The 10-episode EPIX original series Berlin Station follows Daniel Miller (Richard Armitage), who has just arrived at the CIA station in Berlin, Germany for a clandestine mission to determine the identity of the whistleblower known as Thomas Shaw. Guided by the veteran but questionable Hector DeJean (Rhys Ifans), Daniel dives into the deep end of a conspiracy that leads all the way back to Washington. The series also stars Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes, Leland Orser and Tamlyn Tomita.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Richard Armitage talked about how he came to this show, what he identified with in his character, the terrifying reality of this story, working with such a talented ensemble of actors, learning where things were headed, as he read each script, the research he did for this role, and where things are headed this season.
Collider: First of all, I was a big fan of Hannibal and I thought your work on the show was terrific!
RICHARD ARMITAGE: Oh, thank you!
It was just such a beautiful show, as scary as that sounds.
ARMITAGE: I agree with you. I think Bryan Fuller is a genius. I really do.
How did Berlin Station come your way?
ARMITAGE: I finished on The Hobbit and I was hunting for a really good television show. I feel like we’re in a Golden Age of television and, when television is at its best, it can be so fulfilling for an actor. So, I read pilots and all kinds of things. I read this about two and a half years ago, before EPIX had it, and I was like, “That’s what I’ve been looking for.” And then, it kind of disappeared and I thought, “I’ll never see it again.” And then, it re-emerged onto my radar and I was like, “Yes, that’s what I want.” Initially, we were looking at the role of Hector, so there was a juggling act happening, defining who Daniel was and defining who Hector was. It really is a cat-and-mouse game between them, and figuring out how that was going to function was part of the enjoyable process.
If you had been looking at the role of Hector, what ultimately led you to play Daniel?
ARMITAGE: It sort of wasn’t my choice. They didn’t say, “Which character do you want to play?” The nature of this man is that he was essentially raised with a European childhood. His father worked in military intelligence in Berlin, and having a European playing an American was useful, in that respect. I think Daniel found his patriotism when he turned to America, as a teenager, rather than it being instilled in him, as a youngster. That’s not dissimilar to my own journey. Me, as Richard, I’ve started to feel a real sense of patriotism to America. I’m British and have only really been here about five years, but I feel really passionate about what’s happening, at the moment, in the media. As a non-voter, I’m not allowed to speak about it, and it’s really frustrating. I just thought, “That’s an interesting thing that I can bring to this character.”
It’s scary how close this story comes to what’s going on, in the U.S. and Europe.
ARMITAGE: It’s really terrifying. The fact that we’re potentially undermining our security services is like a Pandora’s box. Twenty years ago, it was the security services that had the technology, and they were able to function with it. Now, everyone has access to it and is probably more capable. It means that these people have to operate in a different way. We would be prepared to pull the rug from underneath the intelligence services because, essentially, we don’t trust them. But as a person, I want to trust them because I think intelligence gathering is really important in the current climate. Clearly, it’s failing in some areas, but for all of the failures, there are a million successes that we’ll never know about. If the job is done properly, you don’t even know they’re there.
This show seems like the type of thing that would satisfy any desire you might have to play James Bond or a spy. Did it feel that way for you?
ARMITAGE: It’s a tricky genre because it’s been very, very well visited. The thing that attracted me to this particular script was the currency and the immediacy of now. It’s happening in front of us. As we sit and watch CNN today, we’re seeing cyber-hacking and national security threats, and that’s very much what our show is about. It’s about the steps that these professionals take, who are very ordinary patriots placed in the position of stemming the flow of national secrets, and at the same time, they are pulled in to question their own agency and government. It pulls you in two because, on one hand, Daniel is an American patriot, but on the other hand, he believes in freedom of speech and the truth, and sometimes those two things don’t connect. Maybe it’s just me, but I inherently want to trust my government and believe what they tell me is true because, if you don’t believe that, what do you believe and who do you trust?
How many scripts did you get, before you started shooting? Did you know where this story would ultimately end up?
ARMITAGE: No. We went to Berlin with two scripts. Actually, I think I went with one script and got Episode 2 when I landed in Berlin. That’s great, in the sense that what happens is that the storyline and character can become tailored to you, and that’s definitely what happened. One of the strengths of the show is the incredible array of fantastic actors inhabiting brilliant characters, and those characters really could evolve. There were characters that were only in one scene in Episode 1, that became majorly featured because of the quality of the actor inside of them. At the same time, it makes the plot very difficult. I’m somebody who will always favor character over plot, but in the writers’ room, they have to focus on plot over character, but I think it was a healthy dialogue between all of us.
Did you have to do a lot of research and learn any new skills, in preparation for this?
ARMITAGE: Figuring out what his skill set was, was interesting. I wanted him to be a normal person. A lot of the time, on TV, there’s a competence fetish where somebody has to be a genius at something, but I wanted Daniel to be very normal and have flaws, and not be a superhero. My line of research started with his childhood in Berlin. I researched West Berlin and the CIA, and finding a truthful account of the CIA is impossible. And then, I went into Olen Steinhauer’s fictional novels and looked at the way he saw character. Then, when I got to Berlin, I realized that everything that I needed was there. The city feeds you with so many things. Really, to me, his greatest asset is his ability to observe and interpret, and his instincts. It’s something I always question, in myself. I have very sharp instincts, and when you don’t listen to them, ultimately you start treading a path which you regret, at a later date. You can usually track back to a moment where the red flag went up and you think, “If only I’d listened then.” That’s what happens in this show. There’s a red flag that goes up in Episode 1, and then we get to Episode 10 and Daniel is like, “I knew it. I should have listened to that instinct.”
Why is Daniel the right guy for this mission?
ARMITAGE: His skill at identifying where the leak is coming from is the thing that catapults him to that position. I don’t think he wants the job, necessarily, in the beginning. But then, he finds the leak and he’s dragged into that situation. I think what makes him right for the mission is his ability to be the man who can blend into a crowd. He can sense the temperature of a situation. He can see the area that he’s moving around in, and he understands what it takes to just disappear into that picture and become a chameleon.
There are a lot of people vying for power in this world, and they’re all in something of a competition with each other, aside from dealing with this mission. Will that become more and more difficult to navigate?
ARMITAGE: Yeah. Ultimately, we spy on our enemies, but we also spy on our friends. It’s that thing of keeping your friends close, but your enemies closer. But, I don’t really use the word enemy. I use the word opponent because I feel like there’s a sparring match going on. We’re not in a Cold War situation, despite what the media would have us thing. But in order for the intelligence services to really function, they do have to create those internal dramas, in order to justify their existence. Sometimes when there’s nothing happening, they’ll be stimulating something to happen. Of course, they have to move beyond technology, so they’re engaging themselves, face to face, with their opponent, and then the human flaws kick into action. A computer is not going to fall in love with another computer, but a spy will use that currency to get himself into deep water. Daniel can switch off his emotions, but he allows himself to let them live because it becomes a more potent currency when you can do that. The one weak point that he has, especially early on, is his family that’s based in Berlin. It’s a real Achilles heel for him because he wants to build back that relationship with his cousin, but at the same time, he’s putting her in the firing line. We’ll play that out throughout the series. He’s unable to switch that side of him off.
What can you say about the evolving dynamic between Daniel and Hector (Rhys Ifans)?
ARMITAGE: I would say they’re bound by an event that happened. You’ll see a flashback in Episode 4 to an event in their past, which I see as a metaphorical explosion that fuses them together. It becomes like a love affair between them. Daniel really needs the life blood of Hector, in order to survive. The predator becomes the prey, is really the only thing that I can tell you.
Berlin Station airs on Sunday nights on EPIX.