Finding Your Inner Warrior Dwarf

Thorin at the Battle of Azanulbizar

Thorin at the Battle of Azanulbizar

When Richard Armitage took on the role of Thorin Oakenshield, as part of his research he naturally reread The Hobbit, and he later told James Rocchi at MSN Movies,

  ‘Tolkien described Thorin as a legendary warrior and a very important dwarf, which were two descriptions that terrified me.’

One piece of the puzzle of assembling the character came in an unexpected way, as Armitage explained to journalist, Sharon Eberson a few days before the NY premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in December 2012. He had been asked to lead the response at the Powhiri ceremony that was to take place at the start of filming The Hobbit, to welcome visitors, and to bless the soundstage. His immediate response to the request had been to refuse, and to pass the honour over to the person who seemed the more obvious choice, namely Martin Freeman, the titular head of the cast.

   ‘I absolutely didn’t want to do that. Philippa came to me and said, ‘will you do it?’, and I said, ‘of course not. Martin’s the Hobbit, Martin should do it’.

Armitage had then been told the speech had to be delivered by a warrior, therefore it was the actor who played Thorin Oakenshield, King under the Mountain, that would most appropriately perform that role. This was a matter of solemn, cultural respect, and not a task that could be handed over after all.  One can well imagine Armitage echoing his audition lines, ‘why did it come to me?’, thinking he had more than enough on his plate already, preparing for the start of the film shoot. The short speech, part of which was to be spoken in Maori, was to be delivered in front of the assembled cast and crew, and would be filmed for posterity.

   ‘I was more nervous about that than I was about filming. I learned this piece, but I was terrified by it. But I actually ended up using that speech every day as part of my vocal warm up. It’s funny, because I didn’t realise I was doing it at the time, but I just watched what those warriors do, and the way they commit to their culture. And I thought, that’s what the dwarves are about. I used to say it every day, scream it every night, try and wreck my voice a bit.’.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition special feature

Richard’s role in the ceremony began by accepting the Maori challenge, or wero, to come in peace, picking up a branch off the ground while maintaining eye contact. It must’ve been quite intimidating, having to stand and face the challenge  at close quarters, complete with threatening gestures and grimaces, almost certainly unlike anything he would’ve been called on to experience before.

It’s not surprising, knowing what we do of how Armitage prepares for a role, that the fierce pride displayed by the Maori warrior would have immediately resonated with him, and that he would go on to apply that sense of pride to his vision of the dwarf prince Thorin. Anyone who’s ever witnessed another traditional Maori custom, the haka, or war dance, as performed on the rugby field whenever the New Zealand All Blacks play, will know how fearsome a sight it is, and not to be taken lightly.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition special feature

Richard earned a great deal of respect for his own part in the Powhiri ceremony, determined to do it justice by perfecting the Maori part of his speech, and by treating it all with due solemnity. The image of Richard Armitage standing proudly, representing the welcomed visitors, is a memorable one, and, thanks to the release of the first production video, was for many their first glimpse of the actor who was to play the mighty warrior dwarf, Thorin.

The Hobbit Production Video Number One

The Hobbit Production Video Number One

A recounted battle scene in An Unexpected Journey gave us the first glimpse of Armitage as warrior, with stirring images of the young Thorin  at the Battle of Azanulbizar, prompting these memorable words of recollection from fellow dwarf, Balin,

‘We were leaderless, death and defeat were upon us. That is when I saw him; the young dwarf prince, facing down the Pale Orc. He stood alone against this terrible foe, his armour rent, wielding nothing but an oaken branch as a shield…..Azog the Defiler learned that day that the line of Durin would not be so easily broken. Our forces rallied and drove the orcs back…….I thought to myself then, ‘There is one I could follow. there is one I could call King.’

Richard Armitage talked about his memory of filming this first battle scene, a defining heroic moment for his character, during which he put his shield through his lip at one point, spending several takes with his mouth authentically dripping with blood,

    ‘We did some fighting…..it was a great day walking onto second unit, and he [Andy Serkis] had Orcs on this mound, and he was rallying them to start this battle cry, and wind machines going, and blood everywhere. It was a really good day.’

