“I think Richard Burton in [The Spy Who Came in From the Cold] was one of the benchmark performances for me,” Berlin Station star Richard Armitage says as we sit and chat at the Beverly Hilton during a recent television critics press tour. We’re talking old-school Cold War spy thrillers with the actor, famed for his roles in The Hobbit movies and in the Hannibal TV series.
“It’s such a sparse film,” Armitage continues. “It’s so interesting, when you talk about action, what we’ve become used to — because, of course, there are brilliant movies like the Bourne films — but when you go back to those old-school spy dramas, it’s about that intellect, and that human interaction. It’s just fascinating to watch.”
Everything Armitage has said about the 1965 film classic can also describe his new EPIX series, Berlin Station, and is what makes it, too, fascinating to watch. In this drama set and filmed in the title city, Armitage plays Daniel Miller, a CIA officer who goes from being an analyst in Panama to an undercover officer in Berlin, tasked with finding a leak. The series deals with modern concerns in the post-Snowden/NSA era, such as cyber security and privacy, but presents the thrills and suspense in a refreshingly slow-burning way. You won’t see many typical chase scenes or fight scenes, and no crazy James Bondian gadgets.
“One of the things that really attracted me to [the role],” Armitage offers, “is the idea of this being a kind of post-technology drama, because technology has become something which used to be the major tool of the espionage/Secret Service, whatever it is … [but] it’s now less useful to them. They have to rely on those human interactions, and when they bring themselves to those situations, they bring all of their own flaws with them. To me, that creates the richest kind of tapestry for drama that you can have.”
Armitage engages in that human drama with other characters played by Rhys Ifans, Richard Jenkins, Michelle Forbes, Leland Orser, Tamlyn Tomita and Caroline Goodall, among others, but one of the major supporting characters isn’t human at all — it’s the city of Berlin itself, which makes for a stunning and intriguing backdrop.
“We were there for five months and really, Berlin became another character in the show,” Armitage agrees. “I love the way that city exists in so many different time [periods] — it’s the 18th century, it’s the ’20s, it’s the ’50s, ’60s, the ’70s, it’s now. There are certain places that feel like the future, a certain architecture. The way the city moves … it’s so fluid, and our cinematographer really captured the movement and the sort of melting-pot way you could really disappear. It’s not by accident that [Berlin] is the sort of hotbed of espionage, really.”
Berlin Station airs Sundays at 9pm ET beginning Oct. 16 on EPIX.