THERE was a knock on the dressing room door while I was interviewing Richard Armitage on set for the new series of Spooks.
Yet another crisis had engulfed the small MI5 team responsible for saving us, and the rest of the world, on a weekly basis.
In the face of global warming and the threat of nuclear war, one more vital resource had run out at Thames House.
“There’s a milk shortage on The Grid,” apologised Richard.
So without the benefit of tea, we carried on.
You’d have been proud.
Today’s TV feature on Richard, who plays Lucas North, and the new series is here.
As ever, space was tighter than the Spooks’ milk budget.
So dedicated Spooks – and Richard Armitage fans – may like to read some of the extras below.
Everyone else is excused…though would you mind popping out for two pints of organic semi-skimmed?
Thanks ever so.
Assuming you’ve first made friends with the feature here, then read on:
1. The Spooks new series production release, issued before filming began, spoke about the MI5 team going into deeper and more dangerous territory:
“I suppose we did go into deeper, darker territory. It’s quite an intense shoot and it feels like we’ve had less and less time to do it. But actually we’ve had the same amount of time. I think the scripts have got more ambitious this year and it seems much more dense and the political landscape is ever changing.
“The scripts morph as things crop up in the news. So it does keep you on your toes. At one point we started doing episodes six and seven and then we’ve had to go back to five and eight, which under normal circumstances is OK.
“But because the scripts were quite loose at that point, it really plays with your head a bit. So when you’re working on an episode you have to get your head completely around the politics. Otherwise you just lose track of what you’re saying.
“With Lucas, we’ve got the needle into the past – I think it’s around episode four. We’ve scratched the surface in the first series but this year we revisit in more depth what happened to him.”
2. Lucas gets close to new CIA liaison officer Sarah Caulfield in the new series:
“I think that he’s monitored by his team because he’s been compromised in the past and the fact that he has been caught and imprisoned in Russia means that he has a fatal flaw in him. I think there’s always the potential for somebody to stumble and fall again.
“There’s a maverick in Lucas. He enjoys the thrill of the chase and there is a point in the series…the writers didn’t write it but I decided in myself that this was the point where Lucas could potentially have turned. And there is a moment when he considers what it would be like to join the bad side. It’s not really explored in the story but it’s the moment where Lucas would be tested. So I entertained the idea.
“Sarah Caulfield is a really interesting character. I think I’d describe her as being a very complicated girl and I think it’s in episode seven, she gets Lucas in a bit of a mess.
“It starts off as a power struggle between two professionals. That then turns into a sort of sexual power struggle and then it turns into quite an honest love affair which screws Lucas up and actually screws Sarah Caulfield up a bit. The courses that they’re both on start to become compromised because of the fact that they do fall in love with each other.
“The first step he takes towards her in terms of that attraction is very much about domination. They’re toying with each other a bit and he’s made professional promises to her – I’ll deliver this to you if you give me this. And then he ducks out of the deal. So she double crosses him.
“The first sexual encounter between them is very much about Lucas taking control of her, being manipulated by a very attractive woman who’s using her sexuality as much as anything else to get him to do what she wants.
“It initially starts as quite an intense professional conflict that becomes sexual but then he gets all involved with her. He can’t get enough of her and can’t leave her alone. You’ll fall in love with Genevieve O’Reilly, who plays Sarah. She’s brilliant.”
3. The race to find Harry (Peter Firth) in episode one:
“In my head, when that episode hadn’t been written, I thought that the team would be out there kicking ass, trying to get him back. But actually the reality of it is that they are bound to the Grid and they’re sort of helpless. All they’ve got is information and photographs. They’re treading water because they really have got no clues. They’re just assembling all the evidence which would lead to his captor. So the team feel quite helpless. But it actually makes for quite an intense episode – they’re all in quite a sticky situation. The final 10 minutes of episode one is just brilliant.”
4. Ros takes over in Harry’s absence:
“Ros takes control of the situation and everyone else slots into place. That’s what’s been interesting about this series, everyone’s roles have been much more clearly defined. In each episode, whenever a case happens, you know which line your character is going to follow. It’s very clear and all the characters seem to sit very comfortably with what they’ve got to do.
“I think it works very well with Ros as the Head of Section and Lucas and Ros are working really well together. There’s a lot of banter between them, which I really enjoy. They’ve got the same sense of humour and, I think, the same sense of danger.
“When Lucas strikes up this relationship with Sarah Caulfield, Ros is slightly dismissive of it but sees something, has a little poke around, she tries to stir things up in Lucas. She’s testing to see whether it’s real or whether it’s going to compromise him. I think she enjoys teasing him about it and it’s been quite fun to play as well.”
