A few months back, Click’s Daniel Anderson had the pleasure of sitting for a chat with Thorin Oakenshield himself, that’s British actor Richard Armitage. And with The Desolation of Smaug (read our review) now in cinemas, it's time to reveal everything we talked about!
The 42 year old was best known for his TV roles in the likes of North and South, Robin Hood and Spooks before nabbing the role of the possible King Under the Mountain in Peter Jackson’s new trilogy. And the newly bolstered position of the character has seen him become one of the most important figures in this alternative take on Tolkein’s book.
Here, Armitage takes questions from his fans and discusses the additions to the character as well as digital doubles, books and his dream movie project.
This interview was a one on one in London on the 28th of September 2013.
CLICK: I was going to start with some questions from Tumblr.
RA: Yes I am aware of Tumblr.
CLICK: Have you looked yourself up?
CLICK: I asked our fans if they had any questions for you. Then I was going to ask you one where you write it down so I could take a picture.
RA: Oh ok
CLICK: To start with - Are you a cat or dog person?
RA: I’m a dog person. I don’t have a dog but if I were to have an animal it certainly wouldn’t be a bloody cat!
CLICK: And why is that?
RA: Cos they’re just temperamental and dogs are just cute and faithful [scribbling]
CLICK: Ok! So you haven’t gone onto Tumblr?There’s an entire pagededicated to pictures of you with cats.
CLICK: And there’s also the Armitage army
RA: Oh I know the Armitage army. Have you got another piece of paper? [Scribbles]
CLICK: Another question was about the watch you wear a lot…
RA: Is it this one? [pulls up sleeve]
CLICK: Yes! Is that important to you?
RA: This was a prop from Spooks!
RA: Which they turned up to say that the woman from Swatch is coming to give you one for your character, there were three of them. And you know Swatch is like those rubber watches. And they turned up and these were like Omega watches and they said yea they’re the same company! So I picked this watch for the character which I thought was kind of cool and when the series ended they said ‘we can’t sell this so you can have it!’ and I’ve never owned an omega watch before so I said ‘I’ll take that!’
CLICK: So it’s now the fancy watch you wear everywhere?!
RA: Well I don’t know I never thought it was fancy at the time and I kept leaving it in the gym and they kept saying I shouldn’t because it’s quite an expensive watch. But it’s managed to keep finding its way back to me so it’s my favourite watch, it’s my only watch!
CLICK: Cool! And the final one from fans – what’s your favourite book?
RA: Ooh god I don’t know…
CLICK: Or what you’re reading right now?
RA: I’m reading a book called Stiff. Its non-fiction and it’s about our modern perception of cadavers. How they’re used and abused compared to the Victorian use of cadavers. It’s a really interesting book actually – plastic surgeons practise on dead human heads.
CLICK: Good to know…
RA: It’s an interesting book!
CLICK: I’ll ask some questions about the movie now!
RA: What movie!? Oh yea the Hobbit!
CLICK: You’ve done musical theatre, regular theatre, TV and movies did you ever imagine you’d work on something like this scale. Did you aspire to it?
RA: I absolutely aspired to be on something of this scale but never imagined that I would. I remember going into my agents office when they were casting Lord of the Rings and asking if I could be in the movie and he was like ‘they cast it a long time ago and they’re not going to see you’. And I sort of walked away very disappointed. So when I finally got a call from that same agent saying that Peter Jackson wanted to meet me for The Hobbit I thought that maybe I earned the right to go in and at least meet with him. And then when he casts you you realise it’s actually going to happen and it ends up being a dream come true.
CLICK: And you’re part of movie history now.
RA: Yea. I don’t know if these movie swill ever get remade. I don’t know if they’ll remake Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit so you think that maybe I’m in the only film version that will ever be. Maybe not, maybe in 40 years someone will try again but I’d be surprised.
CLICK: You read the book as a child as most people do. With that history does it feel strange to read the extra material? Almost like a director’s cut version of Tolkien?
RA: I think Tolkien himself was a bit of an extended edition kind of guy because he wrote The Hobbit and then in a way The Lord of the Rings kind of becomes an extended edition of that. It’s almost like The Hobbit is a blueprint. He obviously created Middle-earth and then became more fascinated with it and wrote more. And then the Silmarillion or the other way around. So he gave the whole place an evolution and genesis. It’s like Peter doing the same thing. And it’s him picking up the book in the same way storytellers tell a tale slightly differently each time. And I think Tolkien probably was doing the same thing.
CLICK: In terms of the changes the big one in the first film is that there’s lots more with Thorin. Did that surprise you in the script?
RA: It evolved beyond the first script but yea it did surprise me. Until I realised that they were using a lot of the appendices from the Lord of the Rings where it does go into a lot of detail about the dwarves of Erebor. And it does make sense because I think otherwise it’s just a treasure hunt. And to understand it as something which is much more of a political event and something which is on a grander scale other than just 13 dwarves going to try to find a bit of gold. It enables you to invest a bit further into the world.
CLICK: There’s also more material with the Arkenstone and that lust for gold which makes your noble character more flawed. Does that make it more interesting for you to play as well?
RA: Yea but at the same time we were trying to balance it out. The early drive in him was to achieve what his father failed to achieve, to take his people back to their homeland. And then the next level of that is that there’s this huge pile of gold. That’s part of taking the people back to their homeland. Then it becomes much more singular. So he sort of starts on quite a wide path and then it becomes incredibly narrow minded. And it becomes about greed and personal greed so that was us giving him a kind of journey arc. Otherwise it is just like we said Thorin sitting there talking about how much he wants his gold back. It’s hard to invest in that character.
