My Richard Armitage: An interpretation. Armitage meets “the media,” round one

Below follows the next piece of my chronological interpretation of what I know about Richard Armitage, which I draw from a reading of available sources and based on my own perspective. In contrast: the best conventional professional biography of Mr. Armitage available is this one at Richard Armitage Online. Previously: Preface (explains the series); Part I (Richard Armitage’s family background, 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 (pondering Richard Armitage’s identity and personality in 2004).

A reminder that I’ve been drafting this for quite a while, and that I’m not fully aware of the content of a great deal of the 2012 publicity blitz for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In this section, however, I am reading mostly chronologically or developmentally with contemporary surviving sources. It may be worth repeating something I said last time:

Up till this point, the would-be biographer works retrospectively … as most .. available data was either been gathered by other researchers working after Armitage’s explosive appearance in 2004, or was stated by Armitage or his interlocutors in later publicity. From this point in his biography, however, the author is able to take up and evaluate data that appeared contemporaneously to the events being examined. It’s important to note this difference in source foundation […].

Acknowledging this change in source reading requires me to point out another matter: the relative force of different kinds of data being used for analytical purposes. I think it’s important to distinguish between things that we know that Armitage said (for our purposes, the strongest evidence about how he wished to be seen, even if they weren’t always said with huge amounts of forethought), things that he is quoted as having said (somewhat weaker evidence, in that these articles get so many other things wrong that it’s hard to believe he was always quoted accurately in a literal sense, or even in context), and evaluations of Armitage by journalists observing him (weakest evidence for our purposes, in that we’re filtering the perception of the subject we’re interested through the lenses of someone we don’t know and whose interpretive position we can’t easily evaluate).

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VII. Early press defines the contours of the “Richard Armitage” role

NandSPromo-04

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The thesis statement of this section is probably best expressed as:

Journalists are not necessarily our friends.

In looking over surviving sources from the period between the broadcast of North & South and the beginning publicity for The Golden Hour, this conclusion seems patently clear.

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What sources from late 2004-early 2005 say

2005Vividmag01[Left: also a “pose,” but one I prefer: “Together” Richard Armitage, taken by Rebecca Bradbury for Vivid Magazine in 2005. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

It’s impossible for me, having become a fan only in January 2010, to reconstruct the atmosphere of late 2004, or to understand fully the responses of fans at the time, not least because the initial sources for fan reaction — the BBC message board, and the Yahoo group that followed it — are, as far as I know, gone. (And — I admit — I’m reluctant to dig into the archives of communities to which I am mostly an outsider [to some extent, on purpose]; casual attempts to do interviews with the few fans of that early generation whom I “know” have been, with one exception, gently and politely declined. Which is fine.) The publicity material that emerged about Armitage around the initial broadcast of North & South hardly came in a flood — although I know some stuff must have disappeared, even if there were four times as much as has survived, it would be modest — and one suspects that given a paucity of material on Armitage personally, early fans must have formed much of their impression of him via reactions to and intense discussions of his performance as Mr. Thornton. Whatever the early fan reaction, from my perspective as a historian working retrospectively with surviving sources that I can access, one matter strikes the reader clearly — the apparent disconnect between emphases in Richard Armitage’s initial messages to fans, and the picture of him that gradually emerged from the sort of press he would get once interviewers decided to ask sustained questions. In the end, of course, fans would choose to prioritize the image that best suited them and to discount other options that were equally on offer. This section of my interpretation of Richard Armitage explores how this process appears to work in surviving sources that preceded the opening publicity for The Golden Hour.

A brief taxonomy of available sources about Armitage up to the start of the publicity for The Golden Hour, his next major project, started, reflects the following genres:

First, in the run up to the broadcast, a handful of articles discussed North & South and each quoted Armitage once or twice; although he was the male lead, no one had heard of him, so he’s mostly included as an obligatory afterthought in these pieces, which quote Daniela Denby-Ashe and the show’s producers more heavily. His statements in these pieces, which I won’t discuss further, make him look like a professional actor commenting reliably on his role and tasks, but suggest little about his personality. Next, three journalists interviewed Armitage in the lead up to and during the broadcast; two of the three had little of substance to ask (and published their results in Q & A format), probably again because he was an unknown. Third, in the wake of fan response to North & South, a genre of articles sprang up that did not interview Armitage himself, but instead commented on the discussion board phenomenon and discussed him as a potential heartthrob. Fourth, appearing well after the initial broadcast, in conjunction with the publication of the North & South DVD, a subsequent genre includes the handful of pieces that interview Armitage at length, including three radio interviews. Finally, six messages from Armitage to fans are preserved from the period between the initial broadcast date of North & South and the end of 2005.

Q&As and Armitage’s own messages: Humorous and thankful

NandSPromo-36[Right: Fun on a “doom and gloom” set? Richard Armitage as Mr. Thornton films episode 3 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

If we look at the first, brief materials apart from the articles that are more about North & South than about Armitage — by which I mean the Q & As [one and two] — the impression made is one of energy, fairly blunt self-evaluation, a bit of flirtatiousness, and a lot of humor, enthusiasm and a certain flippancy (that for me, as an outsider, overlaps or intersects with something I understand as a typically British insistence on not taking anything too seriously). Of course, the questions being asked by the interviewers are mostly inherently trivial or can only be answered with variations of irony — pretending to take a silly question seriously, providing a silly answer to a question that can’t be taken seriously despite its apparent weightiness, and so on. Sample these statements from the Q & As:

  • “I researched cotton milling and the industry but I didn’t need to research the kicking. Did you like that?”
  • “they decided to use me, which was brave. […] I’m a bit of a risk because I’m not particularly well-known. It’s a big role, the role of a lifetime […].”
  • [When asked whether there’s life on other planets]: “If there is, it’s either very shy or hacked off with us. I’d like to think it is out there; it would be useful to compare notes.”
  • [When asked about the secret to a good smolder]: “A pint of petrol and a match. Seriously, you look at the person, think of them in the most desirable way you can and then suppress the desire to do anything about it. There are many ways to smoulder. You can smoulder with your back.”
  • [When asked whether he believes that love is forever]: “I’m counting on it. But, as yet, I cannot confirm it one way or the other.”
  • [on the actor’s life]: “When you watch a performance back, you’re never happy, but you’ve got to be able to find some contentment with what you’ve done, or you wouldn’t be able to go on.”
  • [settling the dilemma between bustles and bodices]: “Definitely bodices. They are restraining garments and there is something waiting to burst out. Bustles look like deformed backsides. They are not sexy.”

Setting aside comments about the role of Mr. Thornton and acting, when examining Armitage’s personality, although “sweet” and “sincere” are elements present in these pieces (“I think that spelling’s important. I try to write hand-written letters to my close friends, and I really appreciate receiving letters where the words have been carefully chosen”), they don’t predominate. Rather, humor and energy do. Of course, the genre of the Q & A demands that the interviewee attempt to be funny and energetic, as well, but confronted with that requirement, Armitage certainly succeeded and apparently without too much effort.

