Oscar Hillerstrom: It’s an honour and a privilege to be here with you ladies and gentlemen. I think not many of you won’t know that Richard Armitage literally ran away to join the circus as a young chap. He has then continued down a career path which I think most people would have been quite happy with. We have seen him in North & South, Spooks, and of course as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood (applause & cheers) – some of you may have even seen these shows, I don’t know (laughter)… but it is the one moment where he had a meeting with some friendly New Zealanders in London – that changed his life, and changed our lives – because it’s a fruition of Actor, Director and soirée which has bought Thorin Oakenshield to life. And now ladies and gentlemen I’d like you to meet the Actor who has done just that. Put your hands together for Mr Richard Armitage.
Richard walked on stage to a deafening round of applause, looking relaxed and happy he greeted and waved to the audience, and then said hello to a few fans that he recognized who had been at a TV studio earlier on in the day. Some fan questions had been sent in from the Richard Armitage Army and Oscar was going to put those questions to Richard in the course of the interview.
Richard sat down in his chair opposite Oscar and they began to talk…
Oscar Hillerstrom: You brought yourself to Thorin Oakenshield. There’s so many facets of the role but at the same point this is a character that’s is indelible in the mind for many audience – What does in fact playing Thorin Oakenshield leave with you with as a person and an Actor?
Richard Armitage: I think it’s kind of an interesting question because I haven’t left Thorin Oakenshield yet. So, he’s kind of still with me, but I think the one thing I discovered about myself creating the role was the realization about leadership by example – because I’m not really a born leader as a person and I found in him a nobility which is about leading by example – not necessarily by dictation, so really, that’s the biggest thing I learnt for myself.
Oscar Hillerstrom: So if you’re in trouble… pick up a piece of wood and hit somebody…
Oscar Hillerstrom: Words to live by.
Oscar Hillerstrom: One of the most interesting things about this particular character is the heavy make-up that you work with. Were you surprised and shocked by how different you look onscreen – and was the acting process similar to say mask work where you’re trying to convey emotion through that makeup and the giant beards?
Richard Armitage: When I met Peter – you actually get a character breakdown and it does say ‘will be required to wear some prosthetics’ so I knew there would be something whether it was some ears or something like that. But it was extensive and the initial manifestation of Thorin was much greater than what you see there. They worked with my own face to try and make it look like it wasn’t too dramatic – which was a slow process – it changed throughout the course of the filming.
I did do mask work at drama school so it was useful to see my face and try and make it move in the mirror, and I spent a lot of time doing that. I also worked with Tammy my prosthetics artist to try and make sure that the flashing on the eyes wasn’t too heavy so I could move my eyebrows. And the eyes move in such a sensitive way that I didn’t want it to be prohibitive in any way because I felt that the key to seeing into Thorin’s heart was through his eyes, and I was nervous about having all of that on his face. But I think it worked out ok and when I took the prosthetic off, my face was much more animated than I normally am as a person, but that was because of the muscles being exercised a little bit more.
Oscar Hillerstrom: I think for most people the world of The Hobbit is filled with adventure and magic and the first question is What is it that you think is left behind for audiences today as opposed to the audience of Tolkien’s time who would have seen it as a direct metaphor for World War I?
Richard Armitage: Yeah, it was something that I discovered as I was researching the Hobbit, because I had read Tolkien’s biography and I think he talks a lot about his experiences of World War I. His losses informed him of what he was writing about, and the rise of evil in Europe was something very much in his head when he wrote the book. I think audiences of the time would have understood that more closely, but at the same time, we are living in a time where our children, our friends are going all across the world to fight battles. And particularly with the Dwarves the idea of an exiled people returning home trying to find their homeland, I mean that’s a story which pervades across time. So, all of these things resonate for you – they give you ideas, but at the same time we’re making a fantasy movie essentially aimed at young adults, so we just bear in mind try not to get too heavy or political about it.
