Richard Armitage, Spooks’ pretty boy (and, until recently, Robin Hood’s Sir Guy of Gisborne), chats to Idiot Box about the latest series – and life as the new kid.
"It was quite an upsetting experience. I had reached the point where I was going to hang myself.”
Thankfully, Richard Armitage is talking about his Spooks character Lucas North’s latest exploits, rather than, say, describing how badly he took the recent cancellation of his other BBC One show, Robin Hood. The cutting-edge spy series’ eighth run is upon us, and Armitage tells Idiot Box it’s ‘scarier’ this time around.
"This year, the main thread feels like something which is actually out there, bubbling away – a gathering storm in the distance.” he says. "Whereas last year it was more of a buried ‘sleeper’ plot from the ‘60s, series eight is once again quite topical, as much as it can be. Spooks can be quite predictive in places. I opened up The Times the other day and saw a big piece about India developing a nuclear submarine and China and Pakistan getting all itchy about it. And that’s how our episode eight kicks off!”
Armitage joined the MI5 team at the start of the last series, taking over from Rupert Penry-Jones as the show’s handsome lead.
"I only felt like the new boy for that first episode.” he recalls. "Lucas’ character was coming into focus last year, as he was placed back in the world that he left eight years ago to go to a Russian prison. It was almost like he was in pieces, starting to put himself back together, which was quite good, because that’s how I felt when I was assembling the character. This year, it’s much more Lucas as he once was. He’s still got Harry to impress, but he’s becoming the spy that he had the potential to become before he got put in prison.”
So has Lucas’ traumatic link with Russia been severed after series seven?
"It’s interesting, because I thought it had been resolved, but we’d only scratched the surface! In this series’ episode four, we go back to that. Somebody comes from Lucas’ past to cause problems, bringing with him the thread that is going to run through the series, called ‘Nightingale’. Lucas revisits what he went through in prison in much more detail.
"But it wasn’t just that he was tortured – there was a relationship that built up while he was in prison, with his interrogator. You see Lucas deconstructed, almost to the point of being turned, and to the point of wanting to die. We shot quite a lot of torture stuff, although I don’t know how much will make it in. It’s often better if you never quite fully see what happens.”
Lucas also has a new love interest. "And quite a dangerous one, too.” he says. "It’s the CIA liaison officer who’s just come in, as the old regime have been booted out by Obama’s arrival. So Lucas gets a very tall, beautiful, blonde liaison officer. The first time she introduces herself, it’s like, ‘Oh God, here’s trouble!” There’s a real power struggle between them, which ends up in physical relationship and a deep love affair. The team are monitoring him and her all the way through. It’s a sorry relationship, because it’s always tarnished and under the microscope.”
Series eight also sees the return of Ruth, played by Nicola Walker, who left at the end of year five. "There’s a mutual respect between Lucas and Ruth,” says Armitage. "When she first comes back, Lucas really takes control of her situation, in a similar way to how Ros and Harry debriefed Lucas when he first arrived. So it’s not the most comfortable position between Lucas and Ruth, but there is a sort of intellectual meeting of minds. Lucas is kind of amused by Ruth, just as I am by Nicola – she’s very funny.”
Armitage has a few other projects on the boil, in TV, film and theatre – "mainly with war themes, for some reason,” he laughs. Probably wise to have irons in the fire, seeing as Spooks is a show in which seemingly any character can die at any time.
"That’s exciting,” Armitage insists. "As soon as any character becomes too comfortable, and you become too comfortable, it makes the show quite dull. Whenever Spooks gets rid of a character, it’s always done so well, in a spectacular way. Obviously, if you’re going to go, they do tell you – you don’t just open the script and go, ‘Oh God!’ But it also means the show is always stronger than any one character. It will constantly reinvent itself.”