The Importance of Being Richard Armitage

Richard Armitage from DaMan Magazine

Richard Armitage from DaMan Magazine

Richard Armitage sits at a curious place in his career.  Usually leading actors his age have already been cast in sensitive dramas and romances apparently reserved for the twenty and thirty-something talent.  These actors have already enjoyed the benefits (or pitfalls) of being an international A-lister.  By the early middle-age, caster directors start funneling them into action hero roles in preparation for the slide into secondary character roles. But RA has been a late bloomer in his career; he didn’t breakout on the UK scene until his early 30’s with North & South and was not a recognizable name until Spooks.  The Hobbit trilogy shot him onto the international scene as a potential regular A-lister in his early forties. Casting lightning struck.

Despite what has seemed to be a phenomenal stroke of good luck, let’s not forget that despite RA’s statements implying that he’s not really plotting his career but going where offers take him, he’s still an actor with an actor’s ambitions -he’s plotting his career. (Notice the willingness to do extra Hobbit PR, careful coaching, moving to the US, hiring a dresser, etc.).  He has never been the demure, shy, unambitious, starving artiste some fans have fantasized him to be.

The question now becomes: can he garner a spot in the top tier and buck the trend of middle-age stall out by rising, not falling, in status?  It remains to be seen.  While RA received favorable reviews for The Hobbit, these films still unfortunately don’t enjoy the same critical acclaim in film circles, as evidenced by the anticipated Oscar snub.  However, it did upgrade him from the so called “TV actor” and afforded him more parts from which to choose.  Whatever direction he jumped would have an enormous impact on the future of his career.

Casting lightning struck again when he acted in The Crucible to great reviews under the direction of renown Yael Farber.  This gave him more status and visibility on the international stage. His career is primed for what? More stage work? Films?  Today, it was announced that RA will play a serial killer in NBC’s  Hannibal.  While this was a return to TV, an American show provides high public visibility on the way to the holy grail – an A-list film career.  So, he’s coming full circle again, but with higher stakes.

Back when he was rarely seen and did very little between filming the Hobbit movies, I wondered if he had failed to strike while the iron was hot and that his PR people had fallen down on the job.  Clearly, that’s not been the case.  He and his people have been very carefully and methodically planning and waiting for The Next Big Move instead of taking the first thing to come along.  He’s proving quite adept at the waiting game.  I watch his career now with great interest indeed.  If he continues to play his cards right, he could be touted as The Next Big Thing.

I can see the headline now: 40 Is the New 30.

19 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Richard Armitage

  1. We’ve talked about this many times over the years — anyone who has a bigtime agent while still in drama school is obviously ambitious. And it’s a frequent characteristic of ambitious people to hide their ambitions or talk as if things happen haphazardly when they have been working toward them for a long time. He certainly has had his little pieces of good luck (and probably some bad as well), of course. I’ve also never understood the wave of disdain directed by fans at his management — it’s always been clear to me that he was looking not for wide exposure everywhere but for the right role at the right time, and on the whole, I think he’s done well with that strategy. It means that what he does, he does well. He may not get as many offers as some other actors get, but he knows how to choose well, in my opinion and he obviously also knows how to wait.

    • His demeanor was so unassuming and self-deprecating that he had some fans fooled. I wasn’t because why be an actor if you’re not striving for the next best role? This implies climbing the career ladder as a necessity.

      I was concerned about his people because for the first two years of The Hobbit, we saw almost nothing of RA while other cast members were doing other things. Turns out that they gambled to wait until filming completed before making the jump. It could have been risky, but it paid off.

      • [shrugs] Jane made that argument, too, at the time, but there wasn’t all that much space in those two years, really. Six weeks here and there, mostly. I think there was only one block that was longer than two months. He also moved to another country, bought an apartment, and acclimated to a new city. Which is (as you know) quite a bit of work 🙂

        • I’m still around occasionally and I still make this argument. In 2013 he had a lot of time to film several projects and all he did was about three months of Hobbit pick ups. I think that was a meagre time for him, when offers in the US didn’t rush in they way he had hoped for. Or maybe not the kind of offer that would allow him to build the reputation he needed, but only more in the vein of ITS. In that sense I guess waiting has paid off and it was wise to wait. He probably jumped onto the first thing that came along with ITS because he wanted to be in the US but it was good not to continue that way.

          • ITS was quite likely the “payoff” for another year of The Hobbit, and additionally it would have served as the offer that allowed him to take advantage of the Equity agreement with regard to eased granting of visas. Yes, his union membership meant that he could get a visa easily, but in order to obtain it he would have needed to show that he had been offered work. And IMO it has no negative consequences to star in a film that grosses as well as that one did internationally. It may have neutral consequences.

      • re: demeanor, I wrote a long post about that in his biography which I’ll summarize by saying: that he would appear to have been that way was overdetermined. There were so many reasons that spoke for it and some of them may have been real personality factors. I do not think by any means that what we used to see was an act and now we’re seeing the “real” man who finally feels free enough to express his desires. People change. But you can be quiet and unassuming AND ambitious. In fact, it’s in your interest to be quiet if you’re ambitious, because you frighten people less.

