This is gonna be long, kids. Get yourself a cup of tea and find a soft cushion to lean on while reading all this… (Disclaimer: This is so long, sorry for all the typos I have missed!)
I know that some of the fans were quite surprised when it transpired on Friday or even Saturday that Richard was at Red Dragon Con not with just *one* Q&A but actually *two*. After a great first session on Saturday, the Sunday Q&A was scheduled following a big panel with Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams and Mads Mikkelsen. A good time for a Q&A, with the audience suitably warmed up by the main man of the event… (I’ll eventually get to that, too). So hogging our stewarding seats in the Main Hall, we stayed on for Richard who had already managed to delight half the con attendants thanks to changing tack at the morning photo session. So, the buzz was great and the vibe was positive. However, my memory of the first half of the second Q&A is not that great – because I was not sitting down but taking photographs of the OOA from the side of the room. That is always majorly distracting for me. Distracting in the sense that I just don’t hear the words. I only see.
And of course, I was seeing something rather nice, so I didn’t *want* the distraction by words, either… That means that the first half of my account here will be a bit cursory and vague. Once I sat down and stopped photographing about 30 minutes into the Q&A, I was able to follow more closely and take note.
So RA on Sunday – had been broken in by the first Q&A the day before and was happy to sit on stage by himself. No more biting his fist – he was ready for what the audience was going to throw at him. And once he had sat down and settled, it literally took 10 seconds for the assembled fans and fannibals to get up and rush into the aisle for a place in the question queue… Myself, I had a question ready to ask, too, but I quickly saw my chance fading. In any case, this is as a kind of disclaimer. I am not sure how much of the Q&A I remember, it’s quite possible that I will leave out some questions – or that in my memory, my interpretation and my prior knowledge of topics might mesh with what Richard actually *said*. Unfortunately there is no bootleg video of the event (as far as I know…), so I can’t check. But here goes.
The Q&A started with a question on how does working in the US and in the UK differ.
In typical Richard fashion he didn’t come out with any qualitative statement but rather turned it into a bit of joke. He said one of the first things he had done when moving to the US, was visit Mount Rushmore. And as he got off the bus (car?) to walk the last bit to the sight, he noticed the amount of eateries along the way. Whereas in the UK, what you notice when you are there for the first time, is the amount of pubs… so in the US the priority is eating, whereas in the UK it is opportunity after opportunity to drink…
Richard covered various questions here. (Not sure about the sequence.) On designing Francis’ movements, he detailed his research into butoh dance. He said he had seen a performance by one of the foremost butoh performers, and the movements were just perfect for conveying the skin-shedding, tormented Francis.
I confess, I slightly glazed over here because it was something he had talked about long ago and I had heard it before. I was also a tiny bit surprised that the fannibals asked a question that had already long been answered. It was a case of “have you not done your homework?” – but then again, I accept that the fannibals had never really concentrated on RA before, so his previous interviews may not really be something they had paid any attention to.
As for the way he characterised Francis’ speech, Richard got his hands on recordings of people who had had restorative cleft palate surgery. He listened to lots of recordings in order to identify the characteristics. According to RA, Dolarhyde’s cleft palate surgery was not fully successful, which is why his speech is strongly impeded. Also, the fact that Francis lives (and works) in isolation, adds to his difficulty with speaking. As an example, Richard talked about occasionally feeling like a recluse himself, spending several days in his home, without contact to the outside world. And happily so, just doing his own thing, reading, working etc. But he often finds that after such a period of, say, two days without talking to anyone, his voice is unused to speaking, and takes on a different quality. He felt that that was the case with Dolarhyde, too.
To me, this was a major eye-opening statement about himself. This reclusiveness resonated with me – I completely understand it. Funnily enough I would never class myself as an introvert but I have experienced bouts of hermit-age (…) myself, too. And after hearing this from RA’s mouth I better understand his reluctance to engage with people, or to initially slink into the background despite being *obviously* and *easily* able to talk coherently and engagingly in front of an audience or actually function in closer contact with other human beings… Maybe he is a very complicated introvert who can function in company – but prefers solitude.
In that context it is also interesting that RA later on in the Q&A says that he would have liked to have been an actor in the silent movie era, not least because his background is physical theatre.
