Interview With Richard Armitage From ITV's 'Red Eye', Which Premieres On 21 April

Red Eye, told over an adrenaline-filled six parts, is set between an all-night flight from London to Beijing, the streets of London, and the corridors of power within Whitehall


International dates tbd.


ITV Press Centre

What first excited you about Red Eye?

I got the script with [writer] Peter Dowling's name on it and I remembered watching this brilliant film he made with Jodie Foster called Flightplan. I was slightly obsessed with it at the time, I just loved the scale of the aeroplane and the fact that the whole movie was set on this labyrinthine beast in the air. When I read the Red Eye synopsis, I realised that he was taking inspiration from that movie and expanding it into a six-part series, and I thought the idea of setting such a claustrophobic story on a night flight was just brilliant. I liked the challenge of playing somebody of Nolan’s status and intellect, being thrown into a prisoner situation where he has no authority. In a way, the aeroplane is its own little democracy because he's not on any country’s soil, so he's thrown to the lions. I thought it would be really interesting to see somebody like him realising that he needs to fight for his freedom. After I read the first two episodes I just really hoped the show was going in the direction I thought, and actually it went much further, which was brilliant. I love the fact that the scale opens up and we find ourselves dealing with an international problem working up to a big finale. It’s always frustrating when dramas have a disappointing ending, but this is great. So much so that I want more, it was so delicious I’d love to see these characters thrown back into another political situation for a second season.

We’re never quite sure if we can trust Nolan, was it fun to play with that ambiguity?

Yes, because he’s a doctor, so on paper he should be extremely trustworthy. I trusted him at the beginning of the script, but then there were points in the story where I started doubting him – Is he a spy? Is he some sort of courier or mule? He had gained my trust but then I wondered if this man was really everything, he was telling us. It flips between scenes, and you wonder what he’s up to, which is really interesting to play.

What was it like filming in departures at Stansted Airport (standing in for Heathrow)?

It was quite a big ordeal! It felt like harking back to my days on Spooks, where they didn't have massive budgets, but they would set up a long lens and we'd dive into very public places. Busy London streets and places like Liverpool Street Station. There were a few background artists secretly positioned around me at Stansted, but there were also lot of real passengers who ended up in the scene too. It was like live theatre but for people that haven't consciously bought a ticket! You have to be sensitive to the public. There were signs up saying filming was in progress, but people aren't really as conscious of their surroundings these days, they're just on their phones. It’s quite delicate filming a scene with actors dressed as armed police! We rehearsed what we were going to do in a different corner of the airport, but we only had half an hour’s notice before we could shoot and I knew we only really had one or two chances to get it right. The first time you do it is always the best chance to get real reactions. We wanted it to feel authentic, not staged, so they set up multiple cameras to get the shots. When I watched it back weeks later my heart was still thumping because I just remembered that feeling beforehand, knowing that I couldn’t screw this up and something could go wrong. It was nail-biting.

You were shooting in and around London - were you disappointed not to film in Beijing?

I've been to China before, so I could draw on my experience of it. It’s always nice to travel, but actually it wasn’t really necessary for this shoot. The world they created for Beijing was pretty amazing. I walked onto that set, and it was a wow moment, I really felt like I was down a back street in Wangfujing, it was fantastic. I was more disappointed we weren't up in the air in the aeroplane, but that would have been a six-week flight. I still feel like we should have got some air miles from somewhere for the amount of time we spent in that’s business class cabin!

Did you enjoy filming on the aeroplane set?

I was braced for it to be hell, because it was a five-week shoot on the plane and we were in a hot spell, so I thought it would be claustrophobic and horrible. But by the second day, we'd made our home in the business class cabin and we just loved it, it was brilliant. Kieron [Hawkes], our director, and the crew developed a special camera rig so that they could create these seamless shots moving through the aeroplane, which was very much in the vein of Flightplan, so I think it looks really good. I love the lighting palette as well – the detail was amazing, so it looked like we were above the clouds. I believed everything I was looking at, and it was always a surprise to me after a take when they opened the doors and we walked down the steps into a black sound studio, it really felt like we were in the air. It was an amazing experience, and we missed the cabin after we left, especially Jing [Lusi]. Every time I've been on an aeroplane since then I've been sniffing around in the back looking for staircases and lifts, things you don't always see as the public!

This was your first time working with Jing, how did the two of you get on?

It was great, Jing is so brilliantly clever and she and I both write, so we were trying not to bother everyone with our ideas for the script! But we did make sense of certain scenes together. We tried to play opposite each other in an antagonistic way, but we were also getting to know each other and becoming friends, and that was part of the characters’ story too. Jing has got a wicked sense of humour, so it was really nice when I was able to make her laugh as Hana – there is a lot of suspenseful earnestness in the story, so any chance for a little bit of humanity was worth it. I would say Jing took a lot of pleasure from the scene where she put me in handcuffs though, I told her she was enjoying it far too much! We did get quite competitive when it came to organising treats for the crew. We fell in love with them, they were honestly one of the best crews I’ve ever worked with. One Friday it was crazy hot weather, so I managed to whip up an ice cream van out of nowhere to come to set – I couldn’t believe they were available. A few weeks later, Jing then booked a Crepe Truck, which was insane, literally half the crew disappeared to get these incredible crepes. Then we started thinking about what we could do next and how we could outdo each other.

