Ex-U2 man makes big-budget TV thriller about playground of rich

Fiachra GIBBONS, Séverine ROUBY
(L-R) British actor Dimitri Leonidas, Swedish actress Lena Olin, US actress Julia Stiles, British actor Adrian Lester and French-Austrian actress Roxane Duran, who star in the series ''Riviera", on April 3, 2017 in Cannes, southeastern France

A new big-budget television drama series gives an insider's peek into the lives of the rich and famous in the oligarchs' playground of the French Riviera.

"Riviera", the brainchild of Paul McGuinness, the multimillionaire former manager of rock group U2, premiered Monday night at MIPTV, the world's top TV gathering at Cannes.

Directed by Neil Jordan, the Oscar-winning maker of "The Crying Game", much of the inspiration for the taut 10-part thriller comes from McGuinness's own time rubbing shoulders with some of the richest people on the planet.

The Irishman, who like the members of U2 has a home on the Riviera, told AFP that France's Mediterranean coast -- once described by novelist Somerset Maughan as a "sunny place for shady people" -- was thick with stories and scandal.

"The Riviera is a destination for rich people from all over the world. We have Americans, Russians, French and English characters," McGuinness said.

He said that throughout the making of the series Jordan repeated Balzac's maxim: "Behind every great fortune there is a crime."

The show turns on the murder of a billionaire in a mysterious explosion on the yacht of a Russian oligarch.

His widow, an art curator, is played by Hollywood star Julia Stiles, best known for her role in the "Bourne" films.

- 'Rich doing terrible things' -

McGuinness said the £30 million production (35 million euros, $37.5 million) was about "rich people in the south of France doing terrible things to each other. There's money laundering, art fraud, murder, yachts and Ferraris."

But before shooting began last year, the production was hit by two major shocks -- the Nice terror attack and Brexit, with the devaluation of the pound playing havoc with British producers Sky Atlantic's budget.

McGuinness paid tribute to the French authorities for allowing shoot-out scenes to be filmed on the streets within weeks of the Bastille Day attack last July 14, which left 86 people dead and more than 400 hurt.

He also called in Man Booker prize-winning novelist John Banville to help with the story arc.

McGuinness said he loved the area and would find any excuse to spend time there. "With U2 we used to base our tours in the south of France," he told AFP. "I started looking for stories set in the area."

The inspiration came from "the news, gossip, and there's always a lot of scandals" on the Cote d'Azur, he said.

"There is a huge amount of public curiosity about what rich people do," he added, and having lived on the Riviera for many years he knew the scene more than most.

Stiles told reporters that she jumped at the sophistication of the show. "It is more poetic and mysterious than much of what I've seen on TV recently."

Sky's drama chief Cameron Roach said that based on the reaction to the premiere, they believe they have a hit on their hands, in particular with Stiles as a compelling "Alice in Wonderland" lead trying to make sense of a strange world.

"And you have all these unputdownable characters you just want to spend time with," he said.