*yawn* LOL, sorry, but I have heard that exact phrase so often *grins*. It’s a bit like “worked in the circus to get an Equity card” – oh wait, did he just perpetuate that old chestnut himself??? *rofl* In any case, the scene in 3×11 where Dolarhyde basically fights himself in a bid to gain the upper hand over the dragon – and simultaneously punishing himself for having felt for Reba, that scene was the one of the hardest things that Richard ever had to do in his career, he said. Physical theatre is an interest that has stayed with him as he is still interested in theatre and dance. and if he were to direct, that is an area he would be interested in.
My con companion Kate took the opportunity again to ask another question. This time she went back to a funny tweet she had posted a few months back that had garnered an interesting response. Here’s the tweet.
The important point for her question was that she received a surprise reply from Brian Percival, who directed RA in NS and simply said “I’d be up for it!” Kate summarised the whole story for her question, and based on Percival’s expression of interest, wanted to know from RA whether he was “up for it”, too. But boy, was RA slow on the uptake! 😉 He needed the whole thing explained to him again – shout-out to Kate at this point for extreme calmness and presence of mind – and wanted to know exactly what Percival had said. “Is it period?”, he asked, as if Kate was the messenger who was offering a role to him *lol*. RA did explain to us, though, that he was friends both with Brian and Daniel Percival (the latter directed him in Strike Back). I don’t think he gave a clear “yes” or “no” answer on this, but he did say that he was delighted that the people he had worked with at the beginning of his career, helping him start out in the business, were coming back now.
And yes, I think that is quite a compliment – and speaks for his professionalism, his talent – and his common decency as a colleague and a man. For the next question I was finally back in my seat, mind and body ready:
Was he interested in directing and if so what kind of movie, genre?
He said he didn’t think he could be a regular TV actor director, directing episodes of EastEnders. He knows how to do it, it’s fast and you get the shots and you move on. But that kind of work just wouldn’t be for him. “I’ve always been fascinated with that middle ground between dance and theatre where people like Robert Lepage
(? Canadian theatre director who has worked on the interface of dance and theatre) or Pina Bausch ( German choreographer) sit. Because of the skill set that I have, I think I could move to something like that. I think I could work with bodies and into voices.”
After mentioning his production company the day before what are his plans with it and is he interested in contributions from his fans, i.e. crowdfunding?
According to RA, the production company is still in its early stages where RA is still searching the internet to make sure that he can trade under the name that he really wants. But once that is sorted that out “it will be very clear to everybody that the name of the production company means something to me.”
Very interesting!!! Shall we start the guessing game? What will it be? A seminal role from his past with a bit of alliteration? ProPro as in “Proctor Productions”? A beloved book that has been on so many curriculi hence the eponymous “North and South Films”? Some fancy acronym? “RAP”? However, the reason he was getting into it is because he is collecting stories that he wants to develop – not as a guest or passenger, or as an actor that sort of brings financing to someone else’s project, but “I need to start owning the material that I am doing.”
As for crowdfunding: No, not really his plan. He has been asked to help with crowdfunding and also considered it myself but he thinks it is one of those things you can only really do once, like charity fundraising. “You have to be very very careful about asking people for money. I don’t like to do it.” He believes that if people want to give money to a charity, “it’s because they feel a personal connection to the charity, not to me.”
Oh god, how can you be so wrong, RA???? I think it is pretty clear that Richard’s name fuels a lot of fundraising – and that isn’t a bad thing. It is wonderful that he inspires many people to give to a good cause. So in summary, he’d be careful with crowdfunding and only resort to it if there was no other way. “But I would only ever do it once.”
On Dolarhyde and Chilton
In the Q&A on Saturday, RA had mentioned that he was glad he never had to act Dolarhyde committing his crimes. A fan of Frederick Chilton wanted to object to that – much to the delight of the audience. RA: “That wasn’t that terrible, it was quite pleasant actually. Come on, he deserved it. It was funny and really quite disturbing.”
A slight little wobbler here when RA had to ask the audience what the name of the actor was who played Frederick Chilton. OMG!!!! RA!!!!! But that was a colleague of yours!!! Not sure how the fannibals took that! However, the following answer actually thew up a really interesting tidbit. He said that he had very recently been to a play reading in New York for Michael Mayer who directed LLL. For a musical. He didn’t want to say what it is because it is being developed, but for this read-through, Raul Esparza (Frederick Chilton, see above) walked in, and he quipped to him “Hi Raul, come here, let me give you a kiss.’ He didn’t want to. I don’t know why…”
Did RA actively apply for the role of Thorin Oakenshield, was he approached by Peter Jackson or how did the casting come about?
