Richard Armitage: Hesitant Hero

During filming of The Hobbit, Richard Armitage felt the same way as the character he was playing – paranoid and inadequate, writes Neala Johnson.

World, meet Richard Armitage.

If this handsome gent isn’t already familiar from UK TV shows such as Spooks and Robin Hood, he will be come Boxing Day when he marches, a fully formed hero, into cinemas as part of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

It is fair to say, however, that 41-year-old Armitage was, if not a reluctant hero, a doubtful one.

At first, he didn’t even think he should be playing Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf prince thrust into leading the dwarves of Middle-earth after the battlefield death of his father King Thrain.

“Sorry, I’ve got glue all over my face,” says Armitage, having come straight from the make-up trailer to the dining tent at Jackson’s Wellington studios, where The Hobbit was shot.

As he pulls up a chair, he recalls it was July 2010 when he first auditioned for Jackson and Co.

“I was about to go off and do something else when I got a call saying they wanted to offer me the part, at which point we all laughed and said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous, I can’t pay a dwarf!’

“I still didn’t quite believe I was doing it until about three weeks into filming.

“And I still have flashes of, ‘What are they doing? Why on earth am I here? What is going on?’”

As he spoke, Armitage was three months into shooting what would become a trilogy of Hobbit films.

In part one, An Unexpected Journey, Thorin leads a company of 12 dwarves, along with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), towards their home, long ago stolen by the dragon Smaug.

Yet, even one-third through the shoot, Armitage remained unsure as to whether he could fully embody Thorin – especially in the story’s latter stages, when, as in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, he succumbs to insanity.

“I feel exactly the same way that the character feels, which is … paranoid and inadequate. You’re given the responsibility and you think ‘Why have you given me this responsibility?’

“And the character thinks the same thing, ‘Why has this come to me? Why am I expected to carry this burden? All the men don’t think I’m up to it and they may be right … they may be wrong’.

“So yeah,” he concludes with a wry grin, “paranoia.”

Fast-forward to last month’s world premiere of The Hobbit in Wellington and there was no doubt Armitage had pulled off the heroic feat.

His Thorin has been likened to Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn, the break-out heartthrob hero of The Lord of the Rings.

And the Englishman certainly looks every inch the rugged idol plastered across the side of an Air New Zealand jumbo.

Even Armitage, who couldn’t bring himself to watch the early playback footage on set – “I listened to it!” – finally saw the film at the premiere. His verdict: Thorin is one pretty cool dwarf.

“Because the character was such a transformation – which I absolutely adored, I couldn’t work without the prosthetics – because I couldn’t recognize myself, it was much easier to watch.”

While Armitage’s transformation into a dwarf wasn’t as extreme, or hairy, as some of the other actors had to endure (each dwarf carried about 30kg of extra weight), the prosthetics did take time to get used to.

“When you first put it on, you want to take it off. But by the end of the day it just feels like your own face. I grew my own beard because the stick-on beard was driving me mad.”

That The Hobbit is much lighter in tone than The Lord of the Rings films largely comes down to the all-singing, all-jolly Company of Dwarves. Well, except Thorin.

“I’m not the comic relief,” Armitage admits glumly. “I’m trying to give Thorin a sense of humour, looking for opportunities to let him laugh, but there aren’t that many.

“There’s been a lot of wrong-doing to the dwarves and he takes it on his shoulders.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens Boxing Day.

Source 1, 2, and typed up by me :)