Mr. Armitage, his fans, our pursuit of “great art,” and me as critic, part 2

[Part 2 of this. I can’t believe this actually got longer than part 1 — when I originally got here, I thought, “oh, now you’re into the home stretch.” Snort. Discussions elsewhere including comments on the earlier post may have passed this by; I’m going to try to get to some other discussions as soon as I’ve finished formulating, and posting, this. If I didn’t link to your statement on one of these themes, please don’t be hurt; I may link retroactively if it seems relevant. There are five sections. You may not want to read them all at once. Or ever.]

[I also interrupted myself to go see “The Social Network.” Intriguing. You see, I do occasionally consume visual media in which Mr. Armitage does not appear. And I read books. All the time.]

[This is not as polished as I’d like, but I must make myself stop now. When hypomania threatens, as it has lately, it’s hard for me to stop working but I must if I am not to burn out all my synapses and thus put myself out of writing commission for indefinite periods of time. Perhaps I’ll revise later.]

***

To resume: The reasons I feel the way I do –thinking that it’s entirely justified and necessary to criticize his work, but that I’m not going to be advancing a critique of his professional “choices” on this blog– are myriad — and of course, as always, they say more about me than about him. That is the conceit of the blog, after all.

“Вьеточка, are you happy?” Lucas North (Richard Armitage) asks Elizaveta Starkova (Paloma Baeza) in Spooks 7.2. “Happiness isn’t about getting what we want, it’s about appreciating what we have,” she replies. “Someday, you will be happy, too.” Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. What would make Mr. Armitage most happy in his career? It’s up to him to decide.

I. Getting work, actually working, and the identity of the worker

First, I am inclined to take the argument that one takes roles to keep working extremely seriously, not just for pragmatic reasons, although those are important, and despite the inherent risks involved in taking on the “wrong” role. For many artists and creative workers, work is not only something done to achieve a particular artistic end (although one seeks that) or product, but rather, and perhaps more importantly, a specific way of being in the world to which one is attached, sometimes inextricably. Painters sketch, even when they are not painting masterpieces; musicians practice, even when they are not performing; authors write, even when they are not publishing. Work is a discipline that helps to maintain the integrity of a particular kind of creative personality. And when one views work in this light, I suspect, not working can always be potentially much more dangerous than working at a troublesome task or ending up “typecast.” I read some elements of a similar stance in things that Mr. Armitage has said. (Keep in mind this is *a* reading. Not *the* reading. A description of how I read his interviews, not necessarily a description of how he really is. I remind all readers again that I have never met or talked to Mr. Armitage personally and am not claiming to have done so.)

Practically speaking: We don’t know what roles he’s being offered, and more importantly, which ones he’s up for but perhaps does not get, and the reasons he is not getting them. It would be interesting to know if he still regularly auditions for stage roles, for instance, given the commitments he makes in television contracts and possible options in them for future series, because the annual calendar for stage productions, given the constraints of the theatre season, could conflict with television filming. One wonders if there are also physical issues for him, as there were in musical theatre — for instance, if it’s a problem to be 6’2″ if the remainder of the ensemble is going to be 5’8″, which is harder to correct for on a stage than with a television camera. I could speculate, based on the severe difficulty he reports in obtaining roles early on in his career, that his auditions do not always present the best impression of his performance capacity, that as someone who superficial evidence suggests is an overlearner, he needs to live in a role a little bit longer to be most effective in it, and that auditions are based on a slightly different skill set: the ability to turn on a performance quickly and immediately. We just do not have enough information here to be concluding much. In the absence of that, however, he’s in the kind of profession where to obtain employment at all involves fortuna as much as it does virtù. Presumably, Mr. Armitage now has more options as to which roles he takes than he did a decade ago, and maybe he could afford not to have taken Strike Back or Captain America. But as jane notes here, his career is still not yet at the point where he has infinite options. In his job, the vast majority of talented people never, ever get the role they dream of. He’s an Equity member; although not all productions in the U.S. are Equity controlled, of course, and some people would say that union membership actually reduces the likelihood of employment, Actors’ Equity in the U.S. still regularly offers statistics of 85-90 percent unemployment among its membership. Relief over doing the voiceover rather than playing the spermatazoon is probably still regularly in his mind; there are roles much more frustrating than that of the legendary (which I will think of us as apocryphal until I see visual proof) dancing banana. I honestly don’t think that avoiding roles that don’t fit or even approach your ideal works as a general strategy for obtaining employment in your ideal role except for the very top of the A list of actors (though I wonder if Mr. Armitage would really want to be in that category, ever, as it typically involves a franchise role). It is, however, a good plan for the average and even the very talented actor if homelessness is his goal. Of course, the question arises about when enough is enough, when an actor has done enough work to be able to take a break without worrying about the consequences. Some fans think he’s at that point or near it, but he shows no sign of thinking this. Mr. Armitage’s eagerness to keep working and explicitly expressed difficulty turning down work is typically interpreted by fans as either ethical (he believes in hard work and earning what you get; he doesn’t want to laze around) or neurotic (he’s a workaholic, or he has a deep-seated fear that if he stops, he’ll never work again). I think both of those interpretations are reasonable based on remarks he’s made. But I also think the issue may move beyond that for him — who are we, who do we become, when we work?

Working in a profession with a narrow educational path and limited employment opportunities, I’m all too aware that in certain fields one can only take the jobs one is offered and that factors that influence job offers are heavily out of the applicant’s control. The job I’ve been in for the last decade was one that I would never have chosen for myself as I applied to graduate schools, as I thought about employment during my professional preparation, or even had there been other possibilities on offer that particular year. Saying that I would take it to keep working, try to like it, and then try to find something else while I had it proved illusory. It was as if by hiring me, my current employer got an option on all of my future performances anywhere, not only in the sense that it became difficult to convince other prospective employers with the kind of position I thought I wanted that I’d ever leave this one, but also in two other important ways.

The first is actually akin to typecasting — an issue that is acute in my life right now — and relates to external perceptions that I can’t shake that I am a certain “kind” of professor. My development in that “type” was actually underway from the very beginning of my academic career, even before I set foot in my first graduate class, though I didn’t realize it until it was put rather forcefully to me as I finished my dissertation. That doesn’t exclude the possibility that I am or could be different than I am now — but one’s potential ability to be the right person for the job is not the issue that prospective employers consider in situations where the reserve army of labor is huge and standing in line right outside the door. They want someone they know can do it now without any rehearsals. The second is that in having this job, in being in this atmosphere, I also have actually changed. I am not the professor now that I might have been had I gotten different jobs at the beginning of my career. (For the record, this is my third, and I’ve been exceptionally lucky — that’s two or three more than most people who finish a Ph.D. in my area have had.)

Now, one could argue that the way to avoid the twin problems of being typecast or becoming something other than the performer you want to be — in acting, as in academia — is simply not to begin by taking employment that one knows one doesn’t want. For various reasons, some young academics do just that, if they can say exactly what sacrifice is beyond their ability to make in order to start or continuing working in their chosen field. But it’s a hard argument to make to someone who has a really specialized training: you’ve finished a preparation that involves a giant commitment and opportunity cost on so many levels but if you’re not offered what you want, sit out until you are? (Perhaps I am unduly sensitive about this problem since I repeatedly sacrificed other significant things to pursue my career — but particularly at the beginning, the thought of not taking available employment would have been excruciating — as if I had wasted seven years of my life.) I think that argument is valid for settings in which a great deal of work is available, so that if you wait a bit for the right thing, eventually you’ll get the offer you want, and you won’t be committed to something less attractive just because you wanted to stay employed. But there’s another problem — the question of what people think they are “supposed” to do with their lives (to use a taboo religious word that certainly applies more to me than to Richard Armitage): their “callings.” Indeed, in modernity the devotion to work for its own sake is a secular form of calling, if you believe Max Weber. People who work in artistic and creative fields tend to have some form of this conviction in terms of understanding their particular talent as leading to a calling. It’s another personality factor that makes it hard to sit on the sidelines if work is available.

If you look at work in this way (and based on my own life experiences, I’d actually advise you consider trying not to do so if you can), you tend to think that there is one right end to your professional life — either by blessing or by curse. Mr. Armitage has expressed this sentiment repeatedly, indeed from near the beginning of the point at which he hit the public eye he said things like “there is nothing else I can do.” More recently, asked about how he stayed motivated during the long dry spell at the beginning of his acting career, he replied: “In that situation you spend a lot of time thinking about what else you can do. I tried other things but really didn’t have any other skills; if I’d have been good at something else I’d have been doing it already. You get to the point where you think: ‘I can’t do anything else and don’t want to do anything else either.’ That drives you.” This attitude indeed both drives and bedevils one, I think, and the result can be an odd sort of ambivalence about one’s experiences doing what one thinks one is supposed to be doing, an ambivalence that comes out repeatedly in Armitage’s statements, which wax between describing the incredible rush of acting, and the linked feeling of being out of control, a marionette suspended on wires, a gimp. It’s even more problematic if one’s not firmly convinced about things, as one continues (like Weber’s Calvinists) to look for evidence: “I’m a bit of an all or nothing kind of guy. To be honest, I had no blind faith in myself” in the face of the problem that one has to show patience (in the same interview: “The interesting roles have only come since I got into my 30s. But I didn’t know that was going to happen.” If you have the vague feeling that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing, you need to persist; if you are going to leave, you have to have a clear message about an alternative; if you are successful, then you need not to let that feeling abate. These are the sort of personality features that tend to keep creative people working even when perhaps they don’t “need” to to advance their careers or pay their bills. If it is what you’re supposed to be doing, what you have to do, something about which you have little or no choice, leisure is not really an option.

I’m also going to say that I suspect the content itself is secondary to the process of working for the creative personality. One happens to be skilled at producing a particular type of content — long, classical compositions, let’s say, or impressive performances in Baroque comedies — but the content is secondary to the practice of producing it. Artists — perhaps especially artists, in this age of mechanical reproduction — don’t get to decide all on their own what the content is going to be, or how their artistic identity is going to develop as a result of those decisions. An actor is never an actor without an audience, without someone watching a performance. But in turn the performances change one. One becomes more accustomed, more used to certain kinds of performances than others. We could view this development as a betrayal of talent, or a natural part of growing as an artist: exploring new things, accepting and becoming acquainted with new audiences, changing as a result of exposure to them and becoming something yet more different.

