It’s day two and we’re sitting in a makeshift cafeteria interviewing most of the Company of Dwarves. Richard Armitage, best known for his years on British television’s “MI-5” and a supporting role in “Captain America: The First Avenger,” has the unenviable task of bringing Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the Company of Dwarves, to life.
A commanding 6’2 in person, Jackson and the production’s costume designers and makeup artists will use proportionally designed clothes and prosthetics to create the illusion each dwarf is much shorter than they are in real life. Obviously, Armitage is their toughest challenge, but there is more to being a dwarf than just a height disadvantage. He notes, “Human beings that are short, and are termed dwarfs, they're human beings. These are a different race, there's nothing human about them. And actually, as they grow older, they grow tougher and stronger. So that's why you get an army of dwarves, the most experienced fighters on the battlefield will be the oldest. So in a way, The Oakenshield represents that. It's like an old piece of wood that's grown hard with age. So, yeah, all of the fight skills have been really useful. But because I play the character younger as well, deciding how to portray that, the fight style has been a way of doing that. When he's a younger dwarf, he fights in a completely different way to when he's older. He's much more crazy and berserk, and as he's got older, it becomes more efficient, so he doesn't waste any energy. It's a very heavy, disciplined way of fighting.”
Thorin is also, perhaps, the most tragic figure of the Company. Our story finds the dwarves cast out of their home by the dragon Smaug. They form an alliance with Gandolf (McKellen) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to find gold in the Lonely Mountain (dwarves have an addiction to gold it seems) and drive out Smaug. Armitage says that the fact Thorin knows his father and grandfather have previously been “touched by this dragon sickness” (which only effects some dwarves) haunts him.
“I think the burden of taking his people back to their homeland, which is so massive, makes him a lonely figure, I think,” Armitage says. “Knowing that his grandfather failed, and his father failed, so if he doesn't do it, there's no other member of his line that will ever do this. So he will continue through history as the king that failed to achieve the potential for his people. That's something, again, which is a huge burden to carry. And I think that's what drives him, but it's also the thing that he fears, that he will fail. And there's many opportunities for him to fail on this quest.” But we haven't really got into the mountain yet, and had to play around with the dragon sickness, but I think it's going to be very interesting. I've looked at all sorts of different-- I've looked at drug addiction, and along those lines, so that it actually has a physical effect on him, his mind and his body. But I think because he's been a very heavy, melancholic character, I think the gold is going to change that, and it's going to sort of bring him to life and make him the king that he should be, and more vibrant. But it comes at a price, I think.”
Sitting with Armitage it’s clear he’ll be the sexiest dwarf to appear in Jackson’s Middle Earth film. Would Tolkien approve? Your guess is as good as mine, but you can be sure a good number of ladies and gents in the audience won't mind. Not at all.