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 6.31.58 PM[Left: Hitting the alliteration hard: Radio Times publicity for the North & South broadcast. Source: Richard Armitage Online]

In the single longer surviving interview from late in 2004, which seems to have appeared primarily in regional as opposed to national publications, the interviewer confirms the impression of him as funny and energetic to some extent by writing of him, “His speech is peppered with jokes and little asides. He seems to enjoy being interviewed but it is a relatively new experience.” I include this note here primarily because it confirms the body of evidence available from this period, but remind readers that it is an editorial comment from the journalist. Like this piece, the remainder of the press from this initial period comments on Armitage’s “new heartthrob” status, but curiously does not quote him. This state of affairs tends to suggest either that the authors of the “sex symbol” pieces that appeared in the higher circulation venues [here and here] didn’t think about trying to interview Armitage, or possibly that if they called him to ask for a response to his new “sexy” status, he refused comment.

The predominant impression of energy and a strong sense of humor left by the early Q & As is augmented by Richard Armitage’s initial messages to fans, which, however, add the facet of strong gratitude to the picture. To see how this combination plays out, let’s parse Message #1:

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Screen shot 2012-12-23 at 8.19.26 PM***

First, the message starts, middles, and ends with thanks. So, the first impression I get as a reader is of an author who wishes to express a feeling of being dumbfounded by a large, unexpected gift that alternately amazes, flatters, and humbles him. The text, read at face value, suggests that he also wants to communicate gratitude to his coworkers and share the love (meeting Daniela Denby-Ashe for a casual dinner; pointing out that his fellow actors — “we were all” — worked on creating the impression viewers received; citing the presence of a fellow North & South actor whom readers might remember in a future project). Finally, the message suggests that the author wants to give something back in exchange for fan commitment — information on future projects.

The second dominant impression from the message — one that intensifies the reader’s impression of gratitude — is the energy and enthusiasm with which it is delivered. Armitage makes slight fun of the “doom and gloom” aspects of North & South; remarks that the cast had laughed while making it anyway, notes the existence of a hidden catalog of outtakes (has any fan ever seen it, I wonder?), and comments about the funny costumes in “Malice Aforethought” and that he had escaped wearing them.

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 6.40.38 PM[Right: more fun on the North & South set: Daniela Denby-Ashe, Richard Armitage, and Jo Joyner. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

Finally, the implicit piece that ties the whole message together and makes it such a pleasure to read is the notion that somehow the author and viewers (I won’t yet call them fans) are involved a shared project, together. This mood is encapsulated in one sentence: “It was such a huge pleasure to make and I am thrilled that it has given you pleasure to watch.” I admit that I think that this is a statement of a central facet of Armitage’s fundamental ethos as an artist — looking for pieces that both please him to work on and which an audience will enjoy in return — but even if were not, that sentiment permeates this message, which stresses cooperation between the actors and ways in which the audience was connected to the actors via its appreciation of all the tiny little (“subliminal,” “secret”) details. Taken together with the statement about keeping viewers alert to Armitage’s new work, it’s a sentence that suggests the possibility of an ongoing relationship. I’d have fallen over with joy had I been among the viewers who had seen the original broadcast of North & South and then read this in 2004.

Rereading the publicity about Richard Armitage chronologically in light of my previous observations about the facets of his personality, it’s always interesting to note which facets come to the fore at any given point; as already observed, for example, the North & South DVD interview includes the elements of artistry, boyishness, and apparent sincerity, but leaves out the “smolder” or anything that points very forcefully or explicitly at anything rougher in Armitage’s personality than the possibility that he enjoyed his memories of kissing Daniela Denby-Ashe while filming the final scene. The personal messages also stress the intensity of his surprise and an energetic, boyish delight, but add the element of modesty and gratitude. These themes are enhanced in his second message to fans of February 24, 2005, on the occasion of the prospective closing of the BBC message board, where he ridicules himself gently (“I am actually Brad Pitt in the flesh!!??”) but spends most of his time thanking fans for making North & South a success through their contributions to the board and characterizes the experience as “an incredible adventure.”

Armitage emerges in the UK press: The serious, shy sex symbol

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 6.47.28 PM[Left: Leftover photos from Cold Feet embellished the North & South press that compared Richard Armitage with Colin Firth, as here in the Daily Record of December 7, 2004. Source: Richard Armitage Online]

But one matter that neither of those two genres of source pushes is an element of Armitage’s character that would come to play a central role in the way that many fans read his statements — his alleged shyness. This piece was added to his image at this point, and it seems to have been added primarily by print (as opposed to radio) journalists. For sources to substantiate this personality thread, we have to look at the longer interviews from the beginning of 2005, most of which appeared in conjunction with the release of the North & South DVD in the spring of that year. The Q & As, the personal messages, and even the “In a taxi with…” interview done with the Mail on Sunday (April 27, 2005), emphasize Armitage’s humor, human foibles and even a bit of savoir faire (the Mail on Sunday has him drinking a glass of wine to calm himself before the North & South audition, but also hanging out in West End “media haunts”). He seems happy and ready to talk. Though he comes across as gentle and occasionally sweet in his own interview on the North & South DVD, he doesn’t seem to be unduly reserved or frightened. The radio interviews [here (one and two) and here and here] have him speaking at length both jovially and informationally about the production, joking easily and lightly with his interlocutors — with no sign of shyness or reticence to discuss anything at all — and speaking appreciatively about fan appreciation of his work and the sudden expansion of popular interest in his career. But the print interviews take a different direction at this point and would continue to do so.

2005Promo02[Right: Richard Armitage in a photo from the shoot for this interview, which created an initially decisive, but oversimplified, strand in the “Richard Armitage” persona. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com. Don’t miss Guylty’s discussion of the technical errors in these photos here.]

In these pieces, a curious effect occurs. Armitage is suddenly much less funny or energetic than he has been up till now. Part of this effect occurs because the longer interview is inherently a more “serious” genre — its readers expect more substantial material, and the interviewee has more time to contemplate his answers. We can’t hear him speaking. Also, because such articles offer a report on an interaction to the reader, rather than occurring in front of him or her, as a radio or video interview does, the interviewer can probe a non-committal interviewee more easily without making her/himself look mean. Finally, the interviewer may also take the opportunity to editorialize ad libitum. So, in these pieces, although similar questions are asked about Armitage’s reaction to his sudden minor fame, his interlocutors are free to add their own reactions to what comes across in the radio interviews and messages as gratitude and cheery bonhomie. For whatever reason, these journalists added, to a greater or a lesser degree, a piece of the Armitage persona that would grow energetically in later pieces and become (at times problematically) decisive for fan understandings of the actor — turning him into a more-than-usually shy man, turning his boyishness into little-boyishness. The key perpetrator in this regard is the article, “In a swoon over me? Surely not,” published by Penny Wark in The Times of April 13, 2005.

Wark on Armitage

times-13april2005-lg[Left: the interview in question, courtesy of Richard Armitage Online. Click to enlarge.]