Thorin faces down Azog at the Battle of Azanulbizar

Thorin faces down Azog at the Battle of Azanulbizar

The Hobbit will unfold another great battle sequence in the final film of the trilogy, There And Back Again,  namely the epic Battle of the Five Armies.  Shooting took place during the extended pickup filming in June-July 2013.

Armitage gave some insight into the effect it had on him, filming such intense scenes,

‘We were shooting some of the battle scenes, and fighting at a level of rage that I’ve never done before. I was adrenalised, and swinging swords around, and I found myself- the placid person that I am- very angry all the time.’

He went on to share a fitting analogy to describe a particular moment during the battle,

‘One of the things- talking about Shakespeare…..- that I admire about Richard III, is that he rides across the battlefield to fight, single-handedly, for his kingdom, for his crown. In the Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin is going to do something like that.’

The final word goes to Jed Brophy, who was asked recently which scene he was most looking forward to seeing in There And Back Again, and had this to say,

‘I think the Battle of the Five Armies, and in particular, our charge out of the fortress. We had been waiting two years to do that scene, and on the morning we filmed, Richard Armitage turned to me, and the gleam in his eye said it all. He said to me, ‘we’ve waited two years to do this, and I can see you are ready.’ He was so much our King in that single moment.’

24 thoughts on “Finding Your Inner Warrior Dwarf

  1. What a wonderful post Katharine! Thank you, it’s really inspiring. We are all waiting for TABA and BOFA with so much trepidation. We must watch that last movie of the trilogy with this post in mind, considering the whole journey of Thorin as a warrior and of RA as the man/actor portraying him. As he recently said, a bit of Thorin will always be with him. Thanks! 🙂

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    • Thanks, Micra- I think it’s a mix of anticipation and trepidation when it comes to TABA- knowing there’ll be some truly memorable scenes, but also knowing the outcome. Nothing less than a stupendous battle will suffice.

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  2. I love this, Katharine! I had not heard the backstory of Richard being afraid to do the speech, though I assumed it went something like that just because of his personality. Richard’s determination, his respect for what he’s doing and the way that he prepares for it, is what I admire so greatly about his acting style 😎 I wonder what his neighbor’s thought of all the screaming, though? 😛

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    • It’s an interesting backstory, isn’t it? I read the account months and months ago, and foolishly didn’t save the article- it took me ages to track it down again, and I was starting to think I’d dreamt it. Richard mentioned somewhere that he drove around the local area, doing his screaming in the car so he wouldn’t wake the neighbours- such a considerate warrior, this one!

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  3. Why haven’t I seen this before?! Tying together the beginning, the powhiri, and the end, BoFA- unraveling the amazing journey that happened for both Thorin and RA… Great job, Katharine, and paints a most impressive picture of the man we admire. Jed Brophy’s words give me shivers every time – we’ll be privileged to see on screen what they experienced in Wellington.

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    • Glad you found it interesting, Richardiana. I know we’re going to hear much more about BOFA before we get to see it, but just the small amount we already know sounds spine-tingling. I like RA’s description of how worked up he got, filming the battle scenes, and he referenced it again the other day in one of the Empire interviews, that it cost him ‘blood and tears’.

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      • Thorin got lucky, didn’t he :), to get portrayed by such a dedicated and talented actor. As for BoFA – Helm’s Deep and the Battle at the Black Gate never fail to send shivers down my spine, and this time there will be a bigger emotional investment. Hearing RA talk about it will be at least as good as seeing it on screen…

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        • Roll on the EE of TABA with it’s glorious special features, eventually- I want every little detail. I like your way of looking at it- Thorin did indeed get lucky! I always get shivers watching Theoden riding along the front line of horsemen tapping their spears, before the Battle of Pelennor Fields, and then Aragorn doing his big speech, ‘today is not that day’ in ROTK. It’s going to be so emotional……

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          • Oh the EE and extras! PJ’s battles are quite spectacular yet intimate, with attention given to individual characters – and BoFA is so complex, with lots of characters and subplots, and of course the climax of Thorin’s story – I can’t wait to see it. /Aragorn’s speech gets me teary every time. Thorin’s final words.. Well, let’s not go there yet!/

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  4. This is worthy of being published in a magazine. Very much enjoyed reading it – great research, as usual. And at the end of it, I felt quite moved by the great work that Mr A has delivered for TH and the respect that is being given back to him by his peers. Thank you.

