Since Riley Jones booked his role of young police officer Mark Edwards for an episode in the first series of Vera in 2011 alongside a cast including Brenda Blethyn as Vera, he was asked to return for a further episode the following year, before DC Mark Edwards became a regular character in the third series, with Riley now in his 13th year of the ITV crime drama. In 2019, Riley played Ewan in episodes of EastEnders, and with stage experience, he most recently played John Worthing in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at Jack Studio Theatre in London. Answering our questions, we found out from Riley about being cast in ITV crime drama Vera, playing regular character DC Mark Edwards in the series and his time as John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest.
You play DC Mark Edwards in Vera, how would you describe the character and what is he like to play?
I would say Mark is a likeable character, who is very diligent in his work but doesn’t take himself too seriously. A show like Vera can be quite heavy and intense and Mark can often offer a bit of comic relief. It’s nice to be able to play both the dramatic scenes as well as the lighter moments.
What has it been like developing the character over the years and how is it returning to film each series?
When Mark first appeared in Vera as a young uniformed officer he was only in one scene and had about four lines. I never thought I’d still be here 13 years later! As an actor it’s been an amazing opportunity as you don’t often get to take such a small character and develop them over the course of a decade. Each series we get to see a little bit more of Mark and I think the audience have really enjoyed seeing him grow and develop over the years.
What is it like working alongside Brenda Blethyn and the rest of the cast?
There’s a reason why Brenda is referred to as a national treasure. Her work both on and off the screen is incredible. Working so closely with Brenda has been like having a front row seat to an acting masterclass. I’m constantly inspired and learning from watching her work. Not only that but she’s a great laugh and so fun to be around that it never really feels like work. She’s also been instrumental in Mark returning as a series regular and I’ll be forever grateful for her generosity and friendship.
Is there anything you enjoy most about being part of Vera and filming as DC Mark Edwards?
The term ‘Vera Family’ is often used when talking about the production and its team. And it may sound like a cliché but it’s true. We have such an amazing group and we’re so lucky that the majority come back every year. I’ve been working with a lot of these people for the best part of 13 years and I have made some lifelong friends. For me, the work is always important but it’s the people that make a job special. We have some of the best in the industry working on Vera and I think that shows in the quality of the work.
How is it seeing the fan response to each new series of Vera and why would you recommend watching it to those who haven’t seen it before?
The fan response is amazing and it just seems to get better and better each year. Initially Vera seemed very popular in the North East but less known elsewhere in the country. However, over the years, the Vera audience has grown substantially and we have fans from all over the world. But there’s also still people discovering Vera for the first time and I love hearing from them and how quickly they’ve binged all 12 series! If you haven’t watched it yet, I’d recommend it for its brilliant writing, beautiful cinematography and incredible performances.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role for the first series in 2011 and how is it having DC Mark Edwards as your first major regular character on screen?
I remember getting the call and just being so excited to get started. I’d been doing a lot of theatre work but this was my first TV credit and I couldn’t wait to experience working in such a different medium. It was just a small role so I was actually only needed for one day’s filming. So I wanted to make the most of being on set. I remember we were out on location on a freezing February morning at about 1am and I had finished work. Instead of going straight home, I asked if I could stay and watch the rest of filming. I think everyone thought I was mad! But I just wanted to soak it all up and learn as much as I could. I didn’t know when I’d next get the opportunity to be on a set of this size. I also didn’t realise at the time but our producer was there that day and they saw how much I wanted to be there and that helped in them deciding to bring Mark back in the second series. Even then I didn’t know the character had the potential to be developed further. It was in Series 3 that he was brought into the incident room as a series regular. It was a really nice progression as I didn’t feel like I’d just been dropped in the deep end as a series regular on one of ITV’s biggest shows. I was able to develop the character and my screen craft so that by the time he was brought into the fold, I felt a lot more comfortable and confident in my performance.
In 2019, you appeared in episodes of EastEnders as Ewan, how was this?
Full on! EastEnders is such an institution and it was amazing to be part of that history. It was very fast-paced and a completely different experience to working on Vera. On EastEnders, you’re shooting more scenes a day than you would on Vera, so you have to be really on it with your preparation and you really have to hit the ground running. I loved it!
On stage, you most recently played John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest at Jack Studio Theatre in London, how did you find the experience working on an Oscar Wilde play?
Oscar Wilde’s plays are so much fun to work on and I was so glad I had the opportunity to play John Worthing. The writing is very witty so you have to do a lot of work on the text but then it’s also paired with physical comedy, which I always enjoy. I don’t really get to stretch those muscles on screen so it’s always nice to get to be a bit over the top on stage!
How different is it performing on stage opposed to filming for screen, and do you have a favourite aspect of being an actor?
For me, stage and screen acting are like two sides of the same coin. They are quite different and require specific approaches but are ultimately grounded in the same principals. I always look for the truth in my work whether it’s on stage or screen. I start from the text and work outwards. Most of my prep is the same, but in theatre you are afforded the luxury of rehearsals where you really get to explore the character over a decent period of time. With screen acting, it’s very rare you get that opportunity. So you have to do a lot of that work yourself. You need to be really confident in your choices and commit to them, but also be flexible enough to let those choices go if they’re not working on set. With screen acting, you have to be a lot more malleable and reactive.
My favourite aspect of being an actor is working with new writing and bringing a character to life that no one has seen before. You really get to put your own stamp on things and not be influenced by past interpretations.
How did you get into acting and was it something you always wanted to do?
I remember doing a play at primary school and really enjoying it, but it wasn’t until secondary school that I really got the acting bug. I had an excellent drama teacher in Mrs Susan Crawley, who showed me how important drama could be. I remember her handing me an old beat up copy of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and, after reading it, I knew I wanted to be an actor.
What are some of your favourite films and TV shows to watch?
How long have you got?! I could talk all day about my favourite films. Raging Bull blew me away and opened my eyes to what cinema could be. Al Pacino’s performance in Dog Day Afternoon is exceptional. Jurassic Park is my childhood. Blade Runner is a masterpiece and Die Hard is the best Christmas movie!
For me, Breaking Bad is some of the best television ever made and I’m just about ready to watch it again for the fourth time. I’m currently watching The Mandalorian and really enjoying that. The problem at the minute is there’s too much great stuff to watch and not enough time to watch it! But that’s a nice problem to have.
How do you like to spend your time away from your career?
Acting can often be more than just a job and it’s very hard to switch off from. We’re all so passionate about our profession that we can get a bit obsessed by it. I think it’s important to try and maintain a balance by having passions outside of your work. I play football every Monday night and I’m a huge fan of Newcastle United. I also like to unwind by playing games, whether that’s board games with friends or playing on the PS5. I’ll not tell you the amount of hours I’ve put into Destiny 2 and Apex Legends! And, most recently, I’ve really gotten into golf. As an actor, your schedule can be all over the place and you might be off whilst everyone else is at work. For me, this can really affect my mental health. But being able to go out by yourself on a nice sunny day and play golf for a couple of hours has had such a positive impact.
Do you have any upcoming plans that you can tell us about and what are you hoping the rest of the year brings you?
As it stands, I don’t have any acting work in the pipeline, but one of the things I love about this profession is you never know what’s around the corner. I’m currently using my downtime to focus on my writing as well as my golf handicap!
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