A cursory glance over the Internet reveals that Wark is a widely published UK print journalist who seems to have made her career interviewing celebrities and discussing the social significance of everyday life issues, in particular medical issues and disabilities. I am about to tear this interview to shreds analytically, so I feel the need to note here that I am not charging Wark with malfeasance; I simply highlight the rhetorical strategies and effects at work in her piece. I can also imagine that Armitage was indeed much less polished than most of the people she regularly interviews. It draws on the earlier coverage that had focused on the message board responses to North & South, this time, however, going so far as to interview the actor. Given the beginning of the article, it seems that the question the journalist started the interview hoping to answer was whether Armitage the person was anything like the image of him and/or Mr. Thornton that the message board fans had created for themselves. The headline and the first three paragraphs concern fan reaction, and Wark notes that by doing the interview, she’s fulfilling the fantasies of thousands of women. Although the article is kindly written, then, the primary impulse it betrays, from the beginning, is one of mythbusting.

Wark begins with her own thoughts about female reactions to North & South on the message board, and then extrapolates to a question, “So RA, what does it feel like to be a sex god?” that she states she can’t ask “because even though we are newly acquainted I can see that he is a mild-mannered chap, and I don’t want to embarrass him. Asking what he thinks of the reaction to North & South seems kinder.” Note here that Armitage is saying nothing about himself: Wark has extrapolated from her interaction with him that he is a “mild-mannered chap” and that she needs to be “kinder” in addressing him. Why does she feel she needs to be kind to him? Armitage’s actual response to her ongoing remarks in the interview about his attraction to fans is actually quite level-headed, first noting that he, Armitage, and Mr. Thornton are different people, and then saying that if a fan saw him in a train station, she should make herself known. Wark, however, turns these quotes into a moment for infantilization, stating:

You will see that the lovely RA is naturally serious and modest, possibly because his career to date has involved infinitely more slog than recognition. If he is bewildered by the hyperbole that now surrounds him from afar, it is surely even more endearing to know that he seems never to have considered the transference of romantic fantasy from character to actor. Or at least not in relation to him …

The quotation then ends with a remark from Armitage about the frugality of his parents that has actually nothing to do with his self-concept (except insofar as it suggests that he admires his parents and / or their values). One suspects the heavy hand of a copy editor here pressed for space in the print edition; it’s hard to explain otherwise how a paragraph could be so disjointed.

Look at how Wark constructs that section of the article. The previous material quotes Armitage stating that fans should approach him, but nothing in the interview that Armitage says thus far actually suggests that he is bewildered. His statements are made in the same tone as the radio interviews — surprise and gratitude — but he’s hardly bewildered — and if he’s surprised, it’s because he didn’t of Thornton as the potential object of romantic attraction. The subordination in the second sentence in the quotation then leads the reader directly to a misleading conclusion (“If he is bewildered … it is surely even more endearing to know that he never seems to have considered the transference of romantic fantasy”). Actually the very statement that Wark quotes above proves that by the time of the interview, anyway, if not necessarily before, Armitage had thought about the potential transfer of identification from character to actor, and recognized it for what it was: a romantic fantasy. And, indeed, her conclusion points out that he knows that “his personal life and … the ministrations of the Armitage Army … are separate entities.”

2005Promo01[Right: More creased-shirt, barrel-distorted Armitage from 2005. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com. How anyone could have missed a look of amusement that borders on insolence is beyond me.]

So the dominant tone in which Armitage is painted in this interview is: serious but / and naïve. This view would be less troubling if it were not (a) in direct contrast to statements Armitage actually makes in the article; (b) anomalous with regard to the other press of the period, in which he hardly sounds or appears naïve or “bewildered” by fan attention — indeed, in some of it, he sounds very directly flattered, calling it “mad … but great”; and (c) ultimately facilitating of a certain kind of discourse about Armitage that would ultimately be problematic for him and us. Without having been there, it’s a bit hard to understand exactly what happened. One possibility is, of course, that Armitage was exactly as she described him — although reading through, it’s interesting the extent to which her characterization conflicts repeatedly with things that she quotes him as having said. It’s also possible that, proceeding on from her mythbusting impulse, Wark felt a need to make Armitage incapable of bearing all of these fan fantasies — and replaced the charismatic Mr. Thornton of fantasy with a version of the actor so sweet as to be saccharine, a perception the pedagogical tone that she takes with the reader (“You will see that”) certainly underlines.

Another possibility, one I find compelling, is “perception bleed” — that is, that Armitage’s reaction to one aspect of the interview ended up determining the entire shape of her portrait of him in the article. Going from the reasoning at the beginning about why she wanted to interview him in the first place (is he a worthy fantasy object?), and moving on from questions about how he felt about being the object of so much positive emotion, it seems that Wark spent a great deal of time querying Armitage about his romantic life. In an awkward paragraph that purports to be about his early training, Wark switches abruptly from a discussion of LAMDA back to the relationship issue, writing, “It was at LAMDA that he had his longest relationship, though getting him to admit to any emotional involvement with a woman is no easier than getting to Mr Thornton to discuss his feminine side.” She does then quote his actual words, but in a way that make him look almost detached from his own emotions but which the reader suspects was Armitage’s attempt to stay on the general as opposed to the specific level. When Armitage apparently won’t discuss his romantic life in any detail, Wark kindly — but again, condescendingly — puts the trope of virtuous Armitage in the place of an answer, all the while adding a subtly catty narration that undermines his statements: “He remains a solitary person, he insists. He has a house in suburbia which likes because there are lots of families around … he drives his dad’s old Citroën, and he still feels drawn to Yorkshire, where his father grew up — something to do with directness and honesty, he thinks.” [Italics mine.] Note that none of these are quotations from Armitage — they are restatements of things he is supposed to have said to Wark. His own quotation about personal qualities that make it difficult to live with others are left uncommented, but in the context of the burden of the general tone article, they run the risk of making him look like a little boy who is too messy or immature to live with a partner.

The conclusion of the article is truly telling, because the interviewer offers a first conclusion about Armitage, finally one that doesn’t fit all that badly with the data she’s presented, but then undermines it with an editorial description. First, she writes, “… this is Richard Armitage, committed to his acting, private about his personal life, and aware that whatever the ministrations of the Armitage Army, the two are separate entities. […] even when he does command leading roles … one suspects that he will not metamorphose into a Notting Hill smoothie.” So far, so good. But the final impression she leaves the reader with is quite different. In explaining the photo that must have gone with the piece, she writes, “Our photographer awaits him and for some reason RA disappears to change, emerging in a brand new shirt, complete with the creases from where it had been wrapped around the cardboard.” Naïve, naïve, naïve. No sense of his appeal to women. Can’t even dress himself appropriately. Isn’t that cute?

