Armitage barbatus, or: beard as costume, part 4

Parts One, Two, Three, and supplement to Part Three.

IV. Silent, upon a peak in Darien: or Armitage sprezzatura shows itself

[If you didn't read section III and the supplement, please make certain that you know the definition and rhetorical implications of the term "sprezzatura" by clicking on the link above. And for those who were waiting for the answer to this question: below, the explanation of why this is my favorite picture of Armitage. My heart still beats faster when I see it -- perhaps it's the curve of his nostrils and the slight curl in the side of his lips: those are the two details I almost always end up focusing on in this photo.]

Richard Armitage, BAFTA TV awards, London, June 6, 2010. This photo is a candid attributed to JJ. Source, including JJ’s report: RichardArmitageNet.com

You’re saying to yourself, “no beard,” right? Why did Servetus love this appearance so much? Why is she going on about it a year later? And what does it have to do with the beard?

The answer: sprezzatura.

From an unpublished draft intended for this blog and suppressed out of embarrassment, June 7, 2010:

“What a day the man had. Every picture, every video clip, says exactly the same thing, from the step out of the car to the turn toward the entrance of the theatre: ‘I belong here, I agree to accept this attention with grace and acknowledge it without embarrassment, I own this red carpet.’ Not in an aggressive way, but with a confident energy that won’t let me take my eyes off him. No moments of embarrassment, no awkwardness, just absolute, intense, involvement in being this version of Richard Armitage. Look at the way he positions, displays his legs, as he gets involved in conversations and becomes oblivious to the photographers; look at the ways he positions them when he knows he’s in view. The poses seem unposed; the unposed photos seem architecturally arranged. And the lack of tension in his hands says it all — he’s got it under control, and some of these glances almost border on insouciant — so different from the cool, distanced, or perplexed / mystified Armitage I’ve sometimes seen in other red carpet shots. The energy says, ‘I’m here! Right at your fingertips! Watch out or you might get burned!’ and ‘You’ll never really touch me!’ in the most amused tone, precisely at the same time. And the look on his face in that picture — like he’s surveying a potential empire, ripe for the taking. Makes me think of Keats, as if Armitage were ‘a watcher of the skies / When a new planet slips into his ken,‘ as if he’s just learned something and now he’s going to school us all while he silently calculates his possibilities. Or like the Florentine David, who’s sculpted contemplating Goliath after he’s decided to fight him, but before the attack begins. It’s like something is about to spring out of Armitage here — we’re all just coping with the tension before it does — but the explosion doesn’t come, the excitement just builds and builds. An excited calm, a calm excitement that simmers and stews.

This effect is something you can’t get from trying to be energetic, or ‘masculine’ in the conventional sense; it’s like something’s changed inside and all the barriers have gone down and he’s just radiating a new charisma into the universe. But at the same time, the nonchalance, the charming exterior, makes us think that there’s even more there, it seduces us into thinking that nothing can be so simple, that there’s a deeper, more complex, even more desirable Armitage to be found right below the surface of that pristine shirt front, right behind those deceptively sparkling eyes. I want, I want, I want! — and I reach out my hand to touch and grasp only the merest impression of what I believe has to be there — and I want, and want, and want again! — and reach, and reach, and reach again, but without ever touching anything. The object moves closer into visual range even as the essence recedes from grasp — so tantalizing that I can’t stop thinking about him. The woman widens her nostrils to try to calm her arousal; the teacher says, ‘he is nailing this performance.’ Every time I look at these images I get tears in my eyes.”

(Honestly, compared to the explicitness of some things I’ve written and published since then, that doesn’t seem quite so bad. I’m glad I took the opportunity to revisit it.)

***

The photo, again, for reference. Richard Armitage, BAFTA TV awards, London, June 6, 2010. This photo is a candid attributed to JJ. Source, including report: RichardArmitageNet.com

You’ll object, reasonably, that better pictures from the event were available, and that technically it’s not a great picture; the photographer’s autofocus seems to have settled on the background rather than on the subject. But that “error” contributes to the effect this photo had on me. Here’s a photo of Richard Armitage on the red carpet at the BAFTAs that’s also, or due to the focus “issue,” even more a photo about the subject as captured by the event himself. If this framework isn’t clear to you, compare the framing structure of the photo above to the one below, to which I referred about two weeks ago, when my concern was how you play the role of John Porter when five people and their obtrusive equipment are inches away from your face:

Richard Armitage as John Porter and film crew filming a scene from Strike Back 1.1. Source: Facebook

It’s simultaneously a photo of Richard Armitage playing John Porter, and a photo of how that process is being mediatized. Clear? In the BAFTAs photo he’s slightly hazy, even losing definition if you look at the supersize version of the photo, even as the process itself comes more strongly into focus. He’s simultaneously being Richard Armitage, and being mediatized as Richard Armitage; he’s figuring out how to play the role of Richard Armitage just as the people who are recording and disseminating that role are feet away from him with their obtrusive equipment. So it shows not only a successful result, i.e., a beautiful picture of Richard Armitage, but even more the process of creating the role. To use the phrase I employed in part 3, here we see the framework that helps us appreciate the artifice. (And this is why, I think, media outlets get such great responses these days to the framing events they stream, like the Captain America premiere.)

