My Richard Armitage: An interpretation. Early career to North & South

Here are links to Preface (explains what this series is) and Part I (covering Richard Armitage’s family background, childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and early professional experiences and training).

This piece is my interpretation of what I know about Armitage, a picture drawn by me from my personal standpoint. In contrast: for an excellent, nuanced, thoughtful description of Richard Armitage that focuses on the stations of Armitage’s career and the conventional themes of professional biography, please consult this one at Richard Armitage Online.


IV. Early Career to North & South

[Right: Richard Armitage in rehearsal for Hamlet at the Birmingham Rep (1998). Source:]

Richard Armitage’s sojourn at LAMDA is followed by the overwhelming scale of the set experience for Star Wars (at first overwhelming, then fascinating to the young actor) and then by a year of stage roles, notably at the Birmingham Rep. The next step is an engagement with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which initially excites (finally — a long professional engagement, doing Shakespeare) and eventually frustrates (short roles; productions that the audience does not appear to enjoy). Building or sustaining a romantic relationship fades in interest as he focuses on career success. The episodic relationship he referred to as occurring in his LAMDA years and relating to his identity at that time ends; a brief relationship with a member of the RSC stage crew succeeds it. Studies for formal qualification in stage fighting. Volunteers in RSC school workshops because of his enjoyment of productions at Stratford seen during his own education; in a similar vein, Armitage will later become a patron of a project to bring students to the Globe Theater. In the atmosphere of a very high cultural institution, one of Armitage’s central values in performance emerges more clearly in his own self-awareness: shared enjoyment between actors and audiences. Engagement in small and then supporting stage roles, however, suggest his path to professional prominence may not lead through classical theater. Ongoing, mostly unarticulated artistic ambition and awareness that his talents are underutilized in “spear carrying” remain for the short term balanced out by enjoyment of ensemble work and lack of aggressive drive to lead or “killer instinct.” Ability to continue on this path suggests a number of personality elements and attitudes: a serious commitment to the aesthetic values and institutions of classical theater, a high tolerance for uncertainty, a dogged determination to keep at it, a willingness to tolerate dissatisfaction, a markedly high capacity to go along to get along, a nagging need for approval from authoritative sources — but perhaps also an awareness that the reasons for professional attention are often highly arbitrary, given the (in retrospect embarrassing) attention he receives from Japanese fans of Star Wars when touring there in the RSC Macbeth, as well as the ongoing enjoyment of youthful pleasures in London and environs and a feeling of being younger than his chronological age.

[Left: Richard Armitage, from the program for the RSC’s The Duchess of Malfi (2000), the production where he meets and makes friends with Liza Franks. Source:]

The end of the RSC engagement is followed, after brief and minor — though credited — film appearances, by a professional dry spell (reported variously as eight or eighteen months in different interviews, although no eighteen-month gap is visible in his CV). Lack of work causes Armitage to feel “down” and to become weary of conversations in which he’s asked why he’s not working. He remains very nervous before auditions, reports later that he did not experience “blind faith” in his own talents. Growing awareness, expressed to his agent, that he may have missed the takeoff point for the type of acting career he wishes to pursue. Frustration with lack of success and continuing or intensifying dislike of work done to pay the bills, however, are countered by personal conviction that he has no other marketable job skills.

Armitage persists. Keeps reading and exploring. Does handyman work for friends to fill his time and wallet. Works in front-of-house jobs in theater, giving him the opportunity to look at the venue from a different angle and understand why people come there. Takes acting classes to keep his skill in shape and experiences breakthrough in a class taught by an American director in terms of touching or releasing emotional core of sentiments that are “not civilized” while acting — an experience that convinces him that he does have the necessary capacities (“instrument” — interesting as it’s a typical vocalist’s or musician’s metaphor) it takes to be successful. Possibly the period of unemployment contributes to ongoing contemplation of matters related to rewards / skill / luck /self-centering, providing him with productive ethical self-talk that he explicitly articulates subsequently in his career. Later statements also point to casual awareness / exploration of Buddhism that I am tempted to root in this period of struggle for acknowledgement and explanations for what’s (not) happening as well as acceptable response to circumstance. Acknowledgement of the necessity of luck in building a professional reputation conditioned by adult struggles remains balanced, however, by ongoing meritocratic conviction from other and earlier contexts about the significance of hard work and preparation.

