Sorry for the silence. Unlike previous encounter experiences, this time I am not in need of long processing time. The processing – or “letting it settle” as we call it so appropriately in German – happened very quickly, not least thanks to constant counselling via my con companion, Kate. And boy, yes, I am all for “stringing it out and hanging you out on a chain”. As in: slow drip-feeding of information to draw it all out as long as possible. Because the next drought is coming soon 😉 Not from me, but certainly as soon as Richard goes back to filming. In any case, my silence is really due to my inability to decide what you would like to read first. A whole chronological run-through? Some subjective critique of my first con ever? Notes on fandom? Plain old photos and shut-the-fuck-up Guylty? Or news, straight from the horse’s mouth? The latter might be the easiest way in, will satisfy your curiosity – and will provide opportunity for photo illustrations, so here we go.
After the short opening ceremony on Friday evening and the Saturday morning photo session, the 12pm panel with Richard was the third opportunity for con attendees to see Richard. The talk was in the Main Hall, which was not entirely full; there were still a few empty seats. I opted to stand at the back of the hall to take pictures, and here is the moment RA is invited to sit down by con organiser Sean Harry.
Unusually for a con, Richard’s first panel was not a pure Q&A session. Instead, Sean decided to “break Richard in” into the con way, by interviewing him first and then opening the floor to fan questions. I am going to recount the Q&A based on my memories. I’ll mark the question with italics. RA’s answers will be in quotes if verbatim, but otherwise I may also paraphrase and give you the gist of his answer. My own comments – if I can’t suppress them – will be under the strike-through, so you can easily ignore them if you want to… The summary won’t be strictly chronological as I might mix similar questions/topics together.
Saturday Panel Interview
Sean started off right at the beginning. How did RA get into acting? Through books. Rather than play football with his brother, RA preferred reading. He has a great love of literature – and he thinks his greatest successes have been based on literary works, too. Which is also why he likes audio books, telling stories.
Film, stage, audio books, which is his preferred medium? RA had no clear answer to that, says he applies the same rules to each discipline. Theatre is the only place where you get energy back. “You can feel the audience breathe with you.” Which you don’t when you work in front of camera. No instant feedback there. He mentioned the example of starring in a comedy recently (
LLL) where they only noticed how funny something is when they were performing in front of the audience. The advantage of film and TV however, is that they are great for piecing a character together, taking your time to do so.
You have always been interested in Richard III?
He affirmed and then suddenly grinned and said that the question reminded him he was supposed to read a script on the plane. The script was actually an adaptation of The Daughter of Time as a potential stage play, a trial of R III. Richard said he is now too old to play R III in a modern context, but could possibly still play him in the context of the Shakespeare play, which is really Tudor propaganda, making the last Plantagenet king look bad.
Check out the summary of Daughter of Time in the linked Wikipedia article above, though – in that context, I would love to see RA *not* play RIII but the police officer who investigates RIII. Sounds as if the role was written for him!
How do you approach playing a bad guy?
The most interesting part of playing a baddie is when they are trying to do something noble but are always dragged back into being bad. That’s why he is obsessed with characters like that. They are kind of good people who end up doing bad things. “Bit like me”, he quipped.
Not sure where that quip came from. He strikes me as anything but a baddie.
What was it like working on a three-year project like TH with so many established and up-and-coming talent from Britain?
They got to know each other really well during the 18 months of filming and then another year and a half of promoting the films. That was also helped by Peter taking sick-leave and all cast having 6 weeks off for getting to know each other. They used it as an intense training period and created an almost military troop of dwarves, which is fitting because the dwarves are a warring nation, anyway. To some disappointment among fans, RA did not seem to find TH and Thorin as sacrosanct as we do 😉. For instance, later in the fan Q&A he said that he had no trouble leaving Thorin behind when the film was over and that Thorin’s death wasn’t particularly sad for him
(whatttttttt????????) mainly because Tolkien wrote it as a monumental event. It’s the reason why he took the role – it was an epic death. So yeah, moving on from Thorin and five years later, RA couldn’t remember any Kuzdul anymore when asked by a fan.😂 What happened to Richard Armitage the Tolkien geek, and what have you done to him? However, he did share with us that he was going to meet Sir Peter later on in the week. PJ is in London for the BAFTAS where he is nominated for his WWI film. Richard thankfully reminded us that the film was actually on as a re-run on BBC *that very night*, and I took the opportunity to watch it on iPlayer on Monday morning while still in UK territory. A fantastic documentary. I hope PJ wins a gong – and I recommend everyone to watch it. The anti-war message couldn’t be stronger.
