MovieFIX reporter Yasmin Vought settled in for a chat with Richard Armitage while he was in Sydney this week to promote the DVD and Blu-Ray release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey where he told us a hilarious story about Peter Jackson's pants falling down, what it was like to go to dwarf boot camp and why Prince William, Duke of Cambridge would make a great elf. Read the full interview below.
How has your Australian stay been so far?
Richard: Yeah good, easy. I 've never been to Sydney before I've had a great time.
I've climbed the Sydney Harbour bridge, did karaoke, I've eaten a lot of crazy seafood.
Karaoke huh, did you go to Ding Dong Dangs?
Richard: Yes I did. I don't remember what I sang, but I can't seem to get [Bon Jovi's] 'Living on a Prayer' out of my head, so maybe it was that.
But I thought your voice was more baritone.
Richard: Yeah, so did I. Maybe I sang the baritone version of it.
So I know we can't ask you about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but can we ask you about Tauriel?
Richard: We like to call her towel rail. No I can't actually, I would be absolutely slaughtered. All I can say is that I love Evangeline [Lilly], very much.
I'm very curious about her character, because she wasn't in the books?
Richard: I'm quite curious! I think she's quite curious about her character aswell, because nobody really knows. I never really saw her doing any shooting. I saw her doing some weapons training, which looked awesome.
Evangeline Lilly as Tauriel / Walking the red carpet at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey world premiere.
Image credit: Warner Bros Pictures/Getty
And you went to dwarf boot camp for your training.
Richard: We did about eight weeks of learning how to walk like a dwarf, dwarf insults, wrestling and headbutting. They supposedly had a secret hand language, but we didn't quite manage to get that into the story because there just wasn't enough time to figure out what these hand signals were that they were doing.
But yeah it was interesting. We went into the woodlands to do a war improvisation and we started using these hand signals, like the SAS (Special Air Service) might. Which was fun.
You have your own lego character! That's pretty awesome.
Richard: There's one Thorin Lego which I'm very proud of. You now you've arrived when there's a Lego for your character.
This is why I was surprised that Tauriel had her own Lego figurine.
Richard: Well yeah, originally she was possibly going to be in movie one, so that's why a lot of those characters you would have seen already.
When you first read the book did you always feel a connection with Thorin's character?
Richard: No, when I read it as a kid, of course you follow Bilbo because that's what [JRR] Tolkien wants you to do. I loved Gollum, but I never thought that I might be playing Thorin.
Now I can't really imagine playing anything else, which is possibly a good thing. It's a sign of a connection with your character, because I'd thought about him a lot, read about him and had a connection with him.
266 days of filming is a long time with one character.
Richard: Yeah it is, but I think he'll stay in my head for a long time. I'm curious to see how he evolves for the second and third films. Because we shot it, but I don't quite remember what we did. I mean, I saw movie one and there were moments when I was like "I don't remember doing that".
Yeah because Peter Jackson could change it up wherever he wants from here.
Richard: Yeah, that's why we go back and shoot new stuff, because it's a new edit.
You've worked in television (The Vicar of Dibley, Spooks and Robin Hood to name a few) for such a long time, so that kind of character development over a long time must have been quite natural to you.
Richard: Well yeah, and realising I was going to have to work on this for 18 months and possibly longer. Part of the preparation for me was treating it as though I was going to be a longer running character. You've gotta be thorough with how you construct it. We are coming back nearly a year and a half on and you've got to start doing it again. I'll need to go back to my notes and remind myself of what those inspirations were that kind of got me to that place the first time around. So yeah, it's been a long term character.
What was the biggest challenge of the role?
Richard: The physical challenges, that was the endurance test really. When it comes to the physical thing, you just go to the gym and work hard and bear the heat and discomfort. It's not exactly rocket science, it's just about endurance.
One of the challenges I always found was that I came up with a voice for him and keeping my voice at that level was complicated, because your voice changes from morning to evening if you've done a lot of shouting the day before with fighting trying to keep a constant sound to him was challenging. But of course we can go back and do a lot of sound post-production.
The dwarves are very musical characters. Does Thorin get to pick up an instrument?
Richard: No there's no instruments, it was a real shame. There's a great picture in one of the books I had of Thorin and his golden harp. It would be a nice image to see him pull out something and sing a gentle song, but there's no room for it really. There's so much happening, there's so much action. I don't know, maybe at Beorn's house as they're settling down for the night. It was just never part of Peter's vision. In another version of the movie, maybe.
Which other actors did you bond with most of all, while making The Hobbit?
Richard: I worked quite closely with Jed [Brophy], because of the physical stuff and also Graham [McTavish] because our two characters played a lot together, so we did a lot of our fight training together. But also Aidan [Turner] and Dean [O'Gorman] because they're my nephews [in the film]. I love them both as characters and actors, they're just such lovely people.
Also Martin [Freeman] and Ian [McKellan] I spent a lot of time working with both of them. I can't even begin to tell you how great they are all as a family. I mean we were away from home, all of us apart from the kiwi guys that were half of the cast. But that meeting of two cultures was very much like the dwarves assembling from all areas of the Blue Mountains to come together and go on a quest. It matched and it was great, I'm looking forward to seeing them all again.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Ian McKellan as Gandalf.
