In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, British actor Richard Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, exiled dwarf king. He’s a newcomer to the Peter Jackson vision of Middle Earth — which began with the three Lord of the Rings films, and continues with a new Hobbit trilogy — but no stranger to the world of author J.R.R. Tolkien.
“I am one of those people who have loved the book,” he says. “I remember being read The Hobbit by a teacher in primary school who did amazing voices, God bless her. I picked up the book myself and started reading it, which was kind of rare because normally I would have to be forced to read.”
He missed the chance to audition for the first set of films, but when The Hobbit came around he jumped at the chance.
“I had no idea how I would fit into that story because the idea of playing a dwarf just wasn’t on my radar. I’m six foot three and a half, so why on earth would I play a dwarf?”
It wasn’t the first time he was excited to bring the fantasy of Middle Earth to life.
“I was in a stage production of The Hobbit when I was 13,” he says, “which I leapt at. It’s weird how you have that reaction when someone says they’re doing a stage production, at 13 to go, ‘I’ve read that book. I love it. Let me be in it.’ I had the same feeling when they were making this movie.”
He says thoughts of that long ago play are “filled with strange memories.”
“I remember wearing a knitted smock, which had been sprayed silver to look like chain mail but it was made of wool. I was an elf. I was pretty tall for 13 years old. Gollum was made of paper and they didn’t have enough money for a dragon, so it was a red light, a puff of smoke and a man off stage with a microphone. I remember running around in circles eating grapes because we were doing a scene in the forest where the Elves are tempting the dwarves to come to their feast.”
He draws a straight line between his early love of Tolkien and his current profession.
“My imagination was totally stimulated by Tolkien’s world and I think once you’ve had your imagination stimulated in that way, every book you ever read you dramatize in your head. You hear character’s voices and visualize that world.”