Telegraph Interview By Jasper Rees...22 Jul 2011
Is there a harder hard man? A more dastardly villain? He incarnates SAS author Chris Ryan in the Sky series Strike Back, was Robin Hood’s scowling nemesis Guy of Gisborne, and infamously revealed himself as a ruthless killer - not nice Lucas North but nasty John Bateman - in the most recent series of the BBC’s Spooks. And now he’s playing a cold-hearted Nazi infiltrator in the much anticipated whizzbangy film version of Captain America.
In person, of course, Richard Armitage turns out to be the softest pussycat. Not to look at, of course. He’s six foot something and mostly consists of granite and stubble. But the voice is on the quiet side, and he radiates an air of proper humility. So why is he never Mr Nice on screen?
“I suppose I’m a bit mean. My face on camera doesn’t lend itself to happy nice guys. I think it’s just that my bone structure looks menacing. I don’t smile that often.”
He duly smiles, enchantingly, at the absurdity of the gap between image and reality. “Somebody asked me after I’d done all that training for Strike Back, 'Could you go out and work with the SAS?’ I thought, what a ridiculous question. It’s about replicating a look.”
He even thinks he may qualify as a wimp. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the latest cinematic take on a Marvel Comics superhero, Armitage is once more rotten to the core. He plays Heinz Kruger, a Teutonic assassin who at one point is involved in a super-macho underwater tussle. Only one problem.
“I am just not a water baby. I can swim but I just don’t. Everyone else is jumping in and I’ll go, ’You know what? I’ll just stand on the side.’
“I did four weeks of scuba training for the sequence and made myself do fifty lengths every day. Then we were at the bottom of a tank and there was ten metres above you.” All 15 or 16 stone of him shudders at the memory of the moment the divers confiscated his goggles and breathing line. “They had put a microphone in the water so you could hear them say, 'Just waiting for the bubbles to clear.’ I’m at the bottom of the tank thinking, I’ve taken a deep breath but I haven’t got enough air. When they asked me to do it again I was sitting in the dressing room crying, 'I can’t!’”
In another scene they put him in an empty box within a container filled with water. “They wanted to smash a window and the water rush in quickly. They’d put all the safety things in place but you can’t fool the brain: you have a fight-or-flight mechanism that you can’t control. I smashed the roof off.”
...After drama school he guessed his future was in theatre. Spear-carrying at the RSC cured him of that assumption. He understudied in one hatchet-faced tragedy that went on tour. “We limped around and I saw audiences being tortured by our production. That put me off. I’m not much of a show-off. I don’t really go after that kind of applause.”
Screen acting didn’t go much better until one day he went into an audition for the BBC drama Sparkhouse in character as a grouchy Northern farmer. “It came out of real frustration of not getting anything. Normally I’d go in with my hair all brushed and polished. It was the first time I’ve played a character over four episodes with an arc.”
His gruff mill-owner in Mrs Gaskell’s North and South followed, as did his betrothal to Dawn French in The Vicar of Dibley. He’s even played Monet in a drama doc.
But there’s no getting round his physique. He got Strike Back, he says, because “somebody must have turned it down. I thought, this is your bog-standard boys-with-toys story. The challenge was to find the human interest inside a war machine story.”
When Spooks came round, he’d not seen more than a few episodes of the first series. “They hadn’t written the part. They wanted to bring in a character who had quite a complicated back story so they could then feed off that.” Even Armitage was surprised by the sudden stripping away of Lucas North’s carapace. “They kept it from me at the end that he did know there was a bomb in the bag. There’s me thinking that he’s done a good thing.”
One day he’d like to have a go at ultimate baddie Richard III. For the next two years Armitage will be flying back and forth to New Zealand to play a dwarf in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Not a small dwarf, mind. “I’m carrying 20 kilos of costume and weights so I’m doing load of lower back and leg exercises.”
[ricrar: No, no...we'd never want him to be cast as the guy who takes off his shirt *cough,cough*;]
See recent Richard III comment at the Nov 23, 2009 post at this blog...
RECENT TWEET from EricVespe
@merilyn066 Don't know if they will allow me to publish some of the photos of him, but so far they've let me run everything I've submitted
@EricVespe I will keep everything crossed Eric for a "little" snippet of RA, thanks again.
THE HOBBIT NEWS: Latest Report from embedded reporter Eric Vespe on The Hobbit set(see link below) including tweets his blog post generated...(read from bottom up):
EricVespeEric Vespe@KristAraujo I have met Richard, but I haven't had the chance to tell him about the shocking numbers of his fans on Twitter. 10 minutes ago
@EricVespe WOW....amazing and brilliant Eric, thanks so much for keeping us updated.....hum....no Thorin sightings yet? 14 Nov
@merilyn066 Soon! 14 Nov
@EricVespe woohoo.....promise? lol
Starz premium channel, in partnership with BBC Worldwide, have the following two new series in development. IMO RA could star in either one of them. See new poll asking your preference to see RA in a major role.
The first currently has the title 'Harem'. It will be a 6hr series in the 'sword and sandal' genre. The story is based on Haseki Hurrem(Suleiman), Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and his politcally powerful wife, Roxelana.
Also in development is ‘DaVinci’s Demons’(historical fantasy genre) - an 8 part series giving a different approach to the Renaissance man, Leonardo DaVinci
DaVinci is described not only as an artist but also a swordsman, idealist, lover, etc...
Definitely seems to be a daVinci revival - which came first - the upcoming series, books or the newly discovered paintings? http://artinfo.com/news/story/750715/the-male-mona-lisa-art-historian-martin-kemp-on-leonardo-da-vincis-mysterious-salvator-mundi/?utm_source=nlda&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter