Richard Armitage talks about his role as the dwarf king in the epic conclusion to the Hobbit trilogy
IN the upcoming epic blockbuster The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, the Dwarves of Erebor led by their courageous prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) have reclaimed the vast wealth of their homeland and have to face the terrifying dragon Smaug (the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch).
Thorin now succumbs to “dragon-sickness” and sacrifices friendship and honour in his search for the legendary Arkenstone. With Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) unable to help Thorin see reason, he is driven to make a desperate and dangerous choice, not knowing that even greater perils lie ahead.
Meanwhile, an ancient enemy has returned to Middle-earth. Sauron, the Dark Lord, has sent forth legions of Orcs in a stealth attack upon the Lonely Mountain. As darkness converges on their escalating conflict, the races of Dwarves, Elves and Men must decide — unite or be destroyed.
As five great armies go to war, Bilbo is forced to fight for his life and the lives of his friends.
Armitage, who has essayed the fierce, brave and loyal Dwarf Warrior determined to restore the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, observes that what should be the end of Thorin’s journey is actually the beginning of a much darker, internal one.
“In some ways, reclaiming the great wealth of his people brings Thorin back to life and ignites the great King that he has the potential to be. But it exacts a heavy price — greed, paranoia, the alienation of his friends. As soon as his skin comes in contact with that particular gold, it seeps into his soul and poisons him.”
Adapted from J. R. R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is the epic conclusion to the trilogy films from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson.
The Hobbit trilogy is a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before The Lord Of The Rings, which Jackson and his team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar-winning The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King.
The international ensemble cast include Evangeline Lilly, Luke Evans, Lee Pace, Billy Connolly, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Graham McTavish, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Mikael Persbrandt.
Armitage shares more:
What are Thorin’s challenges in the film?
Something occurred to me quite recently — and partly because of the way the films are divided — most of Thorin’s character construct is about the Quest and achieving a goal, which he achieves by the end the second film. He reaches the mountain and they expel the Dragon. So he’s managed to do everything he’s set out to do, and then the third movie happens, and then it’s like “And then what?” There is no plan beyond this moment.
It’s something quite interesting about the character. He’s at his best when he has a plan in action, whether or not he’s been able to carry that out. He’s made mistakes over the first two instalments of the story, but I don’t think he has a plan for what happens next. Unfortunately, what happens next is the descent into madness, the same fate that befell his grandfather, and that isolation and denial of his pledge becomes the catalyst for the armies to rally to the Lonely Mountain to come and claim their gold. He digs his heels in and it causes a political rut in Middle-earth.
Would you call him a natural-born leader?
I suppose. As the heir apparent, he was groomed for that purpose. It was taken away from him when Erebor fell, but he led his people out into the wilderness and they built themselves a new life, a new community and a new Kingdom, albeit down-at-heel. And leading his small group of people — his band of Dwarves — back to the Mountain has been something inherent in him, whether or not he’s made the right choices. But revealed throughout are Thorin’s character flaws that come to the forefront in this final part of the story — his stubbornness and stoicism, which I believe have been galvanised in him because of what happened when Erebor fell in his childhood. He’s lived through this, he’s not going to see a Kingdom fall again once reclaimed. He’s once bitten, twice shy. His skin is tougher.
Can you relate to his character?
Definitely. The stubbornness. I think I’m even-handed and open-minded, but if I’m wronged by someone, as much as I try to forgive and forget, I find it very, very difficult. I do harbour something deep down that may manifest itself as a grudge in older age. It hasn’t yet but it may. But I also believe I’m honourable and loyal. As a person, I try to be the best I can, like Thorin. I also have a lot to prove.
Were there people on this film project that you couldn’t wait to work with?
The key players, really. After watching The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you sit through the credits. People like (Weta Workshop’s) Richard Taylor, (production designer) Dan Hennah, (cinematographer) Andrew Lesnie, obviously Peter (Jackson), Fran (Walsh) and Philippa (Boyens).I knew their names long before I met them. I knew their work before I met them. Even (composer) Howard Shore. Although you wouldn’t say we work with him, exactly, but I went in to watch him score some of the first and second film. I see that as part of the process.
So, all of these people, they’re all collaborators and people that I actually idolise. Obviously, on a day-to-day basis, getting to know Dan Hennah, and Andrew and Richard Taylor and Peter, Fran and Phil, was special because they were as open-minded and collaborative as I’d heard they were. Particularly Richard. When you go to Richard Taylor and you talk about the weaponry that we were going to use, and the armour that he built for us — the way he adapted it around our ideas was amazing.
What about the cast?
Of course, all the Dwarves — such a great group of dedicated, resilient and fun professionals who work so hard every day to deliver the story for Pete. I admire them all immensely.
Three actors had a huge impact on me. Obviously, Ian McKellen. The first time I walked on set with him as Gandalf, I was star-struck and slightly character-struck, but Ian has become a very good friend of mine and it’s because we worked closely together. Hugo Weaving was another person I was excited and nervous to meet. We’d crossed paths very briefly on Captain America, just before I came to do this, so I’d had a little sneak preview of Hugo. Very, very early on, when I didn’t really know anybody, I was sitting in the dining tent and he came over and sat down. It was a very easy relationship. And then Cate Blanchett . maybe it’s the Aussie temperament. We had nothing to do with each other screen but we passed on the press tour and she’s an incredible woman. I think it’s because I admired them all as artistes as well.
What do you miss about New Zealand?