Touch me — if you can. Richard Armitage at the 2010 BAFTA TV awards, June 6, 2010, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

So what is the artifice involved? Because the man is oozing effortless mastery of the situation — he’s an advertisement for how to create sprezzatura. It’s precisely because you don’t see artifice in most of the photos that the framework photos are interesting; it’s because you say “he looks so natural” that you know something is going on. Let’s follow for a moment the argument that I would have endorsed at the time: that the artifice stemmed from the clothing.

The suit that wore Armitage: Richard Armitage at the 2007 BAFTA TV awards, London. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

At his first BAFTA TV awards red carpet, in 2007, he seemed to me like a kid in a rented suit for prom (U.S. definition of that word) — you could say he was endearing, and lots of people fell and are still falling for the sound byte about Nigella Lawson — but even laying aside the impact of the Guy of Gisborne hair he had to maintain for the role he was filming at the time, the suit he had on was wearing him. He was “natural” in the sense of being sweet, and to some extent you could say the appearance was effortless, but the actual effortlessness meant that he attained nothing like a personal mastery over his own appearance. He could be the real Richard Armitage here, making no attempt to play himself as a role, but the unperformed Armitage was in such severe conflict with his atmosphere — the red carpet being all about performance — that the result was jarring — almost naïve in a bad way. A performance of naïveté in a context of sophistication almost always has to be ironic; actual naïveté in such settings just seems uninformed, clueless, sophomoric. The appearance illustrates the first point about sprezzatura (from Part III): no performer dares eschew or reject the enactment of effortless mastery, not even in the name of sincerity, or out of ignorance. Not making an effort simply makes him appear even more out of place because he appears to be struggling, whether he is or not, and the struggle distracts the audience from enjoyment of the performance.

Remote, chilly, his energy trapped behind his eyes: Richard Armitage at the 2009 BAFTA TV awards, London, England. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

At the second BAFTA TV awards red carpet, in 2009, he’d clearly corrected the most problematic aspects of the earlier appearance, but it was an overcorrection, one that erased everything that felt like the Armitage one knew from his interviews from the pictures — with of course the exception of his familiar visage. But the expressions on it were all too remote and occasionally appeared icy. His smiles often seemed forced, his jaw clenched, his eyes absent. The most effective moments of the appearance were when he was actually performing and seemed to realize it, i.e., interacting with his co-presenter and announcing the award. In viewing these images, I felt like he overshot the mark, appearing stiff and more ironic in an out-of-character way than I found attractive (though some people preferred this appearance just for the sheet formal elegance of it all — I think this was Natalie‘s favorite look). This appearance illustrates the second point about sprezzatura (from the supplement to Part III): that no one style of enacting effortless mastery works for every performer. Certain cultural norms apply — we expect a man to wear a well-tailored suit at a red carpet appearance, for instance — but they are mainly guidelines. Following the rules too rigidly can get you into just as much trouble as ignoring them completely, because it seems like you have no individual taste and are simply following the crowd. The way that one embodies or enacts sprezzatura cannot simply adhere to a prefab norm, but instead has to fit with the gender, physiognomy, physiology, personality, and aura of the performer. The suit was not especially well-fitting here, but it conformed his appearance more effectively to the black tie norm than his previous year’s choice and it took one obvious and particular category of criticism (naiveté) out of the arsenal, but by making him look in charge of the situation, it made the mastery again look contrived and less than effortless. The problem was, once again, that the suit wore Armitage, lending him a vibe of irony, snobbishness, even remoteness that was clearly at odds with his own energy.

