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Wreck-It, Richard: Giving voice to Thorin Oakenshield

Written by Sharon Eberson on .

One of the best things about the two days I spent Hobbit-ing in New York (screeners and interviews) was telling Richard Armitage how touched I was watching him give a speech in the Maori language at a ceremony captured as part of Peter Jackson's video blog, and his unexpected response. It didn't make it in the reams of stuff I wrote for print and it spilled onto the bottom of the story on the Web, but here it is again, with the video of the Powhiri ceremony blessing the New Zealand sound stage as "The Hobbit" began filming:

At a Q-and-A after a "Hobbit" screening on Dec. 4, Mr. Armitage told about a hundred people how he had worked on Thorin's swordplay and how he had purposefully "wrecked" his voice a la Richard Burton, with alcohol and cigarettes, because his natural voice has a lighter sound than required for a Dwarf king.
He told another version of how he prepared Thorin's guttural voice a day later. The conversation had turned to an online video of him giving a speech in the Maori language, part of a ceremony to bless "The Hobbit's" New Zealand soundstage.

It was a lovely moment, executed before the entire cast and crew and the Maori guests conducting the ceremony.

"I was more nervous about that than I was about filming," Mr. Armitage said. "I absolutely didn't want to do that. Philippa [Boyens, co-writer and producer] came to me and said 'Will you do it?', and I said 'Of course not. Martin's the Hobbit; Martin should do it.' "

He was told the speech had to be delivered by a warrior, so it was the actor who played Thorin who had to do it.

"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 realize I was doing it at the time, but I just watched what those warriors do and the way that 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."

That's how he transformed into Thorin Oakenshield -- that, plus a 3 a.m. makeup call, sword-fighting lessons and computer wizardry.
He was more than happy to disappear into the character.

"I'm not that bothered about being well known, as long as the work is well known. And I think in this case, the films will be watched and the character will be watched. So it's kind of cool for me that the character will be buried in prosthetics and he's 5-foot-2. So then it's kind of a surprise to go, 'Oh, look, that's the guy who played that.' My biggest goal is to get employed again, and employed in a role that challenges me. So I love being cast against type. I'd like to be offered another role where no one believes we're going to cast you, but you're going to be this character. Which is like, 'Yes, that's what I'm in it for.' "

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