But I think, given the sense that many creative artists have about their work in relationship to their calling or creative ends, it’s probably wise for a driven individual who wants to use his talents wisely to escape the notion that there is a single, appropriate creative identity for him in his art, a single way to achieve the process of working. It’s the equivalent of the idea that there’s only one ideal mate in the world for each of us — that way madness lies — a recipe for constant frustration. Creative people work as a way of being in the world, and for the talented, the world offers many options for how to be. Not infinite ones: there are certain things that every artist won’t or can’t do. But nonetheless, working — no matter how “trivial” the role — can be a way of fulfilling one’s talent, and this is a process that one performs inwardly, that one judges primarily according to one’s own scale of values. That value set can be complex — obviously, no individual can completely immune to the conventional rewards offered via money and artistic recognition — but autotelic personalities will probably always be less motivated by these than by their own concerns. One suspects that this stance makes certain roles look very different from the perspective of the actor playing them than they do from the perspective of the audience.

I wanted to conclude with the platitude about how “there are no small roles, only small actors,” and when I looked up the source, I saw that wikipedia attributes it to Constantin Stanislavski. Well. That attitude would explain a lot both about Mr. Armitage’s smaller roles (one thinks of Ricky Deeming) and about the attention he brings to smaller moments inside of big roles. Every role, every moment in a role, can be pregnant with possibility. I think that’s why we watch him. Do we really want him to change that?

***

Richard Armitage as Claude Monet in The Impressionists 1.3. The “great artist” at work. Source: Richard Armitage Central Gallery. But what makes Monet a great artist? The vision? The execution? Or the franchising / product placement? Think about why or how you even know who Monet was. For most of us, isn’t it because we saw a mass produced product with one of his more famous works on it? A tote bag with with an image of one of the “Water Lilies” series paintings on it? Or because a teacher or professor told us it was significant and explained why?

II: “Great art”?

A corollary of the problem of not getting “great roles” is the question of what that means for our evaluation of Mr. Armitage’s career. Assuming he could indeed choose between all potential roles available at any given point, and chose series TV rather than theatre engagements in classic plays or films that became iconic, would that suggest that he’s not a “great artist”? If he never plays Oedipus, Richard III, Lear, or some other comparably distinguished role(s), and twenty or thirty years from now, Lucas North and John Porter end up having been being more typical of his career than Mr. Thornton was, does that make him less worthy of our esteem as an artist? Does it mean that he betrayed his talent, if he had the opportunity to play Willy Loman or Douglas Hector and he turned it down? Was he then not a “great artist,” but “only” an entertainer?

All the scare quotes in this section probably make you realize already that for me the answer to these questions is definitely “no.” That response is based both on my interpretive priorities and on what I see as his strengths as an actor.

To some extent, this stance involves rebellion, insofar as I grew up with an unusually restrictive definition of the “art vs. entertainment” distinction. So indeed a part of me wants to say, just to be contrary, that the artistic contributions made in some series TV are just as significant as roles in canonical dramas on the stage or big screen. (And I think this is at least arguable: think, for example, of LeVar Burton‘s portrayal of Kunta Kinte in Roots, which rocked the world of many of that series’ viewers.) I no longer personally accept the art vs. entertainment distinction. That’s just me talking. Servetus wants to feel free to enjoy her mindless pleasures without guilt that she’s wasting time when she could (should!) be bettering her mind by reading Proust. (I never made it past The Guermantes Way, and everything I did finish I read in English.)

But I have scholarly reasons for drawing that conclusion, as well. The first is that the burden of intellectual and cultural history research in the last two to three decades has tended to reveal the heavy contingency of notions about what is “important” both in our own periods and in the past. An important demonstration of this conclusion is found in the work of Robert Darnton, whose study of actual printing practices and statistics in eighteenth-century France demonstrated convincingly that the Enlightenment texts that historians said for generations were central to the coming of the French Revolution were well outsold in the previous half-century by fanciful science fiction works and p*rnogr***ic pamphlets about Marie-Antoinette. Closer to our own times: of these two novels published in 1850, which have you read? Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, or Susan Warner’s The Wide, Wide World? The former is still considered so important that almost every college-bound high school student in the United States will be forced to read it in school; the latter could be characterized as a 600-page-long h/c fanfic without the c. But Warner’s book was much popular than Hawthorne’s, and probably as well-known in the mid-nineteenth century as Uncle Tom’s Cabin; both Jo March and Elsie Dinsmore read it. Ah, but Hawthorne’s work has transcendent value, you say, while Warner’s work appealed to the basest of cheap emotions and cultural stereotypes, and we read Harriet Beecher Stowe today only because the book was politically significant in mobilizing readers to support the abolition of slavery, not because it’s great art.

But who decides what is transcendent? Transcending what? History? I’ve read Uncle Tom’s Cabin at least ten times, starting in fourth grade and most recently in the summer of 2006, and Hawthorne exactly once, in my junior year of high school. Almost no one except experts listens anymore to the most influential music of the twelfth century, the work that spawned the return of Western music to polyphony and created a system of musical notation that was definitive for the next four centuries. It transcended time and space and I bet most of us have never heard of it. (I force my students to listen to modern recordings of it made in a historically accurate style and they cringe. Does that mean it’s not a classic? Or that it is a classic? Because it’s difficult to appreciate?) Do you think the music of Bach is transcendent? In his own lifetime, Bach was famous primarily as a performer rather than as a composer. His reputation did not depend on the compositions we think of as definitive today: the Brandenburg Concertos, the St. John and St Matthew Passions, the Goldberg Variations, or his many well-known cantatas. His oeuvre had been largely forgotten in the century after his death, until the so-called Bach Revival, when many of these works were “re-discovered,” but this rediscovery was driven not as much by artistic concerns about the timelessness of the music as by the ability of cultural movers and shakers to connect it with German Romantic nationalism, and the performances of it that were offered were wildly anachronistic, sometimes making the canonical works unrecognizable from Bach’s perspective. It took longer than a century for the works of Shakespeare to take on the uncontested “most important author of the English language” status they have today in the canon of English literature, that development was at least in part driven by the evaluations of writers and thinkers outside of England like Goethe and Voltaire, and even now particular works go in and out of style according to the tastes and whims of an age. When was the last time you saw Cymbeline? Yet it was quite popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. My point here is that no work of art really speaks as “a classic” to the sensibilities of everyone in a potential audience over all of space and time. It’s impossible.

If a work can’t transcend time and space, what about a performance? This seems to be one of the lines pursued in some argumentation; people want Mr. Armitage’s performances to thrill later generations of viewers as those of the leading men of screen and stage have done. Actually, I don’t think that Armitage’s current position as a performer puts him in a bad place to have this happen even if he never makes a major motion picture. Historically the vast majority of all performances in all media by all actors up until the second half of the twentieth century were simply been lost except in the memories of their audiences. We know their names, perhaps, and their paintings or still photographs of them, and if spectators wrote down their impressions we know what was thought of their performances. But before the 1890s they were not recorded on media; negatives of 80 percent of silent films have been lost; the shelf life before disintegration of the media used to make films in much of the latter half of the twentieth century is about fifty years and much of this material is likely to be lost as well. In no sense can we say that important things will survive, as the definition of “important” is incredibly arbitrary and defined mostly by the judgments of posterity, thus inherently retroactive; the works of some of the most popular artists of the silent film era are completely lost. If we could see all of silent film and judge those works and performances by our standards, it seems we might be likely to choose to preserve some items that are lost, and our own notions of what is artistically significant in silent film might change substantially. Mr. Armitage is actually working at an interesting period in the history of visual technology, in that computers and digital version of productions may substantially alter the patterns that determine which works of film and television are preserved or disappear. It’s not that the new media are inherently eternal. They’re not, although some of them may be slightly more stable under normal atmospheric conditions than acetate film was. (A bigger issue is the machines that play them, which have a tendency to break down easily and change rather quickly these days.) I think what’s decisive, though, is that these media are potentially much more widely distributed and the segment audiences that preserve a particular work and pass it on, moving it from new medium to medium because it is important to them, are substantially more numerous than they were only a decade ago. The survival of Spooks is now not contingent on the potentially sloppy administration of a particular media archive somewhere; millions of legal and illegal copies of it are located all over the world. It’s hard to imagine that its transmission to posterity could be damaged in the way that the legacy of Doctor Who has been, and it’s now easy to hypothesize that Armitage’s performances in anything that has reached a broad audience across the Commonwealth and beyond may be more persistent than a definitive performance on the stage which most of his audience will never get to see.

So you can see, I’m not especially sympathetic to the argument that there exists an independently transcendent art that Armitage can participate in, that we can know ahead of time which of his roles will be artistically significant, that his career or even his acting skills can be evaluated according to those guidelines, or that his future reputation as actor will only survive if he takes on “more important” roles. Good historical arguments can be found to question all of these conclusions. If I’m not sympathetic at all to the position that he should be taking roles in “more significant” projects, though, I am slightly more willing to entertain another argument that I read frequently–that viewers want him to take a role with more complexity, one that he can really “sink his teeth into.” One assumes, then, that Heinz Krüger is seen by those who protest it as a not very complex role, even if it is likely to be seen by a more substantial audience than (potentially) Robin Hood. And it’s at least potentially — remember, I have never interviewed the man — close to how he sees the problem when he states that he’s looking for another North & South because it was the first work in which he felt that he experimented and took risks as an artist. (He also states there that he enjoys playing villains, and it seems that Heinz Krüger would qualify for that.) It’s just he’s the only who can know what constitutes an artistic risk for him, and apart from that, complexity is quite hard to define. What, after all, is the difference between North & South (of which we approve, apparently) and Strike Back, about which we are inclined to be doubtful? (We haven’t seen Captain America yet, after all, and from the very little I’ve read about it, it is above all a brief role.)

I have no incredible interest in defending Strike Back, frankly; as a dramatic work, it moved me deeply in ways that I am still trying to figure out, but I would be the first to acknowledge that there were real problems in it and plenty of script problems. (Perhaps I’ll get to write about these more once Spooks 9 stops airing.) As a work of complexity, however, North & South is a frighteningly shaky nail to hang our hats on. The entire point of the work is the depiction of the resolution of repeated pairs of binaries that are presented mostly via stereotype: north & south, London and Manchester, town and country, rich and poor, young and old, traditional social arrangements vs. emerging manufacturing society, management vs. labor, gentry vs. wage earners, estate society vs. capitalist class society, and so on. The narrative works by means of contrasting opposites either to offer moralistic judgments (Bessie and Margaret vs. Edith and Fanny; Mrs. Thornton vs. Mrs. Hale; Mr. Thornton vs. Henry Lennox as potential lover; Mr. Thornton vs. Frederick as brother, etc.) or, alternately, to move the viewer toward the conclusion that these contradicting forces can be resolved: the woman from the lower gentry can overcome her prejudices and love the manufacturer; in the new world of the 1850s, the manufacturer, measured by his moral fibre rather than his social status, is good enough to marry the woman from the lower gentry. (Actually, it wasn’t quite that simple in England, even by the 1850s.) The screenplay added a bit of complexity over against the original work in that it gave Mr. Thornton a clearer tragic flaw and made Higgins into a more historically credible character, but really, complexity? Narrative complexity? Nah. It’s a classic tearjerker with five deaths or implied deaths of characters we have grown to care about in the last two hours of the show, and it would have been clear even to readers of the 1850s how the story was going to end. Moral complexity? Moreso in the film than in the book, but there are no real villains in this story except maybe the voracious cotton machinery. We don’t like Thornton when he brings in the Irish to break the strike, but by that point we at least understand him. Even at his worse, he’s not much of a villain, and he’s much more of a villain in the film than in the book. If North & South is complex, it’s because we are attributing that to it — not because it is inherently so. Thornton was a great role for Mr. Armitage — but mainly, I think, because of the stuff he added to it (and presumably because of how he was directed). In the hands of a lesser actor, one who felt he had to signal his emotional status more explicitly, it would have been a much lesser role, and one suspects that given the way the script was written, giving us only Margaret’s perspective and not Thornton’s (in contrast to the book), the scriptwriters were actually attempting to appeal to a female audience and willing to reduce Thornton to a (relative) cipher. Armitage, on some level, really stole the show, even if he won’t admit it.

Strike Back really does offers some complexity, even if it appears to have been designed to attract male viewers and thus often appears to retreat behind the guns and special effects. (One can’t help but think that attracting more male viewers might even have been a reason Armitage considered in deciding to accept the role of John Porter.) You have the brutal soldier who spares the life of a child, but not for any reason he can really articulate, as he’s apparently neglecting his own family at the same time and loves his daughter mostly from far away. You have the contradictions of a man who has a sort of relational ADHD. He’s fine when dealing with some pragmatic issue on the ground or some abstract problem but not with ongoing personal issues in his own space; he can rouse himself to go and save Katie Dartmouth or rescue children held as hostages by refugee traffickers, but can’t get himself together to save his own marriage. Then there’s the officer who ruins Porter’s career to save his own, who can’t seem to decide whether he should rehabilitate Porter or have him killed by placing him directly in the line of fire. Via the sidekick of the week we encounter people who are dealing with concrete problems as they try to find ways to influence their worlds: a former suicide bomber who can’t bring himself to embrace a demand that he participate in acts of terror, a computer genius and weapons expert who’s trying to make up for his errors by supporting the creation of a new government in Central Asia under a messianic-like figure, and a former SAS man who’s set up to assassinate a head of state but really just wants to disappear into the red soil of Africa. Even Layla Thompson is scripted as a strong character capable of taking on new roles and looking at things she thinks she knows from different angles. OK, to some extent here, I’m running down North & South and talking up Strike Back, but I think you get the point. Neither of these shows is inherently more complex — it depends on what we want to see in them. And certainly the outcomes in Strike Back are more complex, in that they remain unresolved or end in failures: Porter is unable to save As’ad, or Gerry Baxter, or (to some extent) Masuku. These endings force the audience to confront the inability of reality to correspond to wish fulfillment. At best, Porter is a broken hero, and though he keeps himself alive and achieves his mission objectives occasionally, there’s no more joy in the narrative beyond that. In comparison, the narrative resolutions of North & South are like a neatly decorated Christmas present, with everyone who’s not dead happily married and the audience swooning in response to a thoroughly anachronistic kiss. And I’m not convinced (with perhaps the exception of a few moments) that Armitage’s performance in Strike Back was weaker than in North & South. He controls certain pieces of his gestural repertoire more effectively now than he did back then.

In short: most of the members of Armitage’s core audiences probably still assign more cultural capital to North & South than they do to Strike Back. That’s fine. If the truth were told, so do I, probably — after all, I spend almost all my working life teaching students about the historical significance of the Western canon in a world where every second makes that body of work seem less relevant to our contemporaries, even in the West itself. But we should at least admit that our preferences relate strongly to what we’ve been taught is important by our predecessors and our context. I’m not saying that there is no way to say that any one work or performance is better than another. But I think that judgment has to be made (as I suggested in the previous post) in context rather than in abstract or absolute terms. In particular, it has a lot to do with genre and generic convention. I would argue that both North & South and Strike Back strongly conform to the conventions of their genres. But that doesn’t make them classic, or not classic, I fear. It just makes them conventional as opposed to unconventional. Given that the classic works of drama in turn create those conventions, you have to work quite hard if you want to find any role in regular (as opposed to experimental) drama that’s strongly unconventional. And frankly, I suspect the voices that are calling for Armitage to find more complex roles are not in fact wishing he would appear in more experimental theatre. I may, of course, be wrong about this.

These are all interpretive reasons to be suspicious of calls for more significant or even more complex roles for Armitage, but I also think we can find a key reason in his own performances to disable this objection, and this is the simple fact that he puts a noticeable amount of work into even the shortest scenes in which he appears. This pattern was reiterated to me when I was watching Spooks 9.3. I’ve promised not to talk about the current season of Spooks outside of the protected posts for that work, but if you did read that post you know that there was just as much detail, expression, and complexity in the shortest scenes in which Lucas appeared in that episode as in the longest. No detail, no expression, no possible shading of emotion, falls beneath Mr. Armitage’s notice.

Conclusion: Armitage doesn’t seem to treat anything he does while acting lightly, or as insignificant. So why on earth should we?

***

Is Armitage showing too much skin? Prison official Kingston (Jeffrey Sekele) “welcomes” John Porter (Richard Armitage) to Chikurubi Prison in Strike Back 1.3. My cap. Yeah, he’s sexy. Yeah, I want one. Yeah, I think his butt is cute. BUT: What’s important in this cap, and in the scene that surrounds it, in which Armitage disrobes completely and we see his posterior for a split second, for such a short period that if you want to cap it without blurriness you have to slomo your videoplayer? What do you really focus your attention on? Porter’s body? Or the content of the gaze that he directs at Kingston? If the latter, how does the nudity of the scene and the position of Porter’s body, particularly in comparison to the way the other prisoners are standing, undergird — or challenge — your interpretation of his gaze?

III. Beauty as Problem

A subset of the “artistic merit” problem that troubles many viewers and deserves separate treatment, as it concerns a particular subset of aesthetics, is the matter of whether Mr. Armitage’s more recent roles are too heavily incorporative of or exploitative of his physical beauty, particularly his naked body: codeword “beefcake.” (A corollary argument, perhaps: the frustration among some viewers over the exploitation of romance as a device for exploring Lucas North’s identity in Spooks 9. I still haven’t had a chance to read this post and I still want to. Done here soon. I hope.) Mr. Armitage seems to take it rather matter-of-factly, expressing relief that Lucas North’s tattoos protect him from appearing in the nude too often, noting that such shots make him more concerned about how his diet affects his appearance, sharing that he clearly doesn’t look forward to it, but never coming out and saying “I find it objectionable under all circumstances when the script forces me to do it.” (I also thought I remembered him saying in an interview that he was ok with it it in the torture scenes in Spooks 8.4 though the costumer offered him jogging pants, but I can’t find the quotation anywhere, so maybe I’m wrong.) There’s a fair amount of sympathy for the argument that a role in which Armitage disrobes in a situation where he doesn’t absolutely have to is cheap among people whose opinions I respect –including readers of this blog– and I don’t mean to suggest that it is not a reasonable position to take. I have also expressed reservations about uses of his physical charms when I wonder whether voyeurism is being encouraged in order to cover up script problems. (Although, in the scene I was critiquing in the post that link goes to, Armitage was not in fact nude. One could even say that part of the problem in that scene was that he wasn’t. The editing was extremely poor, so that we caught Armitage pulling the top sheet over Lucas’s body as Lucas rolled over onto Sarah Caulfield to respond to her caresses. Like Lucas would have thought about his modesty from the skylight view in a situation like that? That hand motion seriously compromised the credibility of the scene for me, and I noticed that fanvidders who have used that scene usually cut that half second out. That the Spooks editors didn’t manage to do it themselves views like incompetence.)

I do not, however, share that view, at least not entirely. Now, if Mr. Thornton had appeared topless, there’d have been a problem for me. But in particular, I am unconvinced by the position that disrobing either fully or partially in productions like Robin Hood, Spooks, and Strike Back offers evidence of a lack of pride or dignity on Armitage’s part, as if he were stripping for the sake of showing off, or because he has nothing else to offer his audiences, or as if his directors think there is nothing more to him than a nice chest. As his remarks suggest, he’s clearly not doing that or if he is he’s certainly equally embarrassed about it. In multiple interviews, asked about the attitudes of fans, he reiterates that he does not see himself as sexy, “a sex god,” or as a desirable object of visual lust. Now, I don’t think that as an actor, you get to disrobe wholly or partially and then make fun of fans for expressing interest or approval of what we see. But I don’t think his interviews go that far; he just repeats that he doesn’t understand the furor, and occasionally that he needs to take advantage of the opportunities it affords him while his body is still beautiful. I would be troubled if I felt like he were criticizing fans for finding him attractive after showing us his body. Though perhaps he should. Because I think this is one of the places where he may most often be misinterpreted — as if showing people your body meant you automatically wanted more from them than appreciation of your work (in a strange parallel to the women who allegedly “are asking for it” because they wear alluring clothing).

In my opinion, we’re not being flooded with nude images of him. If I remember correctly, there are two topless scenes in Robin Hood and in both of them the toplessness occurs in settings where it can be read as an indication of openness and vulnerability as well as an index of the prurience of the script or director. In Spooks we see Lucas topless in 7.1 (the MI-5 washroom — which makes sense, serves to show us the tattoos, an important character sign that we do not, however, see again in full view for this entire series, and sets an important bench mark for the question of his relationship to Harry); 7.2 (the sleepless night — men of my acquaintance often sleep topless, although we often see Lucas sleeping in a t-shirt, presumably to save Armitage the time-consuming application of transfers); 7.5 (in black and white, the waterboarding scene, though we don’t see much of his chest); 8.4 (bed scene with Sarah, torture scene, which is only a few frames, boiler-suit scene for full rear nudity, which is signaling to us something about Lucas’s relationship with Oleg Darshavin); 8.5 (bed scene with Sarah — and I would argue that we need to see Lucas in bed with Sarah to understand how manipulative their relationship is. And in bed, lovers typical disrobe). In Strike Back, his toplessness may be manipulative, but it’s also in my opinion believable in the scenes in which it appears — where Porter is having a medical checkup, disrobing during a prison inspection, digging a grave, being treated for a flesh wound, being tied up in the sun without water in hopes he’ll break (maybe I’ve missed something here) — and he’s not in fact topless in his own sex dream. Since every man with whom I’ve had sex (an admittedly small sample in perhaps both absolute and comparative terms) has had his shirt off while having intercourse with me, and many men sleep topless, I or we could reasonably conclude that he’s actually disrobing less than he might if he or his director simply wished to show off his body.

And it’s not like all Armitage does when he makes his character naked or topless is preen. He’s still acting, he still has a lot to offer. If he were stripping in order to distract from a lack of talent, that would be one thing, but I don’t think anyone thinks that’s what’s going on here. For one thing, I don’t think his beauty is conventional enough that it would work for him without acting. The question, too, is how distracting it really is — distraction is always distraction for someone. The conventions of British TV drama may trouble U.S. viewers in particular, but clearly there are people who are capable of not being sidelined by his nudity in their appreciation of his acting. I personally don’t need to see him naked in particular settings to find him plausible, but I grew up in the U.S. with its particular culture about nudity and sex on TV screens (I seem to remember it being a big deal that Ma and Pa Ingalls were shown sleeping in the same bed in the TV version of Little House on the Prairie, but maybe I am getting that wrong). I would find it odd if these productions were to conceal him intentionally in places where he would plausibly be nude — a little like the post-Renaissance practice of adding fig leaves to art that offended later, more sedate sensibilities. I’m glad, indeed grateful, to live in an age where I am free as a woman to appreciate male beauty in all its forms and to decide in particular which forms please me most. (Of course, that also gives me responsibilities to interpret wisely. More below.)

So I honestly don’t think that it’s fair to critique Mr. Armitage’s role choices on the basis that he occasionally appears topless on screen because of them (and seldom, in rear shot, fully nude — I don’t think there are further instances of total nudity beyond Between the Sheets, which would have to be treated separately in that it’s a drama about sex, and also was a very early career role). I am aware of the Armitageworld dogma that we’re supposed to say that while he is physically beautiful, what we really admire is his acting, and it’s been useful to me to be reminded of that in phases of blogging where I’ve perhaps been unduly focused on the visual as opposed to the spiritual. (It’s also just easier to write about how he looks–doesn’t require quite so much thought or hyperlinking or replaying of videoclips.) But to some extent the dogma operates on a false distinction between physicality, which is attractive but not truly artistic, indeed ephemeral, and true artistry, to which the body is irrelevant and in which the spirit is all. In short, this mantra tries to enforce a notion that Armitage’s body is somehow irrelevant to his acting. That’s just not credible. He does, in fact, act with his body — and this is true even in settings where we can’t see him using it, as in radio plays. It’s not that I think he’s acting out all the stuff he does in audiobooks by moving around in the studio. But even so, it’s his control of and use of his body that makes all of his artistry possible and perceptible in the first pace. In particular, I find it odd to have read repeated arguments for Armitage’s acting being the primary reason for the quality of North & South (as opposed to his physical beauty: to paraphrase, “we’re not watching it because he’s sexy, but because he’s such a great actor”), but then to hear that in roles where his physical beauty is more important, that he’s betraying his talent (“he’s relying too much on looking good”). Either he’s a good actor or he isn’t, and if he isn’t, it’s because he’s not acting effectively, not because he’s naked. He doesn’t stop being a good actor — or one worthy of “better” roles — because he’s topless. Or because, even when he’s wearing clothes, he’s too beautiful.

I, too, as I have said repeatedly, have felt manipulated or at least appealed to on a lower level than I really appreciate in drama in some scenes where he was topless. This is particularly true in Strike Back 1.6, I think. But when I review the list of them, I am forced to conclude that that perception says a lot more about my prejudices and the particular erotic triggers that I (and perhaps many of my readers) have than it does about his dramatic choices. It’s true that scenes of his naked body are proportionally overrepresented in fanvids and in the screencaps that we see profiled regularly, but that’s a fan choice — both of the people who edit that material together to distill it and make it more intense, and those of us who look at it. Armitage does not control how we feel about him or react to his acting decisions. It’s not Mr. Armitage’s, or Lucas’s, or Guy’s, or Porter’s, body that is inherently sexy. It’s me–and the entire group of experiences and perceptions that shape the context(s) in which I experience something as erotic–finding it that way. When Lucas takes off his clothes and puts on that boiler suit in Spooks 8.4, that scene is sad and frightening. It is not meant by either the actor, the script, or the director to titillate or to arouse anything in us but sympathy for Lucas and dread about what might happen next.

To conclude this section: I submit that we should not be asking ourselves what it says about Armitage and his career trajectory that we see him nude in roles in which it is in fact plausible for him to be topless or nude. Rather, we should ask what it says about us.

***

Lucas North (Richard Armitage) in Spooks 9.2. Per my spoilers policy I won’t say anything about this, just remark that the pointiness of his ears here have caused some of us to doubt in jest that he is completely human, and note that the structure of his ears seem to emphasize qualities in his face that make it easy for many of to imagine him playing an an elf, vampire, or other non-human.

IV: A hypothetical test case

Since I haven’t yet seen every project Mr. Armitage will participate in, I can’t guarantee that I have predicted my attitude with 100 percent certainty, and in looking back over the blog I can see how my opinions are changing on things about which I thought I had a rock-solid stance when I originally posted them. I can’t draw a clear line around my preferences, or find a way to universalize them as a principle in a way that I find satisfying. For instance, I can see if he started making p*rn — by which I mean projects that had as their only visible purpose or outcome the arousal of erotic lust in the viewer — I would probably criticize that choice, and potentially stop watching him. But that’s a “know it when I see it” kind of thing, and as with so many things cultural boundaries on these matters differ. Now that I am watching more UK TV I am in fact getting more used to seeing men’s rear ends on the small screen. I assume that if Mr. Armitage were playing roles in projects filmed in the U.S. or sold to the U.S. commercial networks, we would never see him naked below the waist. I also think there’s a difference between gratuitous nudity in a project that has other merits and a project that only seeks to arouse. I think that some viewers see Between the Sheets as p*rn, for instance, but I don’t. I have my problems with that production, like probably every viewer, but I don’t think that the chief one is the fact that we see people naked or almost naked miming sexual intercourse. It has bigger artistic problems than that.

In terms of a more realistic possibility (since it’s hard to imagine Mr. Armitage as he has described himself to us up until now) making sex films: I could be wrong about all of this argumentation and it may in fact be the case that my tastes are simply different in some ways from those of Mr. Armitage’s original audiences; less educated, less refined, less discerning. The best test case for me of my claims above, should it ever emerge, would be his appearance in a genre where I find the generic conventions so aesthetically distasteful that I really can’t stand to watch it: horror films, or their close corollary in my mind, vampire flicks (though I did force myself to watch the second Tw*light film under the rubric of “staying familiar with the popular culture experiences of my students”). This might be worth more discussion as I notice that Andrew Lincoln will be appearing shortly in an AMC TV series in which he has to fight zombies. (My first reaction when I read this was that maybe Mr. Lincoln is also suffering under the lack of drama scripts in Britain that Armitage described.) I lack the necessary experience (I wasn’t allowed to see horror films as a child) and the necessary appreciation of fear or its simulation (I never liked ghost stories, either). If he were to appear in horror, I’d like to think I’d try to watch the first one he did. But my dislike of the genre might stop me from doing that, as might sub-generic issues (gore, for example, turns me off completely — but then I can tolerate the violence of Strike Back, which is in a certain sense a contradiction, I suppose). But I still think that there are potentially significant horror films that could have great roles in them: I was educated to appreciate The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, for example, and can watch that now without cringing. The Birds scares the heck out of me, but I can understand at least notionally its artistic merits. Rejecting a vampire or zombie flick out of hand would also challenge me, in that I can think of plenty of films with non-existent beings in them that I’ve enjoyed greatly, like the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films. If he appeared in a later series of Game of Thrones, as has been speculated and in various fora, for example, I’d watch with eagerness. I loved the books in that series that I’ve read so far.

***

Map used by Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood 3.5. This machine-stitched receiving blanket unfortunately bears little to no resemblance to maps actually created in medieval England, which were similarly not intended for use in locating geographical features. It’s only in the last approximately five and half centuries that maps as a tool for navigation became a central concern in the West. Source: Robin Hood 2006

V: Quo vadis, Armitage?

Yeah, so I guess you figured out by now that I’m not going to criticize him for taking roles that surprise me. I read him as being someone for whom the possibility of acting as a way of being is of central importance and thus as someone who will continue to take roles for reasons that are only clear to him and not to me; as someone for whom working and role choice verge on issues of identity that it would be presumptuous of me as a fan to criticize; I am skeptical about the existence or centrality of taking on important roles; I am not especially troubled by the nudity in his current roles (only my reaction to it); and if a test case comes up to change all that, I’ll look it in the face.

I’d hope, in any case, that Mr. Armitage continues to have the opportunity to make professional choices that he finds attractive and that he still has the desire to keep acting (alongside directing, if that’s his goal as well). If I had to predict what we’ll actually see from him in the next few years, I wouldn’t predict specific roles or even specific genres. Instead, I’d hypothesize that within his capacity to choose roles, he will select what he actually does based on a group of specific attitudes that he’s shown again and again:

In any case: I’m not going to rule out ahead of time or automatically seeing him in a particular role because it is considered by some to be beneath his talents, because it is allegedly not artistically significant, because it involves gratuitous nudity, or even necessarily because it involves a genre that I don’t care for. After my initial infatuation with North & South, I saw a lot of things in genres that I don’t typically like — I’m now watching Ultimate Force, for crying out loud!– and I respected his work in all of them. In the end, I’m watching him because I think the art resides more in the artist than in the production, more in the execution than in the content, more in the working than in the job. He’s possessed of a strong artistic gift, he works hard, and he delivers. I don’t know what more we can ask of him. Captain America and Strike Back 2: bring them on. If he stops working hard, if he doesn’t deliver — I’ll say that. But I’m not worried.

Mr. Armitage, you owe me nothing. And yet you’ve given me so much. To counter Elizaveta’s remark to Lucas: I hope not only that you are happy with what you have — I also hope you get what you want. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’ll continue to be along for the ride. With no reservations. Indeed: with enthusiasm.

~ by Servetus on October 9, 2010.

63 Responses to “Mr. Armitage, his fans, our pursuit of “great art,” and me as critic, part 2”

  1. “In the end, I’m watching him because I think the art resides more in the artist than in the production, more in the execution than in the content, more in the working than in the job. He’s possessed of a strong artistic gift, he works hard, and he delivers. I don’t know what more we can ask of him.”

    Your post and your conclusion sum up perfectly how I feel about Richard as an actor and the roles he plays. I keep thinking that there are certain similarities to Michael Caine, who at the age of eighty, can look back on a long career with such diverse roles. He has played the cheeky chappie, the good guys and the baddies and has brought his particular dedication to each role. He has also had a long and happy marriage to the same woman while remaining out of the limelight in his private life.

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    • Thanks, MillyMe. Let’s hope Mr. Armitage can look back on as many wonderful years and diverse roles as Michael Caine can.

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  2. Servetus. Thank you. So very, very much. You’ve been reading my mind, haven’t you, my dear? You’ve said so many things I wanted to say.

    I think I have some understanding of Richard’s need, perhaps even compulsion to act, even the feeling that there’s nothing else he can do. I’ve come to feel that way about writing. I get itchy fingers if I haven’t written in a certain space of time. I’m not writing the Great American Novel (well, not yet), I am writing for a string of small town newspapers and I am writing fan fiction that at least one person considers “trash.”

    But I AM WRITING. And that is key for me. I get satisfaction from it, joy from it. I get paid for the former and hope to build my skills to be paid for my fiction one day, too.

    Yes, there are other things I could do because I have done them; but writing is what I feel “called” to do at this point in my life.

    Whether or not Richard was born to act (although it certainly seems that way from my perspective) he has chosen this path and oh, how beautifully and skillfully he does it.

    I am glad you discussed the subject of nudity in Richard’s roles. There has been some speculation that those fans who complain most about him ‘getting his kit off’ are Americans, simply because the nudity that is acceptable on UK TV is not in general seen here on network television (I never watched NYPD Blue, but I believe they did push the envelope in that regard).

    We aren’t accustomed to seeing the bare bums of TV stars who aren’t on HBO, Showtime or Stars, and perhaps that is disconcerting. But quite honestly, in my opinion, many a mountain has been made out of the molehill that is RA’s relatively small amount of bare flesh on screen.
    To me, it’s always been well within the context of the scene and suitable for the character. (I do agree about the clumsiness of that bedroom scene with Sarah C.–I remembered thinking, why is he pulling up the sheet like that? I’m pretty sure he’s probably supposed to be naked here and is he covering up for the Peeping Tom sitting atop the skylight?)

    I remember there being a furor over the boiler suit scene from Spooks 8. I’m with you; I did not find that scene in any way meant to be sexy or titillating. A man who was putting his life back together after 8 years in prison was once more placing himself in the hands of his former torturer as part of his job. It made my heart hurt for Lucas. RA seemed physically diminished in that scene with Oleg, as if he literally shrank into himself.
    Similar scenes had been done with male leads previously in Spooks. So why was RA singled out for criticism?

    (Oh, and as uncomfortable as he appears to be doing topless scenes, I suspect we never have to worry about him venturing into Sk**flicks as his career mainstay)

    As to his physical beauty, I acknowledge it and happily celebrate it. Can’t understand why others don’t see it. Would I find him as compellingly stunning if I didn’t find so many other things I like about him? For me, I think not.

    I’m attracted to the man, to what I know of him, inside and out.

    Richard is a great actor and I will watch him in any project he chooses to do, because it’s true: the role may be small, but it won’t be insignificant to HIM. The source material may not be Shakespeare or Proust (loved how you pointed out that “classic” status may ebb and flow), but that doesn’t mean any less complex a character. Richard will always do something remarkable with it, this I firmly believe.

    I’ll hush for now before I write another book. (Remember, I said I liked to write . . .)

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    • Thanks for your support, and as always: write away!

      I’m not guaranteeing I’ll always think this way, but I thought after awhile pondering the Captain America question that I needed to figure out where my own reactions were coming from. I’m half of the equation in “me + richard,” and indeed the only half whose decisions and reactions I can control. 🙂

      I do want to say two things about the nudity: one is that I understand and respect those who don’t want to see nudity on screen. That is a valid decision to make for oneself and again we ourselves are the only people who can determine or control or reactions. But there’s a certain problem in talking about his physical beauty but then implying that it makes him less of an artist when the relationship between those two things are complex. If he looked like Steve Buschemi (who I love to death) he never would have gotten the role of Thornton, I suspect. The second is that I probably am going to continue to struggle with this myself as I find watching his beauty well nigh irresistible. Though I haven’t done much picture analysis lately (it’s been a while since I used the tag “objectification”), it will inevitably recur. But I want to make it clear that that’s about me.

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      • His physical beauty is part of who he is. I think you have to see his beauty and charm and intelligence as part of the package of this special man. As you and others have pointed out Servetus, being handsome is part of what he has to market as an actor. I feel no guilt at admiring his physical beauty, because I also admire his talent as an actor and the more I learn about him, also as a person. You can be be physically attractive and have no charm or talent. I certainly don’t find beauty in someone who is empty inside that appealing. But I think we can’t deny that we all admire his beauty. The issue of nudity, as you’ve all pointed out, is a difficult one. I think in the UK, in Europe in general,there is more of an acceptance of nudity on TV and in films than in the US. I don’t know about LAMDA, but I believe I read that at RADA one of the classes actor’s take is learning to be comfortable with being nude on stage. Nudity is part of what they are expected to have to do during their career.

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        • Amen, Musa. I feel no guilt about admiring the exterior, because the more I learn about his interior, the more I like and admire him.

          (I confess I am always a bit suspicious of ladies who say they only admire RA for his acting ability. Really?)

          Re nudity, we are often accused of still being a bit Puritanical here in the US, and I think that does affect views on nudity in theatre, film and television.

          Could I or would I do a nude scene? Highly unlikely, even 25 years and many more pounds ago when I was a cute young thing. I’m also a very shy person, although much less so than in my youth.

          But, of course, I am not a trained acting professional, who has taken the kinds of classes you described, Musa. A lot of A-list actor have done some degree of nudity in their careers, even in A-list films and on stage.

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        • I’m coming from a slightly different perspective. I’m European and have no problem with actors appearing nude an screen or stage. I don’t need it but it doesn’t bother me and I certainly don’t regard it as selling onself cheap but as something the art requires.

          How the audience deals with it is a different matter. I think it is fine to show bare backside (or even more) in context in a fleeting scene and that it can add something to a scene. However, I object to fans screencapping this exact revealing moment and use it as a “pin up” in a way it was never intended. That shows no respect towards the actor. And part of me ask if it really was all about the art or if the scriptwriters/directors/producers aren’t perfectly aware that they are veiling a cheap erotic thrill as an artistic device? After all the way the TV mags advertise an upcoming shirtless scene is all about the cheap thrill.

          I like RA’s looks and enjoy looking at him when he’s at his most handsome, but I wish they would finally allow him to uglify himself. Surely his beauty does not take away his acting but I find myself distracted by his looks sometimes and feel the character would come across as more truthful if he were more ordinary looking. Sometimes his looks outshine his acting not because he’s acting is bad but because his looks are so stunning.

          His recent roles, Spooks and SB require someone who is attractive and physically fit and that is part of the reason why he and not someone else got that parts. On the other hand many “serious drama part” go to actors that are more ordinary looking because those characters are not meant to be stunningly beautiful and producers don’t look for beauty as a welcomed or unwelcomed distraction. RA can downplay his looks, he has already done it, and turn advantages like his height and nose into disadvantages, I wish he would get a chance to do it again, because I think in that case his acting would shine brighter and get more recognition.

          When I look at his choices I always ask if they are useful for his future career. That is the aspect that matters even more to me than the question if I enjoy a certain genre and if I could make an exception if he’s in a show in a genre I don’t like. I don’t know if RA and his agents think that way or if it reasonable at all to expect that an actor plans and navigates his career, but that is how I think.

          That is why I approve of CA and why I even approve of Andrew Lincoln’s zombie series. It is an American series after all and has a cult following (there is a thin line between cult and rubbish!). To come back to the topic of beauty, being beautiful in SB and Spooks does not IMO recommend him for those serious drama roles.

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          • I’m not sure I understand your point, Jane. Does this mean that, in your opinion, only average-looking or ugly people can be taken seriously as actors, that possessing good looks automatically detracts from talent? You envison a career for him in the States, but that would surely mean an even greater reliance on being good-looking unless you’d like to see him as the stereotypical baddie with a British accent?

            I enjoy the fact that he’s talented and good -looking without feeling the need to denigrate him as an actor because of it.

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            • I think the shows that are more in the category “light entertainment” tend to cast more beautiful people and the more heavy weight shows are more likely to cast less attractive people (or make attractive actors ugly) for the sake of realism. It happens regularly that a Hollywood actress that has so far mostly been known for her looks and her lighter roles gets cast in an ugly role and wins an Oscar for it. A SAS soldier most likely would not look like RA did as JP and casting RA makes the whole piece less realistic and more fantasy like.

              Look at the cast of the mini series State of Play a few years ago, it involves some of Britain’s finest TV actors and I would love RA to be in something like that. But none of them is as “staggeringly handsome” as RA in Spooks or SB and I wonder if they would have use for someone like him if they want their character to be real people. Or look at the 2008 adaption of Sense&Sensibility. They did cast the very classically handsome and charming Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars, probably because they thought a plain and awkward love interest would not sell well. That was not at all how the character was meant to be and I don’t think the plot worked very well with such an attractive actor. Interestingly, many character in Spooks are allowed to look like real people. Even the looks of the attractive young newbies are downplayed. Sophia Myles is allowed to be a bit chubby and have dark roots and stringy hair and does not look nearly as glamorous as she did in “Moonlight”. Max Brown got an extremely short military hair cut to make him look less cute (and he is naturally cute) but RA is not allowed to do the same because he is “the handsome male lead”.

              I see involvement in American TV series or movies more as a useful stepping stone than anything else. This contradicts of course the quest for serious ugly roles but I think both are ways to work one’s way up and should be pursued parallel if possible.

              Every time I read about a British actor being cast in an American series or movie (AL only being one of them) I wonder why no-one has cast RA yet. What do they have RA does no have? Is he not good enough for them? At least we know thanks to Laila Rouass that a few years ago he nearly got cast for an American series and was among the last two men. (No idea what series that was and if it ever made it beyond the pilot or if it is a big hit now)

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              • To be honest, I do understand what you’re getting at, but I find it supports a rather simplistic idea of what reality is. Yes, gritty and grimy can be real, so can good-looking and even beautiful. We readily accept beautiful heroes and heroines in literature. Charlize Theron uglies up and gets an Oscar because Hollywood finds it difficult to accept that serial killers or “bad people” can look like the girl next door or even be attractive. Light entertainment casts more beautiful people, but what these actors have to offer is rather limited and I think we’re agreed that Richard has much more than his looks to bring to the table.

                Getting your break as an actor in Hollywood can be a matter of luck as well as hard work. I don’t think anyone who had enjoyed Hugh Laurie in his comic roles in Jeeves and Wooster and Blackadder would have predicted that he would achieve great success in House and he was 45 when he first got the role. He’s still enjoying success in Hollywood at 51 so I don’t think we should write off Richard’s chances for good roles just yet.

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                • I might be wrong, but I do think RA has a problem to be taken seriously as an actor and to be seen as a brilliant actor both by the public and by industry people and the roles he has recently got (and the roles he hasn’t got) reflect that. And that is partly down to his looks and his appeal to women and the way that is used in his shows.

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                  • I do agree with you on this. This is a problem in some quarters and he has referred to it in certain interviews, but I don’t think we can speculate about roles he hasn’t been offered or might be offered at a later date because we are not privy to this information. Nor do we know in any great detail what his goals are for his own career. The term “success”, both within Hollywood and in the wider film and tv world can be defined im many differing ways. I think we both wish him the very best of luck and the fulfilment of his goals in his career.

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                    • I have to disagree with the idea that Richard is not a success. Spooks is a very successful series in the UK going on it’s 10th year, and Strike Back was also a success or they wouldn’t have ordered a second series. He’s all over the media in the UK, and that signals to me he is a success, if proof is needed. Being the star of two TV series in the UK would signal to me that he is a success. As far UK actors in American shows,I agree with MillyMe that here in the US looks are even more important for being cast in a lead role in films or TV. Jane, I also wouldn’t worry that he hasn’t been cast in a US show, not all UK actors have met with success, Rufus Sewell for example was cast in a show that was cancelled soon after airing- and there are a fair share of terrible TV shows here in the US, so I wouldn’t wish that on Richard either. I think I read he was auditioning for a role as a CIA agent, so it may have been Spooks with an American accent. (I bet Spooks is a much better program). Jane, I understand that you, and most of his fans, want to see him in meatier roles worthy of his talent, but the reality is that actors depend on luck and what projects are currently being funded in the movie business around the world. Until an actor can have enough real money to produce films on their own, they’ll always have to deal with what is being offered to them. I don’t feel he needs to make himself look ugly in order to get better work. He’s just getting noticed now in the movie business, CA is proof of that, and if you’ve seen the cartoon Heinz Kruger you can see he wasn’t cast for his looks! Though Heinz Kruger has undergone quite a makeover with Richard playing him.

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                • I wonder sometimes if we have a prejudice about beautiful people or at least a stereotypical view, just as there is a stereotype about blondes, which I happen to be. We have more fun, but we are also dumb. I have lots of fun, but also happen to be quite intelligent. ( :
                  (and enjoy a good dumb blonde joke, I should add).

                  Are beautiful people less able to feel pain, angst, rejection, frustration, to show complexity? If an actor is only beautiful and has no intelligence, artfulness, no ability to craft a role, it’s one thing. But that’s not Richard, is it?

                  We also tend to think of “bad” characters as looking, well, bad. One of the most prolific serial killers in US history was a man named Ted Bundy. He was a monster who was unrepentant and never took responsibility for his crimes, blaming them on everything from parents to porn.

                  But you’ll find no ordinary-looking actors have played that role in TV and movies because Bundy was handsome as well as intelligent, charming and articulate.

                  Just something that’s been buzzing about in my not-so-dumb blonde head.

                  Of course, as I have said before, if Richard gets a good role where he can uglify himself, I’m all for it.

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              • I wonder that, too (why he hasn’t been cast in the US if he’s actually been trying to be), although I can’t imagine that there’s only one reason, or that it’s the same reason all the time.

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                • I’m leaning toward your hypothesis about him possibly not being a great auditioner as one reason he may not have gotten work. Also possibly issues earlier on with doing an American accent. And his physical beauty is of the more unconventional type, and perhaps they were looking for more of the standard pretty boy . . . who knows? So many possibilities.

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                • Servetus, my guess is that RA appeals mostly to extreemly intelligent women with many degrees and money — women who know the world’s legends and have read not only the Western Canon, but much else. Hollywood wants to fill its chewing gum floors with anyone who can come up with the admittance fee. There aren’t enough of us for Hollywood, so you get the silly teen idols Bradley Pitt, whats his name Clooney, etc. The unlettered masses are not ready for Richard, nor will they ever be. I look forward to Captain America and believe Armitage will turn even a bit part into the stuff of dreams.

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          • This comment raises some interesting questions for me:

            1. Given that producers, directors, and actors can’t control fan reactions: does the fan reaction to his beauty hamper his ability to get roles in more conventionally significant drama? In order to support his career, should we all “look away”?

            (I have to say that in line with my first post on this topic I think that fans are entitled to their own reactions, whatever they are. I think, frankly, that it’s hard to ignore his physical beauty in certain settings. I actually think that in much of Spooks he has looked reasonably normal as opposed to gorgeous, but agree that John Porter just looks way too good to be realistic. So if fans want to objectify, that has to be their call. I think it’s weird to go batshit about his a*** in that scene in 8.4 given the context in which it appears, but I can’t find any justification for condemning it, either, beyond saying that I find it to be a misinterpretation of that scene. I wonder if some of that reaction has to do with the fact that he did do BTS early on in his career and there was a blatant appeal there to prurient impulse, I feel, so that on some level audiences were “set up” to react in certain ways when they saw that body part again. I am now watching Ultimate Force, and I just saw 1.5, in which the terrorists force Jamie to disrobe before climbing into an open grave. We see all of Jamie Draven, who is cute enough from the front, from the rear. Did his fans go crazy over that scene? And if not, was it because they didn’t have a prehistory of that sort of expectation?)

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            • I have long wondered about that. To a degree I think we are a burden. At least partly he does get cast for his ability to attract a female audience. And those audience is played by giving him love interests that don’t always make a lot of sense and by making him disrobe.

              A lot is made of the artistic significance of Lucas tattoos or the boiler suit scene or the naked torture scenes (not that one sees much but there is talk about it in the press and who lets the information leak, that he will be naked in those scenes? – Kudos and RA!) and I don’t doubt that it is true with Spooks (not so much with SB and RH) but why don’t they make Harry undress if the context asks for it? He could have done it to look more vulnerable when he was arrested and mentally tortured in 7.7, but he didn’t. And that is because the audience wants to see man on the hight of physical fitness not a slightly overweight middle aged man.

              Or look at the show Merlin, well-build Arthur has scenes of him sleeping without his shirt in almost every episode, but skinny Merlin is allowed to keep his shirt on.

              There is a difference between a beautiful person being naked and an average looking person being naked. The latter does not provide an erotic thrill (except for their lover perhaps who is already in love with the person and not only the beautiful body) the former potentially always does even if the context is by no means erotic and film makers know that.

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              • Well, many of the the early greats of stage and screen were also cast in part for their beauty, right? Yes, there were some “ugly” great actors, too. It’s just that we didn’t have the opportunity to see them all naked. Cultural mores were different then. Even today, presumably some viewers also (can) feel a strong erotic attraction to men who are fully clothed. To me, anyway, the reason I don’t want to see Harry Pearce naked isn’t primarily that Peter Firth is middle aged and has a tummy. It’s that Harry’s SO closed off emotionally, so much of an apparently stunted personality. In other words, I find him unattractive as a body because I find him unattractive as a person. It would be interesting to be able to test whether I would feel that way if Armitage were playing Harry. I suppose we did see marginally more naked Guy of Gisborne than Robin Hood for a reason, even though Robin was the hero.

                It would be interesting to know if Mr. Armitage tries to get a contract clause that means he doesn’t have to be shown nude if he doesn’t want to. Part of me really does think, if he doesn’t want to run the risk of being perceived as beefcake (assuming that’s true — I looked hard for a statement where he says something like that explicitly, i.e., via more than by allusion to his discomfort with fans’ attention to his body, and it’s not there in his interviews) he needs to stop taking off the clothes. I wonder if an insistence on that would have kept him out of SB.

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                • Hmm, I have no idea but I think an actor can probably demand not to do full nudity (frontal or not), after all he could have done the waterbording scene wearing jogging bottoms, but taking his shirt off is not touching a taboo. After all, every man does it at the beach or swimming pool.

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                • Good point about Harry and being turned off not by the actual physical body but by the character him or herself.

                  I love cult movie fav Bruce Campbell who now co-stars on Burn Notice. Bruce is older and greyer now and has put on some pounds, but I love his character and wouldn’t mind a bit if they had him take one of his Hawaiian shirts off. I think he’s adorable.

                  I’m afraid I flinched a bit every time Robin took off his shirt in Robin Hood. Him, I did not like. And to be honest, there was that comparison I mentally made with the fellow I did like, my favorite Medieval Menace, as JP in Sloth Fiction would call him.

                  I can’t recall RA saying specifically he is uncomfortable with performing in the nude, just that he is uncomfortable with all the “sex god” stuff. I know he was eager for work when BTS came around, but would he have done that role if he hadn’t been pretty comfortable getting his kit off? Or was it a matter of, “I’ve got to pay the bills, I am tired of laying floors, I’ll just grin and bare it?”

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            • That’s what I have wondered, not having followed any other actor in the way I have Richard: has there been as huge of a hue and cry over other actors’ nude or semi-nude in the way there have been over Richard’s?

              Is part of it because of that early career appearance in BTS (where I have to say, naughty scenes aside, I felt he gave a very solid performance) and is part of it because in many fans’ eyes he is the Victorian romantic hero and dadgum it, he should be keeping his clothes on?

