Richard Armitage the versatile British actor who played Francis Dolarhyde in Hannibal and The Hobbit’s Thorin travels back to the time 700 years for his latest film, Brendan Muldowney’s Pilgrimage. He plays the cunning French warrior Raymond De Merville intent on stealing a sacred religious relic being carried by unprotected Irish monks on their journey to Rome. De Merville will stop at nothing to get it; he has much to prove and the relic will prove it for him. The story is deceptively simple with many levels of meaning – psychological, sacramental and historical. WE spoke with Armitage from Berlin where he was shooting his spy series Berlin Station.
Great story – In 13th century Ireland, a group of Irish monks taking a sacred relic for delivery to the Vatican and you prey on them. Is it based on real events?
I don’t think so. I did start to look at the character I play was interested in his family. I think these things were happening all over the British Isles as people were gearing themselves up for Crusades.
Your character, French commander Raymond De Merville is a heartless, and completely driven come what may. Do you think he’s psychotic?
When somebody is so ambitious and driven and in order to fuel that ambition, they become very single minded. There’s a kind of psychosis in that. His family is in decline, his father is a coward, no longer going to war and the legacy of that family in is very much in his hands.
At the back of his mind, he’s probably thinking what is my legacy going to be? If I can get that relic and take it to the king and curry favour I’ll be put in good position to go on another Crusade fulfill my legacy.
That’s all he knows. It’s all he’s been raised to know; he is part of the war machine. The relevance to today hit me. War is a strange thing that perpetuates itself and is such a destructive tool.
How did you fill him in, because he seemed like a real person, besides reading the script? What did you bring to him?
One of the challenges I was interested in playing someone who finds himself in a strange land and so I was interested in the French language he speaks first. I used all kinds of influences. I looked at Richard the Lion Heart and his position; he never spoke English and he was rarely present event though he began the Plantagenets.
I used a lot of spiritual music, and art. Odd Nerdrum’s kitsch iconography was really useful to me. It keeps it away from being too historically documentary. I wanted his character to be his mission and it must feel contemporary.
One of the biggest things to be seen from the film is the distractions of the modern world. I had a whole bunch of pictures that I looked at. My senses are stimulated by things that are connected to living in 2015 and 2016 when we were shooting, so I used (the art and music) to stimulate my imagination.
The weather was important. Did you wait for weather or shoot as it presented itself?
We shot through whatever came our way and I really enjoyed that. There was one particularly memorable day when we were on the beach doing the big fight sequence. It6 took so long to get there by boat and we were there for the day. You could really see the weather across the horizon coming at you.
You could only sit down when a hailstorm came in the middle of the shot. We would have shot through but it was a little bit painful and the hailstones were pinging off the camera. In filming you look for continuity of light. When you flip between shots you can’t have the light change. The weather darkens and brightens and you can get a real sense of that in Brendan’s work, the role the wind lays the rumble of thunder. You are at one with the elements and that was very much the experience of the shoot. And shooting in Ireland was a gift.
You’re not known for playing monsters, usually heroic types. Freeing and fun to play a guy who is not nice?
I almost chock full of playing people who have dark thoughts. I played the Red Dragon in Hannibal, the darkest character I ever played. Literally I went to Pilgrimage right after and took some of that darkness with me.
I am interested in what happens to people when they choose a certain path which involves inhumane acts. I always thought to myself, how does life guide somebody to make those choices and feel those feelings.
At times it is quite delicious playing a malevolent character but I’m more interested in how someone arrives at that point. I want to rewind the story of their life and see at what point they chose that path. It’s always a fascination to me.
You are in Berlin at the moment, shooting Berlin Station, an espionage thriller series we have on Super Channel in Canada. How is it going?
It’s going well. It’s a complex process because we’re dealing with a very topical subject, the far right extremism particularly in Germany and then America. As the news is changing the writers are running around updating the scripts. They’re right on the edge. We’re in the world of espionage so on a day to day basis we never know what’s happening next.
You have to stay relevant but at the same time if you reference things that are too topical, news media changes overnight and suddenly it’s irrelevant, so it’s very, very complex.
as Daniel at the CIA foreign station in Berlin, Germany. Miller has a clandestine mission: to uncover the source of a leak who has supplied information to a now-famous whistleblower named Thomas Shaw. Guided by veteran Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans), Daniel learns to contend with the rough-and-tumble world of the field agent: agent-running, deception, and the dangers and moral compromises.
BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI