We chat to Richard Armitage about the darker role of Thorin in The Hobbit sequel

You could say Richard Armitage has been preparing to play Thorin in ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy his entire life. Having read the book as a schoolboy, he appeared on stage playing an elf in an amateur production of ‘The Hobbit’ while still a boy scout. His knowledge of his character and of the world of Middle Earth created by Tolkien is astounding. He’s studied all of Tolkien’s work, including the appendices and researched biographies of the author to get a better understanding of the Dwarves and their origin. We caught up with him to talk about the importance of his character in the second installment of Peter Jackson’s trilogy, which opens in Irish cinemas this month.

Is it fair to say that things get darker for your character in the next two Hobbit movies?
For sure, Its one of the reasons I think Peter was keen to make the first movie as light as possible and keep a lot of humour in there, because the story gets darker and darker as it goes along. It becomes a more twisted story as the rise of the evil approaches … but it will be ok to take your kids to, Peter knows what he’s doing.

The big challenge for a movie in the middle of a trilogy, same as ‘The Two Towers’, is to follow a great opening with a big climax in the middle, and then finish with a fantastic finale. They’ve really achieved that without bending the story around too much. My character; Thorin, achieves what he set out to achieve in the first movie, which is to find the hidden door to the mountain and get inside. He really hasn’t planned too much past that moment. That’s where you enter the part of the story that goes a little bit off the rails. He didn’t have too many ideas in place other than engaging Bilbo Baggins as a burglar. Also the character starts to get a sense of what his goal is, you see the beginning of a psychological deterioration in him, just the tiniest hint of it.

What was Peter Jackson originally looking for when casting a Dwarf?
It was always an ongoing question for me, even during filming; I don’t know what he was looking for. It was a good thing to keep asking myself. I think he wanted big guys to play these roles, so when he would reduce the size of our bodies we would look like warriors. He wanted weight inside the character, he was looking for a certain fighting ability. Thorin was the age to be a fading flame but still had the potential to be a leader or a king, so he couldn’t be too geriatric. There’s a melancholy that I bring to the role that is appealing in terms of the pain of the character.

Thorin is a very complex character, was it tough to get into his headspace before going on set?
The physical transformation changed the way I moved and helped get into character. I changed my voice a bit, I was constantly doing voice work to keep it where I wanted to be. Regarding his headspace, I concentrated all the time on what he was looking for and his inner life. Thorin was always driven by what had happened to him in the past, so I had to keep his past alive in my head.

How difficult was that physical transformation? Was there a grueling make-up session every day to get into character?
It started as a bit of a marathon but you have to get used to it, it would have taken the same time very day, probably two and half hours from beginning to end, arriving in the trailer to putting on the costume and being ready for set. It became part of the ritual, I used the time to get into character, think about what we were going to do that day.

Have things changed much for you since the release of the first film? Are you recognized more on the street or mobbed by Tolkien fans?
Not at all, thankfully; the character is enough of a transformation and I’m pleased with that. He’s such an odd looking character, he belongs in the movie, you wouldn’t want to see him walking down the street. He’s not of this world, he’s of Middle Earth.

 

As a youngster you appeared on stage in a play of ‘The Hobbit’, what role did you play?
‘The Hobbit’ was read to me in school and this was the first time I was ever on stage, I think it was a Scouts play. I ended up auditioning for it again at the Alex theatre in Birmingham, I played an Elf, just a generic elf. We acted out the scene in the forest where the elves lure the Dwarves into a trap with eating and drinking, which is a scene I remember fondly. Its weird to now come back at the age of 40 and come full circle filming the same scenes in the movie version.

Being in a play, you must have read ‘The Hobbit’ early on in life. How familiar were you with the wide world of Tolkien before you started shooting ‘The Hobbit’?
Its so thrilling when you work with literature. I knew we were going to be using Tolkien’s appendices, which were part inspiration for the movie, so I looked at those. I read ‘Lord Of The Rings’, I then read ‘The Silmarillion’ because I wanted to find out where the Dwarfs came from and why Tolkien created them the way that he did.
Then of course you have loads of biographies written about Tolkien, I felt it was important to find out why he’d written the story, what his inspirations were. There were early drafts of ‘The Hobbit’ where he gave the characters different names, so you can figure out why he made changes, which often leads you to find out what he was really after when he gave birth to those characters. It was a great rich place to go when researching the character.

One of your earliest roles listed online is in ‘Star Wars, The Phantom Menace’ How did you get a role in one of the biggest franchises ever and can we see you if we go back and watch the movie?
I was still a drama school student, I worked on the film for about a week. I was dressed in a fighter pilot costume one day, but dressed in bits of sticky green tape the next day, so realized I could end up just being a computer generated image. I’ve watched the movie a lot and can never find myself, I think I might have ended up being one of those CGI droids.

Words : Vincent Donnelly

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug is at cinemas from Dec 13th