Another photo of Richard Armitage from the BAFTA TV awards, London, June 6, 2010, that I particularly loved. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

What a contrast, then, to his appearance in 2010, where everything was right and the energy he showed us was stunning, bowling-us-over charisma. For the first time at a red carpet, he wasn’t either ignoring himself or wearing something that fought with the attributes of his body and his energy. For once (reference Part I, where I argued that the Thorin face works because it plays to the striking qualities of Armitage’s facial features), he was wearing clothing that was designed to play up his positive attributes and camouflage or at least accommodate gracefully the places where his body did not fit the typical menswear silhouette, as I noted at the time. I recorded my analytical responses to his clothing at this appearance at the time here. The ensemble included sleeveheads and a shoulder construction that properly fit his shoulders and allowed him to move his chest effectively without bunching or gaping; a collar and shirt that fit well across his collarbones; a nipped-in waist, located at the right point, that wasn’t structured to make a concession to his relatively wide hips; the tailoring of the skirt of the jacket to accommodate his hips and posterior; and slacks that were cut just right (if a bit narrowly for my taste) across his dancer / action-man thighs, with a perfect trouser break. The suit was not traditional black tie, although the tie he wore gestured in that direction; for one thing, it had pinstripes — a feature that we frequently see Armitage sporting, as in the North & South interview, and may deduce that he finds especially attractive or representative of himself. And (referring back to supplement to Part III), he made the look his own with the addition of some extremely stylish shoes that were not the traditional oxfords that go with black tie. Wearing this suite, he found the means to be effortless in a way that combined both the generic elements that we expect to see at a red carpet function, and his own energy — and the synergy was overpowering. This was the same suit that he’d worn to the Strike Back premiere a month earlier, with a more dressed down shirt for a more casual look, and one suspects that one reason he chose it for the BAFTAs was that he had gotten positive feedback on it then.

Sprezzatura foreshadowed. Andrew Lincoln and Richard Armitage at the Strike Back premiere, London, England, April 15, 2010. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

First, he looked like he felt good in those clothes, not uncomfortable, or surprised at the attention, or even indifferent, as he sometimes did in very early appearances. Second, because of the previous try-out of the outfit, he knew other people responded well to him as Richard Armitage while he was wearing them. The clothes thus expressed both a positive energy built within his identity, and a positive reflection of that identity mirrored in the eyes of those around him. They thus fulfilled two main axes of identity formation: who we know ourselves to be, and who others understand us to be. In that sense, they were the perfect costume in which Richard Armitage could perform the role of Richard Armitage. In other words, now going back to the argument I made in Part II: I concluded that for once, the clothing Richard Armitage was putting on for an activity about which he has expressed a strong distaste did not feel like a costume. The 2010 suit did not “mar the creation of [his] character.” The clothes served as a medium for his self-presentation rather than an obstacle to it — as much to him himself as for us. They were not a costume for the performance of Richard Armitage — they were the clothing of the performed Richard Armitage.

Key here is that I’m not arguing that BAFTA 2010 was his most “natural” appearance, that this was the “real” Richard Armitage in contrast to “fake” ones we’d seen before. Neither am I asserting that the BAFTA 2010 appearance was his least “natural” appearance, that he was faking a Richard Armitage for the purposes of that particular event. Instead, I am arguing that the BAFTA 2010 was the appearance that seemed the most natural, because he was performing a particular version of himself in the most effective way I’d seen it up until then.

To use the language of this series the BAFTA 2010 performance of Richard Armitage had the most sprezzatura. In it, he showed the most effortless mastery of a situation that he has stated repeatedly that he finds alienating that he’d managed to date. We’ve always seen a strong sprezzatura in the performances of his roles — so that we forget about Armitage in relationship to Guy of Gisborne or Lucas North, for example, and see only those roles and not Armitage. His success at that is what makes watching his interviews such an interesting experience — whether you find that affirming or jarring I leave up to you. I was jarred by the North & South interview, which I saw after seeing North & South for the first time; I couldn’t believe this rather clumsy interviewee was the same man who’d just electrified me as Thornton. But I know many people found what they saw as the sweetness of the Armitage of that interview immediately endearing. At the BAFTA TV awards I saw an energy in his performance of himself that I hadn’t ever really seen in that completeness before in places where he was appearing as Richard Armitage. It wasn’t nervous or tense, it wasn’t giggly, it wasn’t partially closed off, it wasn’t quietly or sweetly polite; it wasn’t preoccupied with the theme he was discussing to the extent of closing off a self-presentation beyond the unintended, a problem that he has occasionally — he has a harder time speaking about acting than acting. In contrast, to these appearances, the BAFTA 2010 event was energetic and energizing to watch. Signs were available that things had been changing before that, as with his effective use of equilibrium in the Fall 2009 publicity run-up to the Spooks premiere. But this was a star performance.

So why be excited about this appearance if no beard was involved? Because it was the first time I think we saw Armitage embracing a particular kind of costuming as a means to performing the self in a really effective way.

In closing, a defense of my position against potential misunderstandings and two reflections that lead up to the final three posts in this series.