Nolan is a doctor, and there is a scene where you administer CPR, how did you make that look authentic?

We wanted to shoot the whole sequence in real time as far as possible, although I know in real life they would spend longer on the compressions, so our version was slightly contracted. I worked with a medic to just make sure we were using the defibrillator machine correctly. I was filming with a real person, so I couldn’t really do CPR on him because I didn’t want to break his ribs, but I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. Again we didn't overrehearse it, because we wanted to get real reactions out of the background artists, who didn’t know what was going to happen, I love working like that. You want it to feel as real as possible because the drama itself is heightened. There’s a high body count in quite a short amount of time (10 hour RedEye), it reminded me of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ but set on an aeroplane. There are a lot of shocking moments as the story unfolds and you have to lean into the reality of them. It was really nice that we could shoot most of the scenes in order, which is unusual, but when you’ve got full control over an entire set like the plane you can do that. And then once we get off the plane the story takes a different course.

What was it like stepping back onto terra firma for the second part of the shoot?

I had worried that the claustrophobia of the plane was going to really restrict how physically explosive or violent the cabin sequences could become. You can’t sprint on a plane in the same way, but actually it was really exciting and I enjoyed the restraint. Nonetheless, the minute we were off the plane and out onto the streets of London, it was like we'd been released from captivity, we were like wild animals! It was kind of brilliant. It was only then that I finally met Lesley Sharp. I've been such a fan of hers for so long, and we had only a couple of scenes together but I wish we’d had more. She brings an incredible gravity and intrigue to the role of Delaney.

It feels like you’re always busy – have you come up for air since finishing filming?

I wrote another book called ‘The Cut’ after finishing Red Eye, and now it's finished, so that feels good. I’ve also been on the road promoting my first book; ‘Geneva’, so it's been a very fulfilling year. I’ve learned so much over my career, and as I’m moving into writing long form myself I'm drawing on what I picked up from my days on shows like Spooks, where you have to create lots of episodes with a really exciting story arc. I met Julie Gardner back in 2007 on Robin Hood and Lachlan MacKinnon from my Spooks days. They are both Executive Producers of ‘Red Eye’, and it’s been amazing to be reunited with them again and collaborate all these years later – I truly adore them and they’ve taught me so much.

Was it nice to return to a busy set after spending so much time on your own writing?

I know writing seems solitary but I always feel like I'm in a room full of my characters and they never leave you, they invade your dreams! But yes the social side of going to work on a film set is really nice, especially because this aeroplane set brought us together, and we got to know each other very well. I also feel like I've discovered Kieron Hawkes as a director. I don't really want to work with anybody else at the moment because he was so brilliant, I absolutely loved his vision and he's got that David Fincher eye for camera work, it was very harmonious. My first book, Geneva is currently in development for the screen with Sony and actually I want to poach all of the Red Eye creative team for that!

What does it take to inspire you at this point in your career?

It just doesn't take much really – sometimes you get another job and worry it might be more of the same, but then it just takes one or two exciting ideas, or a new actor to work with, and you find new inspiration, it feels fresh every time. There's always a new seed that you can plant.

You’ve played such a variety of characters over the years, how have you avoided the common trap of being typecast?

It’s funny, early on in my career I had the words of my father echoing in my head saying, "Don't get typecast". And then as I've got older I've been desperate to be typecast! These days I would kill for a long running returning series that we could do year after year. I miss Spooks, I miss the popularity of that show with its regular 7 million viewers over 10 seasons. I would love that staple diet now. I probably wouldn't have said that when I was younger, but now I realise that going back for another season with all the same people is something to cherish. Maybe we should resurrect Spooks! I'm trying to develop my own long-running series now actually – I've optioned a series of books by Joy Ellis in the hope of creating a crime series set in the Lincolnshire Fens. She has written 10 books, so it could potentially be a be a long runner. At this point in my career, I'm really interested in building a relationship with an audience, because I've been that viewer who is hooked on a show, wanting more and more. Downton Abbey is the perfect example of a show where the audience came back for the characters and the actors, not necessarily the storylines, and I'd love that relationship with the viewership again, I miss it.

Jing described Red Eye as a ‘turning point for British Asian representation’ – is that something you felt aware of on set?

I certainly felt the celebration of a lead female protagonist of Chinese origin. I knew how special it was to cast Jing and I know that so much effort went into making that representation as authentic as possible. In fact, the team consulted every actor that came on set, there was a lot of cultural exchange and collaboration, whether it was about a line of dialogue or something bigger. I felt it and I really appreciated it – it was sensitive and respectful.

How do you hope viewers will react to this series?

I hope that they will buy into the concept and also be shocked and jaw dropped by the claustrophobia and the extraordinary events that unfold as things run completely out of control. I hope they will ask themselves how they would respond if they were thrown into this situation, I'd like them to put themselves in in Matthew Nolan's shoes.

Could there be a second series?

I don’t know, but these are some very compelling characters and I’d love to do more.


Red Eye is set to premiere on ITV1 and ITVX in the UK on the 21 April.

April 19, 2024 7:00am ET by Newsdesk  

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