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 7.14.54 PM[Left: Richard Armitage as photographed by Rebecca Bradbury, from Vivid, Spring 2005. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

The main reason to interpret Wark’s reading to perception bleed as opposed to some other impulse is a comparison to a much better interview that appeared in Vivid Magazine in Spring 2005. While I don’t know anything about the publication and its readership (is this the Indian Vivid? some reader will know), Anwar Brett, the interviewer, is a freelance journalist who writes mostly about cinema for regional publications, occasionally interviews more well-known artists than Armitage was at the time, and clearly had a better idea about how to interview an artist as opposed to a celebrity. While the “romantic hero” angle was obviously the spur for the article here, as well, as a theme, it figures hardly at all in the interview, with Brett depicting Armitage as a quite serious artist with a smile on his face — “likeable,” he says. The only point at which Brett refers to Armitage as “nod[ding] shyly” is when he gets to Armitage’s attitude to the sex symbol question — and here Armitage is quoted as unashamed (an attitude, by the way, that’s been fairly consistent throughout his interview history): “I’m okay with that … If your defining moment is something that you’re not proud of, then you spend the rest of your career fighting it, but I don’t think North & South is something that will be a problem.” Of course, Brett doesn’t report asking Armitage about his romantic life or any response to such questions. Nonetheless, it seems plausible that given the question she was seeking to answer in her piece, Wark simply allowed her perception of Armitage’s unwillingness to be interrogated about his romantic life to color her entire reading of him.

Armitage businessman: The part everyone ignored

2005Vividmag04[Right: A slightly edgier-looking Richard Armitage as photographed by Rebecca Bradbury. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

So we’ve had a lot of Richard Armitages even in just a few pieces — the energetic, amused and amusing, silly guy; the man who speaks competently about his work; the struggling actor filled with gratitude, the sweet young man, the shy, little boy, the naïf. One final factor needs to be noted, mostly because it seemed to be something that very few fans have been interested in. Given Wark’s own typical range of interviewees, I’m surprised that she didn’t notice it: Richard Armitage, the man on the move. Fans eager to read the trope of modesty and ethics over the other matters may have been ready to elide this point completely, but it deserves a brief discussion simply because it’s been there from the beginning. Richard Armitage was possessed with at least an average helping of professional ambition.

This only makes sense. No one makes it even as far as Armitage had by 2004 in a performing profession by standing in the background and waiting to be rewarded. Indeed, following his own account, Armitage felt an early jolt in the direction of this recognition a decade earlier, when he wasn’t given a permanent role in Cats after understudying with such industry and alacrity. Admittedly, feeling ambition and talking about ambition are two different things, and one suspects from observing him that even early on, Armitage has always said much less than was on his mind and has often been willing to let the interviewer steer the conversation rather than moving it himself. Even so, his professional ambition also comes out in the early materials from after North & South and will do so repeatedly afterwards. Two other pieces from late 2004 and early 2005 make him seem both competent and confident in this regard. From the admission that he really desperately wanted to play Thornton, a statement in a radio interview when asked about the publicity that compared him to Colin Firth, that he wouldn’t mind having Firth’s career even though he didn’t think they were much alike, to his repeated statements from this period that he was looking at all kinds of scripts, searching for contrasting roles, including stage roles, the Richard Armitage of this period seemed willing to express a straightforward awareness of how the industry works and his own place in it. A telling statement about his fans that expands on the gratitude theme makes this point quite clearly:

Asked what message he would give to [his fans] he says, simply: “Thanks for your support and brilliant letters. It’s great to have so much positive feedback from everyone and over such a wide demographic.”

The demographic was not as wide as might have been wished, I suppose, as it was still primarily women, though women of all ages — but the speaker quoted here is no naïf. At this point, Armitage already knows quite well that industry guesses about the nature of viewer demographics cast roles, and he wants to say in public who he is — an actor who attracts a wide range of them.

VIII: Ceterum censeo: Who was Richard Armitage in 2004?

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 8.43.29 PM[Left: Richard Armitage as photographed by Jenny Lewis in 2004. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

So now that we know what the media said, have thought about how it might have worked on our perception, and seen what early and especially later readers were likely to ignore, what can we take away from it to talk about Richard Armitage in the wake of North & South?

The question of who he was as an actor is a theme I had to separate out here — it will have to come in a subsequent piece. I don’t want to give the impression that all I care about is his identity; I also care very much about his output. I’ve concentrated on this moment in his personality and persona in such detail, however, because it seems that a number of decisive things occurred — not just the sudden success, but his response to it, and the way that the journalists covered it.

Who is he? I hit this a bit in bullet points in the last post, so I want only to adumbrate that and talk a little bit about the whole question of Armitage’s awareness of what was brewing and how it might have affected him. He must have been aware of news reports commenting on the immediate fan reaction, because every reporter who interviewed him asked him about this effect, and his denials are more deflections or self-deprecations than statements of fact. Armitage had read the BBC message board, or parts of it, anyway, as statements to this effect came through clearly in several interviews. Doing so was attractive to him because he’d never had a review, and he was interested to see how audiences were receiving what had been done. He was also aware of what this success might do for his career, and remarks in his interviews indicate that he was ready, even eager, to take advantage of it. (At some point I had read a notice that his agent had gone to an early fan meeting or something like that, but I can’t find it now — in any case, were that true, it would also indicate a willingness to have an “army” behind him.)

In the face of all the other evidence from the period, then, I am disinclined to think that Armitage was really as sweetly naïve as Penny Wark wanted to make him — I think she is reading something into what seems to me more consistent with the Armitage trope of self-deprecation about fan attention and what has regularly come to the fore as discomfort with certain kinds of personal questions that may have expressed itself as retreat into reserve that she made sound bashful. She may also have been comparing him in her mind to a broader panorama of interviewees she had experienced. Nonetheless, fans liked somehow that Armitage did not preen for their appreciation, so that by the time I became a fan, the notion that Armitage was primarily shy, sweet and naïve unshakably dominated fan perception, though not solely on the basis of Wark’s article. (Later evidence in this discussion will be discussed in later pieces.)

At the same time, however, in acting competently in the sphere in which he found himself as opposed to the one in which most of his training had taken place, I read Armitage as plagued to some extent by mismatched context — interacting with television viewers as if they were members of stage audiences. These groups of people have somewhat overlapping but also clearly diverging expectations of their wish-objects. Maybe because they are not so heavily the objects of marketing campaigns as television (and blockbuster film) audiences, or maybe because they sit in the physical presence of the people who entertain them and thus cannot always easily shake the recognition that the actors are also people and not just images, theatergoers seem much more aware than television fans that what they see in performance is all an illusion, and in relation, they also seem much less troubled by the possibility that their heroes might not really be the people whose roles they follow so avidly, and more tolerant of their personal foibles. If Armitage was indeed naïve in 2004, it lay less in an otherworldliness that led to things like bringing shirts still in the package to photoshoots (as temptingly synecdochal as that detail might be) than in an initial failure to realize that he wasn’t speaking with people at the stage door before going off blissfully into the night and reassuming his own identity with all its potentially boyish or even rough edges. Hence moments like his attempt to set fans straight with information about himself in early messages (although I don’t know where he said he was a fan of U2), albeit with both humor and self-deprecation. Or discussions of clubbing in Paris, or the use of expressions like “toe rag,” or whatever.