There’s an ease to the way New Zealand functions; primarily the people. There’s a very relaxed atmosphere. Despite the very high profile nature of the movie, we were left alone. No one was really followed around by cameras or paparazzi and living in Wellington was very much an outdoors-relaxed lifestyle, and I really miss it actually.
Presumably, they’re fiercely proud of these films?
They paint their airplanes with the pictures of the characters. They’ve painted a Dragon and a couple of the Dwarves, I think. Yeah, they’re fiercely proud and they should be because without New Zealand, there would be none of these Middle-earth films. And, also, what the movies have done for tourism in New Zealand is quite phenomenal.
You must’ve felt like walking through Middle-earth when you arrived in New Zealand?
Oh, yeah. There were days when we would reach the location, which was so difficult to get to — you’d have to go by helicopter. You find yourself in this place, and they’d set up base camp, and you’d think, “I’m on the other side of the planet. I’m as close as you can get to the Antarctic continent, standing on top of a mountain, shooting a movie.” Yeah, it’s like being transported to Middle-earth. It’s the only way I can describe it.
Are there particular scenes that stand out for you?
Yeah, the battle scenes. They’re the most memorable because they’re the most physically challenging. But we spend a lot of this film inside the mountain, so it was the most confined, claustrophobic part of the filming process for me. It was when we saw the most of Erebor, so we’d walk on set every day and different parts of the Mountain had been built.
Did you go a bit stir-crazy?
I think I potentially did, and I allowed that claustrophobic thing in. But it was good. Every day there was a new set to play on. And Peter worked with the set in a very moveable way. He had a model and he’d re-configure parts of it, so it would change daily, and then they would shift the set around. It made Erebor feel infinite. As Thorin descends later into the depths of Erebor, you feel this is an entire universe inside this mountain.
Are you amazed at the way Peter can multi-task so well?
I think it’s probably the greatest skill that he has — that he can contain it all in his head, in real time, and not lose his concentration or be distracted. But, at the same time, when you’re with him, he’s totally absorbed in the moment that you’re involved in. It’s the only thing that’s happening in his universe for the time you’re with him. But the depths of his skill mean he’s already editing it together and fitting it into the bigger picture. And that picture is not just the entire three Hobbit movies, but all of the Rings movies as well. He’s got all of that in his mind. He can reference any moment.
Does that make you feel awed at times?
It makes you trust him because you know that he’ll pick a moment and he’ll say, “This will link into that moment in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, when that happened,” or something like that, and you’ll think, “Oh my goodness-you can connect a vein between those two moments.” It’s why the six movies will fit alongside each other very, very well.
Have you had any memorable fan encounters?
I usually get to hold these plastic ‘pop’ figures — they look like little Manga things, with big eyes. I’m often signing the head of one of those, of my character. The most surprising thing is the ‘cosplay,’ when you go to Comic-Con, or at the Berlin premiere, there were lots of people dressed up as the character. They’ve had three years now to make their costumes, and they are good — really good. They spend a lot of money on them. They’ll weave their own cloth, things like that. And I did see a Thorin tattoo with my name — quite recently. I was like, “Please tell me that’s not real.” But it was — and quite a big one. It’s just so permanent.
It must be odd, coming from a theatre background, dealing with this?
Yeah, because in the theatre, you shut the rehearsal room door and no one’s allowed in until you present the work; whereas in this kind of world, everyone has read about your character and has an opinion about your character before you even begin to investigate it, which can be quite off-putting at the beginning.
What has been your take on the fans’ expectation of the character?
Everybody’s version of the character is just different in their imagination. It’s my job to realise that, but I only have my version of the character. He became a little different from what I was initially imagining, so there’s a slight dissatisfaction in me when I started to create him. I don’t look like the character I’ve got in mind or I don’t feel like him, and that’s when you start to build the character around your vision of it. But slowly the foundations settle and we build him like a monument until it became very difficult to imagine another version of this character. That’s what spending three years and longer with him does.
Did you read around the topic, taking in books written about The Hobbit?
I did, yeah, and I looked at a lot of The Silmarillion; I looked at The Book Of Lost Tales. I looked at a much earlier draft of The Hobbit, in which J.R.R. Tolkien had made certain choices about the character and then decided to change them. So, I thought I’d try and figure out why he made changes to his original draft — as much as I could possibly glean about what it means to be a Dwarf in the Dwarf kingdom.
How did you finally react when you saw yourself shrunken on screen?
The first time we dressed up as the character and I saw the screen test, I didn’t recognise myself and I was slightly disturbed by what I was seeing. I liked the haggard, aged look of the character, but he did morph into something that was more accessible. It was very important that we were able to read every emotion on his face. I would have liked to have had all my own face, but that’s the compromise. It still doesn’t make sense to me, in terms of the scale thing. I never felt like I was only 5’ 2”— and sometimes when I see it I think, “They’re quite small, aren’t they?” — which is possibly what a Dwarf’s life must be like.
I get that as a tall person. I’m 6’ 3”, and when I was doing The Crucible on stage, it wasn’t until I saw some stills taken where I thought, “I’m quite considerably taller than everyone else in the cast.” But I never felt it. I do remember that scene in the Lake-town square and seeing Thorin and thinking, “Have they made him too small?” I think there is a scale thing that feels right. If the Dwarves are too small and the Elves are too big, it doesn’t feel real. Middle-earth is not so different from the diversity of scale and features which we recognise in our global melting pot of race, creed and culture.
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