5. Spooks always has to raise the bar with each new series:
“Yeah, there is that pressure. You are a slave to the scripts pretty much, so you can only deliver as much as the script allows you to do. They’ve taken time to form and sometimes they’ve arrived in pieces, but that’s kind of fun to do that.
“Episode eight…we arrived at the beginning of the block and we were shooting scenes that we had no idea where they were going to fit into the episode and what was around them. So the editor was coming down and saying, ‘OK, these are the scenes that haven’t been written yet but this is what’s going to happen.’ The episode…it feels like that, it’s like all hell’s breaking loose and these characters are stranded in the middle of this chaos and they just don’t know which direction to take. It’s a lost cause, really. So that’s very exciting.
“The scripts feel more ambitious. When there’s a fight sequence, a special effect or a siege or something, all of us meet and the director says, ‘This is something that Spooks has done before, it does it very well, but we can’t let that happen again. We’ve got to increase the stakes. We’ve got to make it look even more difficult. The explosion has got to look more real.’ And so I think everyone is conscious that that bar has been raised and we’re all trying to leap it.”
6. The new series sees the arrival on The Grid of Tariq Masood, played by Shazad Latif:
“I guess he would have been described as a geek in the breakdown but actually he’s turned up and he’s more computer genius. There’s a bridge because the old fashioned M character in Bond that did all the gadgetry, it’s had to change in the 21st century and it’s all cyberstuff. And he’s really fast and he’s 17 or 18. So he’s probably the youngest cast member.”
7. Does Lucas have much interaction with Tariq?
“There’s a bit of nurturing. He comes in and he’s a bit slack and he’s a bit of a wide boy. There’s quite a lot of banter about toe the line otherwise Ros will have your nuts, kind of thing, which is quite funny.
“I keep wanting them to get in little digs about the head of MI5 being on Facebook. I keep saying, ‘Oh come on, you’ve got to slip that line in – How are we going to find out what he’s up to? Well, just have a look on Facebook.’”
8. Would Richard be happy to return if series nine gets the go-ahead for 2010?
“Yeah, if I get invited back. Have I been naughty? Have I toed the line? There’s a big cliffhanger in episode eight, shock horror, and you don’t know who’s gone and who’s survived. Another one of those.”
9. Richard’s real life dealings with America’s CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) and Russia’s FSB (Federal Security Service):
“When we first started we had a really brilliant session with a guy from the CIA and a guy from the FSB. We sat down with them and had a couple of hours chat. I really wish we’d have had an MI5 person but I think at that point we were looking outwards, rather than inwards. It was fascinating to see the difference, the contrast. The CIA guy did not stop talking for the whole interview. We suspect he wanted to be a movie star, he wouldn’t shut up. But the FSB guy in a black polo neck just sat there. It was really interesting.
“Any time the CIA guy was questioned about the ethics of certain torture methods, he would go, ‘No, no, no, we can’t do that.’ And the FSB guy would go, ‘Whatever it takes.’ He couldn’t have been more stereotypical.
“I think the research department have people that they talk to. But it’s not always that helpful, especially on a show like this, because more often than not the job is farmed out to more people and there’s a lot more paperwork involved. And I think that sometimes when you want something to happen in a script, if you go to the source and they say, ‘Well, no, that really wouldn’t happen,’ it can pin you down a bit.
“I think they try to be as truthful as possible. But there are more than four people saving the UK from disaster every week, I’m sure.”
10. Spooks’ trademark is being ahead of the news. Is there anything in this series that has really shocked you?
“Yeah. Episode eight. This group of people that are stoking the flames of the conflict between India and Pakistan..the episode kicks off with some kind of conflict over a nuclear submarine and I opened The Times last week and I think it’s India that were developing some kind of nuclear submarine and China and Pakistan were getting a bit itchy about it. I was like, ‘This is our episode.’ And there it is in the actual news. You read our script and go, ‘No, that wouldn’t happen, it’s ridiculous.’ Then in the paper, there it is.
“It just makes you realise that what’s on our page, although it’s fictional and the narrative is stretched dramatically, there is a root in the truth. So when you get very scary episodes you think, ‘It’s all possible.’”
11. Harry and Lucas?
“There’s always conflict. The thing about Lucas and Harry is that Harry is the father that never says well done. And I think because Lucas has failed him once in a big way, I think there’s irreconcilable damage that’s been done to that relationship. It means that that relationship will continue because Lucas really needs Harry to turn round and go, ‘Yeah, you did well, I’m proud of you.’ And he’ll never get it. So that’s good. It keeps it in flux.”
12. Harry and Ruth?
“Harry and Ruth are developing nicely. It’s nice…”
*Spooks returns to BBC1 at 9pm next Wednesday – Nov 4.