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 8.47.29 PM[A bit enigmatic? And the slightly opened lips. Richard Armitage as photographed by Jenny Lewis in 2004. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

Initially, an energetic, occasionally silly, modest, somewhat shy, quite boyish but still self-aware actor takes the stage to speak about himself with a basic competence that figures in most of the venues. He has a tendency to stammer somewhat in radio interviews, but this is not jarring. But by mid-2005 journalists, notably Penny Wark, had taken the first steps toward pushing a different picture of Richard Armitage that would appeal to fans in a different way. It is this later version of his persona, and fan response to it, that will demand that Richard Armitage begin to play his own self as a character, although he appears not to have realized it initially, and to have resisted it once he had. Implicitly, the matters that fans will emphasize and reward later are peeking through here, most negatively the question of naïveté — if he had it — and its ambivalent appeal, discussed so extensively above, but more positively, the matter of ethics.

As stated in the previous post, it’s not hard to see where Armitage’s ethical position came from. The firm anchor of this ethics — forged in the frustrations of a decade of working with little reward, a system in which he clearly believes, and upon which he is later willing to expand for the benefit of fans — would both advantage and disadvantage him in the long run. Psychologically, one suspects, his ethics allowed him to deal with the increased attention without having his head turned, and, one suspects, aided him in dealing with the year after the North & South air date — although the performance as Mr. Thornton was significant to him and stunning to fans, immediate promotion to film or indeed any kind of stardom did not result, and attempts to audition in Los Angeles do not garner him a role offer that makes it to wider notice, a matter on which he commented, again self-deprecatingly, in interviews toward the end of 2005. Also on the positive side of the balance sheet, Armitage’s ethics, especially his modesty, which would emerge more clearly into view as 2005 wore on and he revealed himself as someone who wrote thank-you notes and wished people would donate money to charities instead of expending it on him, would endear him even more to his new sea of fans. On the other hand, as the picture of his ethics, modesty, shyness, and so on was built up both in the press and by statements he will make and then magnified by fan discussion, he became increasingly boxed in by the expectations of his fans, a tendency that concerned him, that led to a fateful statement in 2009, and that he would state in 2010 that he had to free himself from. Moreover, his repeated expressions of gratitude initially left him potentially overly open to, and also a bit at sea in terms of how to respond to, fans who he seemed not to realize did not share the same ethics or sense of boundaries as he expected from them. Given his new notoriety, the struggle to acknowledge fans appropriately and in response to a genuine gratitude, while still guarding a private life separate from public perception began, especially as new fans were often obviously star-struck and Armitage fandom is the first intense experience of fan mania for many.

In other words: if initial fans had a fantasy of Richard Armitage, Richard Armitage also had a fantasy of his fans that had to be modified as time went on, and he seemed strikingly persistent in the conviction that he could seek connections with fans somehow as he went on modifying this picture of himself. The aftermath of North & South thus led at first with some resistance and then with increased cooperation, or at least awareness of its necessity, to experiments with performing a third party that was neither Richard Armitage nor a dramatic role, but “Richard Armitage in public.” Much of the press of the period to 2011 was engaged with the trying on and working out of this persona. Initial performances of this public persona were markedly clumsy, which both reporters and fans tended to read as endearing; on one side, this meant he finally got cut some slack for not being the alpha male that his imposing physical appearance suggested for so long that he should be. He was described by reporters as mild-mannered, modest, and serious, but also as ready with a laugh or a quick aside, and enjoying “normal life” away from the spotlight. Early indications, which persisted in interviews until at least 2006, suggest that despite the North & South effect, Armitage continued to be blind-sided by the dimensions of reactions to him and did not credit them. One major noticeable, if unconscious, outcome of his inability or unwillingness to accept this change in interviews was an expression of incredulity so marked that it can be read (positively) as shyness, boyish giggliness, or naive sweetness or (negatively) as unprofessionalism, immaturity, or even self-undermining — which are flip sides of the same coin. The same serious, disciplined worker revealed again and again a love for ridiculousness that could be read either as a planned safety vent or an actual personality trait.

Screen shot 2012-12-29 at 8.50.52 PM[Eyes like fire or ice? Richard Armitage as photographed by Jenny Lewis in 2004. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com]

Statements to press beginning with Cold Feet and Sparkhouse had already emphasized that Richard Armitage was not identical to his characters. This theme was queried virtually every time a journalist asked Armitage about his attractiveness to women in the wake of North & South, when he insisted repeatedly that he could understand why women might be attracted to Mr. Thornton or love Gaskell’s novel, but rejects the possibility that these affinities have anything to do with him. These statements may have been attempts to detach himself from the Thornton persona in particular, although in at least one interview he said that Thornton incorporated pieces of himself as well. Attempts to deflect attention from his person were read by fans in line with an ethic whose contours were appearing and, by underlining his apparent modesty, these perversely intensified fan admiration. As Armitage garnered more roles, however, his statements to the press would increasingly complicate the distinction between actor and character — as when he mentions an ongoing theme in his interviews present in the first Q & A — that it’s fun to play “baddies” because it allows the expression of moods or desires he is not allowed to express publicly. The possibility that Armitage’s roles were given pieces of himself that he felt unable to express made him even more intriguing to fans. It seemed in this period that he could hardly say anything that would turn fans off.

As I have suggested repeatedly, apparent Armitage paradox fascinates us. Similar tensions occurred in this initial period around aspects of his appearance, especially with regard to cosmetic dentistry, hair color, and clothing choices, all of which Armitage seemed to be changing reactively rather than proactively, suggesting an inner resistance to the trappings of the broadcast elements of show business. This tension is hard to parse. On the one hand, dancers are heavily and constantly concerned with the appearance of their bodies, and Armitage’s first press interviews for Cold Feet mentioned his concern about the appearance of his abs and discuss his choice of cheap shoes for his audition; he expressed concern about possibly having appeared fat as Lee. At the same time, early press from North & South pointed out his mostly modest dress and willingness to pull a shirt out of a cartoon to be photographed. Fans again read his struggles as a sign either that he was really “down to earth” and/or that his management or advising in this regard was incompetent. British management of average actors doesn’t usually extend to dressing their clients, but I think the dichotomy was never as strong as some readers have tended to make it. It wasn’t so much that Armitage didn’t care about his clothes — he did, or he wouldn’t have worn so many identifiable high fashion brands, nor would he have stuck with a style element so provocative of definitive opinions as his continued reliance on necklaces of various types. But his attempts to deal with fashion seemed primarily oriented toward consumption of items that would make him stylish if he wore them as opposed to the development of an individual, personal style, in which he seemed less interested. Only the Richard Armitage character would be given such a style, and only much later.

***

All text that I wrote is © Servetus at me + richard armitage, 2012. Please credit when using excerpts and links. Texts of quotations as well as images and video copyrights accrue to their owners.

***

Next: Part IX: Geez, I’ve written shorter texts than this for raise forms or P&T evaluations. It’s getting harder and harder for to say what will come out next, but the next part will cover matters up to his casting as Guy of Gisborne, and discuss more fully the ways in which Richard Armitage started to play the role of “Richard Armitage.” I hope I can get all that in. [Not linked yet.]

~ by Servetus on December 30, 2012.

