The sexy 39-year-old star of Spooks and Sky One’s Strike Back on growing into his looks/nose, why he’s more ‘new man’ than macho soldier, and looking for that perfect food-loving woman
You’re the go-to guy for brooding heroes. Do you like being seen as a sex symbol?
Richard Armitage: It’s quite funny – no, it’s hilarious to be considered a sex symbol. In school I was a beanpole with a nose I hadn’t grown into. Being thought of as sexy makes one employable, but it’s not going to last forever, so I try not to think about it. It’s like something that exists outside of me.
You certainly look hot in the dark blue suit you’ve put on for this interview…
RA: Thank you. It’s Dolce & Gabbana and the shirt is Prada, but the truth is, nearly all my other clothes are Lucas’s from Spooks. I can’t bear shopping. I can choose clothes for my characters, but not for myself. I’ve got no dress sense. Or I’ve lost it.
What appealed about your character John Porter in the Sky series Chris Ryan’s Strike Back?
RA: I thought, here’s a chance to have a crack at a man who’s not a bog-standard war hero. Porter is what Lucas wishes he could be – SAS men get to go all over the world and operate in deep cover, while in Spooks we only get to walk up The Mall and go onto a few London rooftops. Lucas would love to be shooting out of an aircraft.
Could you have been a soldier?
RA: Not a chance! I can work hard and be disciplined like a soldier, but I could never reach their level of fitness. I have a whole new appreciation of soldiers. I saw myself on screen and thought, ‘That body is so not hard enough to be a soldier.’
What sort of training did you do?
RA: I did mega-training with ex-military men. I’d be in the gym for two hours after a 12-hour day on Spooks, and it was so hardcore I’d throw up. I stuffed myself with food and drank protein shakes to bulk up. I used to be a dancer, but I had to strap my weak ankles every day and strengthen my wrists so I could hold a machine gun. My body just wasn’t up to it.
So you’re not a macho man…
RA: I’m probably more of a new man. I’m not particularly alpha. ‘Nourish and nurture’ are my watchwords as opposed to ‘search and destroy’. I kept asking myself why on earth have they asked me to play this character, rather than someone who’s really hard. But I suppose it’s because I bring something softer to the character.
You were filming in South Africa for five months. What was that like?
RA: We had a great time, although it was so hot it felt like you were in an oven. We filmed in a poor black township outside Pretoria that everybody told us was dangerous, but we’d often play football with the kids. Once we didn’t have anywhere to change and one of the locals said, ‘Come to my house.’ It was a tin shack, but it was spotlessly clean. You can’t believe it’s somebody’s home. It was so humbling.
What did you miss most about home?
RA: I didn’t miss anything. I was so in the character, I’d dream about him at night. Even I thought, ‘This is crazy, I’m too involved.’ I found it hard to call or Skype friends – it was almost as though I couldn’t get out of the character. I screwed up my social life a bit.
Speaking of which, how’s your love life?
RA: Unfortunately, my love life is nil. I’m not in a relationship any longer – I’m working too much – but I would like to settle down at some point. That’s probably why I’m going to LA soon, when I’m not tied down. I feel like if you don’t try LA, then people will think you’ve failed.
Do you want a family?
RA: Yes, I’d like a wife and family. I spend so much time with my brother’s little boy, Abe, who’s coming up to five, and he’s so hilarious. Playing a father in Strike Back has really resonated with me, although I can’t believe I’m starting to get cast with teenage daughters! I’m quite relieved I don’t have that responsibility in real life, but I look around and my fellow actors are having babies and I’m envious. One day, one day.
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But you’ll turn 40 next year. Isn’t about time you gave it some thought?
RA: Yes. That’s part of the problem, isn’t it, because I still feel like I’m 25 in my head. I always thought when I got to 40 it would be OK because I’d feel 40, but I don’t.
What type of girl would you go for?
RA: Someone a bit naughty. And who likes food – because I really do – and who doesn’t take life too seriously and has a sense of humour. I could never go out with another actor, I’d find that hard – the stresses of the job, they just pull people in different directions.
Your fans call themselves Armitage’s Army. What are they like?
RA: Over the years they’ve sent me presents and turned up at film sets, but lately I’ve kind of left them alone. I got a bit too involved and there’s an expectation from them that goes along with that.
Do you read about yourself on the internet?
RA: I decided this year not to read anything. It’s been very liberating. The problem with me is I read everything, but it’s only the bad stuff that stays with me. It’s weird, you only need to be told something once and it stays with you.
What’s next for Lucas in Spooks?
RA: I’m filming now and it’ll be a fantastic ninth series. Basically, Lucas isn’t who you think he is. It’s always been hovering there, whether or not he’s a double agent. We really miss Hermione (Norris, who played Ros). She was a very calming influence and I loved her humour.
Will this be your last series of Spooks?
RA: I’ve said to the producers, ‘Over to you. You decide.’ If that means sending Lucas to Manchester or severing his head, I don’t know. Or I could end up in the deep fat fryer. They’d owe me a brilliant exit.
What are your hobbies?
RA: I only learned to ski five years ago, but I’m addicted to it. I went five times this season. I should have been a ski instructor instead of an actor. I also dragged my cello out of the loft a couple of weeks ago and went back to that, but I have to squeeze playing it into the hour and a half I get in the evening after work. God, I sound like such a boring workaholic.
What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve bought?
RA: A BMW hard-top convertible I bought two years ago. I love it. I know people who drive BMWs are meant to be idiots, but I drive very carefully. It’s dark grey. It’s all very conservative, isn’t it? I sound like I’m middle-aged before my time.
What keeps you awake at night?
RA: The fear of not being able to keep this career going. Because it is quite scary. It’s going well, but I worry somebody will take a pin and it will all go ‘pop!’ Then it’s back to plumbing and sanding floors. That’s what I used to do for mates between jobs.
- Richard ordered water to drink during the interview, but once he saw that we were having a tipple of white wine, he ordered some too.
- After the interview we tried to get into a screening of Strike Back but had forgotten our tickets. Richard came up and asked the usher please to let us in. Richard even jokingly invited us onstage with him. What a gent!
Strike Back is on Wednesdays, Sky 1, 9pm