Sean asked about of being turned into a dwarf and how it felt to be cast, was he aware of the expectations?
RA first repeated the tall dwarf joke that his dad makes and then said he did feel pressure when he took on role of Thorin. However, the fact that he was not on social media back then saved him. Also, that NZ is somewhat isolated – except for the first day of filming when camera lenses were everywhere in the hills.
Working with Sir Peter Jackson and Brian Fuller
RA compared PJ and BF – both in some way child-like, obsessive characters. Peter brings together the digital and the real world, whereas Brian is more about the physical world, where he obsesses about details such as Dolarhyde’s kimono. A handprinted design that Fuller kept tweaking until it was right. Or the dragon tattoo that had several iterations. Fuller has a very detailed way of working, which is great because it also makes his actors work in a very detailed way.
How aware was he of Hannibal and the casting process?
RA knew the material through Silence of the Lambs, “which I saw in cinema and really wanted to leave”. He also saw Manhunter and read the books. Much laughter when he said that he was aware of the show because Hugh Dancy’s face on the busses passed him by in NYC. So he hadn’t seen the show but knew it through the marketing. The role of Dolarhyde came through a phone call from Brian Fuller who emphasised that RA had to read the Red Dragon novel in order to understand Dolarhyde. RA realised that Dolarhyde was “right up his street” because he loved the novel. There was so much info in it, amazing character, from reading he realised that Harris was the first author who pioneered talking about the psychology of a serial killer. He felt he was beginning to empathise with Dolarhyde when reading, and thought to himself “oh, that’s dangerous territory”.
This discussion led on to a question on whether he prefers playing entirely new characters or those based on history or a literary source. Sean name-dropped Guy of Gisborne here, and Richard went off on a slight tangent about how Gisborne had been a tiny fragment in a medieval document, and he existed at the same time as Robin Hood and they took that and expanded it to a story. In answer to the question, though, RA predictably said he prefers characters that are historical or come from a novel. He likes being guided by an author who is telling you what a character is like. “It’s like working in reverse.” He likes to have a theme rather than just a blank sheet.
In Manhunter Dolarhyde’s tattoo was played down. How did the tattoo evolve on Hannibal?
RA said it started with a photo of his back so they could design a tattoo according to the shape of his body. He quipped that he wanted them to improve his body, because his body was not good enough, he is not as athletic as FD.
I think there was a noticeable huff in the audience at that bit of insecurity. Surely, RA is athletic at any time… The tattoo itself was a collaboration between Fuller, make-up team and RA himself. It was printed on tattoo paper, airbrushed on, very delicate, which meant they had to film straight away once it was on. The tattoo really came into its own in the scene with “the guy in the wheel chair”. OMG, he means Dr Chilton and RA can’t remember the name???? 😂ooopsie 😉 not sure if that goes down well with the fannibals. It’s the scene in 3×11 where Chilton watches the projections on the screen and FD steps in front, disrobes and has the image projected on his own body. That’s where the tattoo appeared to come to life. It looks like a new skin not a tattoo. I’m afraid I disagree with RA there – I think the tattoo is slightly too obscured by the overlay. For me, the tattoo looks most alive in the love scene with Reba, when FD moves his muscles and his back, and the beast moves under his skin…
In terms of collaboration with Fuller, RA later on also said that Fuller was very open-minded about contributions from his cast. In fact, it was RA who is responsible for the one and only reference to Francis Dolarhyde as a child in the show. He wanted the scene with FD as a boy at the table in the show and suggested it to Brian. Brian then wrote it and included it. In RA’s experience, such suggestions are usually not wanted by producers. They just say “Yeah yeah yeah, just shut up, just be an actor.” But Fuller really listened.
In any case, RA said he was familiar with Blake’s poetry from drama school, and also familiar with his paintings because he had played another character that had an obsession with a Blake painting.
Sweet how modest RA is, not further elaborating that he was on a massive UK hit show, playing a much-loved character there. “I use iconographic (sic!) art a lot when I create a character. I use Goya. That artwork really helps.” RA thought that Harris was clearly into Blake and saw something in there. Lots of laughter when RA mentioned that he visited the Brooklyn Museum as part of his research, going in there as the character. It was a very cold day and to see the picture he needed a private appointment. “They were very nervous” and gave him side eye looks. “It looked tasty”, RA shrugged and gave the audience a deadpan stare. I loved how he kind of played us there… He totally was in performance mode at that stage, in a good way, of course, playing to the gallery, completely winning everyone over.
