King Under the Mountain

Actor Richard Armitage discusses playing king dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in part 2 of The Hobbit trilogy

Dec 13, 2013 | By Kelli Plasket
COURTESY WARNER BROS.

Actor Richard Armitage (far right) returns as king dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, part two of a trilogy in theaters December 13.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (Rated PG-13, in theaters and 3-D December 13), is part 2 of a trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic Middle Earth tale. In it, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) and the dwarves arrive at the Lonely Mountain, where fearsome dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) has stolen the dwarves’ home and now guards their treasure. Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, and the other dwarves send “The Burgler” Bilbo inside the mountain to retrieve the Arkenstone, an heirloom of Thorin’s family. TFK spoke to Armitage about making the epic fantasy movies, which were filmed in New Zealand by The Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson.

Thorin nears the Lonely Mountain with hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, left) and fellow dwarf Bifur (William Kircher).
COURTESY WARNER BROS.
Thorin nears the Lonely Mountain with hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, left) and fellow dwarf Bifur (William Kircher, right).

TFK:

As someone who read The Hobbit many times as a kid, how does it feel to finally see Smaug revealed in this movie?

RICHARD ARMITAGE:

It's been one of the biggest treats of this whole process, finally seeing that dragon realized by Peter [Jackson] and the animators. I think Peter has been thinking about it for the past decade. Tolkien created it in 1937. So that dragon has been around for a long time, and it's a real treat for the audience to see Smaug finally rise out of the gold and show his full glory.

TFK:

You were in a stage version of The Hobbit when you were 13 years old. Did you imagine yourself in a future film version at that time?

ARMITAGE:

Never, not for a second. I didn't even realize I was going to be an actor at that point. I'd like to say it's a dream fulfilled, but I wasn't even dreaming at that point.

TFK:

When did you develop your interest in acting?

ARMITAGE:

It came much later, when I was in my late teens and went to see some Shakespeare at the Royal Shakespeare Company. I saw a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I decided that's what I wanted to do for a living. Then I went to drama school and ended up being in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth, so that was definitely a dream fulfilled.

TFK:

In this movie, how has Thorin changed since the journey began?

ARMITAGE:

I think he's learning to trust, which is something that I never expected of him. He certainly didn't expect it of himself in those first days in Bag End when he is so mistrustful of the hobbit and of Gandalf's advice. The hobbit is really proving to be a great asset, and Thorin is changing in his opinion of him.

TFK:

One of my favorite scenes in both the book and movie is when the dwarves escape down a river in empty barrels. What was that like to film?

ARMITAGE:

It was pieced together in many different locations. We worked on the Pelorus River in [New Zealand’s] South Island, which is incredibly beautiful. Then we went into a sound stage and worked in a watercourse, which was powered by engines and could speed up and slow down. It was really like being at a fairground ride. Then we were in all different kinds of barrels in close-up shots on dry land for some of the action sequences. So it's great for me as well to see the barrel sequence cut together.

TFK:

What's been your favorite set piece or prop so far?

ARMITAGE:

My favorite prop has to be [Thorin’s sword] Orcrist. It is just the most magnificent weapon. It's a beautiful sword and really quite difficult to maneuver, so I spent a long time training to get it looking efficient. But Thorin loses Orcrist in this film to [the elf] Legolas, so Legolas gets to fight with it for a while.

Thorin nears the Lonely Mountain with hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, left) and fellow dwarf Bifur (William Kircher).
COURTESY WARNER BROS.
Thorin nears the Lonely Mountain with hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, left) and fellow dwarf Bifur (William Kircher).

TFK:

What was it like to put on the costume, prosthetics, and makeup of this character for such a long filming period?

ARMITAGE:

Sometimes, it was frustrating and hot and time consuming, but most of the time it was fine because I couldn't really play the character without all of those additions.

TFK:

If you could have put on a different costume and played another character for one day of filming, which would it be?

ARMITAGE:

I think I would quite like to have put on [human shape-shifter] Beorn’s costume because there was not a lot of it, just some trousers and a waistcoat, so that looked like fun.

TFK:

What should audiences expect from the final installment next year?

ARMITAGE:

That would be telling, but it's no surprise to know that the Battle of the Five Armies [is coming]. It’s something Tolkien writes about [in the book], and you see the first army being formed in this film –the army of orcs. So you can imagine what's going to happen at the end of the third film.