As an actress, I love chatting to other stars about their craft, and was lucky enough to sit down with Richard Armitage to talk about one of my most-anticipated shows for the festive period, Netflix's mysterious and seriously gripping Harlan Coben drama, Stay Close.
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The story follows four people who are all connected – and all keeping their own dark secrets. Out of all the incredible cast, including Cush Jumbo and James Nesbitt, it is Richard who has the most experience in Harlan's world, having previously starred in the hit adaptation The Stranger. Ahead of the show's New Year's Eve release, we chatted to him about the show, his character transformation, and what he will be doing to see in the New Year…
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You're diving straight into the action in the first episode, but it's all so mysterious! What was your first reaction to the script?
I got the book! [Producers] called me and said, 'The Stranger has done really well, do you want to work with us again? Here's the idea, here's the book.' There was no script, I only had the book. And Harlan Coben is so easy to read, you just can't put it down.
Richard previously starred in The Stranger
My first question was, 'Is the character going to be different enough from the one I've just done, because I didn't want to show up doing the same thing,' but they were aware of it as well. They were like, 'It's a different character, he's going to look different, he's going to feel different.'
I just love the themes that Harlan plays with, identity and reinventing yourself and your past catching up with you and how do you hide yourself? It's people's fantasy and worst nightmare that they try to invent themselves and the past comes back to haunt them.
And because the character was so different, you didn't have any doubts at all?
Not at all, because the way that the writers and producers work is that they're so democratic that they say 'yes' to everything, and they're really open to ideas and suggestions. The whole thing about Ray having tattoo sleeves was an invention because I wanted to give him a very different visual identity which was different to the previous character.
In the new show, Richard plays Ray
I wanted him to map his lost memory in visual form, and they were like, 'Great, let's do it!' To have producers and writers that go with ideas like that is brilliant, you know what it's like!
It's so much fun when they embrace what you feel in your heart. How long did you film for?
It was for about seven months which is quite luxurious for television. They do it well, they spend the money, they make sure the locations are brilliant. I do collect a lot of stuff early on in preparation that will sustain me through the shoot. I always build a soundtrack so if I've been away for a week, I'll use music to get myself back into the vibe.
James Nesbitt also stars
I studied a photographer called Tim Hetherington as the base for who the character was, so I had a collection of ideas of who he was in the past. It kept me going through the seven months but going back and working with that crew again was just so brilliant. For me, it's all about the crew, those mates that you love working with. And the pandemic was tough on people, because we were all kept apart, so it was so nice to see everybody again.
You've got this whole new character with a crew that you trust. How long did that transformation take? Like your tattoos! How long did it take each morning?
We managed to figure out with costume department how much of the tattoos you'd see so that most of the time I only had to do my hands because I was wearing long sleeves. We really tried to keep it to a minimum of how many times you'd see the whole thing because that took about two hours.
The new drama will be out on New Year's Eve
And sometimes they would have to throw them on in the middle of the day. And I remember the makeup designer pulling our hair out and being like, 'Well, why did we decide to do this?' We did limit it a little bit, but it's fun to do a transformation because the character was using his hands a lot, you'd see the camera in front of his face. I just thought let's have something really interesting, in his hands, just to distract from my face! [Laughs]
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Are there going to be the usual epic twists?
Yes! And it is different from the book. He really expands some of the characters and some of the relationships and it gets darkly comedic in places, but there are some big twists coming.
Wow. And do you think with this one, there could be a second series? And if so, would you like to be involved again?
Had you asked me that about The Stranger I would have said yes, you probably could do a second season but with Stay Close I think it's closed in the end. It's so final. There is an open-ended unresolved thing that happens, the big event is revealed!
Unlike The Stranger, Stay Close has a firm conclusion
Has it been one of your favourite parts to play?
One of the biggest challenges was playing a character that doesn't remember anything. When a writer is trying to write a lack of memory, and they're putting them into a police interview situation, it's a dead end every time a question is asked, because the answer is, 'I don't know. I don't remember.'
We had to play around with, what happens when you don't remember something, you either admit that you don't remember? Or you lie, or you invent? And I thought that was what was interesting for me, he was almost kidding himself. He'd created a past for himself, which was not the truth.
Do you think he did that to be able to live with himself or for other means?
It's a bit of both, I think you can't live with a vacuum behind you, you must create a memory where one doesn't exist. But the problem with Ray is that he's created a false memory of something traumatic. He's almost admitting guilt to something that he has no memory of which I think was a challenge.
Will you be tuning in?
It's so complex and so lovely to investigate and play and the show is landing on Netflix on New Year's Eve? What are you doing for New Year's Eve?
I will be watching fireworks at the bottom of a mountain in Park City, and on New Year's Day it's a tradition which I've had to dispense with because of COVID, but I I usually start the year at the top of the mountain and ski down. And I do it because I was so sick of waking up with a really bad hangover and feeling a little bit depressed. I decided to start the new year on a high, get to the top of a mountain, breathe the air, and just start with really good intentions. So that's what I'll be doing.
I've waited for too many night buses in the rain, it's not fun!
It's not glamorous. It's not fun. And I don't know why it's almost like you erase your memory of how bad it is! Like your character! [Laughs] Christmas, hopefully this one won't be cancelled this year. Are you a big Christmas fan? Are you a bit bah, humbug? How do you feel about it this year?
You'll probably relate to this as an actor is that I tend to give Christmas over to everybody else because I've spent so much of the year away from friends and family. So I just give it over. So I go to see my brother, go to see my dad and do whatever they want to do. But it's usually the same as the year before.
Richard previously starred in The Hobbit
And do you have any traditions in the Armitage household? Are there any little traditions that you always do?
My brother has picked up this tradition that we have with kids. And I'm pretty sure it happens in every single household which is just leaving out a little plate of carrots and a glass of sherry for Santa. He does it with his kids, and the game is that he'll try and drink the sherry before because they won't go to bed! They'll come back in and be like, 'The sherry's gone, has he already been?' and we'll be like, 'It's like oh no, mummy just had that. Let's top it up again.'
I'm glad it's not just us! I must finally ask, as the wonderful storyteller that you are, what is your favourite go-to Christmas movie? And why?
That is a tough one. It's probably going to be Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's not a Christmas film is it but if it's on, I will watch it, and it's usually Christmas Day. That, or Watership Down.
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