"I feel like all of the properties from the Tolkien estate have been done now..." hmv.com talks to Richard Armitage
With the final film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy all wrapped up and flying off the shelves, we caught up with Richard Armitage to discuss playing Thorin Oakenshield for the last time, his work on the new series of Hannibal and learning French fro his latest movie, Pilgrimage...
When did you actually finish working on The Hobbit? Wasn't it a case of doing the first two films at the same time and then going back to film the third?
“Not exactly, but yeah I think there was a period of about 13 weeks of pickups. We'd kind of completed Battle of the Five Armies and then we shaped some parts of the script that had to be changed when it was divided into three films. So it was a combination of all kinds of different things, but yeah there were a lot of extra scenes for the third film that really made sense of the whole journey.”
How do you feel the final film in the trilogy turned out compared to what you were expecting?
“I was really happy with it actually, it contains a lot of the meat of Thorin's story, his descent into madness and then his ascent into heroism when they burst out of the mountain and he redeems himself on the battlefield. So really it was tying up everything that had led Thorin into the mountain, and everything about his relationship with Bilbo is in that third film, so I loved it.
“Added to that was the great action sequence at the end, when the battle kicks off. It's such a huge, epic battle and there are so many narratives that need to be told in that portion of the film, I found it very exciting and it's a fast moving film, which is what I really like about it.”
How long did that sequence take to film, all in all?
“There were so many pieces of it that were shot at different times I couldn't really say for sure, but certainly in terms of my work on it there was probably about 12 weeks of filming. Pretty much all of the pickup period was spent at various points in the battle, but the fighting happened over so many different areas. The dwarves start in the mountain and work their way up to Ravenshill in so many different pockets, which is great though because it really makes it feel like a real battle, you know?"
The last time we spoke you said this will be the last time Middle Earth will appear on screen, do you think that's still the case?
“I certainly think that's the case for Peter Jackson, I don't know if he will revisit it. I feel like all of the properties from the Tolkien estate that are available to be made into films have been done now, so unless something changes there I think that's probably it. I personally would love to see The Silmarillion but I have a feeling that it would just be too much for a movie. Unless Marvel got hold of it, then who knows?!”
Would you like to be involved if it did happen?
“Well, unless they went into a prequel to The Hobbit or something I probably wouldn't be able to, but I'd certainly be interested in looking into Thorin's story before the events of The Hobbit kick off.”
You've also just wrapped up filming the third series of Hannibal, can you tell us a bit about the character you play in the new series?
“Basically Thomas Harris' first novel, Red Dragon, where Hannibal is first introduced, is very much focused on Francis Dolarhyde. He's known as the Tooth Fairy, but he is also the Red Dragon of the book's title. It was a really interesting exploration into the birth of a psychopath, into the mass murderer that he became. He's been portrayed in two films already, Ralph Fiennes played him in the more recent film and then he was also played by Tom Noonan in Manhunter, the Michael Mann film.”
“This time we get six hours to explore this extraordinary character and one of the great challenges I had was that it's very difficult to play someone you find so despicable, but if I can get an audience to somehow relate to him and feel something for him, despite what he's done, then I feel like I'll have achieved something I've never done before.”
So there's an element of showing the human side to him before he becomes this monster?
"Yes, exactly, and even at the end he's still very conflicted. He was such a fascinating character to explore.”
You're filming for Pilgrimage at the moment aren't you? When did you start work on that?
“We literally started on Friday last week, so it's all still very new! We finished Hannibal in Toronto a week ago and now I'm over in Ireland. It's a great script, it's being produced by the Irish Film Board and XYZ Films, it's an independent movie that's a co-production with Belgium. It's set in the 12th century just after the fourth crusade and it's about a relic that's being returned to Rome. I play a Norman invader who is basically out to to corrupt that journey. Half of my dialogue is in French."
Do you speak French?
“Er, a little! But I'm trying to pass myself off as a Frenchman so it's been very interesting because I'm working with a lot of Belgians and I'm in a lot of scenes with a guy called Stanley Weber, who is Parisian! But it's all going well at the moment.”
You've also got another film in the pipeline in the form of Sleepwalker, can you tell us a little bit about that?
“That was something we shot last year with a director called Elliott Lester and an actress called Ahna O'Reilly. I don't know if you remember the film Memento, but it shares a bit of ground with that. I play a sleep doctor who is studying a woman that's suffering from this condition where she has various extended realities. But he turns out to be somebody much deeper than you expect, he's not quite what he seems.”
You did a pretty successful run at the Old Vic in The Crucible recently, do you have any plans to do any more stage acting?
“Yeah, that was great actually. I hadn't been on a stage like that in about 12 years, it was filmed and it's had a fantastic afterlife. I am hopefully going to go back on stage, probably directed by Yaël Farber again, sometime in 2016 or 2017. We're developing an idea together and it will be a much more expressionistic, physical approach to theatre, which is the sort of theatre I'm really interested in. I can't say what it will be but we have a play in mind, quite an ancient play.”
One last thing we'd like to get your thoughts on before we let you go; there's a Spooks movie coming out soon and you made a name for yourself playing Lucas North in that series, is it something you can see working well on the big screen?
“Oh yeah, absolutely. I remember when we were working on series 7 and it was around the time that the first Bourne movie had just come out. Bourne and Bond were kind of being pitched against each other and I think Bourne had done something really brilliant with that genre. So there was definitely a feeling on the Spooks set that we wanted to try and be in that same mould, but at the same time address that sort of old spycraft that was very much in the vein of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
“I feel like the Spooks movie will sit somewhere in the middle of those, and of course it's set in London and it's always wonderful to see London on the big screen like that. And of course we'll see Harry again, which is amazing! I'm looking forward to seeing it.”