First, when I talk about “beard as costume,” this is the sense in which I am thinking of it — the beard, like this particular suit, as something that Richard Armitage puts on in order to perform a particular version of Richard Armitage. In other words, and to get back to the original issue of how I feel about the beard, my reactions to him are not so much related to beard vs. no beard, or even to my aesthetic evaluation of the beard, which I happen to like, but rather to what a particular costume, like an especially well-tailored suit or the beard, allows him to do with himself. This process is obscured when we’re watching him in a role; he’s so good at being all of these other people that we forget about Richard Armitage, and that’s as it should be. But the problem arises again when we see Richard Armitage appearing as himself, a role in which he has actually been much less performatively consistent over the years than in his acting jobs. What he can do with the beard is the topic of the next post, Part V, an interpretation of what was going on at February’s Hobbit press conference.

Second, I know there are readers here who love the interviews in which he seems giggly, nervous, sweet, or naïve, and that the argument made above might be read as a criticism of him when he performs that Richard Armitage. With what I argue above, I do not mean to assert that he is unattractive in those guises, or ineffective, or unsuccessful, or that he has some character defect. I’m not saying it’s wrong to allow himself, or to choose to be, sweet or naïve or a little confused or preoccupied with his roles over his performance of self. I’m not even saying that he has any obligation to appear in public as himself or to do anything at all in particular when he does so. He can, and should, do whatever he wants when he’s in public and I emphatically support his right to pick his nose on screen during interviews if that’s what he’d prefer to do. It’s just that, for me, being Richard Armitage and performing Richard Armitage are two separate activities that merge in specific ways for the actor, and that, on the whole, public appearances demand the latter activity take the forefront. Because the structure of sprezzatura as a rhetorical activity demands our awareness of the framing of artifice, however, it is also clear that the “sweet” Armitage (which many viewers associate with the clean-shaven one) will need to persist and appear from time to time. For various reasons, though, I think it cannot remain the dominant self-performance of Richard Armitage. The discontents, but also the necessity of at least a rhetorical or metaphorical performance of “clean-shaven” and “floppy haired,” are the topic for part VI.

Finally, for me the Strike Back and BAFTA 2010 appearances suggested to me that something was strongly changing in Armitage’s decisions about his public persona and his related self-descriptions. For most of his career up until that point — starting with the first thing he ever said on the BBC discussion board and going on to all his statements about his reclusiveness, his shyness, his nerdy DIY guy preferences, his limited sense of style, his inability to see himself as a sex symbol, and the sweetness of the North & South interview in which he laughs about horse poo and mentions that kissing Daniela Denby-Ashe was “a nice way to spend an afternoon,” leaving the main impression of “why are you making all this fuss about me?” — much of his public persona had seemed to counter the apparent sprezzatura of his performances. “I am not what I seem to be on screen,” he appeared to be insisting. He emphatically rejected the enactment of effortless mastery as a piece of his public performance; he was saying “no” to sprezzatura. He still gives us that message, most recently this weekend. At the same time, however, the Hobbit press conference and his red carpet appearance in Los Angeles seemed to suggest that he’s taking a different stance on that fundamental position — maybe we should say, executing his conviction differently — than he did at the beginning of his career. There’s a clear sprezzatura to his appearances as Richard Armitage that seems unlikely to go away now. It appeared first in 2010 and developed more fully during 2011 and the beard is a central component of it. Thus, the beard seems to signal a change not only of role (from Lucas North to Thorin Oakenshield), but a change in the rules that Armitage’s set up for self-performances. Is Armitage changing? And if he is, is he still “our” Armitage? Part VII looks at the future of the beard as a costume.

~ by Servetus on July 26, 2011.

65 Responses to “Armitage barbatus, or: beard as costume, part 4”

  1. [...] IV. Silent, upon a peak in Darien: or, Armitage sprezzatura shows itself [...]

  2. Fascinating insights as ever. This development of sprezzatura seems to signal a new realism and maturity in RA’s attitude. The red carpet and press conferences are never going to go away and therefore the attitude that they are to be endured, with embarrassment, must sensibly be redundant. Therefore treat them as performance, and as with all RA performance approach them intelligently, with thorough preparation, with a goal in mind, calculating their impact.

    The breard also seems to signal a new approach. Its reference for Thorin and the politics of that is obvious but the retention of the beard during the hiatus seems particularly significant for me. Now we know RA doesn’t really like shaving but we also know this is due to the fact that his beard grows very quickly and to appear clean shaven he would have to shave twice a day and this would irritate his skin and, well why would he spend the time?! So why retain the beard and not go back to the stubble. A clear choice, a new persona? Almost certainly. Given his long held reluctance to take his shirt off and become objectified sexually and his recent remarks about wanting grow fat (which I do not believe to be true per se) I think we are seeing a new Armitage being presented. I have to say I imagine he was ecstatic to have got out of SB2. What we have seen/heard so far suggests that the male leads spend a reasonable amount of time doing what RA no longer wants to do, shirt off sex scenes. The dialogue doesn’t seem exactly sparkling and in this context I think RA would feel he had taken JP as far as he could go in character development terms.

