Richard Armitage isn't a household name in New York, but if he walks down the street, he might see his face on the side of a bus. The British actor is the star of the new Epix television series about the CIA titled Berlin Station, which is in the middle of a huge advertising push in advance of its October 16 premiere.
Just days after that, on October 19, the British-born Armitage will open the show that marks his American stage debut, the Roundabout Theatre Company off-Broadway production of Mike Bartlett's Love, Love, Love at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre.
"These things come in waves," says Armitage, but it's clear that this veteran of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, NBC's Hannibal, and Yaël Farber's barnstorming London revival of The Crucible, for which he received an Olivier Award nomination, is happy to ride them.
How did this role come about?
I've been sniffing around at the Roundabout for a while now. I met [casting director] Jim Carnahan a couple of years ago and he's been a very loyal advocate of mine. He came to see The Crucible [in London] twice. This came at the right time. I've been trying to work with Michael Mayer and Mike Bartlett. We come from similar backgrounds, Mike and I. The more I've gotten to know him, the more I realize we're the same generation, with the same interests, and the same kind of philosophy. The play really fits quite well into my world. It fell into place a little bit like that.
What is it like, as a British actor, to be doing the American premiere of a British play?
With four other Americans. [laughs] It's sort of a reversal for me. In the past couple of years, I've been the one trying to pass off an American dialect. My sympathy was with these guys, but they were brilliant from the outset. The subject matter is very specific to a period of time in Britain.
How familiar were you with Britain's baby boomer generation? Did you do much in the way of research?
It's a generalized sweep of the baby boomer generation. I looked at the baby boomer generation in Britain and the difference between that and in America. We didn't have the Vietnam War, which had a massive effect on that generation. The characters of Sandra and Kenneth are so narcissistic and self-absorbed in their vision of themselves in the world. I don't think it represents everybody. They came out of the sixties with such a vision for the future and such propulsion against their rather staid parents, and they carried that self-absorption into later life. As a large proportion of the voting populace, they were able to manipulate politics to suit themselves.
Are you a Beatles fan like the characters in the play?
I was actually into Cream. I'm an Eric Clapton fan. At one point we weren't going to be able to get the rights to the Beatles songs, so we found a Cream song that would sort of sit in it place, and we changed the script. Luckily we got the rights to the Beatles song, so all was well. It was about to become a big disaster.
Is it nerve-racking to open a play at the same time that your TV show, Berlin Station, is premiering?
It's nice. I mean it's kind of weird. I'm onstage every night and then I get on the subway and I'm confronted with posters, or I get in a car and I'm being chased by a taxi that has my own face on it. It does happen like that. These things come in waves. It's good for the play, it's good for the TV show. The subject matter couldn't be more different, which is nice. It's good to feel like you're being prolific, and I'm sure it'll go very quietly off after Christmas.
Do people recognize you?
Only if I put my coat over my face and look shiftly around, which I tend to do most of the time. [laughs]