On Monday 3rd December, TORn staffer greendragon (‘tis I!) was lucky enough to have a sit down with The Hobbit’s Thorin Oakenshield, actor Richard Armitage. A fascinating, erudite and humble man, he spilled the beans on his thoughts on bringing Thorin to life, shed some light on Peter Jackson as a true actors’ director and not just a technical wizard, and even dropped some hints about dwarf women and what lies in store for Thorin!
Let me start by answering the question which I know will be on the minds of many readers… Yes, he really is that handsome. Yes, he really is that charming; he has the ability to make you feel, as he talks to you, that you are the only person who matters. This skill in focusing and being ‘in the moment’ is an important part of the intensity he brings to his acting; and it gives him that reputation for making interviewers go weak at the knees. (I’m pleased to report that my knees were reliable throughout the interview!) And yes, he really was wearing black, leather trousers – Guy of Gisborne lives on!
Here’s what he had to say (contains only very minor spoilers):
We began our discussion talking about successful auditioning, and dealing with nerves.
RA: It’s bloody hard… Shall I tell you how I, when I finally started getting jobs… the one way I got through it was, I had to imagine that they’d said to me, ‘This person’s dropped out, we want you, you’re filming tomorrow – we just need to hear you do it now, but you’re going to be filming tomorrow.’ So it’s like, oh well they already want me, but I need to decide what I’m doing tomorrow, coz I’m going to be on camera tomorrow. So that’s how I get through an audition…
GD: Congratulations on the movie; it’s so exciting that it’s finally coming out!
RA: Thank you. You guys [the fans at TheOneRing.net] are so supportive.
GD: The tone for this movie is perhaps a little lighter than the Lord of the Rings movies; just as The Hobbit is more of a children’s book…
RA: It’s interesting, it’s a tough call, because the minute they get out the door at Bag End they face danger after danger after danger. It gets really dark. So I’m really glad that Pete took the time at Bag End just to enjoy the dwarves when they were able to be fun and relaxed. Because that’s the one thing I was really trying to fight for with Thorin, trying to find – was just a glimmer of humour, a chance for him to smile, coz it’s just not there. Otherwise he’s just this cantankerous old git.
GD: But the sadness and vulnerability which you bring to the role prevent him seeming too cantankerous!
RA: That’s interesting … coz the sadness is really at his own failing. I think there’s a certain amount of recognition of what he’s good at and what he’s not good at, and the fear that he’s going to go down the same road as his father who’s lost, they don’t know where he is. And it’s that fear that he’s going to go down the same road. The anger comes from Azog and the grandfather being beheaded, and then of course the unfathomable fear of what’s in that mountain… and leading his few friends, his own nephews, towards that fear – it’s just such a terrible thing to do. Because, you know, Balin and Dwalin and himself are the only people who really know what’s in that mountain, yet he’s got these kind of shiny faced dwarves all sitting around the table thinking about this gold, and in the back of his mind he’s thinking, ‘You have no idea what you’ll be facing – we’ve seen it – but you’re still going to come with me…’ That’s a really tough thing to ask – to know that you’re leading them into horror.
GD: Characteristics of your Thorin remind me of Shakespearean monarchs; did you look to Shakespeare or other theatre and literature for inspiration?
RA: You know, I looked mainly through Tolkien – I looked at all of his work, looked to mainly the dwarves, coz he writes about dwarves in general … In terms of preparation, it kind of happened by accident coz I was doing vocal work, coz I wanted him to sound a certain way. I wanted to pitch my voice lower, I wanted him to be able to speak quietly but resonantly … and I ended up using Henry V, Richard III and Macbeth as soliloquies that I could use to get some vocal production going. But I found in all three of those characters [aspects of Thorin] … the whole idea of the rallying cry of a leader on the battlefield is very much Henry V; the self hating deformity of Richard III was sort of relevant; and also the Macbeth figure when it comes to the gold lust – this man who believes he is doing the right thing and gets corrupted by something which ultimately destroys him … I just felt that those three figures were all going to be pretty useful for me to have in my head.
Philippa really writes … the writing really evolved around both of our work – so she did take that character into a kind of Shakespearean tone. I mean, Tolkien is kind of a bit cheeky with Thorin … you know, when Thorin speaks at Bag End Tolkien kind of has a go at him and says, ‘That was his way’ – that Thorin could be kind of … overly verbose as a speaker! He’s almost like, ‘Get on with it!’ … So I wanted to be amused by that, but at the same time, Philippa and Fran really wrote a tone for Thorin which I just enjoyed – they gave me some great lines to say, great phrase structures. So you’re right – the Shakespearean stuff was really useful.
GD: With all that you bring to Thorin, people – especially those who don’t know what’s coming – will be devastated in Film 3!
RA: If they haven’t read the book… I know. [with gleeful excitement] Oh it’s so good. I can’t even begin to tell you – it’s so good … The way that’s structured – I know we’re not supposed to talk about it, but it’s … at every level it surpassed my expectation. You know, you think to yourself, ‘It could be like this,’ – and Pete makes it better. And you’re surprised and excited by where he’s taken you. And that moment at the end of [the first film] – that scene was originally somewhere else, and because they were crafting a new ending, he shifted it to that place, and I was slightly annoyed that we’d already shot the scene and he wanted to shoot it again. But at the end of that day, everyone was in floods of tears. It was our last day of filming, and we all had a little whisper with each other that we were going to … that when I hugged Martin, that everyone was going to join in the hug – so that was the last shot. Everyone was just so emotional – and Pete gets it, Pete understands that … He gets you to that place where you’re just on the edge of emotion; you’re not indulging it but you’re … when they see the mountain in the distance, I could barely speak – I was so moved that they’d got so far, yet the mountain was so far away.
GD: That must make your job easier, to work with a director who helps you to find that emotional resonance.
RA: Without asking you, without telling you what’s he’s doing – so you find yourself there because he’s drawn you there, but he doesn’t tell you where he’s taking you. Amazing – that’s a true genius.
GD: So what’s next – apart from growing that beard back for pick ups?
RA: God I can’t wait! I miss that beard! It was really weird. I hated it when I had it, and then when I shaved it off, I was like, ‘Where’s my chin?!’
GD: Do you think this film could bring beards back into fashion?
RA: It could – I actually think beards for women – coz when you see those dwarf women ….I actually I think beards for women could be a thing. I think some serious footwear – this winter or next winter maybe, you know those big heavy dwarf boots with big, steel toe caps – that could really rock …
GD: Dwarf fashion for women? Pink beards?
RA: Big pink beard… Fake fur stole… So apart from fashion designing, what’s next for me?! [much laughter]
I just don’t know; I really don’t know. I’ve been reading all sorts of really interesting things, but I sort of wanted to let people see the film, and … because I guess I am pretty new on the block, and people don’t really know my work … and I just want them to know my work.
GD: A whole new world of superstardom awaits you!
RA: Well I don’t know about that… but I’m not very good at telling people that I’m a decent actor … I don’t even know if I am … but I want people to react to it. I’m not good at promoting myself through speech – I’m better at showing them.
And show them he certainly does, as the world will see when The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens next week. Armitage, Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen make an extraordinary triumvirate which gives the film its emotional core; whatever he may say, this interviewer for one is certain that superstardom is just around the corner for Richard Armitage!
Later that afternoon, he sat down with a group of folks at a ‘round table’ interview; of course I couldn’t resist sticking around to hear more of what he had to say. (Plus I had to be sure that my knees had recovered before I ventured out into the street…!) Stay tuned for a second post, with more of this thoughtful gentleman’s insightful remarks!