    So wither Armitage professionally? Villians? What has happened to wanting to do something about love? As love clearly equates with sex scenes in the majority of work he would be offered, will he compromise this new Armitage or will he avoid such roles?

    I think that is all up for grabs since he can’t control the work he is offered but getting the role of Thorin on the basis of what he can deliver rather than what he has delivered in the past may have boosted his confidence.

    I hope this hasn’t pre-empted anything you wanted to say in a later post, Servetus. Quite an essay from me, possibly because the brain is in gear from spending an hour first thing in the morning on the doctrine of reprobation!

    • Ah, reprobation … you’re in my core academic territory now, Pam. Hypothetical universalism, anyone?

      I agree that the decision to keep the beard on for LA was decisive. You haven’t decisively preempted anything I wanted to say but you raised a lot of data that I’ve considered as well.

      I imagine he was ecstatic to get out of SB as well, although I loved him in it — and I agree, it was unclear where that character could have gone without much better scripts that the collaboration with US tv was unlikely to generate. There was no way that SB was going to be about relationships, ever, as opposed to violence and blowing things up.

      On the interviews lately … oh man, do I have thoughts, but my writing / processing speed is so slow.

      • Please servetus I would like to know your thoughts about those two most recently interviews, keep writing!

  3. I definetely think he is trying to create a new public persona and not just for himself and the way he wants to be perceived but I think none of what we are witnessing right now is a coincidence, it is carefully organised by the the Hobbit people, the revelation of Thorin’s look (slightly different versions, so we still don’t know how he will look on screen in the end), the production vids, RA’s interviews and photoshots and his public appearances.

    I do think, for the sake of pleasing the broad audience, PJ tries to push Thorin as far in the direction of Aragorn as he an get away with and for most of the audience it will work, but it alienates the core audience, so they have to appease them but giving them a picture of a bearded RA, not a glamorous James Bond type, and stressing in interviews how serious he takes his work and hard he works and how deep he gets into character, keeping the novel as a reference (important, as many fear that his Thorin will not be the Thorin from the book). I’m not saying all this isn’t true, but there is a reason why the public is present with such quotes right now.

    • His handlers: certainly on trying to sell the film, but I’m not so convinced regarding Armitage’s appearances as himself. Maybe. If they were exercising that much influence on him, you’d think they’d be doing a better job, though. If you look at it from that perspective there are some really serious PR errors occurring, including in the vlogs. To me this doesn’t read as if it is wholly an effort being made by the Hobbit PR, but perhaps more crucially for me, that doesn’t matter so much as what Armitage takes out of it. I don’t think you can separate the process of being mediatized (or attempts at mediatizing him) from the processes of personality development.

      • To what errors are you referring? Rob Kazinsky in costume in the third vid? Kili having seven fingers? Or something else entirely? I don’t really know why I think something carefully planned is going on, perhaps because that is what one expects from a ridiculously expensive Hollywood production. But maybe I’m wrong. I have been told that apparently PJ’s team is more genuine.

        • I love the version of Armitage that’s appearing in these vlogs, but I don’t think the shy man looking up from beneath his eyelashes is exactly the image I’d pick to sell to Hobbit fans. The end of the last one was better, when he made that remark about going on the quest, but the first two? Meh. And I think PJ’s team did a terrible job managing the problem of “beautiful Armitage.” In essence they are recovering from a problem they created themselves.

          The CA thing is something different entirely, I suspect.

  4. That bit you suppressed? That is the single most beautiful piece of your writing that you’ve shared here. Trust yourself.

  5. I think he has finally come to term with to act the role of a “star” in those events, and once he accpet it he can perform flawlessly in spite of his dislike of those occassions. It’s not a easy transition cause he strikes me as a person who always seeks something truthful and meaningful and dislike vanity.

    • I think it was something he either thought unimportant / overrated or resisted for a long time. I also think he is kidding himself about his capacity to be anonymous in public settings and that that feeds into these settings. He really thought for a long time IMO that people were not watching very closely.

      • Well, are they? Apart from us, no-one cares to date. As far as I know, no magazine has ever printed a pic of him on the red carpet and no TV mag has ever broadcast one of those interviews they do at such occasions. I think I saw a pic of him on some celebrity site fron the CA premier but at last year’s BAFTAs they did print a pic of Miranda Raison but not of him.

        • Well, he is photographed regularly (this can’t have escaped him, since he poses for these photos), and we are watching him. A good example is the Varekai gala. To go dressed like that to an event like that sends an odd message.