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              • I’m going to bring up Ralph Fiennes again. One of his very first films was “The Baby of Macon” which featured him fully nude being gored by a bull. Yes the fanbase goes into a tizz about it. He’s also been nude in several other movies, including “Red Dragon” where the fanbase was sent into another tizz by the juicy tidbit that his manhood had to be digitally, um, shrunk for the movie to keep its R rating. His extreme physical beauty is as legendary as his talent and he was helped early in his career by powerful men, Spielberg and Redford among them. He has always done small things, too, though. Oscar and Lucinda, Sunshine, The End of the Affair, Spider, Onegin — these are not blockbuster films. They are beutiful pieces, though, and he has always talked about them with as great affection as for The English Patient or The Constant Gardner. Fiennes is prickly, though, in interviews. He doesn’t share RA’s guy next door persona. I can’t imagine an interviewer asking him about his fans, period, let alone about whether they send him underwear.

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                • Ralph is indeed gorgeous–he also have lovely eyes and a smile like an angel–and a great actor. I have actually seen more of his smaller films rather than the big-budget films. Boy, the “Baby of Macon” story makes BTS sound like the Cbeebies in comparison. That’s very interesting to know, thanks, Jazzbaby1.

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                • I didn’t know most of this and find it all interesting, esp the point about the prickliness. If Mr. Armitage were pricklier when asked the circus and fan questions, maybe we’d read less about those things?

                  I never want to read that Mr. Armitage’s member had to be digitally shrunk. NEVER.

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        • In a way, nudity is just a subset of the general process of acting, which involves abandoning self-consciousness. I think it’s neat that there’s a class on that. (I’d like to take it.)

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          • Relating to male actors’ sexiness, nudity and seeking one’s fame in Lala-land I found this on Rupert Penry-Jones who was Adam Carter in Spooks.

            “Much has been made if Rupert’s sexiness. He has, it is true, often taken off his shirt for the cameras – as Cate Blanchett’s lover in Charlotte Gray, and as Donald Maclean in the BBC five-parter Cambridge Spies. Even I got a glimpse of his torso as he got back into his clothes after our shoot. …
            he once appeared on stage at the Hampstead Theatre, nude and standing full-mast. Apparently he was bored and wanted to provoke a reaction: “But it was a tiny theatre and the audience was mainly Jewish pensioners.” Oy vey.
            He’s not after a movie? ‘Well, I think most of the movies we do, as Brit actors, fall flat on their arse. You’re the guy who doesn’t quite make it on to the poster.’ He giggles and inserts a vast triangle of beefburger into his mouth. ‘I do love LA,’ he goes on. ‘I really chased it a few years ago – I went out for six months, but it just made me miserable. All I was thinking about was that I wasn’t successful because I wasn’t a film star. So I stopped and came home and did two plays back-to-back and realised, actually I do like acting and I don’t give a fuck about being a film star.'”

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      • You’re welcome, Servetus, and thanks. As I said, I can’t seem to stop writing!!

        Re his beauty: there has sometimes been that prejudice against really good-looking actors–If they are that pretty/handsome, they can’t really be truly talented, can they? Sort of like–if she’s blonde, she can’t win that trivia contest, can she? (sorry, couldn’t resist).

        In RA’s case, obviously, yes, they can, this amazing character actor who inhabits a leading man’s face and body.

        I am pretty sure he is never going to be willing to coast along on his handsome face or perfect backside, for that matter.

        He hasn’t shown any signs of doing it yet. Yes, there was a good bit of nudity and simulated sex in BTS, but as you said, that was early in his career and it was, after all, a show about sexual relationships. It’s also one of my guilty pleasures.

        He works so hard to downplay his good looks, saying he wanted to look tired and disheveled on Spooks but they won’t let him, bless his heart.

        Great comparison with Steve Buschemi (whom I also love to bits). You’ve got to have the right look for the role you are playing, and typically a leading man role requires leading man looks.

        And let’s face it, RA has that leading man vibe. Your eyes are drawn to him, even though, as I believe you have said, he doesn’t try to overwhelm a scene. It’s not just his looks; it’s his presence, his aura.

        And brother, he’s sexy. He just is, almost effortlessly, it seems. He puts so many other supposed “hotties” in the shade.
        A classy, elegant, grounded, gorgeous gentleman.

        I find him pretty much irresistible, too. I freely confess it, as if you hadn’t already figured that out.LOL

        But apparently we are far from alone, my dear Dr. S.

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        • We certainly live in different times. I am sure that if the cultural standards of the early to mid-twentieth century had been different, we’d also have seen the big screen icons of that age topless or partially nude. But in many cases their reputations during their careers were also reliant on their physical beauty: Clark Gable, Cary Grant, etc.

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          • Clark Gable appeared on screen without an undershirt in “It Happened One Night” and immediately, sales of undershirts plummeted in the US.

            Also, before the Hollywood censorship codes were strictly enforced starting in 1934, I believe, actresses like Maureen O’Sullivan and Claudette Colbert performed scenes in the nude (albeit swimming in a river or bathing in milk; it was still quite evident they weren’t wearing any clothing). Also take note of Jane’s costume in pre-code and post-code Tarzan movies. Lots more flesh in the early ones.
            If those codes hadn’t gone into effect, it’s interesting to ponder what we might have seen on the silver screen much, much sooner than we did.

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  3. That was a great post and so much to digest, especially for someone like me who is sometimes dissatisfied by his choices!

    For me the quote from Elizabeta applies more to us fans that might prefer something else than to RA’s happiness: if we want to continue to enjoy following his career, we have to take what we get, take it for what it is and make the best of it instead of tearing it into pieces because it is not high art and frustrate ourselves and those that might wish to discuss what they actually liked about a show/performance. If high art or a certain genre is what we look for first and foremost, why not concentrate on that instead of a particular actor’s work?

    Two more thoughts, not connected to each other: on the subject of nudity or non-nudity, I suspect the reason why Lucas pulled the sheet over himself was not fear that anyone might see his bare backside but the fear that anyone sees that he was not naked at all but wearing underpants or even jeans!

    The other thought is, how would you, servetus, or the rest of us react to him appearing in a soap as an ultimately “unworthy” and non-artsy genre? One major complaint I keep hearing is that the episodic shows he has appeared in for the last few years are plot driven instead of character driven. All three shows, RH, Spooks and SB are mostly about the story of the week, just like murder mysteries, hospital shows or fantasy shows like Doctor Who, though they all have an overall story arc and some character development and RA fans only seem to be interested in the latter and dismiss the “bomb of the week” they have to endure in Spooks. They leave little room for “real acting” in emotional scenes in contrast to showing him doing his job. And more often than not those overall/personal story arcs are not as consistent and well developed as one would wish for and I think that is a major source of frustration.

    So to come back to the topic of soaps, would that be ultimately more satisfying to see him in something that is all about he ups and downs of a character’s personal life and his relationships wit other character? I know it is heresy to suggest that to RA’s more high-brow fans but I have sometimes asked myself if we wouldn’t be happier with that?

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    • Brilliant (in the American sense — we don’t just say that to mean “great” here) point about Elizaveta’s statement, Jane. I should have seen that myself. Really, really insightful.

      As you can guess I certainly agree about the question of high art vs the actor — and I think there are a lot of people who are actually clear on this: they see their interest in Armitage as a subset of their interest in period drama or whatever, and so they concede less interest in his other roles, or they express surprise that they find themselves watching his other stuff. It just seems odd to criticize stuff that is not high art for its lack of artiness, or to criticize him for taking those roles. He said in that FT interview yesterday that he had planned to be in theatre and ended up on tv and that he had never anticipated he’d get to this point professionally. He certainly didn’t say “I trained for theatre and my life is miserable because I am not doing that.” It’s not like he ever billed himself to his fans as being a certain kind of artist — just an artist with particular creative interests that he was going to seek to fulfill as best he could.

      nudity: yeah, you’re probably right. Honestly, I can’t imagine ever doing a scene like that myself, so it’s hard for me to think about all the implications and scenarios of what could be happening. Seriously, to spend all that time in bed naked with a person who was not your lover, miming sex? The mind pales. He does it well, but that would embarrass the absolute heck out of me.

      This is a great question about the soap, I think, as well as a great question about the way in which serial dramas may interfere with characterization (a problem Armitage reported at the beginning of this season). Would I watch him in a daytime or an early evening soap? I think so. Whether I would keep watching would probably depend then on how well the character arcs was established by the script and by his acting choices, i.e., it’s the making extreme of the current dilemma. Currently he appears in popular serial drama, where the point is the story and not the characters — but what if he appeared in stuff where everyone acknowledged that the script was nonsense and so all there was was a concentration on the character? I think he could be good at that and I’d watch him in it but I suspect he wouldn’t take a role where the story was so absolutely secondary to the characters. He said in the VL interview that he was very plot driven himself as a reader. If he thought the original version of Strike Back was awful in terms of plot (and the Chris Ryan novel really is terrible), a soap opera would potentially be much worse, unless it offered some interesting plot dilemma, in which case it wouldn’t be all that bad, if you see what I mean.

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  4. Jane,I was still a bit sleepy when I posted earlier, but the point I was actually trying to make was the Sarah/Lucas scene comes across as clumsy because RA probably was wearing a garment on his bottom half, and of course trying to hide that as he moved on top of GOR for what we were to assume was intercourse. . . an awkward moment which should have been snipped out in the editing process. Or the scene re-shot.

    Re character development: heck, if he wanted to do a soap opera, it wouldn’t bother me. Sure, we might all be happier with that. But then, as Servetus said, our opinions of the roles he chooses really don’t matter, do they? What makes us happiest shouldn’t be what determines his choice of roles.

    Ultimately it’s his career, his talent, his LIFE. Those who can’t or won’t understand that perhaps should just lock themselves up in a room with several N&S DVDs and watch to their hearts’ content–and stop following his career and constantly, tiresomely whinging (yes, I am sorry, but that is how I see it from my perspective as an unabashed fan of the gentlemen) about every new role he takes.

    As for “RA fans only seem to be interested in the latter (in shows featuring the story of the week) and dismiss the “bomb of the week” they have to endure in Spooks”–I have joked about the “bomb of the week” scenario, certainly; I have a very keen sense of humor and as RA himself said, Spooks can get spoofy at times.

    But that doesn’t mean I don’t sit on the edge of my seat and gnaw my fingernails and get an adrenaline rush watching such shows. I also happen to truly love Doctor Who along with murder mysteries, police procedurals and other genre TV drama AND costume dramas such as the excellent ones crafted by the Beeb.

    I’d be happy for him to appear in any of the above. But again, my happiness and yours doesn’t matter. And the truth is, watching Richard Armitage evolve as an actor is something I will be doing whether he plays a soldier, a sailor, a cook, a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief. I am, and suspect I shall remain, transfixed by his awesome talent and his dedication to getting the role, no matter how small or possibly “low brow,” right.

