JOE meets Richard Armitage, star of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug
Arnie Schwarzenegger one-liners, flying cows and an irrational fear of Eamonn Holmes – we cover all of the big topics...
To mark the home release of The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-Ray and DVD, our movies-man Eoghan Doherty caught up with one of the film's stars; the log-wielding, long-haired dwarf leader, Richard Armitage AKA Thorin Oakenshield.
Following on from the end of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the latest film sees Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his company of courageous dwarves as they continue on their dangerous quest to reclaim their homeland of Erebor from the scaly grasp of the charmingly villainous dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Along the way they are accompanied by our plucky titular hobbit, Bilbo ‘the Burglar’ Baggins (an impeccably cast Martin Freeman), who is now in possession of the One Ring.
That’s the really, really, really evil piece of jewellery in case you were wondering. Almost as evil as an engagement ring.
At the same time, the grey wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) has left our weary travellers to confront the strange, dark shadow that has been steadily growing in the darkness of the dark shadowy shadows…
You can read JOE's full review of the film here but, for now, enjoy the company of the charming Richard Armitage...
JOE: Morning Richard, how are you today?
Richard Armitage: I’m good thanks, very good.
JOE: How’s the head anyway? You were at the Empire Awards last night, yeah?
Richard: I was but I didn’t hammer it too badly on the Jamesons, but it was good. We won Best Sci-Fi Fantasy and Aidan (Aidan Turner, Armitage's co-star in The Hobbit films and Dublin native) walked away with Best Male Newcomer so yeah, it was a good night.
JOE: Yeah, it was brilliant news for the film and for Aidan as well. You obviously spotted his incredible talent up close when you were working on The Hobbit films with him...
Richard: Yeah, he was such a great guy to work with. He was playing my nephew which was a little bit disconcerting considering that we’re not that far away in age, but he’s a great guy and he’s made something really exciting with that character. We’ve got some nice moments coming up in the third movie together.
JOE: How did you actually first get involved with The Hobbit? I imagine that getting a phone call to say that Peter Jackson wants to work with you has got to be pretty special?
Richard: It is, and the fact that you even get to go into the room and audition for it is something that you think "God, I never would have thought that would happen" and then, when they turn around and say they’d like to cast you, it’s all a bit of a blur.
You move on and you have to take stock and think that actually really happened to me, and then on another level I was quite surprised that they wanted me to come and play a dwarf. I never thought that I would play a dwarf. I’m usually too tall for everything but yeah it was great and it was a bit of a no-brainer really.
JOE: And how is it working with a filmmaker and visionary like Peter Jackson?
Richard: It’s pretty amazing. He leads from the top and he works in such detail, I know that he expects nothing less from the people that work around him. He hires people that are uncompromising and he asks the things that nobody thinks are possible and they all go away and they make it happen.
When you see that happening with his crew, his designers, the innovators and his digital technicians, it makes me work in a more detailed way and that was the most exciting part of it, down to every single buckle and button on the shoes and coats. I think he realised that, because he was going to be shooting on 48-frames per second, that so much detail was required in the final image, but also in the layers of the character; the writing is incredibly detailed and specific and it’s exciting to work like that.
JOE: Speaking of the buckles and buttons, here at JOE we're huge fans of The Lord Of The Rings books and film adaptations and it's clear to see the detail that goes into the design of the costumes and weapons. Do you actually get to keep any of the really cool souvenirs from the set for yourselves though?
Richard: At the end of the shoot they gave me my sword, which is now one of my prized treasures. Again it’s the detail of the sword and the workmanship and craftsmanship that goes into it. It’s not a fake sword, it’s a real crafted sword that is useable, not that I would...
JOE: Sweet Lord, God help anybody trying to break into Richard Armitage’s house...
Richard: Well exactly, it’s right by the front door, ready... No it’s not.
It’s kind of mind-blowing what happens on that set in terms of the props and costumes. They have book binders and glass blowers that create things that you can’t go out and buy. If you look at the detail on the Lake Town set (in The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug) some of the glasses have specific carvings into the glass and the cutlery – it’s astonishing and the camera sees it all.
