The Hobbit challenged Richard Armitage
LOS ANGELES—A year ago, the name Richard Armitage wouldn’t have turned many heads outside of England. Now, the man who was previously best known as an assassin in Captain America: The First Avenger and for portraying Guy of Gisborne in the television series Robin Hood finds himself on billboards across North America while being lauded as one of the hottest actors in show business. That’s what happens when you play a famous literary character in a giant film adaptation, as Armitage did in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey—even if the character is a dwarf.
Armitage returns as King of Dwarves Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (now playing in Vancouver), the second installment in director Peter Jackson’s trilogy derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. And although Captain America was certainly a big-budget film, Armitage’s scenes were not of the green-screen variety, making The Hobbit his first experience with such technology. “There’s something kind of exciting about that, because Pete’s focus is going to be on the living and breathing beings in the room. He’s just focusing on you,” Armitage says during a private interview with the Georgia Straight in a Los Angeles hotel, speaking about a sequence in which he and his gang of dwarves fight the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). “And then you have to create the world in your imagination, which is really good fun. It’s like being a kid for a day.”
Another scene, this one involving a battle against gigantic spiders, required the actors to thrust, parry, and stab at thin air. “What I liked about it was that we were creating our own little fight and Pete was saying, ‘Just show me a few moves and give the digital animators something to work against.’ So we really created our own fights, which was a lot of fun. You get creative,” says Armitage, noting that he had extensive practice in swordplay from his time on the set of Robin Hood.
Though The Hobbit is obviously spread over three movies, they were filmed back-to-back, with the cast going back earlier this year for 12 weeks to put in some additional material. “‘Gruelling’ is a good way to describe it,” says the exhausted-sounding actor. “It was physically demanding, just because getting into the costume every day took so long, and the weight and heat of the costume. But I kept trying to embrace that and train for it so I could be fit and ready.”
Though the Leicester, U.K., native is gradually coming to accept his newfound fame, it’s still an evolving process. “I think that was my first premiere on a red carpet,” he says, referencing Captain America. “Which I found daunting, and it never really gets any easier. It was good to bring the world premiere of the second [Hobbit] movie to L.A., though. I really enjoyed that.”