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Exclusive: Richard Armitage on filming steamy scenes for Obsession, intimacy coordinators and his 'messy' side

Netflix's no-holes-barred erotic thriller has been dubbed the new 50 Shades

Sharnaz Shahid
Sharnaz ShahidDeputy Online Editor
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Richard Armitage has been on our screens for well over two decades. Now, thanks to his starring role in Netflix's sizzling new thriller Obsession, a whole lot more of him is about to be seen…

Obsession is a contemporary adaptation of Josephine Hart's erotic novel Damage, and sees the 51-year-old actor play William, a talented surgeon who embarks on an intense affair with his son's fiancée.

The dangerous love triangle between William, his son Jay and the enigmatic Anna, played by Happy Valley star Charlie Murphy, will leave viewers completely astounded. Anna fights to sustain both relationships, while William is drawn into an obsessive spiral. But how long can they keep their secret hidden before someone gets hurt?

WATCH: The official trailer for Netflix's racy new thriller Obsession

Here Richard tells HELLO! how he prepared for the role, what it was like working with an intimacy coordinator for the risqué scenes, as well as touching upon his own past.

How was it filming Obsession’s intimate scenes?

It was good. When a project like this comes in your direction, there are a lot of people trying to warn you and say, 'It's going to be challenging, it's going to be very revealing, and there will be a lot of intimacy'. But I thought, 'It's fine.' I'll approach this like a European, like how the French deal with cinema, see their view of the human body and their view of relationships and intimacy.

They're much more relaxed. I kept saying to myself, 'You've thrown enough punches, pulled enough triggers and swung enough swords in your life, and done all kinds of things surrounding violence'. It doesn't get the same raised eyebrow. This is an exploration of human desire.

Exclusive: Richard Armitage gets personal as he details career transition and reunion with Nicola Walker

Richard Armitage head shot for Obsession
Richard Armitage stars as William in Obsession

Was it liberating being nude for these scenes?

It really was. My attitude is 'It's the body, it's the human body'. Just be a little bit laissez-faire about it. If you are uncomfortable with it, then it's your problem. Don't be uncomfortable about it.

 "I think people view the intimacy coordinator as the onset police."

We worked with an amazing intimacy coordinator called Adelaide Waldrop. I think people view the intimacy coordinator as the onset police but she had a more directorial point of view to assist Glenn and Lisa as directors. She was sort of part director, part psychologist and part choreographer. There were doors opened and places that we could go to and explore without inhibitions with everybody involved in that process and with everyone feeling not just comfortable with it, but sort of excited about what we were going to try and do.

Tell us about THAT cushion scene…

It's very clearly written about in the book. The script had a slightly different stage direction. I think in the stage direction it talked about a tissue that she blotted her lips on and he finds this tissue and he does something with the tissue. To me, it was more about how his obsession manifests when he doesn't have her. I suppose it was a little more unchoreographed. A bit like, leave me alone in the room and we'll find what happens to him psychologically.

Did you have conversations with your co-stars ahead of filming these scenes?

Yes, from the very beginning. All four of us who were involved in those intimate scenes were drawn into the conversation about, 'How are we going to approach this? What do we want to achieve? What's the director's vision? How are you going to shoot it? How long do you need this sequence to be?'

Charlie Murphy and Richard Armitage in Obsession
The actor stars alongside Charlie Murphy in the upcoming drama

In this story, it's not decoration, it's the core of the existence between these two characters and it builds from one place before it escalates and grows into another. It becomes much more inventive and in-depth – and then the BDSM elements start to come in and this whole life starts to form. We needed to calibrate how that was going to happen, and that really needed choreography.

And how did you and Charlie Murphy (Anna) approach the scenes?

We were both very ‘adult’ about it. When we shot those scenes, we shot them all in about ten days in the same place. I sort of stayed with 'it' the whole time. Charlie and I laughed a lot. I think we connected through humour. She's just got a brilliant dry sense of humour and a view on life that made it very easy to play those scenes, we'd high-five each other at the end of the day and say, 'See you tomorrow'. 

How is it filming steamy scenes now compared to in the past?