JOE: What can we expect from the third film, The Hobbit: There And Back Again? You’ve finished up all the filming a few months back, yeah?
Richard: Yeah, we have. I think the third film is going to be a slightly shorter film...
JOE: So it'll only be two days long then?
Richard: (Laughs) Only two days long. Four weeks for the Battle Of The Five Armies. I think even the title, the Battle Of The Five Armies, suggests something that is going to be pretty epic. When I saw the model of the battle ground, which was in a little secret room that you could sneak into and take a look at, something made me realise that Tolkien’s description of that battle is quite limited to where Peter has expanded it to.
That’s the end of the third film and it’s called There And Back Again, so we know that Bilbo’s going home. I feel like there is a sense of nostalgia about what is going to happen because it will probably be the last time that Middle Earth is seen on the big screen and it’s the culmination of 15 years work for Peter.
Six movies will then exist, which will tell the tale all the way through to the end of Lord Of The Rings, so I think it’s going to be quite an event.
JOE: So there will be no prequels for Thorin or spin-offs for any of the other dwarves heading off for on other adventures when they get home again, no?
Richard: (Laughs) I would be very surprised. I don’t think Thorin’s going on any more adventures after the Battle Of The Five Armies. Maybe for a spiritual journey...
JOE: Well, you never know. Maybe somebody will decide to reboot it? Speaking of the other dwarves, can you name all of the dwarves? Have you learnt them off?
Richard: I actually can remember them! Although after the Empire Film Awards my brain might be slightly addled. Do you want me to do it?
JOE: Yeah, sure give it a shot. I have them here so I can help you out.
Richard: OK - Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili... and now I’m lost.
JOE: There’s also Dori...
Richard: Dori, Nori, Ori! There we go.
Richard: Fili, Kili, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Balin, Dwalin and Thorin!
JOE: Yeah, there’s a rhythm to it, perfect. You were going to call one of them Jameson there for a wee second...
Richard: There is one called Jameson. It might be me. That’s how I used to take my prosthetic off at the end of the night, with a shot of Jameson.
JOE: Speaking of the Empire Film Awards there was an incredible line up, some legendary actors there including Tom Cruise and Arnie Schwarzenegger. Did you manage to get chatting to any of them or was there anybody you were particularly star struck by whenever you were there?
Richard: Tom Cruise was on the table in front of me so you can feel there’s a little bit of heat around someone like that but I’ll tell you the really surprising thing is Schwarzenegger.
His speech was really interesting, he was very honest about the industry and his lingering message to everyone in the room was just “Don’t ever take no for an answer.” Because he said he was told no throughout most of his career and everything he wanted to do he was told no and he said don’t listen to the nay-sayers.
That’s what I take away from the evening but yeah, really inspiring people.
JOE: Yeah, Schwarzenegger is ridiculously ambitious and just told people that he was going to be a star and there was no stopping him...
Richard: Yeah, and it’s kind of interesting because he’s actually quite down to the earth and realistic, but at the same time he knows his limitations but he’s not ashamed of it. “This is who I am, this is what I do. Yes, I’ve got an accent, and yeah I’m a bodybuilder but don’t tell me no.”
Good for him, what a great career story he has and a great public speaker as well I have to say. I could never understand why he was the Governor of California but now I can because he’s a great speaker.
JOE: You weren’t tempted to shout out any infamous Arnie one-liners at him?
Richard: He was shouting his own out. He exited the stage with “I’ll be back!”
JOE: That one just never gets old for him.
Richard: It just never does.
JOE: Going from the Empire Awards, nice segue here, is it true that you joined the circus when you were younger?
Richard: How on earth is that a segue? That’s called a non-sequitur!
JOE: From one circus to another...
Richard: (Laughs) Ah, now I see, very good. It is true I was in the circus a long, long time ago.
JOE: What did you get up to when you were in the circus? What was your skill set?
Richard: I was throwing some batons to jugglers and doing a little bit of mime, holding ladders, throwing hula hoops around.
JOE: A little bit of everything.
Richard: It was a little bit of everything and a lot of nothing.
JOE: I also was reading up about your musical background too.You played the cello and the flute when you were younger but do you still play any of the instruments from time to time?