Rutina Wesley, how did you work together?
Bringing to actors together is “always an experiment – go and make chemistry. It’s like a lottery.” But RA said she is an amazing woman and actress. They liked each other’s company, and spent a few funny days together, filming in very cold conditions.
You just finished BS, where you worked with Michelle Forbes and Rhys Ifans.
RA explained that the show moved to Budapest – to pose as Berlin, which he found difficult to get his head around. He also said he was not much in it. Only in 4 episodes. Michelle was great to work with. And of course, working in Budapest felt like coming full circle as that was where he had filmed Robin Hood all those years ago.
At the time it occurred to me that RA really went over this question very quickly. He did say that he was worried he might spoil the show, so maybe that is why he didn’t have much to say about it.
You have just been cast in The Stranger for Netflix. Is streaming the future? Will it bring better TV?
In this context, RA mentioned that he had just founded a production company of his own
whoops and cheers from the audience, with which he wants to concentrate on creating shows from literature. That’s an exciting prospect for all of you period piece lovers out there!!! When asked later, whether his new production company means that he will now also start directing, he said that he definitely wants to work behind the camera but thinks he is not smart enough to be a director. The audience expressed their disbelief at that , and I certainly found myself crying out loud “come on!” But not to worry, he actually thinks he is “still of use in front of camera, but only for the next 20 or 30 years, being the idiot that has to perform”. He said the latter with a big grin and the self-deprecation really went down well, I think, not least because he phrased it in such a funny way.
As for The Stranger – that is going to be a standalone 8 episode show, not a recurring series. RA recommended we read the book except the last two chapters. “I am somebody who should not be tempted with a binge watch because I will watch it all in one go. And then feel bereft when it’s over. I do like to be strung out and hung on a chain.” There we have the quote that the title of today’s blog post references.
Personally I think that is the quote of the weekend… Not least because of the visuals that this little tidbit undoubtedly provided to many a fan… Richard thinks Netflix is an interesting concept because the shows are available immediately. But interestingly, the indicator for quality is not *how many* people watch but *how quickly* they watch. Harlan Coben’s novel is unputdownable. His writing is cinematic and exciting: RA went to meet him shortly before Christmas last year. The meeting was scheduled really quickly, and he felt he needed to read the book as preparation. He read the book literally the night before and couldn’t put it down. When he was still reading at 4am he said to himself “If I don’t sleep now I’m gonna turn up and look like shit.” Y eah, right, you *never* look like shit, Richard. But the sentiment was well expressed and understood – and Coben’s books *are* actually very hard to put down.
That was the end of the moderated interview, and Sean opened the floor for questions from the audience. At which point 20 people jumped up and queued for the microphone. Richard’s reaction:
Questions from fans
The first question regarded his favourite book or a recommendation what people should read. He suggested The Stranger.
Such a PR pro 😂 But seriously, great answer in this context. Although I do not want to read it and spoil myself
What could he tell us about his latest film, The Lodge. RA looked at the auditorium and said with a gleam in his eye, that the film might actually appeal to this audience. Shot like Kubrick, very slow, very atmospheric. The film will get general release, and he thinks it is a really good film.
This next one was a great question – given that he had seemed bemused by the flower crowns at SDCC 2016 and the previous neght’s opening ceremony: What was his experience at the con and with fandom so far?
“Still pretty bemused.”
Lots of laughter. But he thought it was amazing and he could understand the feeling you get when lots of people know a book and become fans together. It’s a common interest that brings people together. He likened it to football. “Except football fans don’t talk to each other throughout the year whereas you do.” He had the impression that the fandom will continue to grow. And he believes there will be a 4th season of Hannibal, because of the fans’ loyalty. Whether he really believed it or just said because it was expected of him, he certainly gave the impression that he approved of the intensity of engagement characteristic for the fannibals – on the basis of now knowing they were a very arts-, literature- and cinema-phile group of people who are there for the show, not the celebs. One of my favourite questions at the panel: Would you be interested in playing Jackman from the Joy Ellis books for TV?
He smiled and lowered his voice conspiratorially “Talking about it…”
That is a direct and definite quote. Big whoops from audience, big smiles from RA. It looked as if he was delighted by the reaction. Because it confirms for him that it is a good idea to pursue Jackman & Evans as a future role? Because he is so fond of the character of Jackman himself? Whatever – I just hope this happens!
