Xavier Samuel rose to fame for his role as Riley Biers in The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and went on to appear in the movies Fury, alongside Brad Pitt, and Adoration, with Naomi Watts and Robin Wright. Samuel, 33, is now on cinema screens in Whit Stillman’s film Love & Friendship, based on Jane Austen’s novel Lady Susan. The Australian actor chatted to me about working alongside Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale, his most challenging role and his surprise at being cast in Twilight.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished a film in Adelaide, Bad Blood, which is sort of a psychological thriller. It was really hard and quick – we shot it in about 15 days, which is unheard of … Before that I did a six-part drama series called Seven Types of Ambiguity, with Hugo Weaving.
What was it like to work on Love & Friendship?
It was a special experience because Whit Stillman doesn’t make films very often and he is such an incredible writer and filmmaker. It is an Austen that hasn’t been brought to the screen before. All the elements are very unique and such an amazing ensemble of actors, Stephen Fry and Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale and James Fleet, all these extraordinary people. So, yes, it’s an experience that I’m very proud of.
What was it like to work with Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale?
Oh they’ve got such a kind of chemistry together because they did a film called Last Days of Disco, which was a Whit Stillman film as well. So it was sort of a reunion for those two. But they’re so elegant, sophisticated and smart and Chloe sort of epitomises cool, doesn’t she? … Kate is so fiercely intelligent. She has such a command of language and the dialogue in the film – it has a certain quality that is sort of almost musical.
Tell me about your character, Sir Reginald DeCourcy?
He is sort of a pompous aristocrat who thinks he knows a little more than he does … Kate Beckinsale’s character has him wrapped around in her little finger. So he is completely manipulated and assaulted by her.
Were you a fan of Jane Austen before you did this film?
Well, I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and seen many incarnations. I hadn’t read Lady Susan before … I think what makes this story unique is that it’s not so much about romance, it’s about the ruthless qualities that this brilliant woman has to kind of survive and navigate at a time where women are constrained.
What was it like growing up in Adelaide?
I went to school [with] really great teachers. Sometimes you feel like you’re in a kind of little golden era, where all the elements are right. It’s sort of what it felt like. I spent two years – around 12/13 years old – when our family moved to Darwin because both my parents are teachers [in] English and History.
Did you and your brother [actor] Benedict Samuel grow up both wanting to be actors?
No. I don’t know about Benedict, but I wanted to play football for the Crows!
What was your first big break into the acting world?
I studied for four years at the Drama Centre in Adelaide and I went to Sydney and I did a film called September, which was the first feature film I did… When you come out of drama school, you think just the idea of working is kind of extraordinary… Twilight changed things for me, it opened up doors that wouldn’t have necessarily been opened.
How did Twilight impact your career?
I got a flirtation with celebrity that you don’t often get to see in that extreme. It was such a gigantic phenomenon. I [have] been trying to not let an experience define and be the only thing that [I’m] known for…I wanted to be challenged and kind of do films and plays that are kind of uncharted territory.
What was it like when you first found out you had landed the role as Riley Biers in Twilight?
Well, I did an audition on the tape from Sydney. It was a situation where I was like, “Oh well, this is never going to happen…”. Time passed and I didn’t hear anything and then suddenly I heard that it was down to me and a couple of other guys. So I flew to Vancouver and met the director and then suddenly we were filming. When I first found out I was actually preparing an audition for another film and I just tore it up.
Do you like living in LA?
I do like it. It took me a while because it’s full-on if you’re an actor because it’s all about entertainment and there is no escaping it – it’s everywhere you turn. So it takes up a lot of your thought process and you don’t realise you’re exhausted until you get out of the place and then you go, “Oh I feel like I’ve been holding my breath for a long time”. But I’ve got some really great friends there now.
Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
Most recently Hugo Weaving, because he is just such a professional and such a brilliant actor. But I’ve been really lucky, I’ve worked with some amazing actors. Brad Pitt – suddenly you find yourself standing opposite Brad Pitt, you’re like, “This guy is a legend”. I grew up watching him; he is a hero of mine.
What was it like to work alongside him?
He remembered everyone’s name, he showed up and brought his A-game to every scene. It’s inspiring to meet people of that calibre who are that professional.
What would be your dream role?
I remember those Lucky Luke cartoons [from] when I was a kid and always wanted to play a cowboy!
Love & Friendship is in cinemas now.