10 Minutes with Strike Back's Richard Armitage

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British actor Richard Armitage has been propelled into the public consciousness in recent years thanks to major roles in BBC dramas Spooks and Robin Hood. Six years ago, though, he was better known as John Thornton in period adaption North and South. That was his first lead part in a TV show and now he's hoping to emulate his success by starring in another book adaptation--this time fronting Chris Ryan's multi-million bestseller Strike Back. Despite being busy on the set of Spooks' ninth season Armitage took some time out to talk TV.com about his new show and what's to come...

TV.com: I've just watched the first two episodes of Strike Back and it's incredibly intense. What was that like to film?
Richard Armitage: Oh, brilliant. Yeah, it was fast, exciting, and exhausting. But I think we knew that it had balls, if you know what I mean.

You had specialist military training for it didn't you? What was that like?
That was one of the best aspects of it, I think, because you can get your head into that. I trained with a military guy here in the UK and then one in South Africa, and then we had three SAS advisors that were there the whole time. I think that when you feel you've got the real deal giving you advice it stops feeling like you're playing at it and it feels like you're doing it very seriously. When you believe that an SAS guy could sit and watch it, and that it wouldn't be too farfetched, then that does help you to get into character.

And it was written by Chris Ryan who's a former SAS soldier, which must've helped with the authenticity?
Yeah, absolutely.

The show's based on his a bestseller. Did you, or any of the rest of the cast, feel under extra pressure because of its popularity?
Well, I really like taking stuff from literature because I feel that when people read a book they have a kind of response to it. I have a visual mind, so when I read a book I get an instant picture in my head and it's very clear. I think that bringing that into reality is much easier than creating something out of nothing. Because it was Chris Ryan's novel and, like you say, he was the military man I felt like [my character] John was semi autobiographical. I was really going through the book looking for every detail that I possibly could. The pressure to get it right is a brilliant pressure and I think everyone thrived on that.

You've starred in a couple of adaptations now. Is there one that you haven't appeared in that you'd like to? Pride and Prejudice perhaps?
I wish! No, I'd like to do Crime and Punishment. I know it's been done fairly recently but I love that kind of Russian, dreary, poverty-stricken grief.

Sounds very cheerful! On that note… there's a scene in Strike Back where John is waterboarded. That must've be pretty unpleasant, seeing as you have a phobia of water!
That's true. It's not the first time I had to be waterboarded either -- it was familiar territory [after Spooks]. If you'd put me on the table then fine, I would have been scared, but you get your head into the character and obviously they make sure it's not going to harm you. Everyone was so wired for that scene it had to be as vivid as possible so I think we all just went for it.

What about the stunts? Were you allowed to do any of them yourself?
Unless it's life threatening I like to do it myself; I hate stepping off and letting a stunt guy do stuff I can clearly do. There was a big river jump, which they wouldn't let me do, but if they'd have said action I would have jumped off the edge of that cliff! I like to do it myself but it does mean a bit of extra pressure because you have to keep your stamina high. Also, it's so easy to injure yourself -- it just takes one wrong move and you're out of filming for three weeks. It happens all the time.

The show's not just about action and violence though, is it? John's quite a passionate guy at heart.
His passion is his downfall. That passion came with the birth of his daughter, when he became a father and a husband. It's echoing through his life as a military man and it's becoming a bit of a problem. It makes him question the nature of killing, which is why I was interested in him really as a character.

In some ways John's very similar to your character Lucas in Spooks. What attracts you to these kinds of roles?
It's probably because of Lucas that someone had me in mind for this character, but I removed them from the situation and try to look at them as universal figures. John's situation, his search for atonement, is not something that is necessarily specific to the military so it can apply to everyone in any situation. Then you put them back into their environment and then start playing them. I think that, in a way, John is a very broad canvas for anybody that feels that some sort of injustice has happened to them and is searching for an exit.

John gets to travel a lot too: that's one huge difference between the characters. Was it fun to be out filming all that in South Africa?
Well, yeah, John's in deep cover. He's right there at the cutting edge of the military arm of MI6 and it was great to be out in those places that Lucas would never even dream of going. He's right in the thick of it: deep in Afghanistan, deep in Zimbabwe trying to stop an assassination attempt on Mugabe and rescuing a hostage from Iraq. You can't get much better than that, can you?

Is it disappointing to be back on the set of Spooks after all that excitement?
Oh no, not at all. It's great, it's lovely. I enjoy the intrigue and espionage side of Spooks, all the trade crafts that we do. Because it's shot in London you're out on the streets and it feels very, very normal and real. You walk the streets of London everyday but you don't know who's watching you and its kind of hidden cameras. That kind of thing, I love it!

OK, so if you could pick any role -- whether that be in TV, film or theatre -- what would your next project be?
It would be a series about Richard III; that's something I really want to do. I'm trying to develop something at the moment it would be a prequel to The Tudors and it would probably be about 20 episodes. That's what I dream of doing.

Wow! And you'd be working behind the scenes on that?
Yeah, it's in very, very early days of development. It's something that I'm pitching and trundling around trying to raise interest in.

Chris Ryan's Strike Back begins on Sky1 and Sky1 HD at 9pm on Wednesday, May 5.

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