Richard Armitage comes to the end of The Hobbit.
Thorin’s quest is almost over. We quiz the tallest Dwarf on his character’s journey
When SFX quips that Thorin Oakenshield “goes a bit bananas” at the end of The Hobbit, Richard Armitage breaks into an uncharacteristic laugh. The British actor has a determined, intense look that suits the troubled Dwarf leader, but our observation has him chuckling. “Bananas! Yes, that’s the word I was looking for,” he says, pretending to take notes about the character he has made his own since his first appearance in 2012’ s An Unexpected Journey. In the climactic final instalment of Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien trilogy, Armitage’s character will be overcome by the dragon- sickness and lead his mountain people headlong into the titular Battle Of The Five Armies. As we sit down with him in the polished gentility of London’s Claridge’s hotel, he’s keen to tell us about the mental and physical journey Thorin’s undertaken… Thorin’s gone a long way. How is it to play the darker side of the character?
It was quite hard to gauge. One of the most interesting things I enjoyed working on was seeing how the dragon infuses Thorin; Smaug gets under his skin and he almost becomes the dragon. He saw his grandfather go mad. The clouds of doom overshadowed his grandfather and his father; so we’ve always known that these clouds have been gathering. The dragon- sickness. We played around early on when there were only two movies – as he got closer to the mountain and closer to the gold, the illness would start. Now that it’s three films, we’ve had to slightly delay the onset of the illness. So there are certain scenes out of the second film that we had to readjust so the madness didn’t kick in quite so quickly. The end of the second Hobbit film was pretty dramatic. Can we expect even more action in the third film?
Yes. Without giving too much away there’s a huge moment in the beginning of the third
“We prepared for the final battle a year before we fought”
film. Tolkien is such a great writer. He builds you to this point where you think the climax of his story is going to be around a particular event. He dispatches it very quickly, and then there’s the rest of the book to deal with! So that’s what happens. The great thing about the third film is that Peter’s able to take that little thing that Tolkien did and play with it. I think that the final third of this third film, which is a battle narrative, is not just a fight, it’s a complete story of its own. Were you a fan of Tolkien’s work before you started?
Yes, I read the Rings book a few times when I was a kid. The Hobbit was probably my first introduction to fantasy, at school. It was one of those books that I read alone for the first time without someone forcing me to read. So a lot of my imagination I think was formed through these books. It’s a story I know I’ll go back to and read again at some point in my life. Was there a lot of preparation for the final battle, training to fight with swords and axes?
It was one of the things about splitting the film into three that we were prepared for the final battle about a year before we got to actually fight! That was the most difficult side of it, keeping up the stamina that it was going to take for the final battle. No one knew what the battle was going to be like, how long it was going to be, until we actually started shooting it. So it was like an unknown quantity. But I’m now happy to say I don’t think there’s a single move that I shot that hasn’t been used. Peter’s used every single move that I did. How did you find his directing style?
Peter pushes the takes so that what he gets out of you ultimately is a kind of exhaustion. Particularly at this point of the journey, and particularly with regards to the beats of the battle. He’s not looking for superheroes; he’s looking for really gritty warriors. What it feels like to be on a battlefield at the end of your tether and exhausted. He certainly pushed me to that point, so there was a real fight for survival at the end for the character. So being part of it hasn’t put you off it? Quite the opposite. Peter’s moved on and taken the book with him, but he’s opened up the ideas of the world that Tolkien was never quite doing in the book. In a way, what Tolkien did was he went on to write Lord Of The Rings because of The Hobbit. I think he felt unfulfilled with The Hobbit and he wanted more and he wanted to expand on that idea. Peter has kept that river flowing in the same direction. How did you feel on the last day of filming? I remember the very last moment, when he called wrap. It was very emotional. Physically, I was sort of broken. Emotionally, it was a really great moment. [ Writers] Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh were there and they watched the last shot and came up and gave me a hug – because I think they
knew how much it had cost! The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies will be released on Friday 12 December.