[Right: Richard Armitage as Dr. Tom Steele in Doctors (2001). Source:]

After this tense period, professional employment resumes, and his career finally begins to take speed through television work. Armitage makes a last stage appearance, in Annie Lee, late in 2002, significant as well because it is a second data point (beyond contemporaneity at LAMDA) that connects him with Annabel Capper, one of few personal friends who is not a coworker with whom he is ever seen by fans in public. After that production, Armitage will not tread the boards again until a charity performance in the fall of 2010. TV would not have been his first choice; he remarked later that he enjoyed the work more once he had become familiar with what was going on in the medium, which suggests that despite enjoyment of TV as a child and early professional experiences as a TV extra, he had been genuinely most interested in pursuing a theatrical or perhaps an art film career, and had not closely considered television as a desirable career venue until relatively late, under pressure of realization that acting really was his calling in the sense not only that nothing else would please him, but that he couldn’t conceive of other work. Much later, after a season of Spooks, he will note that he couldn’t have seen himself pushing pencils.

[Left: Richard Armitage as Craig Parker in Casualty (2001). Source:]

Initial television roles clearly exploit Armitage’s two most obvious qualities at the time: first, a face that was shedding its boyish sweetness toward the end of his twenties and gaining a fascinating angularity that corresponded more closely to his chronological age; second, a capacity to act effectively while performing very physical action scenes that he no doubt owed in part to his extensive dance training. Although it’s hard to judge, since dialect speech is a piece of the toolkit of all actors, he may also have profited from his ability to perform some northern English accents credibly to outsiders. Despite his ongoing interest in high art, Armitage expresses no inhibitions about taking low cultural roles in television; the very rare interview at this time mentions his enjoyment of the “fun” or “boy” aspects of military drama, for instance, and eagerness to do different kinds of roles. Although one suspects that Armitage was concerned with issues of personal appearance a great deal earlier, because dancers as professional tend to be very openly conscious of their bodies and appearances, at the very latest after he is cast as Lee in Cold Feet, regular, goal-oriented physical training to enhance his visual appeal becomes part of his professional preparation. (After North & South, he will state that he wanted not to look like a “lard bucket” and that “the Speedos were popular.”) Going forward, Armitage seems to take away from this experience the desire to cultivate his body not just in order to fulfill the physical demands of a role, but as part of the “look” and thus the identity of a character. Professes ability to play rugby on the assumption that he will be able to manage it — reflecting not only “saying anything” to get a job, but also a physical and intellectual openness to unfamiliar experiences that corresponds to his experiential / somatic learning style and will increasingly play a role in helping him find employment. Roles in this period especially take him to a series of incongruous sources for information: aqua-aerobics classes, a farm with livestock, friendly coaching in rugby, suggesting a willingness to take research of even minor roles seriously, a solid work ethic, and also a strong interest in or at least willingness to encounter closely the unfamiliar. At the same time, along with the “circus” story, experiences during research episodes lay down a series of tropes that are useful fodder for exploitation in interviews, creating a pleasant picture of an individual whose seriousness is tempered by an appreciation for the absurd and a refusal to take himself too seriously.

[Right: Captain Ian Macalwain (Richard Armitage) on the rugby pitch in Ultimate Force 2.2. Source:]

Looking back to this career threshold several years later, Armitage continues to narrate a meritocratic version of his development, although to his own disadvantage — he attributes the slow takeoff to his own insufficiencies as an artist. The beginnings of the change he puts down to figuring out how to audition more successfully, as he did for Sparkhouse, in which he wanted the role of John Standring very badly and succeeded at being cast against type. For him, being cast in this role was a consequence of his conscious decision to inhabit characters more intensely than in the past, which in meritocratic terms might be phrased as “working harder at it.” A trope with a similar valence against self-aggrandizement, his habit of telling self-deprecating stories about disastrous auditions that attribute his success to random factors or suggest that his engagement with potential roles is more casual than it really is — at this point, in particular, the story that he was cast in Cold Feet because of his boots, or that he hadn’t realized he’d have to play nude scenes in Between the Sheets — is in evidence from the beginning of Armitage’s television career. Possible factors influencing this style include rhetorical convention among actors and the perceived need to cover personal ambition in British culture; a desire not to look arrogant; and/or superstition. Fear of expressing ambition that comrades might find ridiculous or inappropriate seems to play an important role; not till 2008 will Armitage admit — in one single statement, never repeated, that he had thought about being in movies as a teenager. Various later remarks about failed auditions point to a genuine persisting tension around the experience, however; it will be 2011 before Armitage voices explicitly that he might have gotten a role because of one he had done well at, and even then he will undercut this statement subsequently. At the same time, a self-narration that relies heavily on the role of coincidence or (narrowly avoided) disaster for decisive stations in one’s development is also not infrequently a characteristic of highly ambitious people, in whose statements self-deprecation, statements about one’s incapacities or failures, or attribution of success to factors than one’s own merits serve as a socially acceptable mask for desires or achievements about which one does not wish to boast, or a way of avoiding attributing responsibility for success to oneself.

