How To Pull Off Black Tie

Want to learn how to pull off black tie without looking like a dickie? Take a lesson from Richard Armitage, the best-dressed dwarf in all of Middle Earth.

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Richard Armitage is billed third in the sixteenth most successful film ever made.

“That sounds good. I should say it like that more often. Not bad for a boy from Leicester,” says the 42-year-old, who might attain an even higher ranking than he did for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, with his next film, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug. In both – and next year’s third in Peter Jackson’s trilogy – Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the Company of Dwarves.

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In Jackson’s preceding Lord of the Rings films, eight of the nine actors who played the Fellowship got a tattoo to commemorate their shared experience making the movies. It was of the word “nine” in JRR Tolkien’s Elvish language. The 13 men in the Company of Dwarves looked for a similar bonding exercise.

“We did talk about getting tattoos,” Armitage says, “but we are a slightly older, slightly less adventurous group. Trying to convince Ken Stott to get a tattoo was out of the question. So we had a special ring made, of which we all have a version.” Armitage is not wearing his today. “It’s still in a box somewhere with all the stuff I had shipped back from New Zealand.”

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There’s quite a bit of unpacking to do. The actor has spent much of the last two-and-a-half years in New Zealand making The Hobbit films, pausing only to go to Detroit to film a found-footage action movie, Into the Storm, out next year.

“Before that it was called Untitled Tornado Project, which I thought was great,” he says.

“I was lucky enough to get a US work visa for that, so I feel that I should try and make the best use of it. There is a huge body of great writing out there in American TV and I’m hunting for a part. They ask you to commit to six years on a US show, though. I would have to be fascinated by the subject matter and really want to play a part for all that time.”

Armitage is not afraid of commitment. Aged 17, he worked for three months in a Budapest circus to get his actor’s union card: “I was very good at flips”. Playing Lucas North, a spy, in three series of Spooks from 2008, he learned to speak Russian, despite only having a few lines in the language that he could have learned phonetically, and he was waterboarded for real. The screams you can hear during the torture scene are not from his character, he says, but from him.

“Every time I walk around London, I see somewhere we shot Spooks,” Armitage says. The espionage thriller gave the capital’s architecture as much screen time as some of its guest stars. “I was down in the City last night, walking over London Bridge with a couple of friends, and said, ‘Look, I jumped off the top of that building’.”

There is another legacy of his years in the intelligence services: his wardrobe.

“A lot of the clothes I wear every day were costumes from shows I’ve done. On Spooks, I ended up buying a lot of the gear – you get a minimal discount – because I just liked it. It’s that lazy mindset of ‘someone else has picked this because I look good in it, so I’ll have it’.

“Thing is, I get a little bit frustrated at being recognised sometimes, but then I think, ‘Of course you’ll be recognised, you bloody idiot, you’re wearing the costume’.”

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is out on 13 December

Photographs by Blair Getz Mezibov

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