  2. ps: although re: the Crucible, I don’t think that was “casting lightning” so much as simply financial calculation — or at least, the financial calculation played a definite role there along with the casting question. He wouldn’t have gotten the role if he couldn’t act at all — but the Old Vic needs to fill seats in that cavernous space and they choose both the plays they do and the headliners on that basis. They don’t take public arts money and so they are dependent on receipts and donors / foundations / corporate sponsors.

    • They didn’t *have to* hire RA for the role although he did come with a built in fanbase though I’m sitting here trying to come up with somebody else who could have been cast and pulling a blank. RA, of course! Clearly they wanted bums in the seats. That’s usually the case with all headliners such Tom Hiddleston and David Tennant. *squee* Cough.

      • No, they didn’t have to hire him because he was the only actor with a fanbase, but that wasn’t what I was saying. I was saying that his success and capacity to fill seats put him in a category of people who could be chosen for that role — and that that question (who could fill this theater? at a salary we can afford to / are willing to pay for a headliner?) was probably the first question used for assembling a short list for the role. Some actors would have filled the theater but have come at too high a price; others would have come cheaper, possibly, but not have been an audience draw. Everything about the casting of that production said “we’re scrimping on money here,” in particular the casting of most of the young female roles.

      • That doesn’t guarantee good reviews though 😉 critics are all notoriously suspicious of fanbase actors. RA made quite the splash in that respect this summer with the Crucible and i’m so happy about it. But although fanbase played an important role in selling the tickets, the truth is actually that the tickets were not sold out at all when the run began and it started selling fast once word of mouth got round and especially once the reviews came in. While the fanbase provided a good solid start to the sale, those were the tickets which sold way before the run began (mostly). The sell out came largely from local public who got drawn to it by reviews and very good feedback from people who had seen it.
        (True for the other 2 as well – the bit about getting recognition for their acting chops beyond fan attraction ;-))
        As to the new role, clever move indeed, it’s high profile for TV, controversial as well which makes people talk about it even more. And he’ll be good in it so hopefully that will be another boost and i’ll look forward to watch what comes next (as i may very well give this the skip 😉 )

        • Advance sales were really important in this particular case and they were larger than they have been for other productions at that theater. The Crucible didn’t sell out in advance, but it would have been hard, with the size of that theater, unless he had been Benedict Cumberbatch or that level of actor (and I am guessing those people would not have been on the Old Vic’s possibles list). (And as far as I know, Kristin Scott Thomas, although an actor of more significant artistic reputation than Armitage, did not succeed in the sort of month-long end sellout that Armitage got.) Of course, fan sales don’t fill the production, but they are an important first step, and they play a role in hiring. He said this himself in interviewers: “they needed an anchor.” Another factor, of course, for the theater going audience: Yael Farber.

    • Also, I spoke of casting lightning because regardless of the Old Vic’s motivations, the play was exactly the kind of acting showcase and public exposure he needed after The Hobbit. For him, the play was another breakout, this time on stage.

      • The Crucible and Richard Armitage was magic! And I am still waiting to experience that magic for myself with the download. Ha! It was a perfect confluence of play, director, star, theatre venue, and context within other shows at the time.

        It’s hard to second guess one’s self or others. But when you end up in a place–or along a path–that you feel is right for you, then the time and the choices it takes to get there seem “right”. And changing any one of the choices along the way, might have altered where you ended up.

        I think about what if RA had not portrayed Sir Guy in Robin Hood–and transformed that show in the process–but if he had been cast as Robin Hood? *shudders* Or if RA had not portrayed Standring in Sparkhouse nor Thornton in North & South? Nor any of his other “break out” roles that I and many others find pivotal? To me, each role seems to add an important facet to Richard Armitage’s career–the shy man, the industrious man, the redemptive man, etc.

        And RA will probably feel differently about his role choices and their impact upon his career and his life than his fans do. But that is to be expected. He has said before that you embrace your past and move on–mostly about the speedos. Ha!

  3. Not quite sure exactly how much of it is down to careful planning and wise choices as I have a feeling that there were a few roles that he and his management would have liked to get but which were given to somebody else. Up until now I hadn’t heard about Hannibal but if it is a well known series in the US it certainly is a good move to accept the offer. The character he plays will be a real challenge. I don’t doubt he is up to that challenge although – unfortunately for me – I can’t stand to read or watch stuff like that which means I am going to give this one a miss. Nowadays movie actors seem to accept roles in TV series and vice versa and both don’t prevent them from accepting roles on stage. A good situation for actors who are good enough and ready to do all of those. I hope there will be another role for him sometime which I will enjoy more but definitely good luck to him 🙂

    • I’m planning to skip the blood and gore tv role as well. Violence as entertainment isn’t my thing. Having friends whose lives have been devastated by violence gives one a different perspective about it. And that is not to say that there is only one perspective as a reaction to violence. This is simply my perspective.

      But as others have said, this role for a major network show is probably a smart strategic choice for him. So I wish him luck. And I hope that the role does not extend beyond the planned 6 episodes.

      And I will look forward to his other upcoming roles in Urban and the Shed Crew, Sleepwalker, etc.. And somebody, please cast him in a nice romantic comedy, where he gets the girl, has to diaper babies, etc.–at least once. Ha!

Comments are closed.