[Left: Giggly about the unlimited supply of Starburst on the Frozen set — Richard Armitage in 2004 2003 — see note at bottom.] Source:]

It is perhaps easiest in comparisons of Armitage’s earliest roles to see a brisk movement in the refinement of acting style from job to job that was occurring with lightning speed in this period — clearly underlining a later self-assessment that he is a “quick learner” when, indeed, he is given the opportunity to undertake the experiential learning most comfortable and effective for him. Working regularly, moreover, gives him the framework in which to think in specific terms about ambitions that had either been inchoate or too dangerous to admit to himself, especially during periods of struggle for roles. In ways both casual and important, Armitage remains young for his age, but a personal vibe of youthful sweetness or silliness is now increasingly divorced from an ever greater application to self-preparation at work. Apparent self-deprecation and boyish joking about auditions in the press mask a development occurring toward a more intense practice of characterization that involves developing and inhabiting a subtext that he places in the minds of his characters, as well as greater willingness to question writers / directors about his characters.

A clearly visible transition from a stage to a television acting style is also underway. Around the time of making Sparkhouse, Armitage considers more fully the issues around presenting a character’s inner life to an observer by adding vs. subtracting layers of personality and emotion in performances in different venues. The clearly evident facial moods of John Standring in Sparkhouse and Paul Andrews in Between the Sheets, which verge on the theatrical, will quickly be reigned in favor of a more naturalistic, less sculpted performance in evidence in the characters he plays in Frozen, Malice Aforethought, and In Divine Proportion. As he makes the transition from stage to television screen, Armitage starts to think of acting as an engagement in the search for truth and appreciates the chance to use acting to experience big emotions not typically available to humans in daily life. Somewhat later, he will mention that he enjoys the potential to get things perfect on television via retakes, though still he valued the discipline and concentration required for two-and-a-half hours of stage work. At the same time, he will say, more often as his career continues, that he enjoys the adrenaline rush of acting. Reading backwards, it seems possible that television work took on the role of a framework for disciplining the worst outcomes of the adrenaline rush Armitage experienced while acting. It may have allowed him to surmount (it’s striking how noticeably Armitage refers to roles as “mountains to climb”) what must occasionally have been a professionally damaging neurotransmitter response that resulted in nervousness around being observed while acting. In any case, success in the television framework bred more success and thus more self-confidence in encounters with the moments of the job that were potentially most nerve-wracking or challenging for the developing artist.


Breakthrough casting and role, from his own perspective: Richard Armitage as John Standring in episode 3 of Sparkhouse. My cap.


V. North & South: Armitage’s career comes into the public eye

[Right: Richard Armitage, promotional photo by Jenny Lewis, 2004]

Being cast in North & South (2004), although it is the production that most observers would later characterize as his defining professional breakthrough, thus comes for Armitage as the attainment of a new stage of career recognition rather than a personal, artistic, or cognitive breakthrough. For him, being cast results from internal and artistic developments that had been occurring and are visible in his work as it survives in approximately the previous two years. The major development in this production for Armitage lies less in the internal artistic developments necessary to audition successfully than in the capacity to sustain such a long performance as a lead actor and to maintain his confidence while doing so. This particular phase of his transition from stage to television acting is complete and visible, to great effect, as the facial and gestural responses of Mr. Thornton are carefully edited, heavily under control, and subtle enough against the stillness of his body to draw the eye almost involuntarily in several scenes, and as a result, often say a great deal more than the more voluble facial expressions evident in his earlier characterizations. Just as importantly, the experience of making North & South allows him to glimpse a new horizon for his career and ambitions. He will note later that his presence in a group of actors of much greater reputation sparked further acting developments for him, and that the entire experience redefined his standards for professionalism at work.

[Left: Amused? Richard Armitage interviewed in North & South DVD extra. Source:]

At the point at which the very first fans of North & South crash the BBC message board to talk about his performance, then, Armitage has thus worked for a decade and a half without achieving much notice — indeed, as he says afterwards, not a single reference in the press that actually discusses his performance . This experience of anonymity will decisively influence both his career path going forward and his response to fame and the fans who suddenly appear.

