Many people know the much-loved actor Riley Jones as DC Mark Edwards in the ITV drama series Vera. Riley has played the police officer for over a decade, most recently under the representation of Bronia Buchanan’s talent agency BBA Management.
With filming for season 13 of Vera about to begin, Riley has shared behind-the-scenes insights of life on set, how Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management supports him, and advice for young people who would like to kickstart acting careers of their own.
Riley’s Journey From School Plays to Professional Acting
Primary School Plays
Riley discovered his love for performance as a child. But he didn’t always believe he’d be able to pursue acting as a career: “[I] remember doing a couple of plays at primary school that I really enjoyed. But it didn’t feel like there was any opportunity to pursue [acting] outside of school.”
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Despite the lack of performance opportunities in Riley’s earlier childhood, his secondary school drama teacher encouraged him to pursue acting more seriously: “I had a great drama teacher. Through her, I found that [acting] was more than just a bit of fun.”
Having been inspired by his teacher, Riley went on to study drama at GCSE level, while many of his friends from his drama class dropped the subject at this point.
“I assumed they were going to do [drama at GCSE] but they were like, ‘No, that’s not going to be [my] job…’ 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.’”
As Riley worked towards his drama GCSE, he found that he was creating work that was “quite hard-hitting and powerful.”
Performance At Northumbria University
After studying drama at GCSE and college levels, Riley hoped to go to drama school. However, attending drama school came with a price tag that was out of budget.
“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.”
Advice For Young People Considering Pathways Into Acting
Riley emphasises that different people prefer different pathways into the world of acting. Young actors should pursue a route that feels right for them.
“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.”
University might be a great option for those who enjoy practice-based study 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.”
“But on the other hand, especially in TV, I’ve met a lot [of actors who] haven’t had any [of that] training. 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.”
Why Working On Screen Is Different From Working in Theatre
Riley emphasises that acting on screen and acting on stage require different skill sets. Budding actors are more likely to have practised acting on stage than acting on screen.
“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. From school to college to university, [it’s] all theatre. You don’t get much opportunity to explore screen acting.”
When Riley graduated from university and picked up his first TV jobs, he found they were different to his university stage experiences and that he needed to “learn on the job.”
Riley was 21 when he landed his role in Vera. Having been on the show for 13 years, he’s now an experienced screen actor: “I’ve grown up on that show and learned a lot. When you’re working with [actors] like Brenda Blethyn, Kenny Doughty, [and] David Leon… every day is a lesson.”
However, Riley considers working on Vera “more similar to theatre than a lot of other screen jobs.” He notes that screen work often requires great time management skills: “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.”
On the other hand, Vera is more slow-paced: “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.”
Getting Into Character: Deciphering Scripts With Writers
When fresh out of university, Riley used the Stanislavski method to get into character. This series of training techniques aims to help actors develop authentic characters and perform naturally.
But once Riley started working as a television actor, he realised he didn’t have time to follow these techniques: “It’s a whirlwind. So my process has changed over the years.” Now, Riley is “always looking at the script. All the evidence is there. You have to really decipher it.”
Riley also enjoys collaborating with the scriptwriters to get clarity on characterisation: “[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 adds that “being willing to throw [your characterisation plans] completely out the window” is also important because directions can change with little notice: “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.’”
Finding BBA Management, an Agency That Riley “Clicked With”
A couple of other agents signed Riley before he joined Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management. He found the London-based talent agency when looking for an agent that he “aligned” with: “I did have a fair bit of interest. I met with a few agents but it was BBA that I clicked with. I felt BBA [came] out on top there.”
Riley remembers his first meeting with Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management well: “It was… casual and comfortable, which was 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.”
Bronia Buchanan and BBA Management’s Support During Covid-19
Riley also reflects on how supportive Bronia Buchanan and the BBA Management team were during the Covid-19 pandemic: “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 interest[s] in mind.”
During the pandemic, some actors found themselves expected to work despite the health risk of doing so. BBA Management stepped in to reset this expectation. The talent agency worked to protect actors to ensure they received the same level of protection as individuals in other sectors.
“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. 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 explains that Covid-19 has accelerated “this real caution, this real focus, about mental health. 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.”
Supporting Riley Through His Work on Long-Running Series Vera
As a long-running member of the Vera cast, Riley usually works on the TV show between March and November. An average week involves plenty of travel (often between London and Newcastle) and a busy schedule.
As a result, it can be “quite difficult to get any other projects in.” Riley doesn’t usually “want to have any other acting projects on the go… because I want to be able to give [Vera my] full focus and attention.”
“What’s great about BBA is that there’s no pressure to be hunting for [other] jobs. There’s none of that pressure, which would be very easy for them to do.” Riley emphasises that BBA Management supports the actors on its books by “[tailoring] their approach to you as an actor.”
However, when Riley has been in a position to take on new roles, BBA Management stepped in to secure a great-fit project. For example, Gails Smith, one of BBA’s senior agents, helped him secure a role in two EastEnders episodes that aired 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.”
The Pressures of Working on a Popular, Long-Running TV Show
Given that Vera is such a popular show, viewers have been following the characters for years. Riley notes that “there can be a lot of pressure to live up to the previous season.” However, a lot of this pressure “falls on the writers,” who are always trying to “top” the latest series.
Meanwhile, as an actor, Riley questions whether he’s “still hitting the same levels [I 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.” Vera’s audience is “very positive,” reporting that “it just keeps getting better and better.”
Collaboration: Riley’s Favourite Thing About Acting on Vera
Collaborating with others is Riley’s favourite part of working as an actor: “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.”
Riley enjoys working on this collaborative process with actors he looked up to for years before getting to work with them: “People like Joe Caffrey, Chris Connell, Davey Nellist, … the massive theatre names in the North East.”
Riley hopes he’ll feature in Vera for years to come. But he also hopes to spend time developing his own theatre pieces over the next few years: “I’ve been doing a lot of writing myself. 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 looks forward to supporting Riley throughout his television and creative endeavours.
About Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management
Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management represents a selection of outstanding actors and creatives who excel in television, film, and theatre. These actors and creatives receive expert guidance from Bronia Buchanan’s team of supportive talent agents.
Aside from Riley, actors on BBA Management’s books include Neelam Bakshi, Priyasasha Kumari, Sam C Wilson, Stephanie Siadatan, and Ryan Moloney.
Read the latest news from Bronia Buchanan’s BBA Management.