          • But as long as no mag or celeb site prints those pics it doesn’t matter. They will, at some point, but to date he still flies under that radar. The Daily Mail had a big feature about the CA premier but no pic of him. When gossip sites starts to dissect his clothing and he turns up on lists of worst dress celebs, it is time to worry. :-)

            • a lot of accomplished actors doesn’t have that “subject of gossip sites” status, so i don’t think it’s a good gauge of one’s success as actor. Just my two cents.

              • I have to say I agree with this. He may be getting feedback from other sources about his appearance in these settings. Including his agent. His decision to consult an LA company that specifically advises celebs on how to appear perfectly on the red carpet suggests that he’s increasingly sensitive to something / someone.

  6. I absolutely love the stubble and that pic is simply breathtaking. I wish he had looked like that at the CA premiere. I think I would literally swoon if I ever saw him in real life looking like he does there. Hopefully we’ll get some more premiere pics tonight from Liverpool. I like the beard but he is so utterly beautiful without it….I selfishly just want to see him in his full glory. I don’t know how studied his performance at premieres has been, but I adore the results, either way.

    • I agree, swoontastic. You remember at the time I wrote 10,000 words about the suits, and it was mostly because this was the most amazing picture of him I had ever seen and it took me days to recover from seeing it. However, I can’t imagine that he’d have appeared in this way in LA, and even though I’ve charged him with overdoing his naïveté, I think he would have realized it. This suit would have been completely wrong for that event, and the young sexy look would have upstaged Evans, Cooper et al. He was a character actor in the film and he appeared as a character actor on the red carpet. The beard also makes him look significantly older, and I think that’s important, too.

  7. First off, those pictures are gorgeous and I hadn’t seen the Touch me one. The resolution’s graininess and color almost makes it look painted.

    Secondly, your position on his evolving sprezzatura playing himself was well argued. You articulated why I felt he was a bit gauche in 2007, aloof in 2009 and masterful in 2010 but couldn’t explain why. I understand how if a custome feels “right,” it ceases to be a custome but become an integral part of the performance. In layman’s terms the saying is, “If you look good, you feel good.” (This reminds me of RA saying he had a harder time rehearsing as Guy if he wasn’t wearing the leather coat.)

    Thirdly, I’m still unsure which way you’re going with the beard since you’re separating your personal preference for it from the beard as sprezzatura. However, you’re clarifying my thoughts on why I feel the way I do. Really looking foward to the next installment. :D

    • Yikes! I do know how to spell costume. Really.

    • I love the beard. :) But I won’t argue for it on aesthetic grounds. De gustibus non est disputandum.

      • Oh no, I respect your tastes. I’m considering The Beard through the POV of a viewer interpreting his sprezzatura through my personal filters. It’s probably that despite whatever aesthetic tastes viewers have, The Beard is having a positive impact on his development of self. I guess the question will become whether the viewer want to accept that or not.

        • I think there’s an aesthetic argument available that from a certain point it expands his jaw in a way that it doesn’t need to be widened anymore. Maybe I will write something about the aesthetics of the beard after all. But your last question is central, and I think it’s been an ongoing question all through his career, whether his viewers were willing to go the places his career went. Would N&S lovers accept SB? He’s been cited as considering this question in interviews. My personal view on this question is that what makes him exciting to watch is his capacity to do all of these different things, and that we should consider buying into the beard because we’re likely to see an exciting result. I’m just as wedded as any other viewer to the things I loved about his earlier roles. I would have watched him play Guy or Lucas or Porter happily for decades. But he wouldn’t have grown doing that.

  8. He would have been bored stiff playing any of the those characters for an extended period. He thrives on constant challenge. At least we know he won’t end up in a US show that runs for 14 seasons!

    Servetus I’m putting theology to one side tomorrow and visiting the archives at the Imperial War Museum. This will allow me to visit the spot where Lucas stood and watched Elizaveta picking up her son in Spooks 7.2!

    • not being in a US tv series is a double edged sword — he won’t be in a boring role that goes nowhere, but US tv writing usually has much better continuity in my experience :)

      Hope you enjoy the archives. I’m jealous of people whose archival stuff is mostly typewritten :)

  9. This is my favourite photograph of him. There they are again, all the parallel lines and pleasant angles :-). Oh, I do dislike the beard, I really do, even though it makes him look regal and distinguished, like a young Prince Michael of Kent. Sorry.

    I really hope for a role like Mr. Firth’s George VI for him.

  10. A most discerning analysis!

    Judging from the public appearances we have seen over the last year I think RA has definitely grown more experienced in presenting his public persona. This experience helps him to be more self-assured and more relaxed during interviews, especially when they are being filmed.