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    • Very generous words indeed, Guylty- thank you, coming from a writer like yourself. I really enjoyed putting this one together, and I found it quite emotive subject matter to write about.

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  5. Such a joy to read so nicely written post, thank you for this. (: Previous comments were so eloquent that I have nothing to add. I had a lump in my throat many times when watching DOS, I don’t even want to think what happens when I go see TABA..

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    • Glad you enjoyed reading it, Quutamo- thanks for commenting. I think selective denial about TABA is going to be a common issue for most of us.

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  6. Thank you Katharine for this wonderfully informative and fascinating post. I just finished reading it again for the second time and enjoyed it even more. I have always found the Powhiri Welcoming Ceremony particularly moving and even more so when watching the EE where we get to see much more of it and also get to hear Richard singing. He has a truly beautiful voice. I think this is when I fully understood for the first time why he found the prospect of taking on the responsibility of leading the response so daunting and what was required of him. When I watched him in the first production blog, I honestly thought he looked ill. I also found Jed’s comment about the Battle of the Five armies very touching and I tremble a little at what we are going to witness in TABA. It is going to be a highly emotional experience I believe and one we will never forget.

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    • Thanks, Teuchter. I was thrilled that more of the Powhiri ceremony was included on the EE DVD- it really brought it all home- the solemnity, the ritual of it, and more of RA’s part in it- no wonder he was terrified of doing it.

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  7. Great post, Katharine! I love the Maori speech he made and it reminded me of how I approached learning Thai Massage the first week of training. It’s not something to be taken lightly – to pick up and practice something valuable of a culture that you respect and of which the mantle of responsibility has been handed over to you. The respect that the Maori warriors during the Powhiri gave to him and the rest of the cast and crew gave me goosebumps just watching and I was really glad to see them add it in the extended edition special features of AUJ.

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    • Thanks, MM- it’s that fear of giving offence somehow by getting a vital detail slightly wrong, isn’t it?RA must’ve been so aware of every little thing he had to perform just so- holding eye contact, the Maori phrases, the singing. I’m sure it’s an experience he will never ever forget, and an early defining moment for him as leader of the dwarf company.

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  8. Thank you so much for this wonderful read, Katharine; it reinforces so many of the reasons why I am utterly absorbed by this man.
    I was quite emotional watching Richard lead the response in the Powhiri in the first vlog, his nervousness and his determination to get it absolutely right, and it has always been some of my favourite candid footage of him. I was so proud of him, and I was thrilled that the full ceremony was included in the AUJ EE. It never fails to move me.
    I love Richardiana’s comment that Thorin got lucky, being portrayed by an actor such as Richard. There is no doubt in my mind that he has well and truly made the role his own.

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    • Thanks, Mezz. The whole Powhiri experience reveals quite a lot about RA the man- the care he took to prepare properly for it ahead of time, and the respectful way in which he performed his role.
      As for RA as Thorin, I’d say he’s proved this to be true- ‘The King beneath the mountains…shall come into his own’.

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    • Sorry, sorry- not my intention, but inevitable in the long run, I would say. When I came across RA’s quote likening Thorin’s action on the battlefield to Richard III, I thought, ‘uh, oh…’

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      • I had exactly the same thought. 😦 Don’t apologize! When we have read the book we are a *little*
        prepared for what is to come but I doubt if it will lessen the impact. Richard’s portrayal will no doubt see to that!! I came across this essay today – http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2014/04/03/88286-in-defense-of-thorin-oakenshield/ – on The One Ring and in spite of the title it didn’t make me feel any better. Just the opposite in fact. The only thing that helps is knowing that after all is said and done, like so many of the characters Richard has portrayed, he is SND!! (“So Not Dead” in case there is a reader unfamiliar with this acrostic!)

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