A TOTAL FILM INDONESIA FEATURE: RICHARD ARMITAGE
This is a folding cover. So Bilbo’s picture can be folded inside so that you get double The Hobbit covers. Last year we did Gandalf & Bilbo. This year, we decided to do Thorin and Bilbo because everyone in the office really liked Thorin’s pose (but Bilbo is a must). More info on Total Film Indonesia #49.
Long Live The King
This actor faces many dangers and finds plenty of inspiration to play his kingly role. How far would Richard Armitage go to breathe life into Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug?”
WORDS AMANDA AAYUSYA PORTRAIT SARAH DUNN
At more than six feet tall (according to his IMDb page, he’s 1.89 meters tall), Richard Armitage is as far from a regular dwarf’s height as possible. And with his calm and courteous attitude, he’s also far from villainy as possible. However, for some reason we can’t quite fathom, he has never been cast as a straight-up protagonist before being hired by Peter Jackson to play dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield. Just look at his Guy de Gisborn in the Robin Hood TV series, Lucas North in Spooks and Heinz Kruger in Captain America: The First Avenger (for those of you who didn’t notice him, he’s that guy who shot Stanley Tucci’s Abraham Erskine after Steve Rogers got buffed up by the super soldier serum).
That last one is his most famous flick before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, despite the short amount of screentime he got there. Armitage, however, made sure that he was in for the count by way of escaping via submarine, hitting Cap hard and finally committing suicide as he chokes out his last famous words: “Hail Hydra!” So it wasn’t for nothing that he took on a muscular Chris Evans… although he did have a near drowning experience. “It seems I’ve had a near-drowning experience on ever job I’ve done,” he sighs.
We don’t know where else he came face to face with that sort of scare, but Armitage did have to film on water in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, for a scene where Bilbo and the dwarfs made their run for freedom from Thranduil’s (Lee Pace’s elven king) dungeon on wine barrels. The iconic scene that’s been dubbed by the actors as ‘the barrel sequence’ was shot over 12 weeks on dangerous rapids in New Zealand’s North Island and the Pelorus River in South Island. The dwarfs are in the barrels… and the orcs are on their tails.
We imagine that the sequence has the same level of danger as a scene in the first episode of Strike Back: Origins, in which Armitage plays an English soldier named John Porter, next to another soldier played by a pre-The Walking Dead Andrew Lincoln. They both had to get on a helicopter and strap in while opening fire at the enemies. Alas, Armitage forgot the strapping in part and Lincoln had to pull him to stay on board. “I should buy him a drink for saving my life,” the actor jokes to Cinemax and that would be quite justified.
And we suppose that’s Armitage for you – he’s not as hilarious as his co-star Martin Freeman or as charming as Orlando Bloom, but when it comes to getting the job done, the man who left his leading role at Strike Back: Origins for Thorin is fearless. And not only that – he will take your breath away with the end result. To play a proud dwarf king with a shedload of ego and baggage? This is meat for the Leicester-born actor to sink his teeth into.
“Thorin’s not somebody I was in love with initially,” confessed Armitage, a longtime J.R.R. Tolkien fan with a purist streak in his love for the writer’s works. “I was often at odds with him and disagreeing with him,all the way trying to defend him. But I think I’ve found a place in him whereby the thing I loved about him was his loyalty to his men and the fact that he would fight to the death for them.”
Just being a dwarf is already a challenge, due to the numerous props and costume he carried on his person. When Total Film Indonesia spoke to Armitage in New York last year (check out TFI issue #38), he talked about the difficulties during the preparation period to play Thorin in the dwarf boot camp. “The boot camp consisted of really sort of basic physical training, starting from the ground, to try and feel the weight. So you’re on the ground and… how does a dwarf get up? As human beings, our skeleton is relatively light compared to a dwarf, who’s dense. If a dwarf runs, they carve up the ground. They create like a thorough in the ground because they’re so heavy.”
Having gone through principal shooting and pick-ups, he felt that there was no longer a huge size difference between dwarfs and humans. “I’ve never really found [the size difference] that strange because you just get used to it. I think Dwarfs have quite big egos and I don’t like seeing them reduced. There’s conversation going on about scale; I think when the Dwarves look too small, it’s shocking.”
