Who's puny now Jonas Armstrong vowed to beef up after his 10st Robin Hood was ridiculed and now he's landed a role as the hunk in a new drama
21:30 GMT, 18 May 2012
22:14 GMT, 18 May 2012
He’s the devilishly handsome actor who shot to fame playing the lead in the BBC’s multi-million pound hit series Robin Hood six years ago.
But it was a baptism of fire for Jonas Armstrong, who was stung by critics who said that, with his slight frame and lack of presence, he was as believable as a ‘chocolate teapot’.
Not any more. Not only did he beef up in time for the second series but, since leaving the show, Jonas has thrown himself into gritty roles that showcase his acting talents.
Bulked up: Jonas with Hit & Miss co-star Chlo Sevigny
His latest, as landscape gardener Ben in Sky Atlantic’s new series Hit & Miss, alongside Chlo Sevigny’s transgender contract killer Mia, couldn’t be more complex. It’s a dark, compelling story about how Mia’s life is turned upside down when she discovers she’s fathered an 11-year-old son, while Ben’s is thrown into similar turmoil when he falls for Mia, unaware of her transgender status.
‘When I read the script I thought, “Are they actually going to be able to get away with this” It was so off-the-wall but I couldn’t stop reading,’ says Jonas. ‘I was proud of Robin Hood, even though critics wrote negative things. But I had to laugh when this big, shaven-headed Hungarian stunt guy first saw me. He said, “You Jonas You playing Robin Hood You need to go to the gym today.”’ So I thought, “I’m going to show people.”’
Jonas in the first series of Robin Hood
Jonas had beaten actors like James McAvoy to the role. ‘I couldn’t believe it when my agent asked me to audition for the part. I was just ten stone but they couldn’t see that from the screen takes which were just my top half. They wanted me to fly back to meet the producers but I couldn’t as I was filming a crime drama, Losing Gemma with Jason Flemyng, in India. If I’d flown back I don’t think I’d have got the part as they’d have seen I was a slip of a lad, even at 6ft.
'I knew I needed to put on muscle. I thought, “Right, I’m going to go to town here and come back a different shape.” By the time the second series came round I’d put on two stone and looked ready to fight. I drank protein shakes, hired a personal trainer and went to the gym five times a week. The stunt guys were so pleased with me and said, “Now you’re one of us.” They called me Arnie. The last thing I wanted to do was to finish at 7pm and go to the gym, but it’s a regime I still keep up today and now it’s not a chore.’ It’s just as well as in Hit & Miss Jonas plays an ex-rugby player whose torso is often on display. ‘I’m wearing a vest in every other scene so I had to keep it up,’ he laughs.
Jonas is 31 now and has been employed back-to-back since leaving RADA and swiftly landing roles in Channel 4’s Teachers and crime series The Ghost Squad. ‘Even so, leaving Robin Hood at the end of the three-year contract was really daunting. I thought, “What happens if I don’t work for another year”
Then a part in Jimmy McGovern’s award-winning BBC1 drama The Street came along. Jonas played a soldier who’d been horrifically disfigured in a suicide bomb attack in Afghanistan and was finding it hard to readjust, turning to drink for comfort.
I drank protein shakes, hired a personal trainer and went to the gym five times a week.
‘I’m not saying I’ve got any issues with drink, but I know what it can do to people so I drew on that,’ says Jonas. ‘That and my family relations. My mum and I are really close but we used to have screaming rows and would want to kill each other. I think that part was the one of which I’m most proud.’
He is the first to admit he put his parents through the mill as a roguish boy growing up in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. The family had moved from Dublin when Jonas was six and though they were strapped for cash his father insisted on giving the eldest of his three children a good education at the fee-paying Arnold School in Blackpool.
Were they pleased with their investment ‘Well, they were very worried about me in school as I was quite problematic. I was only ten when I head-butted a boy and broke his cheekbone in retaliation for him kneeing me in the groin. In secondary school I was also a bit of a lad – I had no direction or discipline.’
That changed when Jonas was 15 and six of his friends got expelled for smoking cannabis. ‘It was a wake-up call. I thought, “I’ve got a year until my GCSEs and Mum and Dad have put in all this money and sweat, so I’m going to make a go of this.”’ Passing his exams and going to sixth form was another turning point. It was there he met his drama teacher, Colin Snell. ‘When he first met me, I had a shaven head and was angry. He got me back on track and showed me the discipline an actor needs. Teachers before him had written me off but Colin was the reason I got to RADA and why I finally found something I was good at.’
Hit & Miss, Tuesday, 10pm, Sky Atlantic.