54 Responses to “My Richard Armitage: An interpretation. Armitage meets “the media,” round one”

  1. I think RA would be pleased to have you as his biographer. Your interpretation is balanced, well researched, supported, and thorough; I wouldn’t expect anything less.

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    • Thanks. I think he’d rather not have a biographer, though. Not out of modesty so much as out of privacy.

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      • Agreed. I hope he’s allowed to keep his privacy, rather than have someone go through all his private diaries and so on.

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        • When I’m done blogging, I’m going to screw my courage to the sticking place and write him a letter giving him some information about good places to archive the sources about his professional life. Some archives in the U.S. will actually pay to house his stuff when he’s done with it, and he can date-seal anything that might be sensitive.

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          • Good idea. I think he will realize what a favour you are doing him.

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            • Favor for fans and researchers, I think 🙂

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              • In addition, I think. I am aware of at least one opera star whose diary was stolen, presumably by someone he trusted. In a world where not even one’s rubbish is safe, the more one is known, the more difficult it is to maintain privacy.

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                • yeah, although stuff also disappears from archives — stolen by users, hidden by archivists … nothing is really safe. Although archives are safer than keeping it at home, no doubt.

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  2. Like your take on that interview with the shirt right out of the package as that was what sealed the deal for me. I have to say what resonated with me and made the picture painted by the interviewer appear truthful was that he reminded me so much of some male friends of mine. And those guys weren’t naive or un-ambitious when it came to their work.

    But you are perfectly right when you say that our image of him as been formed one way or the other by the interviewers that describe him to their readers. It can only ever be a superficial impression and often is just something that suits the tone of the article they want to write. I rarely saw this style of interview during the Hobbit campaign and I’m glad. Though it seems to be popular among the “better” British newspapers.

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    • Thanks, I’m relieved because I was annoyed with myself for having gotten hung up on that article analytically. But in my own perception of him, that article played an important role and I was curious as to why. The more I looked at it, and compared it to what fans were saying, the more I thought, hmmm, there are some real problems here both with content of the piece and how people have read it. I may be more suspicious of this kind of article or this trope in interpretation of him just because I outgrew my need to parent my partner during my second long romantic relationship. So I tend to think, hey, if you come with a shirt in a package to an interview, that’s your choice — why are you making it? Instead of, oh, isn’t that sweet. And I fully agree with you on the fact that all it means is that he didn’t have a shirt he thought was appropriate for a newspaper photo and thought he could get away with buying one on the fly — carelessness of the issues involved, but not symptomatic of a more general trend.

      I have wondered, over the months, why that kind of article. It had something to do (as I said) with the motivating question for Wark, but the other piece is why fans resonated to it so much. I wonder if there’s a sort of intersection with the basic early N&S fan demographic — educated women — and the need to / appeal of “fixing” things; a sort of additional “motherly” energy. I’m trying to be careful here just because I resented it when I read Armitage saying his fans were motherly — but I know what he means even if that’s never been the right word. My impulses toward him have (cough) never been motherly but I do understand this impulse to think, “I can fix this / explain this / make this better” and the appeal of an easily solved problem. (The problem is of course that with real people, anyone who makes it to the age of 33 and still appears to need mothering is making a conscious or subconscious choice.) And, of course, he has a mother already.

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      • Never having encountered the Wark interview, I don’t think my response to RA was skewed that way. I have, since 2005, seen him as a man who can take care of himself and has his professional priorities straight. Some of his characters need help, yes, but the man himself? I doubt it. He makes choices and he lives with them. Having had to look after, nurse, coach, tailor for, etc., men in my life before, I know the I-can-fix-this trap and it now makes my annunciators shriek “red alert” if I feel anything like that. I don’t feel anything like that about RA. He is an adult who can fix what he wants if and when he wants.

        I see him as all about the work as his first priority. I know he has said that he looks forward to a time when he can relax and not have to work so hard to maintain the physique he needs for his roles. I think he does not fuss about himself unless he sees it as necessary. Just his recent hiring of a stylist I see as more of what he is doing as a professional who wants to keep working, as an actor who wants to keep doing what he does and meeting the challenge that involves.

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        • One thing your comment reveals is the extent to which early vs late fans read different things. Someone who became a fan when I did (2010) had pages and pages of stuff to go through. The early fans got something like eight interviews in the first six months — which must have affected their perception of him in a different way.

          While I agree that work is an important priority for him, and that he’s gotten more interested in body cultivation because of that, I also think he definitely cares (or has grown to care) about how his body looks in ways that he is concerned it’s not completely polite to admit.

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        • Same here, Leigh.
          I’m a February 2010 Armitage Admirer late bloomer. So my perception of his shy but articulate persona was formed by his North & South video Interview on the dvd. No way did I think that the sweet man in the video interview portrayed the commanding and conflicted Thornton. Bravo Mr. Armitage!

          And Bravo, Servetus! Another fascinating essay delving into Richard Armitage’s own “impression management”–or lack thereof in the beginning.

          To me, Richard Armitage in Hobbit press appears to be a confident and poised, interviewee–who still make some self-deprecating remarks, but these do not “undermine” his work as a theatrical artist. Though I initially winced with RA’s reaction (mock strangling Strombo) to the Strombo interview program of themshowing a fan video with Speedo shots of RA in them. RA “recovered” by reframing his response and taking the sanguine longterm view–that his role in Cold Feet was one role in his early career. It was a choice he made then and he wasn’t going to let anyone make him “ashamed” or embarrassed by it. It was what it was. Bravo Mr. Armitage again!

          Holiday Cheers! Grati ;->

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    • Oh — also re: Hobbit — many more of the interviewers are men. I think that plays a role. He’s also been much less reserved in much of this publicity — so it’s probably harder to read him as shy / in need of drawing out.

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      • Yes, I agree. It must be a pain and an almost impossible task to be interviewed by a gushing female reporter and constantly be asked about his sex symbol status and his love life. Even if someone is not modest or shy or private, what on earth can you answer and come out of it well, not looking full of yourself? Appear endearing because you are embarrassed is the best possible outcome. And male interviewers that tease him about his fans when he wanted to talk about his work are not helpful either. He may well had come across differently if early interviews had been done in a different style.

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        • Two of the radio interviewers from 2005 were men (one was a woman) and all brought up the fan response, but the result is really different. Of course, in a setting like that where the conversation is being overheard, the interviewer can’t pester too much if the response is evasive. But the male interviewers bring it up (one of them even comments on his appearance as especially fit, and Armitage says, in an amused / flattered tone, “Cheers!”) and Armitage responds with a lot of equanimity. “Mad, isn’t it?” in one case. It’s interesting that his response to the female interviewer is one of slightly greater embarrassment. (“I am … becoming aware …” and “I will pluck up my courage…” when she encourages him to check out the Armitage Army site). Not enough data there to make a real comparison, but it’s suggestive. The interviews with the the men, at least, were both face to face, i.e., Armitage was in the studio.

          It’s clear in a lot of the early publicity that the people just don’t know what to ask. He came to their attention because of fan response, so they ask about that.

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  3. Applause break nr.1 🙂 I can’t wait to the round two,Servetus!