To further embody Thorin, Armitage didn’t only depend on his physical abilities. Besides going back to the original book by Tolkien, he often tapped into the works of William Shakespeare for inspiration. “Macbeth was there somewhere and there was a bit of Henry V. Thorin is complicated and complex. Despite his shortcomings, we had to see him in the first half as a hero because then he’ll spiral down into corruption. So you need to give him somewhere to fall from.” Obviously we’re going to refrain from giving those who haven’t read the book any spoilers about Thorin, but heed Armitage’s words. “The closer he gets to the mountain, and the closer he gets to the gold, the dragon sickness starts to take hold of him. He becomes isolated and greed’s kind of consumed him.”
As if that’s not enough suffering, Thorin also has to spend time in Thranduil’s prison in Mirkwood. “I consider to be the lowest point in Thorin’s career,” Armitage said. “They’re stripped of all their belongings, of all their weapons and all hope is lost. That’s key to the character development in the second film. And that’s also the moment when Thorin realizes that Bilbo is not just one of the men on a Quest, that he’s actually going to be an asset.”
If any the Dwarf versus Elf rivalry will be exciting to watch. Armitage regretted to not having much of a chance working with Evangeline Lilly, who plays Tauriel (although, funnily enough, he recently spoke about how his nephew bought a hamster that bore Tauriel’s name), but there was plenty of fun to be had in facing off with Pace and Bloom. “I had a great scene with Lee, which was very, very satisfying to play,” he remarked. “Because it’s a chance to hear the voice of the Dwarfs staking their claim. With Orlando as well, there was a great scene where he takes Orcrist from Thorin and believes that Thorin has stolen it from the Elves because Orcrist is an Elvish blade.” In summary: “Yeah, I really enjoyed working with Lee and Orlando and Mikael [Persbrandt, as Beorn the skinchanger].”
As calm and collected as Armitage is in real life, there’s no denying his enthusiasm to act under Peter Jackson’s direction. “I’d go away the night before and imagine how the scene would be, and come back in and the first thing Peter would do was to tell me exactly what I’d imagined. I was like, ‘We really are on the same page.’ That was a brilliant thing,” he said, describing his collaborative process with Jackson, especially during the pick-ups. “In the final two weeks of pickups, it was very much myself and Peter working together. We were both pushed to the limit and we really got through the last week together. It was a relationship based on trust.”
It would be interesting to see how Thorin’s journey would climax in the third film, There And Back Again, when he leads the side of the good in the epic Battle of the Five Armies, an iconic part of the book. Although, if in An Unexpected Journey Thorin still exudes charm, The Desolation Of Smaug should show how the seeds of darkness have begun to grow… how far Armitage would take Thorin is definitely an attraction to behold, especially because the actor who has a legion of fans called The Armitage Army feels responsible to become Thorin’s voice in real life.
“People don’t really recognize me when they see me,” he said about his popularity. But when I met fans – like when we were doing the DVD release in Australia and I did a Q&A in a cinema – I really felt the enthusiasm for the movies, but also for the character. One of the great questions was, ‘Who was the love of Thorin’s life?’ which is something that I had thought about. People really invest in not just the character or the story, but the history of the character and the future of the character. It’s something that stimulates you when you’re developing a role.”
+ This is the English translation of my own Richard Armitage article featured in Total Film Indonesia Issue 49 (December 2013). It is a part of a 30-page coverage on The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. This article and the entire TDOS feature contain materials obtained from Warner Bros. Please buy the magazine because that is the most legal way you can read the article. No copyright infringement is intended by posting this interview in the article author’s blog.
+ One of the sources for this article is a roundtable junket interview for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in New York in 2012. Credit goes to Lisa Kuppler, TFI‘s correspondent for being the one to talk to Mr. Armitage and The Hobbit cast and writers during the junket.
+ I reserve the right to decline any request to provide or hi-res photos of Richard Armitage that appear in the magazine; due to copyright issues, please note that these photos are supposedly to be featured IN PRINT MEDIA only.
+ This interview – in either Indonesian or English – is not permitted to be posted anywhere else without permission in entirety (but linking and/or quoting allowed). If you are a website owner and want to translate this to another language other than English/Indonesian, please contact me in the comments and I will get back to you ASAP.