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Tom Riley

Tom Riley arrives to the MIPTV opening night gala on April 4, 2016, at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes, France. 

Actors who get cast in TV or film roles based on books will generally take a look at the literary work to find clues to play the character. There’s no reason to come up with a backstory for a role if someone has already done all the work. Tom Riley got a very serious warning after being cast in the new six-part BritBox series “Dark Heart,” based on the novels by Adam Creed: “Dark Heart” writer Chris Lang told him not to look at the books.

“On Chris Lang’s advice, I didn’t read them and I still haven’t read them,” Riley says. “I knew he was only planning to keep the first story based on the book, ‘Suffer the Little Children.’ After that, he was only going to use the characters to create his own stories. He advised me to use the script rather than the books as the bible.”

Riley hasn’t had to worry about the backstory because Lang has given him such a complex role to play. Det. Inspector Will Wagstaffe (Riley) is a workaholic who gets the job done despite a troubled personal life. He’s carrying an immense amount of grief and guilt over the death of his parents when he was a teenager. The mystery behind their deaths is one of the big changes from the novels.

The first two episodes of the series, which launched Wednesday, focuses on vigilante attacks on alleged pedophiles. The third and fourth episodes deal with black market organ harvesting, and the last two center on murders that take place in the world of pornography.

Riley, who is best known for starring in the series “Da Vinci’s Demons,” was attracted to the role of the angst-filled detective because of the complexity that plays out both at work and home. The British actor has always found it more interesting to take on a character who in the beginning looks to be unlikable, but those first impressions prove to be wrong.

“The best way to do that is to try and create a character who is suffering from the things that have happened to him in the past and then try to make those demons so that the audience understands enough and that makes the character richer,” Riley says. “There is a real appeal in getting to play conflict that is far more interesting than someone without it.”

Before filming started, Riley talked with a real police officer, but it wasn’t a case of learning how to hold a gun or enter a room properly. It was an effort by Riley to understand the human elements of those who deal with criminality on a regular basis. That included a detailed description of how the job affects a person’s private life.

One area where Lang has given Riley a rich area to work is in his relationship with his sister, Juliette (Charlotte Riley), and her son Harry (Joseph Teague). Wagstaffe has worked hard to build emotional walls to keep everyone out but has made an exception for them. The scenes that feature the hard-nosed detective showing his softer side with his nephew give the character more depth.

Riley has formulated his ideas about acting through years of work on stage, TV and film. His film credits include “I Want Candy,” “Return to House on Haunted Hill” and “Starfish,” while on TV he’s appeared in “Agatha Christie’s Marple,” “Monroe,” “Angie Tribeca” and “Doctor Who.”

The cast of “Dark Heart” also includes Miranda Raison (“Murder on the Orient Express”) and Edward Akrout (“Killing Eve”).

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