Oscar Hillerstrom: That the most interesting thing because ultimately these films are innately fun, and I want to ask you about ‘the fun of it’ because obviously 266 days of hard work in heavy makeup, heavy battle gear and of course throwing Orcrist around it sounds like a very difficult job but at the same time it must be a hell of a lot of fun. I mean; how heavy is Orcrist to wave above your head? Is it just a piece of balsa wood or is it a lovely WETA work?
Richard Armitage: I’ve got to say most of the fun was had off set. (laughter). The first day I had all the costume on, makeup and everything, it was so hot and heavy (as you probably heard from all the other whinging actors on this movie winks) But I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want it to inhibit what I was doing and I knew that if I really concentrated on the character that I could try and have some fun with Thorin. He’s not a big bag of laugh’s – I’ve got to be honest. It was a challenge looking for a single moment to make him smile and obviously as the story goes on there are less and less of those moments. But, for me I have fun when I’m being tested and being pushed and this was an endurance test from the beginning to end. And if it hadn’t been for my fellow dwarves and that coming together of two cultures I really would have had a lot less fun. But we had such a great cast and I can’t wait to see them again.
Oscar Hillerstrom: Whilst you shot quite a lot of the trilogy, there’s still actually quite a bit more shooting to do – I was quite surprised at that.
Richard Armitage: Yeah, at the end of May we go back and we’ve got 10 more weeks of shooting. We haven’t shot a single frame of the Battle of the Five Armies. Actually I think it might be the Battle of the Six Armies…
Oscar Hillerstrom: Spoiler Alert!
Richard Armitage: cont… yeah, so we have to do that and also they would have edited the second movie and the third movie and decided they’ll need to get some new material, so that’s what we go back to shoot. 10 weeks of shooting is effectively enough time to make 2 small independent films. So you can imagine the scale of what we have to do. I started training again at the end of January so I could swing that heavy sword around we’ve been talking about. But I was gifted a replica of the sword at the end of the last year so I could practise with it. I was very close to taking it to the gym with me. winks
Oscar Hillerstrom: you didn’t bring it with you now though?
Richard Armitage: I didn’t bring it with me. I surely would never have got it through security.
Oscar Hillerstrom: I would have liked to have seen you go through Customs with that. ‘Well, I’m an Actor!’… It would have certainly taken them by surprise.
Oscar Hillerstrom: Now, you talk about having fun on the set and perhaps I’ll move into some of the stories that you may not have regurgitated previously. Perhaps one’s where the Director may have been put in a very embarrassing situation?
Richard Armitage: Our Director put himself in a very bad situation. He might not want me to tell this. You know at the end of the first film when you see Thorin on the tree and he’s about to attack Azog – I didn’t really know what people were shooting there. And I was trying to run down the tree trunk wearing these massive Dwarf boots and I obviously wasn’t coming down quick enough, so Pete got up on the tree and said ‘no, no, this is how you do it.’ He came running down so fast, so by the time he got to the bottom his pants had fallen down. He lost his pants in front of the entire crew and they had been filming it. So somewhere there is a video of Pete with his pants around ankles. (Audience in hysterical laughter)
Oscar Hillerstrom: ‘Sir’ Peter Jackson Ladies and Gentlemen (Audience laughing loudly all the way through this and the next ‘embarrassing moment’ tale) is not the first person to lose their trousers on the set of The Hobbit. I want to take you to a fan question about Dwarves Illustrated 2012.
Richard Armitage: This was actually my idea. Don’t let Graham McTavish tell you any different. This was my idea! It was Pete’s 50th Birthday and we decided we would create a Naked Dwarf Calendar. But of course you know what a naked dwarf looks like – we’re loaded with padding. So that was the joke. So basically every Dwarf was a different month in very compromising positions… (laughter erupted) in their fat suits or their colossus suits or whatever you call them. But there’s only one copy which Peter owns. Graham wanted to make more but I said absolutely not! There’s only one copy.
Oscar Hillerstrom: So for you obviously as Thorin Oakenshield, you had a strategically placed piece of oak or … ?
Audience: (clapping and laughing)
Richard Armitage: What happened in the calendars…? winks and laughs
Oscar Hillerstrom: Well that’s all we have time for from Mr December.
After this Oscar opened the Questioning up to the Audience