into.”
Riley On BBA Management’s Support During the Pandemic
BBA Management’s support proved even more vital during the Covid-19 pandemic. Riley says: “We were filming during Covid. That was massively difficult for a number of reasons. Again, BBA [was] great at supporting us through that and making sure we were all okay. They always had their clients’ best interests in mind.”
As the pandemic unfolded, some voices in the industry expected actors to continue working despite the inherent health risks. BBA Management intervened to challenge this expectation, ensuring actors received the same level of safeguarding as workers in other industries.
“What BBA [does] really well is [respond with], ‘Actually, no, that isn’t okay. That is a problem and we do need to deal with that.’ They do it swiftly and professionally. It doesn’t feel like it’s done in a way that then is problematic and makes you feel uncomfortable when you go to work,” Riley explains.
“They’ve been brilliant at that process of making sure that everyone’s okay and in the best place they can be to do the work.”
Riley adds that Covid-19 has led to a heightened awareness surrounding mental health concerns. “I think people are a lot more willing to say, ‘Actually, this isn’t okay. I’m struggling.’ BBA has been brilliant at [helping actors with] that. Hopefully, other agents will follow suit if they haven’t already.”
How BBA Management Supports Riley’s Work on Vera
Filming for Vera typically takes place between March and November each year. Riley’s weekly routine throughout the filming period involves a lot of travel, typically between London and Newcastle.
His busy schedule can make it “quite difficult to get any other projects in.” Riley usually avoids taking on other acting commitments during this time: “I want to be able to give [Vera my] full focus and attention.”
BBA Management doesn’t push Riley to commit to more work while he’s working on Vera. He emphasises that the talent agency provides personalised support and “[tailors] their approach to you as an actor.”
“What’s great about BBA is that there’s no pressure to be hunting for [other] jobs,” Riley explains. “There’s none of that pressure, which would be very easy for them to do.”
Whenever the opportunity arises for Riley to explore new roles, BBA Management steps in to help him arrange suitable projects. Gails Smith, a senior agent at BBA, helped Riley secure work on two EastEnders episodes that aired back in 2019.
“[Gails pushed] the acting department, saying, ‘You need to see this actor.’ She [kept] knocking on [the] door with that. Then a role came up that they thought I was right for and Gails had already done the legwork.”
Audience Expectations and Bringing Fresh Ideas to Vera
Vera is a popular, long-running show, and audiences have followed its characters’ journeys for more than a decade. Although Riley acknowledges that “there can be a lot of pressure to live up to the previous season,” much of this pressure “falls on the writers,” who are always trying to “top” previous series.
From an actor’s perspective, Riley grapples with the notion of whether he’s “still hitting the same levels [he was] previously [and] still doing something fresh with the character.”
“We’ve got a brilliant team around us — writers, producers, [and] directors who are all able to come in and keep [the show] fresh but also keep it true to the original show.”
“We always have the audience in mind and what the audience will get from this series or this episode.” Feedback from Vera’s audience is that the show “just keeps getting better and better.”
Riley’s Favourite Thing About Working on Vera
Riley’s favourite thing about working on Vera is the collaborative aspect of the job: “You’re in a room together. You’re really ripping the text apart, really getting to the bottom of what’s going on.”
“If it’s a new writing piece, even better — because it’s never been seen before. You’re working on something new. You’re working with the writer. You’re in a room with like-minded people [who] are all going after the same goal. It’s such a nice environment… It’s such a nice explorative, collaborative space.”
Collaborating with actors whom Riley has admired for years is especially fulfilling. He mentions working with “massive theatre names in the North East,” people like Joe Caffrey, Chris Connell, and Davey Nellist.
While Riley hopes to keep working on Vera, he also has aspirations for creating original theatre pieces. “I’ve been doing a lot of writing myself,” he shares. “I was about to stage something just before the pandemic, so that got struck off. It’d be nice to get that going again and get some writing out there.”
BBA Management will continue to support Riley through his future pursuits and creative projects.
About BBA Management
Founded by Bronia Buchanan, BBA Management is a talent agency in central London. BBA Management represents a diverse group of exceptional actors and creatives working across television, film, and theatre. Some of the actors the agency represents include Ryan Moloney (Neighbours), Priyasasha Kumari (Waterloo Road), and Neelam Bakshi (Ted Lasso).
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