    I particularly like your idea of the “beard as [a] costume […] that Richard Armitage puts on in order to perform a particular version of Richard Armitage”. While watching the Hobbit press conference I got the impression that he made use of the beard (and his voice) as a sort of prop to sort of foreshadow an idea of Thorin. I don’t think this was necessarily a conscious decision but at least partly a consequence of immersing himself in the role. I don’t think he needs the beard to create or keep up his public persona but he is definitely making good use of it. I expect that as soon as a new role demands it or perhaps even as soon as the filming of the Hobbit is over the beard will probably be gone. RA’s growing ease in presenting his public persona – his sprezzatura? – hopefully will remain.

    I do not suppose that what we have seen during the couple of weeks indicates that the “real” Armitage is changing, at least not in a fundamental way. What RA considers to be his “real” or perhaps more appropriately his private self has been and is certainly and quite rightly going be reserved for his friends and family. However, I don’t think there is a Jekyll and Hyde difference between public persona and private self.

    I am really looking forward to your next post. And finally – reading your posts is doing my English the world of good by constantly adding new words to my vocabulary :-)

    • yeah, I didn’t see the press conference as a Thorin appearance — I saw it as Richard Armitage exploiting the beard for what it could give him, and I think it gave him a lot. I think we are going to see new stuff from him because the beard makes him braver.

      I took a quiz today on the internet — turns out I have an estimated 41,100 English vocabulary words — but I’ll try not to use them all at once :)

  11. Serv, your post was quite insightful and thought-provoking, as were the comments it generated.

    Except for mine. I’m choosing to be shallow and vacuous.

    While I absolutely agree with your BAFTA analysis, my favorite look is still from 2007. I can’t help it, I just think he looks cute as a button.

    And while I fully support future roles that will promote professional and personal growth, I wouldn’t mind a few shirt-off sex scenes. The guy is just so HOT!

    • Frenz agrees with you re 2007. I don’t think it’s a vacuous comment to say that you like how he looks when he looks hot. That’s part of his appeal for me, too.

  12. I suspect that there is a very fine line between a performer’s intuition and a conscious thinking through of how to present him/herself in public. Depending on the actor. I suspect that Mr. Armitage is as intuitive as he is analytical. Only suspect, mind you. He has certainly displayed increasing confidence in all public situations, from red carpet to mastery of the interview process. All part of his constantly and naturally maturing process. Some actors are content with carrying the Harry Kennedy (Hugh Grant?) persona forever. Not this one.

    I admit to being to being with jane on the subject of the significance of the CA appearances. Before I get voted off the blog, could I just suggest that the LA trip was partly in support of the film and the efforts that went into it; partly, I’d be surprised if his agent hadn’t arranged behind-the- scenes meetings with LA producers or agents etc. Sorry, that’s a bit off the beard topic. Mea culpa.

    • Hopefully he has been able to meet some people in LA who might be able to give him his next job – I guess even the CA parties would be important for that. Looks like he did not show up in Liverpool (in fact I don’t think any of the cast did, so I am wondering if there is going to be a “proper” CA premiere in London? Wish I knew!)

      • you’d think if LA was really about self-marketing he’d have chosen to shave off the beard.

        Weird that *no one* was in Liverpool, I thought.

        • I agree about the beard. In marketing terms, not a good choice of suit, either. If you’re looking for work in a town that values looks above all, and you happen to look like a candidate for the next James Bond, why not market that? This makes me wonder if he has plenty of work lined up for now. Or perhaps he’s repositioning himself as a character actor and trying to downplay his looks…?

          • Actually, I thought it was a great suit for those particular circumstances. I didn’t like it so much when I saw it at first, but the first photos I saw were way overexposed. Once they were edited for glare you could really see the strengths of that suit. Fit almost perfectly, esp. across the shoulders.

            BTW, I don’t think he wants to play Bond. I think that’s something a lot of his fans want.

      • A fan on another board has mentioned that he’s still in the US (would love to know where!). So perhaps there is some serious networking going on.

        He doesn’t seem to be having a very restful time, does he?

        • I always want to know how people know this. Has he been spotted? Is someone watching the list of people who cross the UK border? :) Or like last summer when someone asserted that he was vacationing in Rome — honestly, how do people find these things out?

          If he’s in the US now I hope he’s in one of the cooler parts of it AND I hope he’s not watching the news. Talk about a week for the U.S. to embarrass itself …

    • I just want to clarify that I am not saying that none of what is going on has to do with promotion, marketing, career-building. I just don’t think we can draw sharp lines between these processes, or that those factors explain everything that’s happening here. To some extent I’m questioning the possibility that there can be a line between actor and role, or between pretending and existing. To me it’s the “both / and” that creates the seductive mystery of his effect.

