SHOWBIZ: Dwarfed by his height

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Despite standing at 188cm, Richard Armitage tells Bibi Nurshuhada Ramli that he’s a bit like dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield

RICHARD Armitage may play a dwarf prince and warrior in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey but the British actor is 188mm tall in real life.

“I was very surprised when I got the call to play a 157cm dwarf,” says Armitage in an interview in New York recently.

“I’ve always been tall and sometimes have to stoop to converse with people who are not as tall. I’m envious of those who can stand straight when talking to people.”

For his character of Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit (now playing in cinemas), Armitage was given padded costumes to made him look bigger. His shoes also added more centimetres to his height.

However, thanks to filming technology, Armitage and his cast mates (who also wore padded costumes) were “shrunk” on camera.

“It was uncomfortable but, in retrospect, it fed the ego of a dwarf,” says Armitage. “I think dwarves have this pride within them, having achieved many feats despite their size.  These paddings helped create that feeling.”

Armitage started his career in musical theatre but had worked in TV and films. He also starred in Captain America: The First Avenger, and numerous TV series including Robin Hood, Spooks and North & South.

In The Hobbit, along with Gandalf The Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin and his league of dwarves tread on treacherous ground to try to recapture the lost kingdom of Erebor from the foul dragon Smaug.

Before shooting began, Armitage says he met up with Freeman for dinner. The latter had apparently read his script, but Armitage hadn’t. Freeman just looked at him and said, “Oh, you’ve got a lot to do,” sending him into a sort of panic for a moment.

Armitage soon came to realise that Thorin is no fun. “The dwarves would be having fun, but when he enters the room, everyone goes silent. He’s a bit like me actually,” he admits.

“I supposed I couldn’t allow Thorin to engage in banter because he takes himself seriously. He’s got the weight of this quest on his shoulders and he has to inspire others who have yet to see the terror of the dragon to come with him.”

He adds that he did look for moments when Thorin would laugh or smile although these were few and far between.
Read on for more of the interview with Armitage.

What did you think when you first read the script?
I was interested in the antagonism between Thorin and Gandalf, which is largely due to Gandalf’s inclination towards elves. Plus, the relationship between Thorin and Bilbo is more vivid than in the book. The screenwriters were focusing on a relationship that could possibly evolve or deteriorate.

Do you think Thorin is a good or bad guy?
I think he’s a good dwarf. He has nobility and honour. The floor that runs through him is this susceptibility to gold, which will consume him with greed and drive him insane. He knows it’s his destiny and it redeems him in a way. It sounds serious but it’s fun! (laughs). It’s fun to play Thorin and hunt for the Arkenstone. It’s like a treasure hunt.

Were you awestruck or afraid to enter the Tolkien universe?
No. I was like a kid. I couldn’t wait to get in there. There are two versions of the Bag End (Bilbo’s home) set. One is a Hobbit-sized, and another Gandalf-sized. The detail is just mind-blowing. Everything was custom-made for the films. It was like being a child stepping into wonderland. I had to tell myself, “Okay, now concentrate on Thorin. Stop being mesmerised by Middle Earth”.

Tell us about your training.
We worked with a stunt team to determine what kind of weapon we would use and how we would use it. The training regime worked around that. For me, it was about strengthening my spine and forearms, so that I could wield the Orcrist (Thorin’s sword).

What was it like working on a big-budget Hollywood film?
Interestingly enough, when you work with green screen, you’ll feel much closer to theatre. Although we were surrounded by green screen, I honestly don’t remember looking at it. My imagination was filling the screen with what was being described to me. Azog (the pale white Orc villain) is a perfect example. I hadn’t known how he was going to look like, but Peter had described it to me. In my head, that’s how I imagined him to be.

Was it fun working with Ian (McKellen)?
It was nerve-wrecking. It thought he was going to think that I’m utter rubbish. On our first day of working together, I was so full of fear but he helped solidify my character, in a way, by demonstrating how Gandalf would react to Thorin. It’s like playing tennis with the best player in the world. When he serves the ball, it will send me to the end of the court but it will also make me a better player. He has this strong presence, an aura, you could say, that makes everyone stare in awe. I was in the cinema to watch the film. When he entered, the audience hushed up and watched him, completely awestruck. You know what I mean, right?

What do you think of Martin (Freeman)?
He’s fascinating. He works in a completely different way than anyone I’ve worked with. Ian once said that Martin experiments in front of the camera. For a particular scene, Peter (Jackson) would have (Freeman) say a word over and over, and Martin has this incredible ability to do it differently each time. Even when he doesn’t have any dialogues, it’s mesmerising to watch him act.

What did you think of the 3D effects?
The first time I saw it, I was speechless because there was so much to see. And it’s seductive. At times I forgot to listen to what was being said because I was mesmerised by Cate Blanchett’s (as the Royal Elf Galadriel) costume wafting around. Of course, I needed to see it again. The second time, I told myself to focus on the story. And when the (giant) eagles come, my eyes were welling up because you can see their feathers fluttering in the wind and it was just beautiful. I love the fact that Peter is pushing cinema forward to get people to to watch this film.

What was it like to shoot in New Zealand for 18 months?
This movie couldn’t have been made anywhere else. It’s pristine wilderness. I remember my first day. I got into costume and took a helicopter ride to a field. It was just me there, and I looked around and said to myself, “Okay, this is Middle Earth. This is where all of the stories were told on The Lord Of The Rings.”

I loved the place. I learned to fish and ski, and I started to think of buying a place there. As a first-time angler, I came back with a handful of salmon. You should go there. Actually don’t! Stay away! Let’s build a fence around it as protection!

 

Armitage was enchanted by the beauty of New Zealand.


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