RA went really far back with his answer, recounting how he had wanted to be in LotR already but missed the boat on that: “I sat in front of my agent saying I heard about LotR, do you think there would be a role? I’d really like Legolas. And she said ‘darling they are nearly at the end of the filming process.’” He joked about his own perception of himself, thinking of himself as an elf, playing something so blithe and light, “and then I actually end up getting cast as this dumb fat dwarf…” (lots of laughter at that). As for the actual casting process – we have heard this before, but he went into a bit more detail: He was working on Spooks and had just done a scene with Laila Rouass where he had hurt his back, so he had to wear a back brace, which was like a corset. But he was in a lot of pain. Then his agent called and told him that Peter Jackson was in town, just for two days, casting people, and asked him to just go in and do something. “Whatever you do, just don’t do silly dwarf voices, just interpret it and be yourself.” So he went to the audition despite huge pain since the morning. “I could hardly get out of bed, so I just took loads of painkillers, couldn’t even carry my bag, it was so painful. And I remember sitting outside the casting office thinking ‘I don’t know how to do this. I don’t think I can go in’ because I was sort of sweating and grimacing.” He did a scene in Bag End between Thorin and Balin where Thorin says he doesn’t know whether he can go on the quest and bring his people back to Erebor, in front of Peter and Fran and Philippa and a bunch of other casting people. Then went back to work. The call back came when he was on the set of The Vicar of Dibley
(Hm, can that be right???? I am 100% sure that I am remembering him saying that – but even at the con thinking he got something wrong there. Wasn’t Dibley much earlier than Spooks 9? I think he mixed something up here.) . He was surprised because he had walked out of the auction thinking he wouldn’t get it, “ok move on, next”, and he’d left the whole thing behind . And then he knew something was different because his agent arranged to go out for dinner with him and a couple of other agents. “They told me I got the job and it was kind of life-changing.”
What would have to happen for him to reach a point where he would make the decision to leave/cancel/exit a project?
Richard replied that that would never happen “but that is partly to do with the fact that I have a lot of loyalty, probably too much loyalty for my own good really.” However, he said that he has had moments where he was on board of a project and the question of exiting came up, for instance earlier this year with The Lodge. “I was already on board that project and something else came along which was bigger and better and brighter and more money and my agent says, ‘look, we can pull you out of the Lodge, they can recast it’ but in here I think, no I have already started the process, I don’t wanna let them down. And I don’t have a problem with that at all. I never ever have any regrets over the things that you miss or the things that you decide not to do. I think there is a strong enough reason why you decided not to do it.” He said he has never pulled out of any project. Except there was one television show which he discreetly did not want to name: “After the first read-through I did call my agent and ask ‘Can I get out of there?’ ” But he quickly, literally taught him a lesson and said don’t do it. Don’t build a reputation based on disloyalty. “So… I try not to.”
And isn’t that exactly the RA that we know and admire? This kind of principled approach, fiercely loyal – really too decent for his own good, I agree with him. A couple of “easier” questions followed.
Is there a character that he would like to revisit?
There was a lot of umming and ahhing, and then, to my surprise, he said John Proctor. He explained “Maybe [that is] because I think I am *likely* to revisit him if I am not too old.”
Calm down, Richie, the real John Proctor was killed when he was 60!!! You have so much time left!! Interestingly, he said he would like to explore the character on film, taking that work they did in the stage play and somehow put it on film, “not as a piece of filmed theatre, but as a feature film”. He acknowledged that there was a movie of The Crucible made back in the mid-90s, but he wanted to put something more organic on film, something more in line with what Yael Farber did with that piece of theatre.
Question from leftfield: What have you got in your pockets? The whole auditorium erupted in laughter!!!
Answer: His phone, headphones, credit card, some sunglasses. “Sums me up really…”
How was it putting on the armour for Thorin?
It was really, really extensive work, lots of designing, amazing technicians that created the armour. And Richard Taylor (co-founder and head of Weta Workshop, NZ) was closely involved. According to Richard, Taylor really wanted something that created almost an impossible shape because Thorin is so small yet he was supposed to look like a warrior, and his armour needed to be sculpted and tailored – “Richard Taylored”
*rolf* such a dad joke, Richard!!! The end result was something almost like a tank which Richard literally had to be drilled into. “There were no fasteners, you couldn’t have slipped out of it, they put you in with a hammer drill, so… bolted together with a drill. It was so tight around the middle, I kind of had to sit like this the whole time and couldn’t breathe out. So I guess, again, like a Victorian lady in a corset, almost having fainting fits. But it looked great, so I was really really happy with it.”
How did he approach the kind of self-loathing evident in Francis’ hating the way he looks, considering that he himself (Armitage) is a very handsome man?
Richard said that there was something he could relate to. “Without getting too personal, I don’t always enjoy looking at myself in the mirror.
awwwww honestly, it breaks my heart to hear that he has this insecurity thing going on. It was pretty visible at the con itself, body language and all, but there we go. I suppose we, as women, can particularly easily relate to what he feels there. So anyway, he said he avoids looking in the mirror. “I do it just to make sure I don’t have food on my face.” And he does it when he is in character, actually. “I do spend a bit of time studying my own face when I am playing a character, which is interesting because your face does change.” He went back to the Crucible as an example: “The way that I looked on day 1 in rehearsals compared to the way that I looked in the last week of performance. It was like a different person. I didn’t recognise myself. I think I aged 10 years. Nobody was sad about that by the way. It was exactly what the director had predicted.” And even now when he meets with Yael Farber to talk about other projects yes? YES? We are waiting, Richard!!!! she says she doesn’t recognise him because he is not that character anymore, and something has changed in his face. “So with Dolarhyde I think it was an extension of that. He looked at himself because he wanted to study lips and learn how to speak properly but he couldn’t look at his own eyes, he could only look at his mouth, so I just used that.”
How did he develop Francis and Reba’s relationship?
He said his thought process shifted a lot from reading the book to reading the script, to meeting Rutina Wesley. “I have always felt like you concentrate on your own character and you can’t make any decisions about another character until you have met the actor that is gonna bring that character into the room. And it’s where a lot of people fall down because they made a decision about the relationship before it even exists, yet what the other person can bring to the room can change everything. It can be a completely different interpretation to what you expect, and you have to be open to that.” Richard said that Rutina was incredible and her interpretation of Reba and the relation was really quite different to how he had read it in the book. He then described one of of the most interesting scenes that they played “in the dark in that darkroom… we asked them to turn the lights down and I almost blurred my eyes so that I couldn’t see her but only hear her.” That made Francis and Reba almost equal because she didn’t have sight and in the darkroom neither did he. But then Richard would catch glimpses of her face, just because of the way they had lit her. And now Richard totally slayed me with his wonderful and surprising way of expressing himself sometimes: “These moments leaping out of the dark kind of hook you.”
Wow! The poetry of that expression – moments leaping out of the dark *dead* He said that he loves and has studied art, particularly the Impressionists, but the example he pulled from was the old masters – painting on a completely dark canvas, “bringing just these shreds of light through. In a way to me that was what Reba’s character was, these sort of glimpses of light through darkness which pierced into Dolarhyde and that’s where the relationship came from.” Oh my cod, seriously, could the man be any more gorgeous in the way he expresses himself? If you are a lover of language like I am, you know what I mean *thud*
His latest project was finally addressed – Ocean’s 8: What was it like to work with all those amazing women?
First of all Richard made us all laugh with his admission that he actually hasn’t even seen the film. Not a deliberate choice, he just wasn’t available when it premiered. But between missing the premiere and being really adamant about not watching movies that he plays in, he simply hasn’t seen it. His participation in the movie happened by accident, by the way: “I came to the project really late. I was back at home in England for Christmas and I got a phone call saying can you get on a plane and get to New York in about 24 hours?” It had to be quick because they had rented the Metropolitan Museum of Art for two weeks and an actor had dropped out. So he had to prepare the character really quickly. But he worked his usual magic on the prep, “I just worked really fast in exactly the same way I would’ve done if I had three months.” He obviously loved Sandra Bullock and said that what was brilliant about working with those actors was that Sandy (sic!) Bullock was both a producer on the film, and the lead actress, and she was really accessible. She gave him her e-mail and told him to get in touch with his ideas, info, questions. “So I was bombarding her with images, documentaries about art fraud, she is busy being a director and Sandra Bullock, but she still took time to respond to absolutely everything. She watched everything that I recommended, she pulled things from that and got it into the script.”