Image credit: Warner Bros Pictures
Martin Freeman is such a funny guy too, did he get up to any practical jokes?
Richard: Constantly. Martin is just like a one man band. He's the most entertaining guy I have ever met. He's so funny. He can really pull out an emotional card aswell and be very moving. It always took me by surprise, because I'd be watching going "You're going to be funny now aren't you" and he wouldn't he'd move you.
There's a moment in movie three they said we couldn't talk about movie two but [not movie three], where he just did something and it kind of took me to the place I needed to go. He's just such a generous actor and incredibly funny.
Peter is so funny too. Did you have trouble understanding his New Zealand sense of humour.
Richard: I always understood it, it's very close to the British humour. There was one scene where Thorin was running down a log towards Azog and Peter was demonstrating to me how fast he wanted me to run, so he charged down the log and his trousers fell down at the bottom in front of the crew. But he just sort of pulled up his trousers and said, "well don't do it like that" and just went back into the tent. But it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
I could hear him chuckling over the microphone once he got inside the tent.
Has anyone ever told you, that you look like an elf? You should play an elf!
You should come over with the potential of doing some journalism and meet the casting director, they would put you in there. You're built like an elf.
I've always wanted to be an elf.
Richard: How tall are you?
Richard: You are already an elf.
Well I do play an elf in Dungeons and Dragons.
Richard: You should come over and pretend you're going to do an interview and I'll introduce you to Philippa [Boyens] and be like "cast her".
The female elves are very hard to find. It's a very specific look. You should do it.
When you met Prince William, you guys had a bit of a chat. Do you remember what he said?
Richard: I think I said something about him playing an elf because he's so tall. Of course he knocked it away and was like "no no no, not at all". And of course you get briefed on the protocal of what you should and shouldn't say and I was like "oh my goodness, I've said the wrong thing".
After the movie, I was sitting on the aisle and he left and he kind of walked past me and shook my hand and said "that was a really really great performance. Kate's going to love this when she gets to see it". My dad was like "What did he say?" I was like "Did you not hear him?" And my dad's like "no, I'm deaf, I didn't hear him".
That was one of those days that I felt very proud.
Orlando Bloom as Legolas / Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
Image credit: Warner Bros Pictures / Getty
Maybe the Queen will be at the next premiere.
Richard: I don't think she's into these movies very much.
But it would be so cool if the Queen was a fan of The Hobbit.
Richard: Do you know what, I was very happy with Prince William. It doesn't get much better than that.
Yeah, Prince William and I can be elves together for the third film.
Richard: You should definitely send your CV in. I met an elf in Australia and you should cast her!
One of the questions from my office was "How does it feel to be a heartthrob"?
Richard: Am I a heartthrob? *laughs* Thorin Oakenshield? Well I guess if someones' gonna run down a burning log and charge at the enemy. I mean I guess that's why I wanted to play him, because he's got a heroic side to him that I probably don't have.
I think they were actually referring to your television roles.
Richard: I always end up playing bad characters though, I never get the girl. Well I did in North & South.
Maybe that's one of the things that your fans like about you.
Richard: I do feel responsible for them. When I pick a job I'm always "Are they going to like this or are they going to hate it". I try to do stuff that they'll like, but I don't think I'll always be able to do that.
They're incredibly well read and very supportive. I sometimes do a bit of research by going on my own websites, because they're always reading some great book.
You started out in theatre.
Richard: It's all I ever did really. I went to drama school because I was a theatre actor and then I joined for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the television film thing I met a lot of American film actors and they talked a lot about film acting and I never had that heritage. I'm all about the script and the characters.
So it's a surprise to me to end up in recorded media.
I keep saying it and people don't believe me, but every year I plan on doing a play. It just never comes together, because something else gets in the way. I am going to do it in the next year or so.
I heard that you were on painkillers for the first Hobbit audition. What's the story behind that?
Richard: I'd been shooting a scene for the final season of Spooks and I'd injured my back. I had the casting the following morning, I couldn't get out of bed, I could barely carry my bag. So I took loads of painkillers and got on the train to go to the casting, but by the time I got into the city the pain just hadn't gone away, so I took loads more painkillers and kinda walked in holding my bag like this and sat on my hands for the casting.
It probably informed the pain of the character a little bit maybe I just looked old and grumpy.
You've also said that you're shy at parties.
Richard: Yeah I am, but once I have a drink inside me I'm not. I get on the dance floor and I'm an animal. I'm good once I get to know people. I'm not very good at talking to a lot of people at the same time. If I can't focus on one person, I get kind of itchy especially at a party when someone's talking to you and they're looking all around, I'm like "are you talking to me or are you talking to everybody else?"
Did you feel as though new Zealand had become your home?
Richard: Yeah. I was totally seduced by it. I started looking for a place to buy, because I want to live there. Everyone's so friendly and relaxed and they can afford to be, because the place they live in is so pristine and their lifestyle is easy compared to where I came from. I loved the lifestyle, I can't wait to get back!
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out on Blu-ray and DVD today! Vote 'want to see' or 'not interested' on MovieBuzz!
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Then check out Richard's interview with Nine Network's Mornings show below.
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