Ahead of the wide release for Pilgrimage, Richard Armitage spoke with us about bringing this story to life, playing the villain, and what’s next for him.
Pilgrimage follows a group of monks who undertake a pilgrimage to transport their monastery’s holiest relic to Rome. When the true significance of the relic is revealed, the journey becomes much more treacherous, and the group’s faith and loyalty to one another are tested.
It stars Tom Holland, Richard Armitage, Jon Bernthal, John Lynch, Stanley Weber, Eric Godon, Tristan McConnell, Eoin Geoghegan, Diarmuid de Faoite, and Tony Condren.
‘Pilgrimage’ interview with Richard Armitage
You mentioned in a previous interview that this part of history has always fascinated you. What really brought it to life for you, whether it was the costumes, the landscapes, or something else?
I was always a fan of this period. In 6th grade we made a school film about the Crusades. I galloped around with a cardboard horse strapped to me. But the barren Irish landscape really transported me to the time and place, because it really is untouched, and the heavy real metal chain mail was certainly useful, especially when it rained and the wool cloak added weight to the rusty mail.
What about the physicality of the movie? Did the armor and weapons provide additional hardship, or were they made to alleviate any extra weight so you could move around more freely?
See above, and working with John Bernthal, who was such a dynamic, experienced and committed fighter was amazing. The weight of the costume and the speed of the fight sequence added to the fatigue needed to truly represent the feeling of a real fight, weight, weather, and weapons all combined to convince myself of the truth of this period and world of war.
The differing languages between all the characters plays a large part of distinguishing one group from another, and I read that you worked very hard on your French and specifically the type of accent you used. What was the most difficult part of that for you?
It was what attracted me to the role, passing as a Norman French speaker amongst French speakers (actually Belgian actors). I was coached by a French Canadian, and an Irish French teacher, and did post production with Belgian French speakers, with a French dialect coach. She was confused by my accent, but we adjusted it in post and passed it off as ‘archaic Norman French.’
This movie is quite brutal, and your character plays a huge hand in that throughout the film. Do you find that to be an easy role to slip into, or did you find yourself struggling with the violence of it all?
I wanted the violence to feel real. Raymond was from a violent culture and a warmongering family, he is ambitious and ruthless and as the hero of his own story, he sees himself claiming the relic to curry favor with the king and leading his family name to greatness as the leader of a Crusading army. That’s his vision of the future, but his whole life has been dictated by a violent paternal society. He’s been trained for war. I managed to convince myself that it was Raymond’s normality. All in a day’s work.
Everyone always asks what the hardest part about filming this movie or that is, but what was the easiest part for you? Was there anything that came so naturally it was a surprise?
The horse riding gets a little easier the more I do it. I didn’t quite have enough time with our horses, and the heavy armor and noise of the chain mail was something my horse, who I named Mervin (Raymond de Mervin!!!) didn’t love, so he was a little spooked at times, but I still enjoyed being his passenger. Riding is never easy, but the fear has pretty much gone. The long ride across the beach was a glorious way to spend an afternoon.
This is quite a serious movie that deals with a lot of big themes and moral lessons. What was the vibe like on set, especially working alongside actors like Jon Bernthal, Stanley Weber, and Tom Holland?
Three very committed actors. There wasn’t a lot of time for laughs, and to be honest I do tend to stay in character, so Raymond’s sense of humor was only in regards to his own devious means of torture. But I loved the fraternity, everyone really looked out for each other and Jon was very much a mentor to Tom, which was lovely to watch.
I was a little envious to be honest, as I had to play the role of the villain, so I stayed away from the group gym sessions which the lads used to bond. I felt like this would help me feel isolated in the role, as Raymond was in the world, but I would willingly have been one of the gang. I think secretly Raymond longed for a brotherhood. The isolation fueled his rage.
I imagine every film is a new experience, a new opportunity for lessons learned or skills acquired. What would you say is the biggest lesson or skill you walked away with from this movie?
To speak French at speed, to a French speaker, to understand what I was saying, to use the beautiful rhythm and percussion of that astonishing language and allow it to give him a kind of national pride. I can now go on holiday to the mountains in France and order a great meal, and threaten torture, with my little torture ‘fork’ if it’s not up to scratch. And if it’s good, I can use it for fondue!
Lastly, what other projects do you have coming up that fans should keep an eye out for?
Oceans 8 summer 2018, I play Claude Becker opposite Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson (can’t quite believe I’m saying all these names next to mine!!!). Claude Becker is an art curator with a shady past, who becomes the catalyst for a spectacular heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
My Zoe is later in the year, starring opposite Julie Delpy. She has written and will direct and produce this independent feature. It’s about a toxic marriage which descends into a complex human interest story, arising from tragedy and then sidesteps into the world of science. It’s a fascinating, heartbreaking, and thrilling story. I can’t wait to shoot this with Julie, who I’ve been a fan of for 20 years.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarification.