‘Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’: Armitage’s Thorin fights to the end

Dec. 17, 2014 | 4:00 a.m.
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English actor Richard Armitage reprises his role as dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in, "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" actor Richard Armitage is photographed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 2014. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

2415295 ca 1208 hobbit richard armitage 1 gem Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" actor Richard Armitage is photographed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 2014. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

2415295 ca 1208 hobbit richard armitage 5 gem Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" actor Richard Armitage is photographed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 2014. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

2415295 ca 1208 hobbit richard armitage 3 gem Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" actor Richard Armitage is photographed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 2014. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

2415295 ca 1208 hobbit richard armitage 6 gem Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" actor Richard Armitage is photographed at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood on Dec. 8, 2014. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

armitage jackson Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

Richard Armitage, left, Peter Jackson and Martin Freeman pose for photographers upon arrival at the screening of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," in Paris. (Francois Mori / Associated Press)

the hobbit battle five armies 3 Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies: Armitages Thorin fights to the end

Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richard Armitage came to the New Zealand set of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies” primed for combat.

The concluding installment of Jackson’s three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel features clashing tribes of warriors racing into conflict over an unimaginably vast treasure inside the mountain kingdom of Erebor. Armitage, the English actor who plays hirsute dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield, has been preparing for battle since his acting school days with some very talented classmates.

“One of the reasons I went to drama school was because I really wanted to learn stage fighting,” a clean-shaven Armitage explained recently. “Weirdly enough, David Oyelowo was my fight partner at drama school — Benedict was maybe two years behind me…. We won so many competitions together. I’ve still got the trophy on my mantel. It’s a little helmet on a little wooden podium.”

There’s little doubt that 2014 has been a good year for London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art alumni — “Selma” star Oyelowo and “The Imitation Game’s” Benedict Cumberbatch have been widely tipped for Academy Award nominations. Now, with “Five Armies” roaring into theaters Wednesday, Armitage is poised to reign at the box office, albeit in his extreme fantasy guise.

Perhaps it’s because the Thorin costume is so encompassing, or maybe it’s because the genre isn’t considered with the same weight as historical biography (the single exception being the 11-Oscar haul for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”), but Jackson is among those who feel Armitage hasn’t quite been given his acting due for his contributions to the Middle-earth saga.

Richard Armitage appears in a scene from "The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies." (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richard Armitage appears in a scene from “The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Mark Pokorny / Warner Bros. Pictures)

The filmmaker is optimistic that this final “Hobbit” chapter will help audiences look beyond the elaborate makeup and prosthetics of Thorin and see Armitage’s real gifts.

“It’s hard because he’s not a scene-stealer,” Jackson said in an interview with The Times earlier this year from his New Zealand home. “He’s just a quiet, strong, powerful presence who is the backbone of the story. This time around … he lets go a little bit, he’s able to really crank it up and dominate the movie in a way. His strengths are all on display here, that’s for sure.”

Armitage’s interest in acting dates to adolescent years in Leicester, England, though neither his parents nor his older brother had any history as performers: “Apparently, my grandmother on my mum’s side used to sing occasionally on stage in a music hall. But it was one of those things that we didn’t talk about.”

At 17, he briefly worked in a Budapest, Hungary, circus to get his union credentials, then performed on stage in London’s West End in musical theater productions before realizing he had begun to travel the wrong creative path.

“I was competent, and I could do many things, but I was never really happy with it,” Armitage said. “I was always told to smile and look like I was enjoying myself, and I figured I would be smiling if I was enjoying myself.”

Richard Armitage appears in a scene from "The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richard Armitage appears in a scene from “The Hobbit The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

After graduating from LAMDA in 1998, he took small roles in stage and television productions. But his breakthrough came in 2004 with the BBC miniseries “North & South,” in which he played stoic mill owner John Thornton and found himself, not unlike Colin Firth before him, a newly minted heartthrob among the period-costume drama set.

Turns on British television in series such as “Robin Hood” and “Strike Back” followed, before Jackson cast him to star as Thorin in “The Hobbit,” which Armitage had read as a child and had loved.

“I think I smell of melancholy and seriousness,” Armitage said. “I think it’s why I maybe got cast as Thorin. I’m not as heavyweight as people think. I do have a sense of humor.”

As much as “The Hobbit” is the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) venturing out of the Shire and finding unknown courage in the face of great adversity, it is also a cautionary tale about the mighty warrior Thorin, who loses his honor to arrogance and greed.

“Five Armies,” which picks up immediately where last year’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” concluded, tracks in detail Thorin’s descent into madness, which is brought on by his proximity to the nearly limitless underground riches that had been stolen from his people years earlier by the evil dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch).

It is his refusal to share the wealth of Erebor with either the denizens of Lake-town, whose village is decimated at the beginning of the film by the vengeful dragon, or to return lost treasure to Elven king Thranduil (Lee Pace) that leads directly to war.

Richard Armitage, left, Peter Jackson and Martin Freeman pose for photographers upon arrival at the screening of "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," in Paris. (Francois Mori / Associated Press)

Richard Armitage, left, Peter Jackson and Martin Freeman pose for photographers upon arrival at the screening of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” in Paris. (Francois Mori / Associated Press)

Jackson said he considers the film to be more psychological thriller than Middle-earth war movie. To his point, one of the movie’s most arresting sequences involves Thorin standing in a cavernous chamber, with voices echoing across the open expanse cautioning the increasingly mad dwarf not to succumb to his darker impulses. At the same time, the shadow of a greedy dragon slithers across the golden floor.

During filming, however, that scene hadn’t quite taken shape for Jackson. “That was a stage direction in the script that said, ‘Thorin sees his own reflection and realizes what he’s become,'” Armitage recalled. “Peter said to me, ‘I don’t really know how to shoot this. Have you got any ideas?'”

They shot a more literal version with Thorin being physically dragged down into piles of treasure, but Armitage was pleased to see the more experimental version in the completed movie.

“He just went into the abstract and did something very, very stripped back,” the actor said. “I love it. It’s such a nice way to talk about Pete because he really is a collaborator.”

As a people, the British have a reputation as self-effacing to a fault, and Armitage certainly is not an actor given to outward displays of egoism. He possesses exactly the kind of reserved, contemplative charm you’d expect from someone who’s built a career playing quiet characters with stormy interior lives.

Even on Twitter, which he joined on his birthday in August, Armitage makes an effort to shift the focus away from himself. (The self-described “Moody Actor, Anti-Socialite” has amassed roughly 72,800 followers in a little more than three months.)

Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies." (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richard Armitage as Thorin and Martin Freeman as Bilbo in “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

“I would never tweet a picture of myself and say, ‘Look at me!’ I’d always say, ‘Thank you’ to the photographer, ‘Thank you’ to the person that put the shirt on my back,” he said. “It just feels right to do that. And at the moment, there are a lot of people to thank for everything that’s happening.”

Earlier this year, Armitage portrayed another outwardly defiant, inwardly vexed figure, starring as the ill-fated John Proctor in director Yaël Farber’s acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible,” at London’s historic Old Vic Theatre. In his first time on stage in more than a decade, Armitage earned raves and was named the best leading actor in a new production or play at the BroadwayWorld UK Awards 2014.

“The reason I went to television was because I wasn’t getting the roles I was hoping for in theater,” Armitage said. “My agent said, ‘We’ll get your face on screen and you might get cast on stage.’ I went off on a 13-year tangent, forgot that [theater] was my first love and refound it this year.”

At present, he has no plans to star in more Hollywood blockbusters; rather, the recent New York transplant is focusing on indie movies. He’s also hoping to mount another stage production with Farber, though the project is in its early days.

Still, he said, nothing is likely to entirely overshadow his years-long journey to Middle-earth.

“It’s very satisfying to have played this character, and I think people engaged with him,” Armitage said. “It’s never going to be as big as this, I don’t think, in terms of what I’m going to do.”

— Gina McIntyre | @LATHeroComplex

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Comments


15 Responses to ‘Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies’: Armitage’s Thorin fights to the end

  1. josh says:

    The Hobbit ” Trilogy is a classic story. I have to admit I was a bit sad when the Lord of the rings trilogy ended and thought to myself there wont be another story as great as this but boy was I wrong. There are no movies like this and I dont believe there will ever be a fantasy story quite like these ever again, but I must say that our generation has been spoiled with the amazing movies starting with the lord of the rings to now the hobbit trilogy and it would be a great dissapointment if there were no more of these movies to come in the future.

    • TMD says:

      Well observed and very well said!!

    • Vinesh Maharaj says:

      I totally agree. There was no movies as such and there will be none. And as for Peter Jackson, my salute and hats off for this guy… this is creativity.

    • Ellie says:

      Someday there might be an adaptation of the Silmarillion; that'd be more like a ten or twelve movie cycle, though, if they wanted to get everything, and they'd have to divide it up into trilogies dealing with the unique stories (Beren and Luthien, the children of Hurin, the Akallabeth, and so forth). But thinking of the scale of such a project makes me think that sadly you're probably right and we'll never see Middle Earth on the big screen in this way again.

  2. Leondra Whitley says:

    He is such an amazing actor. I can't wait to see this movie. It is bittersweet since this is last movie in the series. It will be going out with a bang & nothing held back. I have read the book several times and enjoyed it. Due the performances given in the movies, I will be very emotional as things start to unfold for certain characters. I will be bringing tissues with me when I go to see the movie and I may need a drink afterwards. I toast to everyone who worked either in front or behind the camera. Everyone put such care and devotion into making all six films. That is something that can never be taken away from them. I wish them all good luck and success in all their future endeavors! (Btw – Richard is beautiful :), I don't know if anyone else noticed, lol.)

  3. Hoodoo says:

    How about The one half battle of the Five Armies? Apparently one half the battle was lost, maybe it got mixed up in Lois Lerners emails. Whoever edited this last two films needed to be shot. And, maybe Peter Jackson ought to take a class in physics and filmmaking. Yet the money will roll in, mediocrity rewarded again.

    • Really, exactly what are your film making credentials to be questioning his? Real fans are more than happy with being able to watch a beloved book come alive and the fact that it was done with 3 writers who love and lived the book as much as the fans do, makes it so much better. Each film could have been 6 hours long and it wouldn't have been enough to include and show the breadth of what this little book and the Appendices have to offer. No one is forcing you to go to the theatre, i'm sure Dumb & Dumber 2 is still playing which may be more your speed. The rest of us will be watching, and savouring it. I'm sure the Tolkien estate have you on speed dial to direct the Silmarillion.

      • Christine Golden says:

        What's your problem? Other people really are allowed to hold opinions that differ from yours, even if it does put your tidy-whities into a wad. And what credentials do you hold in film/literature to write as critique the movies' elements? I'm thinking, not many, or you would know:

        -Jackson never even read LotR until he was about to write the screenplay.
        -The Hobbit movie is so dissimilar from the book that only a true Ringer could say that 'a beloved book has come alive.' Adaptations should be done with a scalpel; Jackson used a machete.
        -The Silmarillion will never be made into a movie in our lifetime. CT despises what WB/PJ has done to his father's works and can't shed himself of Hollywood quickly enough. He has undoubtedly entailed the copyrights of the remaining major works, copyrights which he personally owns and will not expire for at least another 70 years.

        And before you fire back with, "Oh, yeah, what makes you such a know-it-all?," a BA in BritLit, a BFA in technical theater, and 10 years's hands' on experience in production and design.

  4. Robert Hobbit says:

    These movies are visually and dramatically stunning. I hope that grandeur does not overshadow the underlying moral questions that Tolkien posed as to what can be lost in the pursuit of treasure. I think he was appalled by the social and environmental damages caused by the unwise excesses of the Industrial revolution and Man's willingness to destroy nature in pursuit of profit. Does anyone else see a reflection in today's world?

    • Christine Golden says:

      While Tolkien did deplore the destruction of rural Victorian England and did use that as one of his secondary themes [see: Scouring of the Shire], his traditional Catholic beliefs were a stronger influence on his works.* Good vs evil as real forces in the world, the cardinal virtues (faith, hope, and charity), and the dangers of hubris are key elements of both LotR and TH. Not as allegory, which Tolkien despised, but as central themes which form the primary external and internal conflicts in the books.

      * Tolkien wrote of this influence multiple times in Letters, including that Galadriel was based on the Virgin Mary.

  5. Robert says:

    Well……saw this last night and all I can saw is WOOF! Awful waste of time. Simply a money grab for Petey!

  6. Tom says:

    I was amused by the spectacle of the 3rd movie of a trilogy of big budget fantasy movies lecturing about the evil of pursuing treasure. If you imagine Peter Jackson as Thorin and the dwarves pleading with him that the Hobbit didn't need to be three movies, the whole thing is much more amusing.

    These movies themselves are a moral tale of the dangers of pursuing gold.

  7. kiplingkat says:

    “I would never tweet a picture of myself and say, ‘Look at me!’

    He obviously has not been keeping track of all the selfies he has been posting.

    • PurpleApple says:

      “…I’d always say, ‘Thank you’ to the photographer, ‘Thank you’ to the person that put the shirt on my back. It just feels right to do that. And at the moment, there are a lot of people to thank for everything that’s happening.”
      Don't cut the quote just because you are in the mood to be judgy and overcritical. He is talking about being thankful and acknowledging people whenever he gets the chance, using twitter for that instead of letting it all just be an exercise in vanity.

  8. Captain Pi says:

    I just saw the Academy Screener last night. It’s excellent. I’m a little upset that Thorin, kili and Filing Die. I was screaming, laughing, crying in all the right places. I’m going to view again today. I can’t get enough of it. Now I’m going to have to break down and read the entire trilogy, and discuss it with my brother who is an expert on Tolkien.

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