Another great question came from Kate: Your characters’ survival rate isn’t the greatest and it’s responsible for no shortage of grey hair in the Armitage Army, so does it make a difference to you as an actor to leave behind a character because he dies or is it easier for you to leave them when they ride off into the sunset?
RA: “I don’t know what it is with me but when I get cast in something, people either want me to inflict violence on someone or just kill me. I don’t know. I take it personally. (We take it personally too.) It’s not gonna happen in the Stranger, though.
Delighted to hear that he is taken aback by always being cast as a baddie. So are we, especially because we know he can do more than scowl and growl. I was glad he didn’t wheel out the “evil facial structure”, though 😉.
Back to Hannibal: Was it difficult to shed FD’s skin after the role is done?
RA thought that FD was always trying to shed his skin, uncomfortable with himself, trying to change himself, so leaving him behind was not hard. When taking the role he had been most worried that he would have to act violence or crime but FD is never seen doing what he does. You never see his bad side acting, you only see it in the aftermath. “If I had had to do that, it might have been different.” He found that leaving the character took a little bit of time because he was used to sitting in make-up chairs for hours, listening to freaky music. And he is not an actor who slips in and snaps out of a character easily between takes, so when playing a damaged character such as Dolarhyde, he stayed in character a lot and many of the crew probably thought he was really antisocial, skulking in a corner to stay in character. But no, he didn’t have any problem shedding FD, “I just went on a holiday or something”. Yet he conceded Dolarhyde was probably the most complicated and the most troubling character to create – demented – yet had to be compelling and watchable. So when asked which character was the hardest to physically characterise, he said that none were particularly hard. They are all complex. But the more complicated the character, the more appealing to him. He finds it hardest to play a character when that character is close to his real self. He used to feel as if he was not acting when a character was too much like him. Which makes it more difficult to get cast in the US because the difference between European and US casting is: In the US you are more likely to be cast when your real personality is similar to the role. And he doesn’t like that approach very much “because I find myself incredibly boring, and I wouldn’t want to put that on film.”
Murmurs of disagreement from the audience.
RA said he really loves Trevor Belmont, and thinks it is funny he is always hung over. He’s a good guy but because of the constant hang-over he is always irritable. He loves the show and would love to see a live action dramatisation. When the audience suggested he should play Trevor, he said no, he was too old for Trevor, and “that role is gonna go to a 20-year-old”. He never knew or played the game before he became the voice of Trevor, though.
Almost at the end of the Q&A, to put the RArmy out of its misery, a fellow fan asked whether or when we would see RA on stage again?
He said that they might resurrect TC but was not sure when and how; most probably bring it to NY, though. But he was also working with Yael Farber on other potential projects.
Personally, I would love to see him in something new. And obviously also somewhere closer than New York. In any case, when it comes to theatre, he said in reply to another question that he is particularly fond of Leontes in A Winter’s Tale, but really is a fan of Christoper Marlowe. And I would love to see him in either of those options.
And that was it. There were standing ovations at the end of the Q&A. The hour flew by as if it had only been 10 minutes, and it occurred to me again how good Richard is at talking on stage. He really took his time, answering questions thoughtfully and in detail. He seemed very willing to talk about his process and his experiences, sharing anecdotes and not skimping on opinion.
Although politics was something he – jokingly – excluded from the discussion early on.
It is such a pleasure to listen to him speak, not just for his beautiful English accent and diction, but also because he really has an elegant way of expressing himself. I really don’t want to appear overly enthusiastic here, and I really don’t believe that RA is the god of everything. But he definitely has a way with words. No wonder, as he has disclosed many a time that he is an avid reader, and proficiency in articulating one’s thoughts comes from reading the appropriate material. In this Q&A – as in so many press junkets – he again made that conscious (?) effort of *not* repeating himself, even when he had heard the question before. I find such an approach very thoughtful, intelligent – but also respectful. Treating every interviewer as if their questions were the most original questions of all time. It probably doesn’t hurt that he is an actor and able to (dis)play his reactions accordingly, but the ability to answer off the cuff in new ways and with new details every time, is not acting ability, but a more complex talent to understand and react and reply in ever new variations. I appreciate that effort because to me it looks as if Richard is taking the questions seriously – no matter whether they come from an industry journalist, a client, or his audience. There is an element of equality there. At least I hope it is that and not just mere tolerance. 😂 The whole con scenario may have been a bit of a challenge for RA
and I will talk about that in a different post, but he totally slayed it with the Q&As. There is a second Q&A still to be summarised. I’ll try and get to it asap. Meanwhile, thanks for reading and take this double profile for your effort: