Richard Armitage brought the sexy back to Middle Earth. The star of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy plays Thorin Oakenshield, the heir to the throne of the dwarves, who is on a mission to recapture Erebor and the treasure hoarded by the dragon Smaug. It’s a character Richard Armitage has had an opportunity to expand from the novels, delving into the heroic nature of Thorin and transforming him into a more dashing figure than he was in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original book. But in this weekend’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin has achieved his goals and fallen prey to the madness that stems from acquiring untold riches. (And STILL he’s charismatic!)
I talked to Richard Armitage on the phone about the differences between the novel and the motion picture trilogy, and the seemingly rapid descent into paranoia that befalls his character in the final film in the series. We also talked about the influence Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Smaug had on his own performance in The Battle of the Five Armies, how Tolkien’s life story impacted his portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield and his favorite scene from all of the films.
CraveOnline: I know a lot of people who never thought they would be attracted to a dwarf from a Tolkien movie until they saw you.
Richard Armitage: [Laughs.] Yeah, I still find it a bit weird to think of it in that way, but hey, I’ll take it.
You get to take a character who, in the original book, is a bit more allegorical, and you get to turn him into a heroic figure. That must have been an interesting job to do.
Yeah, in those first few chapters of the book, Tolkien really has him as a bit of a fuddy-duddy, someone who’s quite stoic and a bit boring. Then he turns on a little bit. So we took some elements of that and tried to feed into something that was going to play over three films that the audience will be able to engage with. Because really, the character is really the spine of the story and all of the villains that come up, in way, they just hang off his story. They just hang off the spine, which is the quest to Erebor. So it was important that we created something that was aspirational, you know?
Yeah, his motivation is much more about his people than about gold in this trilogy. Which is why it’s interesting to watch the third film, to see him go a little crazy. It seems to come on very quickly. That must have been a challenge.
It has been a bit of a split focus, because the thing that sets him on the road is to try and reclaim the wealth, because with wealth comes the reestablishment of his kingdom. But when he actually gets in the presence of the gold, it has this corrupting effect on him, and takes him down that path he watched his grandfather tread. It’s got a fatalistic taste to it.
“I think in every actor there’s a certain amount of paranoia…”
What’s that like, creating a character who has all of these deep emotional connections with the supporting cast, and then all of a sudden you have to get very paranoid about it? How do you know when you’re going too far?
You know, I think in every actor there’s a certain amount of paranoia anyway. There’s just something you [latch] into. It was about making the character as inconsistent as possible. Normally when you make a film and you put a character together you try to keep them consistent, so I sort of deliberately didn’t do that. I let him have really quite extreme mood swings, and so one moment he seems very clear and lighthearted, and then the next minute he goes to a very dark place. So I wanted to him to feel a little bit schizophrenic. But it was something Peter [Jackson] has sort of chosen in the edit, so really the final shape of the character is in Peter’s hand.
So how was it different on the day? Did you try different shadings?
Yeah, we tried all kinds of extremes. We tried quite softer readings of the scene and then he’d really push you to a place that felt sometimes abstract, and what’s really interesting me is that the takes chosen are all of the extremes that we went for. There’s a version of the scene where you think it’s much too far… the moment where Thorin starts to become a dragon a little bit. I’d gone into the soundstage and watched Benedict [Cumberbatch] recording Smaug’s voice, so I made some of the sounds he was making, I did some of the movements he was making. So it was good. It was fine-tuning, which I really enjoyed.