With the release of the first “Hobbit” film, Hollywood is finally set to showcase a man that fans of British television have known about for years – Richard Armitage. In fact, the distinguished 41-year-old English thespian has already unwittingly assembled his own rabid fan base of swooning admirers affectionately nicknamed ‘The Armitage Army’.
It’s not hard to see why – with sharp features, a great head of hair, icy blue eyes and other impressive assets, he looks very much a star. He first came to attention with his leading role in the BBC’s 2004 version of “North and South”. He also played Macduff to James McAvoy’s Macbeth in the “ShakespeaRe-Told” limited series, and showed off a warmer side romancing Dawn French in the final episodes of beloved sitcom “The Vicar of Dibley”.
I became aware of Armitage for his leather-clad role of Guy of Gisborne in the BBC’s “Robin Hood,” from which he segued into the role of Lucas North on one of my favorite shows “Spooks” (aka. “MI-5”). Decked out in tattoos (as pictured below) to showcase his character’s seven years imprisoned in a Russian gulag, Armitage was a major cast member from the seventh to the ninth season of the long-running spy thriller. Demonstrating his best James Bond/Jack Bauer style skills before departing in dramatic fashion, he also slipped in a quick cameo on last year’s “Captain America: The First Avenger”.
There’s been a few pinch-yourself moments for Armitage while filming this. One was on his first week “standing in Bag End, looking into Ian’s eyes and thinking, feeling like — I haven’t had that before, where you feel like you are in a film, well, not really in a film, but actually in the world of the Rings films.” Others have been some of the astonishing places they’ve filmed in. “Most of the location shoot, you leap out of bed every morning and get to the top of a mountain. We had a few days where it just takes your breath away,” he says.
One notable day was filming second unit with Andy Serkis directing and Peter Jackson monitoring. The scene in question saw the dwarves take the gates of Moria – “he had Orcs on this mound and he was rallying them to start this battle cry, and wind machines going, and blood everywhere … I think I put a shield through my lip and had a mouthful of blood and this big, huge broken lip, and he [Jackson] said, ‘Okay, can you just try another one now?’. I’m like, ‘Yeah, okay’, with this big mouthful of blood. But it looks great on the shot because I’ve got these bleeding teeth and it’s dripping out of my face.”
Another wild day had him doing a “slow motion sprint through the forest which was on fire,” and he seems game for whatever challenge Jackson can throw at him. “I think we did something the other day on a rig where I was in the mouth of a Warg, being shaken around. Pete always wants to push it further, so it got to the point where I was being severely shaken around, but you watch playback and it looks fantastic, so you think, ‘Okay, get me back in there and do it again. Shake me harder’,” he says with an adventurous smile.