Fans clamor for more of him, and successfully call forth the publication of a DVD of the production, although the BBC had programmed North & South as a low-budget effort and had not planned to print a DVD originally. An interview with the man who called forth all this energy is a foregone inclusion. At this point, however, the requisite smoothness of an actor accustomed to media attention is simply not yet in place; neither, apparently, can Armitage muster much of it in the first professional video interview in which he is recorded for posterity. In it, he appears to take the personal eschewal of sprezzatura to a fine art, starting with his appearance — which includes a choker that makes him look almost like a surfer together with a pinstripe jacket and a rather ragged haircut. Armitage disarmingly recalls his reaction to being cast as “shock,” followed by “fear,” mirroring repeated statements in the press before and after broadcast that his unknown status was a gamble to the producers. At different points in the interview, Armitage appears alternately serious and incredulous, nerdy and giggly, and from time to time stammers extensively. He looks down in shyness and wrinkles his brown in mild astonishment and then irons his brow out prosaically, suavely, almost ironically. He gestures rhythmically with his hands, almost as if to self-calm. He laughs about horse poo and a prop hitting him in the nose. He smiles shyly, almost enigmatically, when talking about kissing Daniela Denby-Ashe. At the same time, simple pieces of the artist peek through the interview — references to camera angles and writing, as well as a discussion of costume and characterization. Armitage refers here only briefly to elements of a family past in the North of England that made the story special to him, but he will expand on these in the press — a genre of “storytelling of self” that judiciously capitalizes on versions of factual details from his life that will endear him to audiences and reappear later to great effect in the leadup to the premiere of the The Hobbit. He also notes an apparent immediate and noticeable chemistry with his female co-star. Early reporters universally note his sweetness, shyness, humor, modesty, mild-mannered appearance.

What Richard Armitage does not do in this interview? Not for a second? Smolder.

The disjunction between the charismatic Mr. Thornton and the actual Richard Armitage on the North & South DVD interview, a man who moves between silly and serious, frightened and flirtatious, naive and expert, shy and calm, sometimes experiencing difficulty even making his sentences cohere, exposes a puzzle that will fans will try to crack for at least the next eight years. Who is Richard Armitage?


[Right: Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton in North & South (2004). Source:].


Revisions or additions I would propose as of 6/9/2013:

  • Per interview stemming from Between the Sheets, published 1/23/2003, Armitage had “just finished” filming Frozen in November 2003. Picture from Frozen excerpt thus most likely dates from before North & South, although fans will still have experienced the North & South DVD interview as their first glimpse of the private Armitage, as Frozen did not premiere until January 27, 2006 (per imdb). However, an examination of any data from that interview as an index of personality belongs in this section. Main matters of interest to me — is he struggling to keep a straight face in first section?; reference to “journey” theme of Shirley Henderson’s and his characters; apparent velarization of “l” in Auslaut as normal speech pattern, which he does rarely after 2006; giggly reference to Starburst candy.
  • Confirmation of issue of difficulty with auditions via interview with TORn of late 2012 that Armitage did experience difficulties with auditions and learned to get through them by pretending he’d already been cast and just had to go in to demonstrate what he’d be doing on camera.
  • Note from Hobbit interview blitz, 2012/13 that Armitage’s first experience of filming with green screen came not on The Hobbit set but from the Star Wars experience. Stated that one of his tasks was to cut Ewan McGregor in half with a light-saber. Some fans, however, have advanced potential grounds for questioning the veracity of the latter statement.
  • Note from Cinemaxx interview, December 2012, “I don’t want to be a fat dude” reinforcing this early evidence of concerns with body image.
  • Confirmation of “visual” learning style from December 2012 interview on Canadian radio (seeing images in response to lines) and 2013 “Bin Weevils” interview (memorizing lines via images). Possibly belongs in earlier section.
  • If we ever get to see it beyond excerpts, discussion of the “Staged” (1999) performance would go in this section.


All text © Servetus at me + richard armitage, 2012. Please credit when using excerpts and links. Images and video copyrights accrue to their owners.

To Part VI.

~ by Servetus on November 21, 2012.

42 Responses to “My Richard Armitage: An interpretation. Early career to North & South”

  1. […] To Part IV-V. […]


  2. Hi Serv,
    I love the way you weave known “facts” with your insightful analysis. You really bring Richard Armitage as a person into clearer focus–despite the man who is still being formed at this point.

    And I totally agree with you about the juxtaposition between the shy and articulate man being interviewed on the North & South dvd compared to the commanding character of John Thornton. No way did I think that the interviewee was the actor who had portrayed JT–maybe his younger brother. Ha!

    But the seemingly incongruous pairing of real man and his reel persona emphasizes the art and storytelling that an actor, such as Richard Armitage, embodies. Actors might inhabit a role for a while–but that role is not them. Well, maybe bits here and there as they draw upon personal experiences to give life to a character.

    Cheers! Grati ;->


    • Grati, Thanks. Nowhere in this piece do I argue that that the role of Thornton WAS the same as Armitage, however, nor that it should be. I was stating (and I think this is one of the most uncontroversial statements i make in this piece) that the apparent incongruity was, and remains, fascinating to fans. I also stand by this assessment. You see interviews with Tom Hiddleston, and you can connect personality features easily with his roles. That’s incredibly difficult for Armitage, if you’re relying only on this interview. It makes one wonder what’s going on in this personality — if he plays someone *so* different from himself. That will be an ongoing theme of his career, as none of the characters Armitage will play appear to have much to do with Richard Armitage the person.


  3. Wow. Thanks for that. I know it’s your interpretation, but I think your perception must be close to accurate in many aspects. This was rather fascinating to me, as I’ve not delved too deeply in Richard lore. I only watched the N&S DVD interview twice. That choker really distracted/annoyed me – lol! Maybe he’ll be pressed to out with an autobiography someday.


    • Thanks, Trudy. Either that, or you and I have quite similar subject positions (which is also not impossible).

      When Didion and I saw the interview for the first time, we looked at each for a split second, saw the choker and said, “Eurotrash,” giggled, and turned it off. We really felt like it spoiled the illusion of Mr. Thornton. I only started looking it at closely after the second time I saw N&S, because that viewing got me interested in Armitage as well.

      I’d love if he’d write an autobiography (even in self-defense), but I suspect that it would not answer all the questions we most seriously ask. Autobiographical sources are like that. One has to work really hard at understanding oneself and most of us (me included) don’t do it all that well.


  4. Happy that you are going on with this perspective of an actor and person. An area we can be timid to trespass. But we think a lot about it.

    Just initial thoughts before re-reading:
    Mr. A certainly does not appear to be an agressive person. To those, who like many of us, were attracted first by the Thornton, and then Gisborne performances, perhaps these were so much more the mark of a really good actor-no more the anti-hero of attraction. And not necessarily more than having the attributes that we wish to see in the man – gentle, kind, charitable. Mother Teresa? (VoD):D

    For what it worth, I think he is, and has been a Working Actor, doing the things (LAMDA etc) to both qualify and learn. The craft. And work, work, work. To learn, and to be self-sustaining. No experience is wasted.

    I must suspect he has his share of vanity, he clearly takes very good care of his face and body, etc. There is a dedication that is common to any artist – single-minded, probably selfish, and in persuit of goals, leaves little room for anything else.

    For what’s worth 🙂 I think he is a top-class actor and artist. And with potential to be considered (in the eyes of the critics), one of best of his generation. Besides, he’s drop-dead gorgeous. Whoops, there goes a career as dispassionate acting critic… Oh well. Can’t have it all all…


    • I don’t think he’s aggressive — but I do think he’s ambitious in ways that he has never allowed himself to state.


  5. Interesting take on his modesty, as that is something that has always puzzled me and that I don’t buy 100%. It is certainly one of his most endearing traits but at the same time one that may not be completely genuine. Surely partly it is the result of his upbringing and having struggled for so long. And of a naturally more reserved/introverted personality. I personally think he learned that being modest and self-deprecating is a perfect weapon to disarm anyone who might want to criticise him and to endear people to him.

    I think while he had to wait long for relative success, people he met must have always reacted to him as a person/man in a very positive way. He likes to paint himself as an ugly duckling as a teenager but photographic evidence shows he was a nice looking boy/young man. Not drop dead gorgeous but with an appealing boyish sweetness. Not to mention he probably had the same likeable personality and natural charm he has today. I think even if he is not at the centre of every party, he must have been popular among his peers, both as a friend and as a potential partner. And I think if people react positively to someone, that adds to to their image of themselves.


    • I’m glad for this comment b/c I know you like that interview and I was afraid you’d think I was trashing it.

      re: modesty — I think *the appearance* of modesty is overdetermined, and I’ll go into this more in the next piece (it’s about 2500 words long already and so I decided to cut this one off here or it would have been way too long). It’s hard, looking at this developmental path, to imagine a Richard Armitage who would be publicly arrogant. Too much militates against it.

      Your comment does a great job of teasing out threads that I think fans often conflate — naivete, modesty, shyness (a term that covers dozens of behaviors), introversion (also often misunderstood), reticence or not being aggressive, and self-confidence or lack of it are six distinct strands (of many more) in what’s going on in his personality and influencing his public statements. Some of these traits or tendencies, I would argue, are probably innate, but at some point any adult realizes that you have to go with your strengths. I think I said in the previous piece that the combination of these things develop into a personal style — he uses these tendencies, rather than allowing them to control him. There’s an interview where he says, “I like to leave people wanting more.” I think he must realized at some point that he can exploit some of his natural tendencies that might be liabilities in some situations very productively. I don’t think this means he isn’t genuine. I think he is still genuinely both somewhat introverted and somewhat shy in the sense of not inherently wanting to start interactions with strangers or be observed. It’s just that he’s learned by now how to make those things work for him.

      I agree w/you w/r/t likeability as a teenager. I’m sure he got teased about the nose, but everyone gets teased in school about something. He strikes me as possibly having been one of those kids you get to know and like while sitting next to them in class every day — not the kid who looks like he’s going to be everybody’s best friend on the first day, or who’s always raising his hand or comes over to introduce himself or the person who’s always planning the parties or what will happen after school, but the guy you share notes with, study with, etc., and slowly realize you’re laughing at the same jokes and you like him. I think sometimes people build up the “shy” thing to extremes in trying to explain him — but quiet or reticent and shy or people-avoidant are not quite the same thing.


      • It is hard to determine how shy or introverted or unsure of himself he really is without knowing anything about his social life outside his work and interaction with colleagues (who universally seem to adore him). He likes to paint himself as a loner or a geek and I cannot imagine that to be true. I think it is a way to avoid further questions about his private life by suggesting there is basically nothing to know. He may well be the kind of person who needs time to get to know people and build up a friendship and who has few close friends. I also imagine a job that means being away from home most of the time and working with new people every few months makes it hard to form close friendships, even if he gets on brilliantly with co-workers. But I am pretty sure he has a social life and enjoys having fun. And that he has people in his life.


        • I think the evidence that he is introverted (in the Jungian sense) is stronger than the evidence that he is shy, fwiw, although I don’t peg him as an extreme introvert, either. As far as geek goes, we’d have to have a definition of “geek” before I could say anything. re: implying that he’s boring as a defense mechanism, although i can imagine based on how he behaves in interviews that there’s a grain of truth there, I certainly agree with you.


          • This has been a fascinating and thought provoking article and discussion- i’m tagging on at this point as these comments about RA’s introversion chime very closely with my own assumptions. I fear if i started to write about why i find personality (and particularly this personality) so fascinating, i too would run into thousands of words and, although i know you encourage lengthy rumination Servetus, i would regard it as sheer bad manners on someone else’s blog! The main reaon for contributing today is to state my appreciation for this piece. thank you for posting.


            • thanks, bollyknickers, I’m glad you find it useful.

              introversion is going to be a topic next time — but I also would be the first to say that I am not neutral on that question, personally. I am an introvert but not a shy one. That influences my reading of him, of course. But I’ll try to make clear what my definitions are and the reasons why I am pursuing them so they’re easy to critique / analyze.


  6. I’ll just say what most of us are thinking I just don’t know how you do it. This post, as many others, reads like an amazing biography that I would gladly pay for. I’m astounded and the detail you go intom and you always have your facts straight. It’s interesting, compeling and yet doesn’t put a strain on the reader. You have an interesting take on things, and although I don’t always fully agree, it does give me ffod for thought.
    I take my hat (bonnet…) off to you!


  7. Yes, i think he is extremely ambitious. I think that, in a quiet way, he is very aggressive about ambition.Do you think he let ANYTHING get in the way of his goals? Appearing “humble” etc. works for his public persona. I doubt it is simply assumed – as with most people, there are probably the usual self-doubts, and both humour and self-deprecation can work instinctively, really well as protection of a kind. And of course, it’s disarming.Gosh, this sounds so cynical. Not true. I LIKE him, at least what I can see. People are not simple, that’s all…


    • I think he has let himself get in the way of his goals, yes, or perhaps that there are things in his personality that have prevented him from pursuing his goals in the most efficient / direct ways. (That is not a criticism; it is an observation.)

      I think one reason that people have tried to avoid this conversation is that in this fandom, anyway, if you make an observation that appears critical, you end up being under threat of not being a good / loyal enough fan and a flame gets started. The result of not allowing talk on this issue has been a sort of self-escalating idolization of the guy on the basis of a few indices that to my mind is troubling — both because it means a misunderstanding, and also because I think it ends up working as a trap for him. (There’ll be a lot more about that specific issue in the next installment.)

