Breaking Through The Shield: ‘The Hobbit’s’ Richard Armitage

By Zaki Jufri in New ZealandMovies - 05 December 2013 12:00 AM | Updated 07 December 2013

Breaking Through The Shield: ‘The Hobbit’s’ Richard Armitage

If there is one thing that Richard Armitage has learnt from his role as a dwarven leader who leads a group of dwarfs, a hobbit and a wizard on a perilous journey across Middle Earth, it would have to be humility.

“Being Thorin has taught me to own a sense of humility and honour. It has taught me to question my judgment, because Thorin goes through quite a process of looking at himself and changing because of Bilbo Baggins. I guess I’ve done the same thing,” said the British actor.

The 42-year-old plays Thorin Oakenshield, heir apparent to the dwarven throne in the second instalment of Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy.

‘The Desolation of Smaug’ sees Thorin take the reins from wizard Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), as he leads Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his ragtag army to The Lonely Mountain to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor from the clutches of evil dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch).

A lot of responsibility for one dwarf, and a lot to ask of someone who had to step into the character's shoes, clothes and makeup everyday for more than two years.

"I think I've aged about 10 years," Armitage told inSing on the set of  ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ in Wellington, New Zealand.

“Because of having 250 prosthetics put on and taken off your face every day, I might need a bit of surgery when this is over,” he continued.

Sitting in the corner of a production tent in the cold New Zealand winter while a crew prepares for his next scene, Armitage is all decked out in dwarven regalia.

Born in Leicester, England, the classically trained Armitage got his first major television role as John Standring in the BBC drama ‘Sparkhouse’ in 2002. After several roles thereafter in various BBC productions, Armitage joined the cast of ‘Spooks’ in 2008 as spy Lucas North where he received praise from cast and critics.

cry baby
Armitage went from TV roles to leading man

When Peter Jackson announced that he was casting good-looking Armitage for the role of Thorin back in 2010, Tolkien fans were baffled. In Tolkien’s original text and most illustrations, Thorin Oakenshield is described as a gruff, squat figure with a long white beard.

“Thorin is a tough, heroic character, and he certainly should give Legolas and Aragorn a run for their money in the heartthrob stakes — despite being four feet tall,” Jackson said.

The director added, “Richard is a powerful actor with a wide range, and we’re very excited to be handing Thorn over to him. In this partnership, we need Richard to give us his depth, range, and emotion as an actor — and we’ll make him look like a dwarf!”

Armitage said that the first time he truly felt that he was embodying Thorin was during his first fight scene in ‘Unexpected Journey’.

“That’s when I felt like I knew who he was. And it took a while as we didn’t really get moving until four to five weeks in, and I figured that was because we’d prepared him as a warrior more than anything else.”

Besides sitting for hours on end on the makeup chair to transform himself into the heroic dwarf, Armitage counts filming the scene in which Bilbo and the dwarves travel downriver in empty wine barrels after escaping from the lair of the wood-elves as his most memorable Hobbit experience.

“Being ‘choppered’ to the top of a mountain and running around all day by a glacier in front of Mount Cook was pretty awesome,” he recalled.

“Being in those bloody barrels was like being at a fun fair for three days. In an unsinkable barrel getting dumped on with tons of water, the action was just relentless, and kind of frustrating, but fun at the same time. And I was like, ‘We will never have another day like that on a film set.’ I was like a child being on a constant rollercoaster all day. That was pretty amazing,” Armitage mused.

Filming the barrel scenes was like being on a rollercoaster all day for Armitage

He described his first day shooting on set as “one of a few pinch yourself moments” in his career, and he like every one else we spoke to, was enamoured by Jackson’s work ethic and his knowledge of anything ‘Middle Earth’, which Armitage describes as “encyclopaedic”.

“You can ask Peter anything of any reference in The Rings and he'll just pull it up out of nowhere. And when you work with him, he pushes you harder and harder and harder, and you think that's the last take and he'll always ask you for another one … and he's succinct with his notes, and his imagination is way beyond anything that I could ever perceive. He thinks big, which encourages you to think big and to be more."

That has lead to the actors pushing themselves to be better than they thought they could be.

Armitage added: "I think my creative mind has been opened more on this job than anything else. You come to work with loads of ideas in your head and he'll listen to everything. This has surpassed my expectations in terms of what I'm capable of. And I think it's surpassed his expectation of what he can ask you for. So everyone is going further than they ever believed they could.”

'The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies' opens 18 December 

Movie Photos

10 photos
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of...
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
  • The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

  • Rated
    PG13 /
    Adventure, Fantasy
  • Language
  • (6 Reviews)