Cool – so Richard got some of his ideas into this film, too… He *definitely* needs to get into production, if only to get credit for the extra creative work he provides on the projects he is involved in. About working with Sandra Bullock: “She starts every single take with a little giggle. And it sort of sums her up. And that really appeals to me because I am the same. I take the job really seriously but there’s parts of it where you think this is ridiculous.” Likewise, he loved working with Anne Hathaway again, as well as Helena Bonham-Carter, and he giggled about the fact that he had played Helena’s and Anne’s father in Alice through the Looking Glass, “… and then I am standing against the wall, kissing Anne Hathaway, thinking, this is kinda weird.” Not at all Richard. I’d happily stand back against the wall with you and kiss *coughs* Most of their scenes together were on that night shoot, and she made him belly-laugh between takes.
The last question turned to Rich’s audio work. Did he have any favourite narrators or audio books he’d like to recommend?
He confessed that he doesn’t listen to a lot of audio books, “and I certainly don’t listen to my own.”
Probably a bit like looking in the mirror, right? But in terms of his enjoyment of audio books he has just had really amazing experiences just sitting in a room, telling a story and he considers reading a story the most impactful moment of creativity. This was actually where the idea for starting a production company came from.”I see reading a book, performing a book, as the first bridge between literature and the realisation that this could become something visual.” When reading, he sees the pictures in his head and then describes them. David Hewson gave him the word for it, Kopfkino, a German word meaning “cinema of the mind”. “And I didn’t even realise I was doing it. I see the images in such detail…” As examples for impactful, particularly visual stories he mentioned the Angela Carter stories that he read for International Women’s Day last year. “The ‘Wolf Alice’ story completely pinned me to the wall.” It obviously impressed him very much because he said that he felt that now was the moment for Angela Carter’s writing to re-emerge on film “because it’s so brilliantly visual.”
And that abruptly concluded the second Q&A with Richard. There were standing ovations and thunderous applause; Richard had definitely won over the room – and the fannibals. And as a long-time fan I also felt that he had really put on a great performance for us. Performance sounds as if it was artificial or somehow inauthentic, but that is not what I mean. I am referring to his willingness to interact with us in this Q&A format. He simply presented himself as a really intelligent, thinking man, and he answered every question he was asked without squirming or distracting us. The general impression I came away with, is that my previous opinion of him was reinforced. A meticulous, possibly pedantic, if not perfectionist artist. Very sensitive to any kind of medium that might provide inspiration. His passion for his chosen profession is evident in everything he says about his jobs and his processes. He is extremely aware of his own responsibility as an actor in how he creates a character and performs a story. And I had the impression that he has grown in confidence at least when it comes to taking ownership of the narrative and producing stories himself. On a general level, the Q&A certainly also shone light on him as a human being – confidence issues, as well as personality traits such as loyalty and the need to connect with his co-workers. (I’ll probably write a bit more about “Richard – the man” when I come to my subjective account of the whole con.) But I really enjoyed the way he presented himself – thoughtful, professional, yet also humble and witty, or downright funny. In all honesty, I don’t really think I have anything I can truly criticise in this Q&A. He came across as genuine, honest and at ease.
At about the half way mark of the Q&A, I worried for one minute that possibly the questions might dry up and there weren’t enough people queuing for the microphone. No worries, actually – I had the impression that RA was quite capable of literally directing the event, making sure that he answered long or short enough, to fill the 60 minutes allocated to this talk. Something else that really struck me – and that is evident from all my photos as well as everyone else’s, RA really is not only a brilliant listener who concentrates on the person who is talking to him at that moment, but he actually continues to address his answer to the inquirer. In my images you can see him looking into the middle of the auditorium – that is where the microphone for questions was. I am sure he doesn’t do this with an agenda. It’s a subconscious reaction. But it just shows for me that he shows respect to the person who is talking to him, and he meets them *almost* on an equal footing. He certainly did not look embarrassed or flustered or unhappy in the “interrogation seat”, and I suspect he enjoyed the questions that were asked of him.
So, verdict: Loved it. Because this was Richard leaping out from the dark. And I liked what I saw.