Richard Armitage Talks 'Hobbit' And Thorin Oakenshield, Takes A Phone Call From Sauron
Standing well over 6' tall, with an athletic frame and impeccably coiffed hair, Richard Armitage the silhouette screams matinee idol, which makes it all the more impressive that Richard Armitage the person screams "Dwarf!"
But, then, this isn't your older brother's axe wielding, pipe smoking, occasionally tossed comic relief.
As Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of a band of not so merry dwarves looking to reclaim their ancestral homeland from the ravages of the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Armitage takes his first bold, steely-eyed, heroic steps into the world of Middle Earth, embodying with method exactness the badass anti-hero of J.R.R. Tolkien's original.
Before that, though… a little bit of fun. Armitage recently sat down with Movieline in New York City where he revealed the physicality of being a dwarf, his facility for speaking in tongues, his hard fought battle scars, and the number one reason you should always answer an interrupting telephone.
Movieline: Here's what we can do. We can do the entire interview in Khuzdul [the fictional language created by J.R.R. Tolkien for the dwarves of Middle Earth].
Do you speak dwarvish?
I speak some dwarvish.
Do you speak it fluently?
There isn't really that much [in The Hobbit].
Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu!
No. You can't fool me. That's from Lord of the Rings.*
Do you know dwarf sign language?
[Huge laughter from Armitage as he crosses one forearm perpendicularly over the other, giving an especially vigorous non-dwarf signal.]
Yes, any dwarf could understand that. But, no, this is a real thing. Tolkien made dwarf sign language because, you know, it's too loud to talk in the mines.
Actually, we did work with Terry Notary and we did work on a kind of sign language. That scene in Bag End where Dwalin head butts Balin as a dwarf greeting — it's a visceral, physical greeting. The language implies [physicality] as well. Physical sort of found its way into the vocal for me.
Physical as in changing your body? Is there a physical choreography to being a dwarf? A way to walk?
It's sort of informed by the skeleton of these creatures because they're not really human. Their center of gravity is much lower, their torsos longer — which was really tough for me because I'm the other way around. I've got really long legs and a short body. So all of my belts were down here on my hips, and slowly they work their way up to where your waist is. I was constantly having to pull them down.
There were other things we worked on — chewing up the ground as you walk. You know, when a dwarf starts running it takes a long time to stop. They're very heavy, very stooped trains. They can't stop immediately. Like, they'll crash through a wall. Their bone structure is heavy and solid. And those huge boots, which I think are going to be a big fashion statement next year.
Why not a trend following all these hot dwarves?
[Laughs] Oh yeah, we were baking!
Dwarves baking wasn't what I think these websites that listed 'hot dwarves' were thinking. Was there ever advice or conversation with John Rhys Davies [who played Gimli the dwarf in Lord of the Rings]?
Was there something in his performance that you ever looked at?
No. He came to visit and said hello. But we started from scratch.
With this dwarf physicality, were you able to escape unscathed from all these battle scenes?
I put my tooth through my lip when we were shooting the Battle of Azanulbizar. You see Thorin fighting six orcs. And we choreographed it on the ground and then filmed it on platforms so everything gets higher by about two feet. I actually smacked myself in the face with the shield and had this huge swollen lip that was bleeding down my neck. I was so angry at myself. You know when you hit yourself? I was so bloody angry. And then Andy [Serkis] came and showed me a mirror. I was like, 'Oh God.' He said, 'Do you want to carry on?' I said, 'Yeah, cause it looks good.' It looked really good. It looked really kind of real.
In the original film, both Elijah [Wood] and Andy [Serkis] were able to take props home. If I go to your house will I see Orcrist above the mantle?
You have Orcrist in the umbrella stand. Cause I want to be able to pick it up. You also have the shield in the kitchen drawer. And on the wall you have the map and key. I've got the full kit. The only thing I wanted was the key. But I was very kindly —
[Armitage is cut off when the phone in the hotel room where we are conducting the interview rings, interrupting us.]
Do you need to answer that?
Maybe I should. It's Sauron. You can tell by his ring.
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