      One thing I’m very interested in, here, is how does a guy like Richard Armitage — not from an artsy or wealthy family, from the middle of nowhere, become successful? In considering that question, it’s important to try to strip away the accretions of the idolization process and try to get down to a base where we assume he’s normal in the sense that we can consider that he experiences normal human motivations. Wanting to be successful / ambition are normal tendencies, shared in various degrees among most humans. So in order to understand that we have to look closely at what the discourse about modesty does for him or why he might choose to espouse that.


      • I think it is very healthy to have this discussion now because very soon we will confronted with a much more cynical view by outsiders on a hopefully rising star, that wouldn’t dream of feeling loyal or protective. On the other hand we may or may not soon be confronted with a much more polished version of Richard Armitage.


        • you had said something like that in email, but I’m really glad that you put it here as well. I think that one reason that motivated me to go live with this now is precisely my feeling that the terms of the discussion are about to change drastically. I welcome that but I don’t want to forget this period. The other thing is that even in the time I’ve been blogging, sources have disappeared or been disappeared. I’m not the Richard Armitage archivist, but I wanted to make some kind of record that takes account of as much as we know as possible.


  8. Very much appreciate your remarks and, for a long time, those of Jane. That is perceptive, that the fandom could well do with a healthy dose of new views on the actor’s acting, and a bucket of cold water on the idolising elements. Obviously, I shy from offending anyone (c’est moi) but Mr. A is, after all just one actor. He is good. He has worked hard. And I assume he has his share of strengths and weaknesses as a person. It’s lovely to have fans describe one as humble/kind/blah etc. But it’s a little patronising, too, and there must be strong ego backing the long rise to maybe stardom. (The fuss over 7 screen minutes of CA last year was – think I must stop here. Just leave it that I suspect Thorin will/might take him a bit further.) And we might infer that some sort of stardom was in his head? At some point? There is much disingenuousness in many interviews that appear humility. Yikes, I could be off the mark here. At the least, possibly not too popular in the really lovely “older” RA community. Not older in terms of age, just those around for a minimum of about 2/3 or more years. He is a very good actor. And has potential to be considered a great one…


    • It’s absolutely not my goal to douse anyone’s fan fever, though, and I’m sorry if my comment above read that way. I am one of the most feverish fans of all and I was excited about Captain America, too. I don’t want to criticize fans and I have been vehement on this point now for some time. Armitage fans are adults and they know what they are doing. People should feel how they want, and Armitage — too — is responsible for his own life and for dealing with the effects of what he says or does, and his own feelings. We should all let each other get one with our feelings.

      My only goal here is to try to understand who I think Richard Armitage to be because of his significance in my own development as something I “fell in love with,” and in order to do that I have to pull away accretions onto his personality that have been built on by fans by looking as critically as possible at the sources for our information.

      I also need to state, because I am not sure exactly what you mean from your comments about disingeuousness, that the point here is not to say “it’s all an act.” (That charge was laid at my door the last time I tried to write about this.) While i suppose that could be true, I am not arguing that everything about Richard Armitage’s appearance of modesty is disingenuous (or true). My point is a very different one: it lies in asking, what is the meaning of a discourse of modesty for the person who puts it into the world?


  9. I love these posts, Servetus. They are a great read, and the picture you are paiting seems very realistic to me. I wonder if he’d be scared by how close it is, if he read it 🙂
    I’m not certain there is a conflict between ambition and modesty. It’s very possible that he believes his talent limited in comparison with some great actors of past and present. At the same time, he is seeing others, who he thinks are even less gifted, get much greater success. That might well fuel a desire for more acclaim and success for himself. Actually, he said once that he would like to see how far he can get with his limited talent. I think he might have honestly described what he felt.


    • Thanks, rbb. I suspect, if he were reading this, he’d feel misunderstood, even if he felt I had gotten certain things close to right. It’s not easy to listen to someone analyze one’s personality — even if it’s one’s friends or a psychiatrist, let alone a total stranger who’s doing it on the basis of media sources.

      re: modesty vs ambition — I think that’s fair.

      that limited talent remark was one that we discussed in the past at some point. An American hears that and thinks, “ouch.” A UK person hears that and thinks it’s a joke / self-deprecation. I think it was both. Iirc, think he said it after the Spooks 9 reviews came out, which were partially not very kind to him.


