THE MAKINGS OF A KING. A commanding gentleman from the North of England, Richard Armitage only seeks out acting roles that take him to the edge. He speaks with DA MAN
Suit and sweater by Armani Collezioni
Though you will likely recognize Richard Armitage from his days playing action-hero roles on acclaimed British TV exports such as “Spooks” and “Strike Back,” he is now moving to higher ground. This winter, he returns as the awe-inspiring warrior King Thorin Oakenshield in director Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.” An actor who knows what he likes, the strapping Armitage has a penchant for dark and challenging roles, which allow him to give a powerful and adrenaline-charged performance. Born in Leicestershire in the north of England, the relentless Armitage still believes he has a long way to go in the field of acting. We look forward to watching him climb to very top.
DA MAN: Richard, you’re starring in the momentous final installment of “The Hobbit.” Without giving too much away, what do we have to look forward to?
Richard Armitage: It’s the last piece of Peter Jackson’s explorations of Tolkien’s works about Middle Earth, so expect the big finale before the curtain falls. There is a big clue in the title, but rest assured that a pretty spectacular battle is coming your way. As for my character Thorin, he is spiraling downwards but will rise again like all the best tragic heroes in literature.
DA: What have you most enjoyed about playing Thorin Oakenshield, the King of the Dwarves?
RA: I’ve enjoyed the duality of playing a troubled being that is weighed down by the burdens of his past yet hopeful in searching for a lost treasure and the chance of reclaiming his throne. Thorin has to overcome fear of failure but also the dreaded dragon sickness, which makes him lust after gold over everything else. However, he has one of Tolkien’s most legendary weapons on his side, the “Orcrist” sword, and, boy, does he know how to use it!
DA: You’re nearly 190cm in height, was it tough to envisage yourself as a dwarf?
RA: Yes, I laughed when they told me I was going to be a dwarf. I still can’t see Thorin as vertically challenged, which has actually been key to understanding him because he’s a legendary warrior that stands head and shoulders above those in Middle Earth, metaphorically. What’s more, we spent nearly two years acting like much bigger versions of ourselves so that when Peter Jackson worked his digital magic, we didn’t look like children, but heavyset, bison-like warriors.
“People like to dress me up as James Bond, but I’m happiest in jeans and a T-shirt”
DA: Incredible. And can we ask how long Thorin’s hair and makeup took?
RA: The first attempt was six hours, but the brilliant and highly skilled Tami Lane (on prosthetics) and Jennifer Stanfield (hair and makeup) got it down to two and a half hours in the end.
DA: What has it been like working with illustrious director Peter Jackson?
RA: Peter fights for something beyond excellence, he moves cinema forward. It’s an uncompromising style and I found myself in a place of intense creativity, with a lot of pressure to go beyond what I thought I was capable of in order to find Thorin. Peter guided me, listened to me, laughed at me, broke me and made me look better than I really am. We tried to make Thorin aspirational for all his fatal flaws, we wanted him to be “great” in the true sense of the word, someone we would remember and who was worthy to be spoken about in Tolkien’s universe for years to come.
DA: You spent two years shooting in beautiful New Zealand. How was this experience?
RA: Incredible, beyond words. I still sense New Zealand. I remember the sunrises of Paradise in the south and the fiery sunsets of Nelson in the north. We were so often at the mercy of the weather, like when a descending mist stranded half of the crew, but also the wonderful human elements, such as when I ended up trying to speaking Maori to a native Maori crowd!
DA: You’ve previously appeared on British TV shows such as “Spooks” and “Strike Back” that have become popular globally. What made these shows so successful?
RA: Both had their fingers on a political pulse, with great characters in impossible situations. It’s all about a great story being well told and a good helping of gripping action and engaging locations on the side.
DA: It seems you often play commanding, masculine roles. Is there a part of you that identifies with such characters?
