Richard Armitage On ‘Berlin Station’ by Uinterview

Richard Armitage stars, alongside Michelle Forbes, in Berlin Station, a new espionage-themed show that premiered on EPIX Sunday night. He recently sat down with uInterview to talk about the experience of becoming a CIA spy on-camera.

RICHARD ARMITAGE  VIDEO EXCLUSIVE

Armitage stars as CIA officer Daniel Miller, who is transferred from his analyst job in Langley headquarters in the United States and becomes an undercover agent for CIA’s Berlin station. Miller must work with the formidable branch chief Valerie Edwards (Michelle Forbes) to find the source of the recent leaks that are putting agents’ lives at risk. Armitage revealed that the nature of the released information has a very tangible connection to real-life whistleblowers. “He’s [Miller] identified the source of a leak in the CIA, under the name of a character called Thomas Shaw, who’s loosely based on Edward Snowden,” he revealed exclusively to uInterview. “Daniel is tasked with going to Berlin and figuring out who that is, which means putting every single character under the microscope. So, really he is the eyes and ears of the audience tracking through Berlin Station.”

WATCH: Michelle Forbes’ uInterview

Like Forbes, Armitage is a pro at the spy genre, having played an agent in the British television show ‘Spooks’ (‘MI5’ in the United States). He did admit that his expectations for high-tech gadgets and over-the-top action sequences were not met in the ways he expected. “I expected myself to be rolling over bonnets [hoods] of cars with guns and pulling out lots of James Bond style gadgets,” Armitage confessed. “But, actually, it feels like something has changed in that ten years, that technology has become unreliable for the intelligence services. So, it was almost like back to basics, back to old-fashioned spy craft, and a face-to-face interaction between two opponents psychoanalyzing each other and really getting under each other’s skin.” The change in format required Armitage to build a more cerebral profile of Miller and the other characters that inhabit the world of Berlin Station. He extended his research into both non-fiction and classic spy novels. “I went in search of a truthful account of the CIA. I treated it as a job interview for the CIA. What would I do about this institution that I was going to work for,” he revealed. At some point, Armitage knew he had to let all of his prep and new CIA know-how float to the back of his mind. “I let the script do the work and really just try to just arm myself with as much information as possible and then allow the character to step into the unknown. Because that’s really what these guys are facing; it’s a sort of fumbling around in the dark, really, and trying to figure out what’s happening.”

That doesn’t mean physical production has been any less difficult. Armitage recalled a particularly “chilling” moment while shooting flashbacks to nineties Chechnya, near the border of Poland. “It was minus fourteen outside. We arrived at four in-the-morning and I was desperate for the bathroom, and all of the toilets were frozen,” he joked. “So, I had to go around the back of a shed, which was…you know, pee, in the snow, in minus fourteen, which was a little bit uncomfortable.”

Do Armitage and Miller share a dislike of whistelblowers like the now-infamous Edward Snowden? For Armitage, it’s more of a cautious fascination. “Every bit of information about him I found fascinating, and it raises the question in myself—and I am sure everybody—about the credibility of a whistleblower, and the patriotism of a whistleblower,” he said. “What he did was deemed treasonous, but at the same time it was in the interest of the citizens.” Armitage revealed that playing Miller has helped him look at Snowden in a new light. “Taking part in ‘Berlin station’ helped me answer some of those questions for myself.”

Berlin Station currently airs on Sundays on EPIX. The first episode is also available to stream for free via EPIX’s YouTube channel.

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Q: Who is Daniel Miller, your character? -

We find Daniel Miller at the beginning of the series working out of Panama, and he’s identified the source of a leak in the CIA, under the name of a character called Thomas Shaw, who’s loosely based on Edward Snowden. Daniel is tasked with going to Berlin and figuring out who that is, which means putting every single character under the microscope. So, really he is the eyes and ears of the audience tracking through Berlin Station.

Q: How is ‘Berlin station’ different from the typical spy show? -

I’ve worked in the genre before. About ten years ago, I did a TV series called ‘Spooks,’ it was called ‘MI-5’ in the US, for a British television show. So, I expected myself to be rolling over bonnets [hoods] of cars with guns and pulling out lots of James Bond style gadgets. But, actually, it feels like something has changed in that ten years, that technology has become unreliable for the intelligence services. So, it was almost like back to basics, back to old-fashioned spy craft, and a face-to-face interaction between two opponents psychoanalyzing each other and really getting under each other’s skin. And not just against one’s perceived enemies, but against one’s perceived friends as well. That was fascinating for me and I think it is what makes it slightly different to the genre.

Q: What was the most challenging part of the production? -

It’s always a physical thing, I think. You know, I love the challenge of a very complicated psychological scene, or a very emotional scene. I never find that difficult. It’s usually a physical challenge and on this one there was a day when we were shooting flashbacks to Chechnya in the late nineties and we were shooting close to the border of Poland. It was minus fourteen outside. We arrived at four in-the-morning and I was desperate for the bathroom, and all of the toilets were frozen. So, I had to go around the back of a shed, which was…you know, pee, in the snow, in minus fourteen, which was a little bit uncomfortable.

Q: How did you to prep for the role? -

I went in search of a truthful account of the CIA. I treated it as a job interview for the CIA. What would I do about this institution that I was going to work for? So, I looked at Glenn Greenwald, I looked at some writing that he did; I looked at a novel that Bob Baer had written; I looked at a great book called ‘Legacy of Ashes.’ I forget who wrote it, but it is like the birth and history of the CIA. I also looked at a lot of fiction; I looked at Olen Steinhauer, a novelist, screenwriter. I looked at his work. And then, I let the script do the work and really just try to just arm myself with as much information as possible and then allow the character to step into the unknown. Because that’s really what these guys are facing; it’s a sort of fumbling around in the dark, really, and trying to figure out what’s happening. All of the prep was upfront and then I sort of unleashed Daniel into the arena.

Q: What is your opinion on whistleblowers like Edward Snowden? -

I started following Edward Snowden on Twitter as soon as I was on Twitter—and he was on Twitter. And you know, I am fascinated with what he has to say. I watched that great documentary about him, ‘Citizen 4;’ there’s a stage play that Mike Bartlett just wrote about him that has been on in London called ‘Wild.’ Every bit of information about him I found fascinating, and it raises the question in myself—and I am sure everybody—about the credibility of a whistleblower, and the patriotism of a whistleblower. What he did was deemed treasonous, but at the same time it was in the interest of the citizens. So, there is a conversation to be had about that, and taking part in ‘Berlin station’ helped me answer some of those questions for myself.