RICHARD ARMITAGE became a warrior dwarf only after a wizard bowed down to him.
Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," out this weekend. Armitage is in a tough spot as an actor. Not only is he relatively unknown in the States, but he is also must introduce a whole new character into a world already familiar to moviegoers who flocked to the original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
But there were on-set obstacles as well. Thorin is the fearless leader of a pack of dwarfs, along with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), looking to reclaim their homeland. If Armitage's fellow dwarfs didn't respect him, how could the audience?
Making matters worse: Armitage describes himself as a shy guy, one who likes to keep his head down and do his job. Not a leader of men, let alone dwarfs.
"The first day we're filming, I walked through the door and I'm thinking, 'No one believes me. No one thinks I'm good enough,' " Armitage told the Daily News.
But then the stately McKellen gave Armitage a bow.
"He just gave me my character because he was acknowledging, as [author J.R.R.] Tolkien describes the great Thorin Oakenshield, this legendary warrior that has earned his respect. From that point on, I didn't need to do anything else because he did it in front of all of the dwarfs," Armitage said.
While Armitage embodies Thorin's wizened warrior vibe, the characters from the book and film differ in one major way: Armitage, at 41, is considerably younger than the Thorin of the book, who is an older dwarf by the time "The Hobbit" takes place. At a news conference, "The Hobbit" director Peter Jackson revealed that Armitage was the youngest actor to audition for the part.
Armitage had no idea.
But he also said that age didn't matter. As a dwarf prince exiled with his people from his homeland by the terrifying dragon Smaug, Armitage said that Thorin had experienced "a holocaust," and his numerical age meant nothing. It was the horrors that Thorin experienced that matter.
Armitage saw parallels of Thorin's story to that of Tolkien, who saw many of his close friends killed during World War I. "That idea of the very English cozy life being disrupted, when normal people are called upon to go to war and face that fear that they might not come back, and they didn't. That's a huge trauma to live through," Armitage said. "Our generation hasn't experienced that. we're not drafted into the army, you volunteer for it."
Armitage clearly did his homework for the part. Aside from delving into Tolkien's biography, Armitage discussed the basis of Thorin's name.
"The etymology of [Thorin] comes from Thor, which means thunder. But in English, it's usually a family that lives near a thorny bush. It's funny because of both of those elements live in Thorin," Armitage said. "He's sort of prickly and there's a suppressed thunder inside of him. If you think of him in those elemental terms, it's easy to play because there's a thunderclap that will erupt from him at any moment."
To prepare to play the "cantankerous old git," as Armitage referred to Thorin, he insisted on closing his eyes for the entire four hours it initially took him to put his makeup and wig on so he could truly become Thorin. After the first time, he gave up that practice, but always made sure to leave his trailer fully made up.
"I didn't want anyone to see Thorin without his fat suit and I didn't want to see Thorin without his hair," Armitage said, adding that his long tresses were made of human hair and thankfully were not that heavy. "I wanted the crew to believe he was a king. There was something majestic about that hair and I couldn't have played him without that."