RA: I aspire to them. I’ve realized over the years that I like to look at fallibility, rebirth and inner conflict. When that is presented from within the commanding presence of a powerful man (or dwarf), it garners a certain dramatic tension. It’s why Titanic that sinks and towers that fall fill us with such terror. I’m not really into fairytales and happy endings. I think it’s why I die a lot on screen and only got married once. We live in a paternal world, and hacking away at the foundations of the seemingly indestructible is very satisfying.
DA: So with this in mind, we take it we won’t be seeing you in any romantic comedies?
RA: I always feel like a fake when I read that material, I’m just better at the other stuff that involves melancholia and irony. I look better in the dark!
Shirt by Calvin Klein Collection
DA: You’re one of a growing community of English actors now living and having considerable success in the US. Why do you think this is happening?
RA: Perhaps it’s connected to the last question. Brooding distain, dark humor and irony, all provide great contrast to that “all-American” feel-good factor, but it’s always about balance. I also think there is a great literary tradition in Europe: script first, picture later. It can be the reverse in the US. Again, it’s about a good balance of opposites.
DA: From other British actors we’ve met, we often hear about some kind of competition between people from the north of England and people from the south. Can you please explain this to us?
RA: Well, ironically it’s coming up to the 10th anniversary of a BBC drama show I did called “North and South” that pretty much explains it all. Essentially, the division originates from an industrial north and a serenely pastoral south that were products of the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. Though it’s not so much the case now, the north was all about coal mining, steel making, ship building and “grand theft auto,” while in the south folks would be going to shop at Harrods and see cultural performances at The Royal Albert Hall. Needless to say, the Queen lives in the south of England!
DA: Though your career is dominated by TV and movie appearances. We understand that you recently got back on stage?
RA: Yes, I played John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s masterpiece “The Crucible,” which was performed at The Old Vic Theater in London and directed by Yael Farber. It was a great event; we sold out and received rave reviews. I couldn’t have asked for a better return to the stage after a 12-year absence.
DA: Do you still get nerves before you go stage in front of a large audience?
RA: Not nerves for the audience, but nerves for what it is I’m about to take the character through. With my character Proctor in “The Crucible,” it was huge, like climbing a mountain. It was an extremely detailed and emotionally destabilizing role; it was a three-and-a-half-hour play, sometimes twice a day. I’d ask myself, “Can I do this to myself (or rather John Proctor) again?” I shed so many tears during those 12 weeks, I sometimes felt like I had nothing left.
“I don’t feel like I’ve earned my acting spurs yet … I believe that I’ve got so much further to go”
DA: How did you earn your acting spurs earlier on in your career?
RA: Actually, I don’t feel like I’ve earned my acting spurs yet. Proctor was a big moment for me, but I believe that I’ve got so much further to go. Thorin was also a very significant role, deeply complex and Shakespearean in its scale. Often the fantasy genre is disregarded by critics, but thankfully not by audiences.
DA: What is the most important quality that an actor should possess?
Shirt by Burberry Brit
DA: What rules do you live your life by?
RA: Treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself—thanks Mum!
DA: What advice would you give to your younger self?
RA: Practice your cello harder, and take that offer to be part of the Leicestershire Schools Symphony Orchestra.
Outfit by Burberry Brit
DA: How would you describe your own personal style?
RA: Effort-full. People like to dress me up as James Bond, but I’m happiest in jeans and a T-shirt, with dirt on me, doing something manual. Otherwise, everyone looks good in a well-fitted, white button-down shirt and aviators.
DA: It seems like you have a pretty hectic schedule. What do you do to relax?
RA: I’m pretty relaxed now … I must be enjoying myself! [Laughs]
DA: We have a New Year coming up in 2015. Do you have any resolutions?
RA: Read more, dream more, smile more, eat less, complain less, frown less. That’s enough for now.
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling Alexa Rangroummith Green
Subscribe to the magazine or click here to find out where to pick up the December 2014/January 2015 issue of DA MAN.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE