Boys and girls, do I have a treat for you. For those of us who didn’t get to attend the Q&A with Richard Armitage, this is the next best thing to being there for now, thanks to groovergreen. I have also included some photos taken during last night’s session courtesy of my peeps at Twitter.
Groovergreen, I owe you a big one, mate (oh, and why don’t you have you own blog, little missy??) Enjoy!!
Greetings, everyone, from the middle of the Sydney night, the sleepless aftermath of the Richard Armitage love-in at the Orpheum Picture Palace! Thanks to the Popcorn Taxi’s The Hobbit Q and A, 700 of us had our first chance to quiz Mr Armitage directly — unmediated by media — to gaze admiringly on his magnificence and to ponder: How can the gods devolve so much power of enchantment on just one human being?
Reckon the Popcorn Taxi boss could have used a bit of that, for he warned us against letting our love flow too freely. “I suggest you deal with the wetness on your seats,” said he with such delightful delicacy and tact. Bewdy, mate, thanks, will do.
Despite having been interviewed to within an inch of his life this week, RA was tireless and gracious, and for 45 minutes we sat rapt in his bass-baritone eloquence as he expounded on life in Middle Earth. He scrubbed up all right, too, in sleek white shirt with skinny neo-Modernist tie, jacket of a peculiar green-gold hue and exquisitely tight (tight, I said!) black jeans. Ooh!
No digital recording was allowed, so I cracked a notebook – an old-fashioned paper notebook — and transcribed almost all the Q and A in shorthand. (Well, as best as I could in the dark and while bedazzled by RA.) So though this may be superseded by an official transcript in days to come, I reckon that between Lady 0akenshield’s pictures from the front row and my own humble offering we have this one covered for at least the next 24 hours in the fandom. You will see where I have paraphrased some things for better flow and sense, but mostly I have preserved RA’s words.
A big thank you to Angie the Fedora Lady for hosting this transcript on her wonderful blog, The Armitage Effect!
First question of the evening: What has RA learned from playing Thorin that is useful to him in real life?
RA (with the winsome meekness that we adore but don’t quite understand): “I am not really a bold leader as a person, and I found in him a nobility that is about leading by example, not necessarily dictation. That is the best thing I have found for myself.”
To create Thorin’s distinctive look required prosthetics and heavy make-up (about $1.6 million worth, according to a report in a Sydney newspaper this week). Was RA shocked by how he looked in Thorin’s body?
“When I met Peter (Jackson), no, before I met Peter, I was given a character break-down and one thing it said was ‘you will be required to wear some prosthetics’. I knew there would be something, but it was extensive and the initial manifestation of Thorin was more extreme.’’ RA worked with make-up artist Tami Lane to tone it down, including Thorin’s wild eye-flashing.
“I didn’t want to be inhibited in any way. The key to seeing into Thorin’s heart is through his eyes. When the makeup came off, my face was much more animated than I am as a person, but I think that is because all the facial muscles had been exercised a lot more.’
How differently might today’s audiences and readers interpret The Hobbit compared with the original readers in the 1930s?
RA: “I read Tolkien’s biography and he talked a lot about his experiences in World War I. That he lost his fellowship was what he was writing about, and the rise of evil… but we are living in a time when we send other people’s children off to fight battles. The idea of dwarves exiled from their homeland pervades across times, I think.’’
Amid chortling about his “266 days of hard work emoting through Thorin’s hot and heavy costume and make-up’’, RA was asked whether he had fun on the Hobbit set.
“I have got to say that most of the fun was off the set,’’ he said, explaining that Thorin required all his concentration. “He isn’t a big bag of laughs, I’ve got to be honest,’’ he said. “But for me, I have fun when I’m stretching myself fully.”
The cross-cultural exchange among the dwarves actors kept the amusement factor high too, he said. ‘’Without the British and the Kiwis, the coming together of those two cultures, it wouldn’t have been as much fun. I’m looking forward to seeing them again. We have 10 more weeks of shooting. We haven’t done a single frame of the Battle of the Five Armies. Actually I think it might be the Battle of the Six Armies. I started training again at the end of January so I could swing that heavy sword around you are talking about. I’ve had practice; I was very close to taking it to the gym with me. I didn’t bring it with me now. I would never have got it through security.”
Popcorn Taxi host: “I’m determined to find out some of the stories that haven’t been told and retold about fun on set — such as director being put in embarrassing situations?”
“Our director put himself in very embarrassing situations,’’ RA replied, recounting a complicated shoot in which Thorin had to run down a tree trunk. “Peter said ‘this is how you do it’. He came down that tree trunk so fast his pants fell down around his ankles and the film crew kept on filming it. So somewhere there is a film with Peter Jackson with his pants around his ankles. For Peter’s 50th birthday we decided to make a naked dwarves calendar. As you know, dwarves when they take their clothes off have a lot of padding , and the calendar featured dwarves of the movie in various compromising positions. There is only one copy. Graham wanted to make more but I said absolutely not, and there is only one copy.”
Host: “Did you have a strategically placed piece of oak?”
RA: “What happened in the calendar stays in the calendar!”
Host: “In The Hobbit you sing a song, Misty Mountain. You were a song and dance man before you went into the more serious side of drama. What was it like returning to singing in a production?”
RA: “I did a production of The Hobbit when I was 13, and it was a musical, really. I know that Tolkien had written lots of songs through the literature. I was really excited there were going to be these songs in it. (Hobbit co-writer) Fran Walsh wrote the tune to this song, and I was honoured to be asked to take it on. (For research) I listened to a lot of Russian church music. I listened to a Welsh male voice choir. We took the pitch down and down and down … I wanted to keep recording it until the end of time because I was not ever happy with it.’’
The audience was then invited to ask questions, and one was about The Hobbit’s horses.
“I love my horse, her name is Shaman and she and I became very close,” RA said. “She had her long hair thing going and so did I. We would ride the horses out on location at the weekends… In the Tolkien literature it describes dwarves as not liking horses because they don’t ride very well, which I was slightly annoyed about because I was in love with my horse.’’
How much control was RA given over the way Thorin looked?
RA: “I remember asking for more grey at the sides (of his hair) because I felt it would give him more age. I originally conceived Thorin as being like a bison and I wanted better body bulk. That included the pelt he wears. When I didn’t have the pelt on I felt I was missing a part of him.”
A fan helplessly entranced by RA’s voice (like us all, really), complained the Misty Mountains song was too short and might there be an extended version in the offing? “I know Neil Finn did it but it isn’t as good,’’ she said with complete lack of finesse.
RA: “It is quite long. If that song had been any longer I think people would have been quite impatient. There was a moment when I nearly got to sing the song at the end. Nearly. But Neil Finn did a version of the final song which extended and developed it, which I absolutely love. I am hoping there will be more singing in movies two and three.”
The next inquisitor was a woman who asked RA how he had met Geraldine, and when he was going home. Er, no dear, this is not a Vicar of Dibley time warp.
Q: “How did you imagine Thorin as a child compared with the role under Peter’s vision?”
RA: “I do remember very clearly reading the book as a 12-year-old, and then as a slightly older 12-year-old man. I had seen him as a bit older. But the important thing was that he was the potential king who can return to his people and show his prowess on the battlefield. He was older than I am, but he still had the prowess to swing that sword around.”
RA was asked about working with Sir Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman and who is apparently noted for unusual behaviour.
RA: “I hate to admit it but I never worked with Christopher Lee. I don’t like to give away too many secrets of filming but all of Christopher’s stuff was shot in the UK because he was too old to travel, so I never got to meet him.”
Q: “If you hadn’t been cast as Thorin, who would you like to have been cast as?”
RA: “You tell me!” He likes the portrayal of Beorn: “He really lives up to the images of him I had as a kid.”
Q: ”How did it feel to play Thorin, then see him on screen?’’
RA: “It was really surprising. I actually thought I hadn’t done very much in the first movie and that most of my work was in movies two and three.” He explained that Peter Jackson had chosen to give Thorin more and extended scenes. “I hadn’t looked at what he had chosen. I was pretty pleased. He made Thorin look awesome. It was his doing, not mine.”
Jackson, he said, tended to make decisions on the run: “It was always very difficult to get Peter to sit down … he likes to have these conversations when the camera is rolling.”
Q: what are the differences between doing a movie such as The Hobbit and television?
RA: “The main thing is time. When you have a budget like The Hobbit had it buys you so much time; in particular, time to experiment. And working on a green screen. I had never done that before. I was nervous of it. But it does fire up your imagination.”
Q: ‘What personal life experiences helped you shape Thorin?”
RA: “I suppose the thing I really love about Thorin is that he does have a fear of what he is going to do. He is on a path to something that is thrilling. He will get to be a king and he will accumulate a huge amount of wealth. But in that mountain is the most terrifying thing he has ever experienced in his life … I assimilate that to a holocaust of some kind, the bomb dropping on Hiroshima and the devastation it caused … He is walking towards something that he wants to do but it is repelling him. That dichotomy is the most appealing thing.’’
RA is noted for preferring to do his own stunts on film. Asked about his favourite stunt in The Hobbit, he nominated the scene in which the mountain splits open, Bilbo falls off the side and Thorin has to save him.
‘’It was one I didn’t know I was going to be able to do,’’ he said. “Just getting on the horse and doing something your stunt double has shot is really thrilling. Not that it gives you a sense of heroism, but it makes you feel like you are living the character.”
Speaking of that, how about the one RA is named after? Does he still plan to play Richard III on film?
RA: “Many, many plans but they are all in my mind at the moment. There is a possibility but it is a matter of when and how. Maybe I’ll be too old to do it.’’ (Collective groan of disbelief from the Armitage Army in the front rows.)
Q: “You have played a lot of dark, brooding, grumpy characters. What would you say about casting to type? Are you looking forward to choosing different sorts of roles in future?”
RA: “I always get very nervous when I read something that is close to myself. I predict I won’t get it, because I am better at playing someone very far away from myself. I fantasise about playing the romantic lead character, but I don’t think my face suits that.’’ (More groans.)
Host: “You’re right. I think you look inherently evil.”
RA also talked about The Hobbit’s spectacular sequence known as Scene 88: ‘‘It felt like we were running through the whole of the North and South islands. But it was so great to be out in those locations, to see them, because I might never see them again. I did have to tape up my ankles, though, because the ground was so incredibly uneven.”
Q: “Will Smaug (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Thorin be in the room together (in Hobbit 2 and 3)? I wonder whether that has happened or whether you have talked about it.”
RA: “That is a pretty awesome thought. I went into the motion capture studio because I wanted to see how Ben worked – I’m a huge fan of his — so we did cross paths. I love the fact that they cast him because it means the dragon will have an incredible intellect and an incredible voice. I also think they may be able to use certain aspects of his bone structure in the face of the dragon, but nobody knows yet. But I don’t know if Thorin and Smaug ever come face to face. That is something I will find out when we do the reshooting. I hope so.”
Alas, time dances too merrily away in the Dionysian presence of Mr Armitage. And so to the final question: If there were one question he could ask of Thorin Oakenshield, what would it be?
“The thing I want to know, that I’ve tried to fill in in my little biography, is: Who was the love of his life? I felt he had made a sacrifice in his life, that he gave up something for his people, for his quest, and I imagine there would have been a princess he would have been betrothed to as King Under The Mountain. So that is probably what I would ask Thorin.”
Then, to a standing ovation and with a bashful smile, RA was gone … out the wrong exit, whereupon an usher gently led him across the cinema and we shamelessly turned our mobile phone cameras on those long, sleek legs, that nose, that FACE in those precious last seconds of his being there.
Safe travels, Mr Armitage, and thank you for an evening that was well worth my journey of 1000km!
Wasn’t this a wonderful report, folks? As I said, next best thing to being there . . . give groovergreen some love and let us know what you think of the Qs and As!