Here's something I like about Richard Armitage: I don't get any sense that he has any interest in or illusions about being a movie star.

Instead, like most of the people Peter Jackson casts in his "Lord Of The Rings" films, Armitage strikes me as a character actor who doesn't mind vanishing into the make-up he wears as Thorin Oakenshield. My kids are huge fans of both of the "Hobbit" movies so far, and if they ended up in the same elevator with Armitage, they'd never know it was him. The transformation is that complete.

This is my second time chatting with him about the series, and what struck me this time is how much Thorin is already teetering on losing his battle with the rising darkness within him. Unlike Bilbo, who is battling the influence of the One Ring that he found, Thorin's darkness is completely generated from within. There is a madness that seems to set in around the vast mountains of money waiting for him in Erebor, and the closer Thorin gets to fulfilling what he sees as his destiny, the more he seems willing to do anything to anyone to make it happen.

It's hard enough giving a grounded, human performance in one of these giant megablockbuster movies, but try doing it when you're buried under about 40 pounds of make-up that alters the entire shape of your face. The only things that are really Armitage when you're looking at him in these films are his eyes, and he certainly makes the most of it. He seems to have adapted easily to the demands of the prosthetic work, and as much as I am fascinated by the process of performance capture these days, I remain deeply in love with what happens when you actually sculpt a brand-new character out of someone who already exists.

The end of this film is where we really see Thorin falter, and I suspect he's got one of the most vivid arcs in the final film. Even having read the book already, my kids are swept up in the films, and they are very, very worried for Thorin, and pulling for him to do the right thing. I get the feeling Armitage feels the exact same way.

"The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" opens everywhere today.