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  4. This is a post that has really made me re-examine my own interpretation of RA. And I must say, I completely stepped into that trap that Wark set with her first big “Armitage the Naif” article. I was all too ready to see RA as the shy, ordinary man who is bewildered by his sex-symbol status – because I actually do not like men who are aware of their effect on women and I do not look too kindly on people who are vain. (Hence RA’s recent admission in the 60 second interview that he is vain, doesn’t want to be a “fat dude” (graaaaaah, HATE it when people use that particular adjective) and is big into pimping his physique in the gym has really pushed him to the edge of the pedastal… hm) Undoubtedly he must be and have been more aware of his effect than I have ever allowed him to (have) be(en). In a way that is good – it shows he is professional and I do appreciate that. But I don’t like being teased and I don’t like being pandered to… While I enjoy the fantasy, I am continuously looking for reality. So I am left this morning with a bit of a quandary that has shook up the foundations of my fan-dom. Well, or maybe I am just being contrary. Or I have PMS.

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    • [I don’t know why your comments keep going to spam, Guylty.] But thanks for this.

      Ad quod respondeo, for what it’s worth, and I am sorry this is so wordy, but I wanted to say exactly what I thought:

      I think that there’s a difference between being aware of one’s effect on [not just] women and caring about it a great deal. I don’t see how he could be unaware, especially by this point [i.e., the Cinemaxx interviews], of his effect on people. But the worry about weight has always been there — in the 2005 “in a taxi interview,” he refers to himself as having to go to gym so as not to look like “a lard bucket,” and in the press packet for Sparkhouse as well as the one surviving Cold Feet interview, he refers to gym and the “perfect six pack” as well. I think what’s changed is that he’d decided at whatever point (2003 must have been the latest point) that he had to care about his appearance topless, and doing so would involve going to the gym. I imagine, too, that as long as he was dancing every day for work (and stretching beforehand) and flexibility, he maybe could count on that for exercise and didn’t have to worry so much about targeted repetitions. I also tend to read him as someone who explores something and then gets into it more and more and then has to say, at some point, that’s enough, stop that. So I actually read him as being aware of the question you’re asking (this was the GQ article, I believe).

      On appearance — I tend to read him, in the press from 2005-11 [starting with the next chunk of the bio] as conflicted about that. There are a lot of pieces — like most people, he wants to look good as opposed to not good, however that is defined; in his professional world, how one looks is of central importance and he wasn’t always especially great at getting it right the first time; no doubt aspects of what we can surmise about his upbringing at home probably emphasized both suspicion of appearances but also an insistence on appearing “right” or “tidy” or “appropriate”; the whole British thing about understatement and not standing out; as someone who had planned to have a theater as opposed to a television or film career, there’s the whole dichotomy between a pretty face and great actor (and even really beautiful people tend to be troubled by the idea that they are appreciated primarily for their appearance as opposed to other qualities); and I think one place where his self-claimed frugality shows is in the amount of money he was spending on clothes for public appearances until very recently. Here, I think what’s changed is that he lived for eighteen months with the same people who were involved in the same project and had the same concerns — i.e., he didn’t just work with them, he also lived fairly closely to them — in a project that’s been more highly mediatized than anything else he’s ever done. It would be unusual if that were not to affect him somehow. I think one thing that must happen with people who are exposed to the Hollywood machine, even at its extreme periphery, is that they start to rethink the question of appearances. I think the Armitage of five years ago would have said, “I can do just fine without a stylist, it’s not that hard to buy clothes, and I know what I like to wear.” I suspect his experiences of the last five years have both made clear to him that at the level of the game he wants to play at, you can’t really buy off the rack or go to interviews with packaged shirts, and also that it’s okay to use the services of a consultant to figure out how to appear because other people do it, too.

      re: vanity — that is an interesting moment of that interview to parse. First, it seems clear that he doesn’t know how much 20 lbs is; despite his statement that Armitage could gain weight and not be fan, Freeman’s sarcastic remark about “half a cow” doesn’t help him figure it out. (I wasn’t aware that metric consciousness had proceeded that far in Britain, but okay.) Armitage must actually have gained 20 lbs or close to it (of muscle) to play John Porter. Keep in mind as well that he’s been quoted as saying he wanted to shave his head for the Lucas North role in the past but that the writers didn’t want him to appear ugly. So I think he’s responding to the question *he hears*: shave your head or gain quite a bit of weight? (as opposed to the question I’d have heard, which is completely change the appearance of your face or gain an amount of weight that many men would find easy to lose?). [I wonder what he’d have said if the questions had been “gain a stone or shave your head?” and I can imagine the answer might have been phrased differently in that case.] So when he says, “because I am incredibly vain” (and simultaneously ducks his head), I think part of him is saying to himself, “that I care about this at all is silly, but I do care, and it is silly” and so, on some level, admitting that he cares at all constitutes something he has to be embarrassed of, that is, vanity. So I read his answer as making fun of himself by overstating his actual position, rather than as a totally serious statement. The use of the word “fat” is interesting, but I’d also say that it’s part of a more general pattern that I would attribute to the atmospheres he’s worked in; at times, he doesn’t seem to be incredibly sensitive to the valences of his own vocabulary choices. And what he seems to have gotten more than anything in the last two years is a sense that it’s okay to be a little exuberant and risk making some jokes. Since many of his fans till now have been fairly suspicious of that impulse, it’s going to take him awhile to practice it. But if serious Armitage was a more important character element to emphasize for the fans up till now, probably new fans coming from the Hobbit are going to resonate more to the “Armitage the guy’s guy.” So I imagine we will see more of this.

      I think that something he has possibly struggled with his whole life (and it’s a very human struggle) is what it’s okay to think vs what it’s okay to say. Being in The Hobbit (both the experience of preparing it, and now appearing on its behalf) has probably expanded his sense of the range of the latter significantly.

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    • You have PMS dear Guylty, surely 🙂

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      • If she doesn’t, I do 🙂

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        • Thanks for that expansive answer, Servetus. I do follow your logic – it is hard not to. You explain it all very well. The matter of appearance is of course a vital one for an actor. It is part of the package that they are selling and thus he *has* to care about his looks. He doesn’t have to admit to it, though *grins*… I think that is what I take issue with – cos I am of the same ilk, having been brought up with what I find a very “Protestant” (rather than typically English) approach to acknowledgment of self: Don’t draw attention to yourself. Never admit that you care about your looks (or someone else’s, for that matter).
          PMS, undoubtedly, then. I just have to sit it out and by the end of it my ovaries will have recovered *hehe* (only to be destroyed again *coughs*). Seriously – I am just trying to pick a few holes into the man because sometimes he is just too good to be true. I reread his messages thanks to your links and I was swooned off my feet.
          (Hope this message gets through without having to be moderated by you…)

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          • yes, we could also call it Protestant. I just don’t know if he was / is Protestant. And even the non-Protestant English, I find, are so Protestant 🙂

            Those early messages are crazy swoonworthy 🙂

            And yeah, this made it through.