CLICK: You also have the addition of a new antagonist in Azog, that continues in the second film?
RA: It does. In a way the antagonism with Azog is relevant because it’s kind of an obstacle which is stopping Thorin from achieving what he set out to achieve. It’s also a revenge story for his grandfather and a battle which is played out over decades. In a way they have one long fight which is never fulfilled. [Mysterious voice] Or so we think!
CLICK: And Thranduil is also a new foe, can you talk about that relationship?
RA: Yea what’s great about it is that it explains on a personal level why the dwarves and elves have an antagonism. It’s sort of always been there, it’s there in Lord of the Rings but it’s never quite explained. It means that the antagonism isn’t just inherited, that they’re just racist towards elves. It becomes very personal – when they were in great need the elves turned away. They had good reason to do that but Thorin doesn’t necessarily want to understand that. It meant they were then exiled and their whole world changed. So that kind of deeply embedded antagonism is part of the character and you see it come out in movie 2. They go head to head!
CLICK: I also noticed that the barrel scene seems to have been expanded upon, it’s now more of an action packed roller coaster with the barrels open. Is it a long action scene?
RA: Yea… I’ve seen bits of that. I guess because in the book they’re kind of enclosed in the barrels aren’t they?
CLICK: Yea they’re just sitting there for what feels like about a week!
RA: It’s funny because I’ve started to forget that version of the barrels and only think of ours! I guess again that’s Peter just opening up the story a bit so that the jeopardy is raised.
CLICK: Otherwise it might be a bit boring!
RA: Yea. I mean because on the movie screen watching some dwarves bobbing around in closed barrels it would be a little bit dark. I think that sequence is going to look pretty awesome. I’ve seen bits of it.
CLICK: You haven’t seen the finished film yet then?
RA: No. I’ve done some ADR looping and I’ve seen glimpses of finished shots but not much.
CLICK: I don’t know if you’ll tell me if I’m right but my guess is this movie ends right just after Bard kills the Dragon. Would you tell me if I was right?
RA: Um… I’m not going to tell you if you’re right…
CLICK: Dammit! I wondered if you knew it was always going to be Thorin for you? I read you mentioned Beorn somewhere…
RA: No I never auditioned for Beorn. I think I said I would like to have played Beorn. There was a very brief discussion at one point about Bard but that was because I couldn’t commit to the full length of the movie but that changed so they only ever read me for Thorin.
CLICK: The movies are complicated to make for the people behind the camera. Does it feel the same to you when you’re shooting for such a long time?
RA: It does and you know just in every department, the technical challenges that they have. You take on board those challenges and try to assist in making it easier. So what I mean by that is that in order to make the CGI look better, if the actor in the green screen box can somehow help out the CGI artist by being specific and clear about what they’re doing or your belief in what it is you’re seeing. That helps them to make it more real and that was the biggest challenge.
CLICK: So you could talk to the departments and find a way to work with them?
RA: Constantly, and also because we all live in the vicinity so we socialise with each other a lot. It’s a very open forum and sharing environment. Like my prosthetics artist on the pickups was Gino Acevedo.And he’s also a digital artist at Weta so he’d show me little bits and pieces that would help me to visualise what we were seeing. And Peter would come and show sketches or previs or even show finished CGI so that you could imagine what it was that you were going to see. Sometimes he deliberately didn’t so that things will take you by surprise. It was a big open forum.
CLICK: There are plenty of moments where you’re fully CG, is that strange? Can you tell?
RA: Um… I can tell when it’s the digital double but they’ve done some digital work on my stunt double, some face replacement at times because there are things that I saw even in the first movie and in the second movie where I’m like ‘that is definitely me but I don’t remember doing that!’ It could be because I was drunk at the time! There are things that I’m just surprised by. Yea.
CLICK: These movies might replace the book for some kids. Do you think they’ll always go back to the original?
RA: I hope so. I don’t know if kids read so much anymore and I kind of hope so because it’s not a difficult book to read.
CLICK: It’s short
RA: And I think if they read the book with us in mind that wouldn’t bother me. It’s kind of a charming book as well.
CLICK: Finally, you’ve done a Marvel movie and a massive Hobbit movie – are there any other massive franchises or stories you’d like to work on?
RA: I would kind of like to do a dark superhero.
CLICK: Oooh, ok.
RA: I would
CLICK: Who is one?
RA: I don’t know. A sort of an invisible man…
CLICK: A tortured one.
RA: Yea… I’ve got a big fantasy about remaking Metropolis. I don’t know that anyone will do it. I keep hinting to people about it – ‘no one’s remade Metropolis have they?’
CLICK: We should make a 3 hour art movie about robots, we totally should!
RA: It would be so cool.
CLICK: It would be amazing, but I don’t know what you’d do with it in 2013.
CLICK: It’s been made and it was good.
RA: Yea but you could do an even better remake.
CLICK: Full of CG and it would be about...
RA: About the haves and the have nots and the aspiration to the perfection of beauty.
CLICK: You would play the human or the robot?
RA: I think I’d play the human, I’d play some kind of grungy worker that’s trying to get to the surface. Come on tell me that wouldn’t be cool! I’ve just given it away now!
CLICK: It would be amazing! You have to get Peter Jackson to give four years of his life to that now!
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in cinemas now.
Read our interview with Lee Pace right here.