The title of director Peter Jackson’s long awaited return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe after a nine year absence might be titled The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (opening next Friday), but the story of this latest film belongs just as much to actor Richard Armitage as it does his diminutive friend.
In this prequel to the historically best-selling fantasy series of books and films, Armitage stars as one of Tolkien’s most beloved characters, dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, who looks to reclaim the lost homeland of his people with the help of great wizard Gandalf (returning Ian McKellen) and young Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) by his side.
Despite playing a long-standing character, however, the former BBC television star was a newcomer to a New Zealand production full of people Jackson works with almost like an extended family at this point.
“It was like (Jackson) was creating blood vessels to the other films,” Armitage said during a Toronto promotional appearance for the film about the on set vibe. “That family environment fed us. I think there’s something in the way Peter draws in that loyalty and the way people come back to him again and again that I took and kept for Thorin.”
The pressure of being the new guy on the block in such a prominent role also didn’t trouble the actor very much thanks to a deep love for Tolkien’s works going in.
“I read that book as a child and as an adult. I’m one of the fans that doesn’t want to see this character ruined by some idiot actor who thinks he knows better than Tolkien.”
An almost unwilling heartthrob in the UK, Armitage also relished the chance to grow out a beard and get down and dirty. It was rewarding to the actor in sometimes unexpected ways.
“I look better dark and dirty. Whenever I play characters that are a bit grubbier it feels more normal and natural.”
“(In one fight) I ended up smashing myself in the face and I put two of my teeth through my bottom lip and blood was pouring down my face. (Second unit director and Gollum actor) Andy (Serkis) came to me with a mirror and I thought it looked brilliant and he asked me if I wanted to carry on and I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens everywhere December 14.