Richard: I still own the instruments. I haven’t picked them up in a long time but, when I was in New Zealand, I bought myself an electric cello so that I wouldn't offend the neighbours. They’re amazing, you can just sit with your headphones on and start scratching away like a strangled cat without offending anyone so I did sort of start again.
JOE: So do you now keep the cello with the sword by the front door?
Richard: I do, like a weapon. If the sword doesn’t work I’ll play the cello at them!
JOE: With the musical background do you find yourself obsessed with listening to the music whenever you're watching a film. And did you actually get to meet Howard Shore whenever you were filming The Hobbit films?
Richard: Yeah, it’s a massive part of the film for me.
I’m so into scoring and the soundtrack that I actually bought myself a little soundtrack to listen to because it really inspires me. And yeah, I went over to Abbey Road and watched Howard Shore conducting for the first film and it’s thrilling to see that whole side of it, that whole artistry and the way that they shape the score around what’s on the screen. It’s amazing.
I think this is one thing that the Lord Of The Rings team, and particularly Fran Walsh, is really good at is finding an amazing song, finding great voices. I think they used Renee Fleming as one of the voices for a lot of the Lord Of The Rings songs. For me, it’s 80% of the enjoyment of the movie.
JOE: And speaking of amazing voices, and with your musical theatre past as well, what’s your karaoke song of choice?
Richard: 'Love In An Elevator' by Aerosmith is probably the one that I’d go for with a few Jamesons inside me...
JOE: That’s good, a strong choice. A bit of a dilemma here for you now, would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?
Richard: Hmm, one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses? I think I’d probably fight the giant horse-sized duck.
JOE: Would you really? A lot of people go for that one which I find surprising. I just think that a giant horse-sized duck would murder you...
Richard: Well it’s not that dissimilar to Thorin fighting Aragog really. He’s just a big, giant duck to be honest isn’t he? Without the beak.
JOE: I suppose you're right. Not many people we ask actually have the necessary fighting experience to take down one horse-sized duck but you obviously have.
Richard: Exactly. If you’ve got that big sword in your hand that duck is history. It’s just mincemeat.
JOE: Watch out though, you’ll have the animal rights people on to you anyway...
Richard: I’d say so.
JOE: Upcoming projects - you have Into the Storm coming up. I saw the first trailer for that and it looks pretty intense anyway.
How many times did you have to watch Twister in preparation for the role?
Richard: I actually didn’t watch it! I didn’t quite have time to watch it. It was literally back to back from The Hobbit straight to Into The Storm but yeah, I probably should have watched Twister.
There wasn’t an awful lot of acting involved in Into The Storm, they just stuck a 100mph wind and rain machine on us everyday and it was basically survival. But yeah, it was great fun and I think they’ve made a really interesting movie. It sort of started as a found footage piece and it evolved into something which is a bit of a hybrid. It’s got a kind of documentary feel to it but, at the same time, a really good tale of a father that goes in search of his lost son. So, yeah, I’m really pleased with it.
JOE: Excellent, and can we expect to see any flying cows in it?
Richard: (Laughs) There’s a little joke at the end which is a nod to the flying cow but I won’t spoil it for you. There is definitely a tongue and cheek nod to Twister though...
JOE: I look forward to that. Almost finally, do you have a go-to joke to tell people if you’re put on the spot? There’s no watershed here so you’re fine.
Richard: It’s a bit of a shaggy dog story so I probably shouldn’t tell you, but it is about alien sex.
JOE: It’s about alien sex so we should just leave the rest to our imagination?
Richard: Yeah, I think so.
JOE: Another time then... Finally, to help you with your Jameson-induced hangover, what is your perfect hangover cure?
Richard: (Laughs) Getting up at 6.30am to go and have an interview on Sky. That’ll do it. With Eamon Holmes.
JOE: Well he would put the fear of God into you. He’d wake you up all right.
Richard: Exactly you sober up pretty quickly when you're chatting to Holmes!
JOE: Thanks a million for chatting to us Richard and here at JOE we genuinely cannot wait to see the final instalment of The Hobbit.
Richard: Great thanks, nice to talk to you Eoghan.