New ITV drama Dark Heart is 'brutal' says its star Tom Riley – and reveals how he winds down

Dark Heart, Tom Riley
(Image credit: ITV)

Tom Riley, star of The Collection and Da Vinci's Demons, opens up about his new drama on ITV Encore and his new favourite TV show... The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills

Tom Riley stars as a London detective on the hunt for a brutal killer in ITV Encore's one-off two-hour crime special, Dark Heart.

Tell us about your character… "What makes him different is that he’s a bit young to be in the role he’s in and there’s a certain vulnerability to taking this job in front of all these people. He’s there because he’s incredibly good at his job, but what drives him is the death of his parents who were murdered when he was a kid."

Have you ever played a policeman before? "This is my first time. Usually I play someone who’s being interviewed by a policeman!"

Tell us about your look for this drama? "I’d like to say I chose the style, but ITV have opinions that they let you know! He’s kind of got to look a bit scruffy and tired, he doesn’t sleep much or bother with his appearance. I like having a beard though – it hides my face!"

Is it fun to be doing something contemporary after Da Vinci’s Demons and The Collection? "Yes! It’s fun to not have to cram myself into period costumes after so many years of doing it. But it’s not just about the costumes. Da Vinci’s Demons and The Collection are both so stylistic so it’s nice to be able to throw lines away and talk like people do, rather than having to hit vowels and flourish."

Are you sure you’re not missing the leather? "I have it at home, so I’m fine."

There’s some gory stuff in Dark Heart, do you have a strong stomach? "I have no problem with it at all, if it’s done well. There’s some very dark and brutal stuff in this. It means at the end of the day I want to go home and watch some nonsense before I go to bed."

Like what? "My girlfriend has got me into Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and I’ve even found myself making a chart of my top five housewives with her. That’s how much crap I’m watching to wind down for this!"

Your character witnessed the murder of his parents when he was a boy… "He’s still determined to solve that case and he has a room that is completely devoted to it. He’s always thinking about it and he won’t leave a stone unturned in the hunt for justice."

Do you like playing tortured souls? "At drama school that’s all I used to play! In one of my final shows I was a Colombian, Vietnam veteran, heroin addict. I thought this is it for my life, I’m going to be playing these characters, and then I came out of drama school and did a silly knockabout teen movie and suddenly that was all I was getting and all the tortured stuff went away. Then I did Bouquet of Barbed Wire for ITV and they all came back!"

Have you ever had to lose weight for a role? "I did for Da Vinci’s Demons. That was a horrific situation where I was sent my breakfast lunch and dinner, I had a personal trainer and had to work out an hour and a half every day. I had supplements and a nutritionist and had to send pictures of myself to LA. I lost two stone and then put a stone back on in muscle. It was not a fun time!"

Do you think Dark Heart could return for another series? "Absolutely. They’re obviously a series of books, so there’s potential for more there. The ending is very open-ended."

Did you have a favourite police drama when you were growing up? "My parents were obsessed with Prime Suspect. I remember sneaking down to watch that and Cracker. That kind of vibe, the glory days of ITV detectives, they were specials and one-offs, event shows, which is what this feels like."

Dark Heart is on ITV Encore, Wednesday, November 9, 9.00pm

Sean Marland

Sean is a Senior Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week, who also writes for He's been covering the world of TV for over 15 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.