This winter, director Peter Jackson will deliver the long-awaited return to Middle-earth. "The Hobbit," which will unfold across two films, begins with "An Unexpected Journey," as Bilbo Baggins leaves to win back gold stolen from his companions. But these are not just any friends. Bilbo is accompanied by 13 dwarves, each with a larger-than-life personality.
The leader of these adventurers, Thorin, will be played by Richard Armitage, who made a brief appearance in "Captain America: The First Avenger," but will get his biggest Stateside break in "The Hobbit." The British actor played a key role in last month's trailer and will soon join the illustrious ranks of Tolkien alumni, alongside Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom.
We spoke with Armitage about traveling to Middle-earth, the difficulty of working under pounds of makeup and leading a band of treasure-seeking dwarves.
MTV: Congratulations on being named to MTV's Ones to Watch!
Richard Armitage: Thank you very much!
MTV: Where are you currently in the filming schedule?
Armitage: We just finished up our second block, so we start again at the end of January, and then we go — we think it's the end of July. Then there's a bit more in 2013, we reckon.
MTV: What's it like being on a single project for so long?
Armitage: It's really weird because when we started it was just this enormous mountain to climb, but actually, it's going so fast. I think we've gotten to the halfway point now. It's been really intense but so exciting. We literally just finished our location shoot that we've been out on the road seeing most of New Zealand. It's been the best thing I've ever worked on in my life, by far.
MTV: Is it easy to forget you're acting? Do you get lost in the world the production creates?
Armitage: The soundstages they made in Wellington, [New Zealand], most of the time it doesn't feel like we've been working on a set. Even when there's a green screen there, Peter's vision of it is so clear and his description of it is so clear. The pre-production CGI that they've already created really fires up your imagination. That was the shoot we started with. On location, it's just theirs to program these amazing images into your head, so we can now take them back into the studio.
MTV: Will it be hard to leave behind once you've wrapped?
Armitage: It don't think it will be possible to leave it behind me. I think this is one of those characters that always stay with you because you spend so much time with him and it's such a transformation. I'm in the character every day, and I've become so familiar with him. I sort of know how he thinks. I feel really close to the character, and he will continue beyond this job , [spoiler ahead] even though, he dies at the end of the movie. I think he is a fascinating character. I will probably wake up in six years' time and be inspired to think about him again. It's really exciting.
MTV: How did your previous knowledge of the story change how you approached Thorin?
Armitage: I read it quite a few times when I was young. I think going back to it as an adult is really interesting because it is a book that was, I think, was written for Tolkien's children, but when you're creating a piece on this scale, you have to really visualize it for a much broader audience. I think that's the beauty of Tolkien. He does create very well-rounded, quite dangerous characters to play his protagonists. He risks scaring kids. He's the original fantasy creator, and I think you have to invest those characters with the same gravity as if you were making a piece for adults. It was interesting coming back to it as an adult, re-reading it again, because it did have a simplicity to it, which I really like. I felt we could take those characters and really develop them beyond the book.
MTV: You ended up with middle ground in terms of the amount of makeup. Did you feel lucky?
Armitage: It did evolve. We all started with quite an extreme version of ourselves. I think because my character does spend a lot of time onscreen and you really have to understand what he's going through emotionally, it became clear that if we started make the prosthetic as close to my features as possible but still make him a dwarf, it would be much easier to read the character. He has to go on such a journey, it was really important to do that. I grew my own beard after the first block because I felt that it was restricting my face. The jaw is so connected to emotion that I wanted to have that free. It made such a huge difference.
It's really weird now because I can't play the character when I haven't gotten everything on. It's very hard to rehearse when you're not in costume, when you haven't gotten the prosthetics on, but I look in the mirror when it's all finished and I don't see it. I can't see where it starts and where it ends. I just see the character. I've never had that before. It's such a unique experience. It's a face that doesn't belong to me. It belongs to WETA workshop and the people that created it.
MTV: How was it on set with so many actors playing the dwarves?
Armitage: I love it. I absolutely love working as an ensemble member, and we really are an ensemble. There's great camaraderie among all the guys. There is such a diversity of culture and background. We're working with a lot of Kiwis, and there's real mixture of British actors who come from television and theater and film. It's exactly as the dwarves are. When Thorin assembles the quest, he pulls dwarves from all different places to go on this quest. That's mirrored in who we are as actors.
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Check out everything we've got on "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
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