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    • I have a certain problem with dismissing the bomb of the week, insofar as I think that the season 7 script scenarios actually did move beyond them. They make repeated statements on moral dilemmas, for example, sometimes more clumsily (7.4) than others (7.5). Insofar as the character we’re concentrating on is implicated in these problems, we can’t just dismiss the plot. I started to watch Spooks because Armitage was in it but I’m watching it now (the back episodes) because I think that the way it sets up moral conflict is instructive to me in terms of how I see my own moral possibilities. So in general I am probably inclined not to “get” why people dismiss plots, even clumsy ones.

      Admittedly, my professional research concerns almost exclusively “second tier” cultural texts — one of the questions is to see how the “big ideas” get filtered down into more popular venues, but these “second rate” items are interesting on their own terms.

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      • I watched MI-5 when it aired on A&E a few years ago (albeit the chopped up versions, which were a little hard to follow) and was disappointed when they didn’t run any additional eps.

        I have series 3-8 on DVD, although I haven’t had a chance to watch them all, and I have also watched some of the S3 eps on PBS.

        So I am actually quite familiar with the crisis of the week scenario, and while I kid about it (I’m sorry, it’s just the way I am–probably because I deal with some very sad things at work sometimes and that’s my defense mechanism) I genuinely do get involved in the story lines and the moral dilemmas faced by the characters, care about the characters and I did before RA came to the show.

        Admittedly, I didn’t start going out of my way to download eps or discuss the show online as I do BRA, but I’ve always been a fan of the show–just more of one since RA joined Section D. ( ;

        And I can’t dismiss plots, since I have to come up with them myself! Speaking of which, back to “Truce” . . .

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  5. Great post – I agree!!! Don’t really need to say more than that.

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  6. Having just watched a really horrible movie with Spouse called “Lake Placid 3” featuring ginormous crocodiles and really annoying characters I kept hoping would get eaten, I have decided one way dear Richard could totally derail his career is by starring in a series of SyFy Channel movies.

    Now THAT is “dreck.” Amazingly cheesy CGI effects and ridiculous plots.
    Of course, their most immortal production is “Mansquito.”

    Richard, if you come to the US . . . stay FAR, FAR away from those, please. *grin* (my husband has loved really awful sci-fi movies since childhood. What can I say?)

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    • This is interesting, as I was pondering last night the question of “bad” film. The most recent terrible film I saw was called “Hot Tub Time Machine.” It was so bad that I didn’t see all of it, only about twenty minutes. I was interested in it because John Cusack, an acting icon of my teen years and early adulthood, was starring. But HTTM was not bad because it was inherently awful (though one is tempted to conclude that), it was boring because it didn’t conform very well to the generic conventions of that kind of film — in other words, it was a bad exemplar of what it was trying itself to achieve.

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      • I suppose one man’s trash is another man’s treasure when it comes to tastes in films. Some of the parody movies of the various genres are awful IMHO because parodies are supposed to be funny,and well, they aren’t. That being said, I loved those Abraham/Zucker movies from the 70s and 80s–“Airplane,” “Top Secret,” “Hot Shots.” Sure, parts of them are downright silly, but it’s a delicious silliness and Benny and I still love to toss lines from them at each other. They still make me laugh. Part of me would love to see Richard in something just really absurd and laugh-out-loud funny.

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        • Maybe “Hot Tub Time Machine” was a parody. Hmmm. I couldn’t make myself watch it long enough, I guess, to be able to say that it wasn’t …

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  7. Interesting set of articles about actors and acting:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/series/guide-to-performing-acting
    One of the articles discusses surviving this very tough profession:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/may/09/tips-surviving-acting-industry
    A quote from one of the actors, Adrian Lester, that I thought was interesting:
    “The other enormous challenge that any actor faces is coping with unemployment. When you’re out of work, it can be very depressing. It can feel as if your employability rests in the hands of strangers who may need reminding to remember who you are. As an actor you are working with yourself as the raw material, and so you can come to the conclusion that there is no difference between being rejected for the job and feeling rejected as a person; after all, it’s your voice, your height, your weight, your mannerisms and your choice of clothes that can, in a five-minute interview, make people think you are not right for a part. Opening yourself to such scrutiny means that a certain sense of insecurity is a constant companion. This is what forces you to grow: the belief that on some level your work is lacking; the constant search for a perfection that lies outside your abilities.”

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  8. Re beauty in the US, when I read he is too beautiful I have the feeling he isn’t that much at least to the US cast people, IMVHO. Being from SouthAmerica with a huge influence from the US (all the things we have on tv is either national or American, soup-operas are another area) I’ve been and we keep being bombarded with a specific concept of beauty (extra makeup, tans, perfect teeth, perfect lean bodies in women and perfect muscular bodies in men, very fashion conscious). When I watch American TV I feel like as soon as the male or female lead steps into the scene, his/her beauty jumps right at you opposed to noticing 2 years ago when I began to watch british TV (because of RA) that the actors felt so very ‘normal’, if I stopped to really look at them they are good looking/handsome and still had the notion that if I went to London I will cross them down the street. Is he not handsome enough? On the other hand, I think he doesn’t want a role where the characteristic is his looks but to start in America you’ll need to start in small role that won’t always be the good ones and he might have to rely on his ‘particular’ good looks.

    The nudity aspect I think it’s cultural as mentioned by some of you, maybe US viewers find it too gratuitous while others not so much, or it has to do with each person’s standards. Personally I haven’t felt them, I realized other people did reading their posts on forums/blogs, while with the interview ‘A day in the life’ I did feel manipulated (I enjoyed it, nonetheless). In the end, IMO, RA is not ‘to blame’ or at least not totally.

    I’ve learnt to keep my mouth shut and not critize ‘his choices’ since I ‘met’ RA, because after N&S and learnt about RH I almost didn’t watch it because of my prejudices (now I’m a Guy-girl as I’ve said n-times) and the feeling still aroused when I learnt about Spooks but I watched it and know I really like it. So right now I agree with Servetus ‘…(he) continue(s) to take roles for reasons that are only clear to him’ as long as he does that I will wait until I see it to give an opinion on his acting more than on the genre. Whatever the reasons he has, it is only part of the equation being the result what we see him in, the other part –and he has mentioned it himself- is the availability of roles in british tv which he can’t help. My question is how strong a limitation that is, I only know about the things he’s done and some old period dramas but could his choices really come to there’s nothing else? In this past 2-3 years (to give them time for casting, shooting and finally airing which is the time when we finally ‘know’ about them) had there been new shows or tv movies with interesting characters as to say ‘yes there have but he’s not been offered/audition for those to ‘end up’ in SB or doing voice overs’?

    Sorry if this has been said already.

    OML 🙂

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    • It is really hard to tell. There are interesting projects he has missed, both period drama and contemporary drama, as he didn’t say “no” to SB after Spooks to prevent typecasting I don’t think he would have said “no” to playing an Austen hero or a detective like Sherlock or Luther but who knows is he was interested and didn’t get the part or not. For most of the time he wasn’t even available because since he started filming RH2 in spring 2007 he has been under contract for long-running series all the time. Now is the first time since winter 2006/07 that he has a break from TV series and he uses it to film CA.

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    • Great points all, OML. I agree with Jane — hard to tell. I feel lamed in my non-knowledge of Britain in this regard.

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  9. […] and Captain America were more typical than Hamlet and Macbeth, I spent a lot of time justifying why I’d be happy to keep watching Armitage no matter what he did, even if he never moved beyond television, BBC Radio 4 productions, and audiobooks, and even if we […]

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  10. […] other novelistic depictions of vampires or having seen any other vampire films. She’s even mentioned that Armitage as a vampire would challenge even her rather latitudinarian views on what he… (summary: whatever he […]

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  11. […] from his acting talent, something I called “the Armitage morass.” I also share her opinion that Mr. Armitage’s appearance topless or nude from the rear reflects his own adul… And I’ve frequently compared Mr. Armitage’s physical appearance to various pieces of […]

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  12. […] S: This matter of “great art” is something you and I disagree about (Servetus’ position part one; part two). […]

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  13. […] two posts on the question of Armitage and the necessity of great art at extreme length (part one / part two), so I won’t rehearse them here, but suffice it to say that “great art” […]

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  14. […] But I was thinking, after talking about it yesterday on fedoralady’s blog, that even though I hope he wouldn’t do this project or one like it, that I would still watch him if he did it. In other words, I can’t imagine that even this would make me let go of him. That’s a slightly new development. In October 2010 I wrote this: For instance, I can see if he started making p*rn — by which I mean projects that had as their onl… […]

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  15. […] As I’ve said, I don’t really subscribe to eternal definitions of great art (see II here) — or maybe it’s that for me, great art speaks to an audience and that can be […]

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  16. […] forms: as a comment on the importance of projects with a higher culture component (part 1 and part 2) and also as comment on whether he should appear at fan convention events (so I am glad that the […]

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  17. […] might discomfit fans with commitments to more traditional notions of “artistic quality” (that I do not share). I thought a shift to film would mean seeing less of him — which many of us speculated could […]

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  18. […] specific one with much forcefulness. (This position was articulated long ago; see arguments here or here, for instance.) I definitely want Armitage to get what Armitage […]

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  19. […] Even if Ian McKellen doesn’t want to call the Hobbit films a franchise, that’s what they are. McKellen was trying to say something, I think, about the quality and artistic and cultural meaning of the Tolkien project, the creation of which was not touched by the desire to sell a product, as opposed to what McKellen seems to think about most comic and superhero narratives. Laying aside, of course, the fact that Tolkien also sought to profit from his work, this distinction doesn’t hold up well given either the historical origins of significant pieces of what we call classical theater or that of comic and superhero stories (The Hobbit and the first superhero comic books come from roughly the same era), and while standing up for a difference between Tolkien and X-Men is an understandable decision for a classically-trained actor to make, doing so makes McKellen look a bit hypocritical and condescending to his audience(s). I am on record as not believing in that distinction, anyway. […]

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  20. […] Any conditions on my Armitage love are not inherently or necessarily dependent on roles he takes.) I don’t really believe that any role is inherently better than any other based on the cultural…. If he does get Batman, of course, we’ll all have been part of the hype, something that used […]

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  21. […] Inter alia, some texts are confessional; some informative; some analytical; some biographical; some persuasive; some poetic; some fantastical; some erotic; some satirical; some programmatic. Not everything that […]

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