  13. @kaprekar, that’s my reaction, too. For the actor’s personal future, it’s the opportunity to “network”. Rather than stun the N.A. public with a very small role, however favourable have been reviews of CA (with no specific mention of Heinz Kruger.) But that’s not the import I receive of servetus’ post. It’s to do with the actor’s ongoing growth/private/public persona, and natural life transformations? So, I’ve gone off-topic. Nuff said from me on this.

    Also, Liverpool or Birmingham would have been a rather nice touch for the U.K. premiere; but I’m sure, if there were a grand U.K. premiere, it would be London. Lovely if he were there, and more photo snaffles.

  14. Bookmarking it to read tomorrow! :D So hopefully I will come back to this…

  15. I think, for me, there was a bit more sprezzatura in place at the NYC premiere than in LA. But heavens, what a difficult first appearance in Hollywood – most people didn’t know who he was, the Hobbit connection went unnoticed, he was hot and sweaty and wearing a dubious tie (and his shoes probably pinched after those Hobbit boots). I felt for him. The fact he carried it all off with such grace says a lot about his confidence in playing Richard Armitage.

    I guess the LA exposure served a purpose – it was a dry run for 2012 and he embraced it. At his next appearance the world’s media will be able to google the pics and discover he’s not a complete Hollywood newbie. Next time of course he’ll officially be a movie star – a whole new persona for him to adapt to. Next time on the red carpet it’ll be so so different. I wonder if that was going through his mind.

  16. Great piece at the end of a series of great pieces!

  17. I really loved the photos from the previous BAFTA appearances so was very excited to see him in the flesh at the 2010 and he was simply beyond beautiful. He was so gorgeous I couldn’t believe he was real. In a gathering of celebrities he simply shone above all the others. I just stood, stared and admired. I have never seen anything so perfect as the look he had that evening.

    • I’d forgotten that you’d been there. It’s nice to have the confirmation that the pictures are not lying about his charisma.

  18. Great piece, Servetus. I read The Courtier in college, but that was a few [sic] years ago. Reading about sprezzatura made me think of Fred Astaire, who always arrived at events beautifully turned out, hands in his pockets, a shrug on his exquisitely tailored shoulders and a self-deprecating smile on his face.

    • interestingly, that’s how he appeared in NYC. Hands in pockets, great outfit, relaxed expressions.

  19. Thanks for posting your repressed thoughts. I remember the very late blossoming of Colin Firth. While everybody knows and sees his talents after acting so brilliantly in Pride And Prejudice, pictures of him in real life showed for a very long time .. I have in mind “ten years”.. an insecure man, even on his wedding day pictures. Come on, Colin! Nowadays he breazes and exhales in interviews with his remarkable gentleman´s wit, culminating in an Oscar! Nice to read you see these things in pictures of RA too, embracing it quicker than Colin, hehe!

  20. Very interesting post and observations.
    It does seem he’s finally accepted what comes with the success he’s experienced in the last couple of years. While he may not be fully comfortable about the attention and all the hoopla surrounding ‘fame’, he also seems to understand ignoring it no longer suffices.

    I think the beard currently is a great accessory/tool, it gives him a certain freedom to move around. To see how one can and will react and observe others. It’s quite similar to when one wears a pair of dark sunglasses.

    How much this has (in)directly changed the ‘real’ person is a question only those closest to him can answer. But what I can see is a better definition between the public persona and the private one, where the private one is very much well guarded. At least better guarded than some years ago, but not completely closed off.

  21. I think he’s got a bit more comfortable with his red carpet self, due to all the practice he’s had. It’s a similar thing listening to the audio interviews. The earliest ones, he sounds really shy and nervous and doesn’t quite know what do say or do, but as you listen, he gets more and more confident with them. The Strike Back ones are a MILE away from the first ones (Cold Feet?).

    The link to the post about the BBC message board has now completely derailed all my thoughts, and have resorted to posting quote exerpts on Twitter while amusing my (deeply unimpressed) cat by tittering like an infatuated schoolgirl. Good grief … :D

  22. [...] Mr. Armitage’s physical appearance to various pieces of Italian art (like Judiang, to David, to mannerist style in which certain body elements become elongated to stress their sensuality or [...]

  23. [...] A lot of people have told me lately they think that much of my analytical writing about Richard Armitage involves an act of distancing. For example: I write three separate posts (one, two, three) about his wardrobe, but it takes me over a year to say what I really think about it. [...]

  24. [...] Wanna play count the beard hairs? It looks like even Thorin Oakenshield does a tiny bit of beard trimming. Look at the margin of that mustache. I thought it was the beard, and what it enables Armitage to do, but that’s only a piece of it. Still hope to finish those posts. [...]

  25. [...] to drape further over the heel, you wouldn’t see the buckle. I thought he looked great here, as long time readers all know, but I might have considered a slightly shorter [...]

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