  10. Another convincing psycho-biographical essay on Armitage. I am delighted that you are basically confirming the impression I have of Armitage in my mind. What a relief to think that he is such a wonderful human being, so worthy of my interest. Do I sound cynical? I don’t mean to. However, I am conscious of the fact that Armitage is an actor. If he can convincingly portray a medieval dark knight, then how about playing himself in front of the audience? This is a genuine question – and not an implied accusation or criticism. How much Armitage is in Armitage??? We all construct our own identities artificially to some degree. And we place identities on those around us. (BTW, by that I am not saying that you are misconstruing Armitage, Servetus – to reiterate: I find your interpretation thoroughly convincing!) I would love to know how much “Armitage” Armitage is putting on, whether he has been prompted to do so by his agents or whether it is his own strategy? I wonder whether there actually *exists* one “real Armitage” that we do not know and from the (undetected) observation of whom we could draw solid, cogent conclusions?


    • I have long thought, if he could choose to play a different character (or would want to) he would come across differently. He is very good at oozing confidence when in character of Thornton or Guy or presumably Thorin, so why didn’t he choose to put on that coat for public appearances, photoshots or interviews. He knows how to act that. As himself, either he can’t or he doesn’t want to, especially early on. Given that the smoulder in photoshots very often doesn’t convince me, I think he can’t when he is not fully in character. While I think shyness or modesty is endearing and can be a useful tool to disarm people, I also think that may shy people are shy about being shy, not about being unattractive or stupid or inadequate in some other way. So if they could choose not to appear shy, they probably would.


      • I also don’t think it’s something one is born knowing — how to play yourself. If it’s a role you play, you get more experienced at it over time.

        I don’t know about the smolder thing, just because I do often find it convincing in photos. (i.e., again I don’t think it’s “either it works or fails.”).

        re: whether he would choose not to appear shy, that’s intriguing. I’m going to get cracking on the next piece!


    • This question, the “Richard Armitage” character, is really the Stolperstein of this blog. The first time I tried to argue that, back in 2010, I wasn’t very self-confident as a writer and I let a troll shut me down. I am more confident now and more people are coming over to this point, so that’s the piece that I have to get out (if the word were to explode tomorrow).

      One thing, however, that will be important to keep in mind is that I am not going to be talking about genuine / fake, true / false, real / fake, because i don’t think identities are really constructed in those terms. I’m going to be talk about the employment of discourses, their plausible meanings to a contextualized speaker, and what happens to them when they get out of the hands of the person who sets them in motion. For me, words and discourses are real because we can’t get outside of them. (I assume you and I have some kind of agreement on this point, Guylty, and actually your willingness to come aboard here was part of what strengthened my resolve to finally push this stuff out).


  11. My husband always likes to say that we all act to some degree. We will act different at home to what we do at work or around different people. As for the shy part, I know that at times I do not have control over my shyness. I have to get to know someone awhile before I can over come my shyness with them. There are those people who are just better at making me at ease than others. I also think that when you work with people day to day helps also. But given that my coworkers don’t know that I am a fan of Richards, but know that I can’t wait for The Hobbit. Servetus I do like what you have written so far and will be waiting to read the next part.


    • This is a great comment because it gets to the question of whether there is a “real” self there we hide or reveal, or simply different manifestations of ourselves that appear in different settings.


  12. […] in that review pushed a lot of my buttons. Religion, filming in 48 fps, reading experiences, audience enjoyment, Tolkien’s view of his life history, nostalgia, ongoing self-fashioning and telling the story […]


  13. […] nice datum to add to this. I’ve gotta finish that, too, as I want that portrait fixed in wax before too much more […]


  14. […] childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and early professional experiences and training); and Part II (Armitage’s career from leaving LAMDA to being cast in North & […]


  15. […] childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and early professional experiences and training); Part II (Armitage’s career from leaving LAMDA to being cast in North & South); and Part III […]


  16. Wow, I’m LOVING your blog the more I read it! Thanks for all the analysis here! I can relate to RA even more now, knowing about his early life. I, too, was a shy kid who was into books and felt young for my age (a late bloomer). But, hey, a LOT of GREAT actors made their mark after 30-35!


  17. […] assessment of his career. For instance, it essentially squares with two things I wrote about him in the second piece of my interpretive biography, which I published two weeks ahead of that interview. There, on the basis of considering steps in […]


  18. Added updates and proposals for revision to this text, 6/9/2013.


  19. […] still before the Royal Shakespeare Company phase of his education. I discussed this phase earlier, here, but we have more data now. That is: actual […]


  20. […] took this role. Every actor seeks exposure, but even so, while I’m sure he was cast partially because his attractiveness offered viewers a credible mirror for Alona’s sexual desire, it’s not plausible to me […]


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