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You know to an extent Method acting feels occasionally lazy. That’s the difference, and that was the thing with the waterboarding.I was in a stress position today before we worked, which enabled me to play the scene [we were doing] without having to do any acting. I wanted to experience it for a millisecond so that I could know exactly what it felt like.” For all its physical extremities, though, it’s a very different role to the tough guys that Armitage has expressed a desire to escape from.“Having a box office figure next to your name is unbelievably important when it comes to certain castings.But I don’t think it would have made a difference coming to the Crucible.” And after 13 years of concentrating on film and television, returning to the stage is a very big deal for him.He says he can still vividly remember the smell of the elephants and being permanently hungry from his circus days.He then worked in musical theatre before going to drama school in London and joining the RSC.Television viewers who associate him with double agent Lucas North in Spooks, nasty Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood, or the character based on SAS man Andy Mc Nab in Sky One’s Strike Back would know different. Armitage is to play the tormented John Proctor in the playwright’s terrifying account of the 17th century Salem witch trials, in which Proctor’s adulterous relationship with a young woman sparks a vengeful chain of events that leads to the deaths of many.
“It’s ultimately a timeless play, I think,” says Armitage.“It’s a big mountain to climb every night,” he says.“There’s a shattering of the character, and almost a reassembling of him towards the end.“It has lines that feel relevant in 1692, relevant in the Fifties, relevant today and relevant tomorrow, in 10 years, in 20 years, while we’re still destroying each other in the way that we do, in that insidious human way.” He promises that acclaimed director Yael Farber’s production will be a full-blooded affair.
“You can’t play this story without addressing sexuality in this particular society in this time, the masculinity of the men, the femininity of the women, the vulnerability of prepubescent girls.But I think there’s something about witnessing this play in the round - the theatre is a sort of bowl shape like a crucible - with the audience observing themselves across the room at times, that is the most exciting aspect of this.” Day-Lewis prepared for the role by building his character’s house himself with 17th-century tools.