A few years ago nobody saw it with the same gravity. It should have been treated in the same way that you would treat a fight sequence. You always have a stunt coordinator or a fight director to shape and choreograph the scene. We should always have done that with intimacy because it does need to be discussed ahead of time, it needs to be coordinated and it needs to be arranged. A director who might not necessarily feel comfortable might say, 'I'll put the camera up and you do your thing.' Because it needs to feel like that. But in order to achieve that feeling, it has to be choreographed.

Richard Armitage stars as William in Obsession © Netflix
Richard has opened up about filming nude scenes

How do you go about watching the show with your friends and loved ones?

I'm not going to sit down and watch it with people because I don't tend to do that anyway. I hope people view this and feel kind of good about themselves. The directors were really keen not to make it feel voyeuristic. It's about giving the audience the feeling that they are inside this relationship with these two characters. What would [they] do in that place? How would [they] respond if that intense, overwhelming feeling came into their life?

William has it all yet throws it away on Anna. Why?

That's really the entire question mark over the whole story. I mean he has everything, he has this wife who is his equal intellectually, she's a brilliant woman. And he has a family who are all moving forward in their lives, becoming very successful people themselves. I think maybe the question mark over William's life is, 'I have everything I want for nothing but there's something missing?’ But he doesn't know that, I don't believe that he was out there looking for an affair. Somebody just crossed his path and triggered an overwhelming intense physical attraction, he has to choose whether to act on it or ignore it.

"There's only one direction that he is travelling in, and it's an absolute car crash."

I found myself asking William, 'Why didn't you walk away? What was it that made you kind of go down that road?' I don't have an answer. I would say to an audience, I would say to myself, have you ever had that experience? If you have, what did you do? And if you haven't, I pity you because you haven't felt that. 

Richard Armitage's character with his family in Obsession© Netflix
Indira Varma plays William's wife

It's like a cord we have in ourselves to feel that level of intensity. If you live a life without experiencing it, it feels like a shame or a lost opportunity. But when it arrives, it's fatal. It’s almost like a horror film in his case. He's stepped over a line which is irreversible. There is no good conclusion to this because the scenario is that she's going to marry his son and be part of his family for the rest of his life. There's only one direction that he is travelling in, and it's an absolute car crash.

Were there any aspects of William that you could relate to with him in real life?

Oh, totally. I met a surgeon who does exactly what William does [job wise]. He was a paediatric surgeon that separated conjoined twins. I just talked to him about his job. But all the time I was thinking, I'm sitting here viewing you as some kind of god because of what you do. His personality, his aura and his serenity – he just seemed like such an incredibly kind heroic person. 

I didn't ask him if he ever did anything naughty in his life. I mean, naughty is the wrong word for this. I just couldn't do it, I think we all try to uphold ourselves to a standard of morality. We usually inherit it from our parents or from people around us. There's an expectation of good and decent behaviour.

Richard Armitage in Obsession
The actor opened up to HELLO! about his new role

But I always ask myself, 'Is there another side to you?' There's always a destructive side, often after one drink too many. I wouldn't say that I've ever crossed this particular line. But I've got a messy side. You're always trying to keep yourself on the right path, aren't you?

I know you're a fan of Bridgerton - would you like to star in it?

I love that the show is doing so well for Netflix – and I’m excited for Queen Charlotte. But I'm a bit too old for it all. I think it's about very young people and the beautiful.

But you are…

No, I'm 51 years old. I could probably play some old moaning dowager or a grumpy old man in a rocking chair.

Richard Armitage stars Obsession © Netflix
Richard has lots of projects in the pipeline

How are things since the release of your debut novel Geneva?

Really good. We had a really good response. We went to number one and we got nominated for the best audiobook of the year. It's publishing in October in print and I'm talking to some companies about adaptation to screen.

And will you and Nicola Walker be in it?

I think so, fingers crossed. It depends how quickly it progresses as sometimes development takes years. I may even be too old to be in it by the time it gets made, but we are definitely talking…

Watch Richard star in Obsession which launches on Netflix on Thursday 13th April.

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