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          • I saw the ‘vain’ comment as a response to the good natured teasing about getting a stylist he undoubtedly got from the other dwarfs. Without wanting to stereotype ( although I am!) in my experience most men would see it almost as a duty to rib a mate about something like that, however much they privately wish they could look like that themselves. So It’s easier to get in first and say it before they do than try and justify his reasoning. He attempts to downplay his interest in looking good by saying it’s easier to get someone else to think about what he’s should wear than worry about it himself. He also dismissively pulls at his jacket as if to indicate he also thinks it’s all a bit daft. We know RA does like to look good ( a man who cares nothing for his appearance does not wear bead necklaces or beautiful shoes with embellishments) but he also wants to appeal to a male audience as well as a female one so he can’t appear to be taking his clothing too seriously. I also think the word ‘vain’ means different things to different people. Women don’t regard wanting to look good as vain- most of us aspire to that, especially on special occasions. ‘Vain’ to a woman means much more extreme measures than merely putting on a nice outfit. ‘Vain’ to my father would be going to a hairdressers and paying £30 rather than a barber and paying £5. So the word is subjective – and just because RA describes himself as such does not mean it is true.

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            • I agree that it’s difficult to find a framework that makes the comment literally true. (Who would say that about themselves with a straight face in a setting like that?)

              But it’s interesting that the pull at the jacket is also accompanied by an expletive that has to be deleted for the U.S. audience. (Too bad we can’t hear which one.) I would like to know exactly how ironic he was being there. Because I also don’t think that statement can possibly have been made literally.

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  5. Actually, it is a relief to read more constructive “criticism” from some fans. The reiteration of shy and humble was a bit tiresome. Too good to be true, indeed, and a bit boring. RA is a human being, after all. And a very English man. In general, those of English background do tend to be raised to not “blow one’s own horn”, to be of becoming modesty, etc. (In general – not everyone is going to to conform a national stereotype…

    There is one statement from an earlier interview (no idea when/what) in which he speaks of having a temper and throwing a chair through the window. Perhaps he was channeling Thornton at the time. Perhaps he was boring himself, and trying to sound a bit more “interesting”. Not sure I believed him…on the other hand…

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  6. Re: shyness- perhaps the explanation of why the interview went that way is that the woman journalist expected to meet somebody like Colin Firth, who IMO comes across as shy and constipated. Firth also made Darcy a shy nobleman; when he told off Mrs.Bingley in Episode 5 he made it look like a supernatural extenuating effort. Was Firth faithful to Jane Austen’s Darcy? (I’d say: no.)

    Secondly, about the amusement bordering on insolence of the stairwell picture … be careful about interpreting facial expressions:
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121129143314.htm
    “Body Language, Not Facial Expressions, Broadcasts What’s Happening to Us
    If you think that you can judge by examining someone’s facial expressions if he has just hit the jackpot in the lottery or lost everything in the stock market — think again. Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at New York University and Princeton University have discovered that — despite what leading theoretical models and conventional wisdom might indicate — it just doesn’t work that way.
    Rather, they found that body language provides a better cue in trying to judge whether an observed subject has undergone strong positive or negative experiences.
    In a study published this week in the journal Science, the researchers present data showing that viewers in test groups were baffled when shown photographs of people who were undergoing real-life, highly intense positive and negative experiences. When the viewers were asked to judge the emotional valences of the faces they were shown (that is, the positivity or negativity of the faces), their guesses” [went wrong].

    So what is missing is the context, the knowledge that the tenis players either won the point or lost it, and then made the “faces”. I will judge Richard when acting, dancing, giving interviews on film or radio, but not so much when posing. (I would love to see him dance.)

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    • Betina, thanks for the comment and welcome.

      We only have the evidence we have, so that’s what we have to base our judgments on. I don’t apologize for reading the evidence I have, which includes intentional and unintentional poses. But the whole “I’m a bit flirtier than you realize” theme is reflected not just here, but in dozens of other places, so I don’t feel that I am on very thin interpretive ice.

      Check out Guylty’s analysis of this photo shoot for more discussion of what was going on there between photographer and subject. It’s linked in one of the captions.

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      • If you talk about “not apologizing” it means that my message was not well written and it came across wrongly. (Possibly because English is not my first language, mea culpa.) That wasn’t my intention. Thanks for the post.
        When you see an abrupt-worded post here, maybe you should assume first it’s a from a foreign dude/dudette rather than a confrontational domestic one. :- )

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        • saying “I’m not apologizing” is not a negative response to a confrontational statement. It’s a statement that I don’t believe that my interpretive strategy is incorrect.

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          • I’m glad you clarified that, because you usually sound confrontational.

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            • If you say so. I suppose I’m not writing for the faint of heart in any case, but I write in the scholarly tone that’s customary in the Anglo-American sphere. It expects the author to assert her conclusions with confidence and defend them under challenge.

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            • You know, looking over the last twenty posts on my blog, exactly none of them are confrontational. Perhaps your comprehension of English tone needs some refreshing.

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              • Well, I too have a PhD (in physics) from an US university, so it’s not what you say so gratiously. Perhaps it’s the “liberal arts” thing, making people more confrontational, as opposed to the “objective/experimental proof” thing. Cheers, mate.

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                • You were the one who raised the language issue, not me (I don’t have time to look at the IP address or email of everyone who comments here), and the natural scientists I know are just the same and/or even more so. I’m going to invite you politely to stay away from the blog. Nothing you have said recently has anything to do with the topic of this post. As I made clear at the beginning, I disagree with your point. If you want to pick a fight, you picked the wrong person.

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  7. @Betina, I fell over laughing at the “constipated” Firth. Much as I liked his Darcy – his Darcy did have a something up his posterior. Only speculation – but I wonder if Armitage might play it with a bit more – nuance? (Ah well. Darcy has been done so many times, old ground.) I liked Jennifer Erhle best there. Cry, Keira.

    Context is always missing in journalistic interviews. Too often it is more about the journalist/interviewer than it is is about the interviewee. They are cannon fodder to the news maw. Which is why I have liked Mr. A quietly, in my opinion, get in what he intends to say in his tour interviews.

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    • I was reminded that in one of the radio interviews referred to here, the interviewer compares him to Firth, and Armitage says he doesn’t think they’re much alike at all, but he wouldn’t mind having Firth’s career.

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  8. Thank you once again for the great post. I am getting closer to getting caught up on all my blog reading. I find that the Wark piece was hard to read. We really did not need to know everything she put in the article. I do look forward to the next part.

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    • I think sometimes when people don’t know what to ask or say about someone else they fill themselves in. Hell, this whole blog’s an exercise in that.

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  9. I had this particular post marked for later date, so this is that moment.

    I’m roughly the same age as when he first “burst’ into the scene, and well looking at myself, yeah, naïve he is not. Perhaps reticent, modest and shy about particular personal subjects, but not some young boy who had lived in a bubble all his life. Especially not if you’ve had a decade filled with struggle, (self-) doubt and frustration about your life. Unless he’s some special kind of man, who can still remain naïve after that of course.;) I think he was more perplexed by the massive response, no one expected that to happen and he had to find his feet quickly to adept. I sense more a bemusement in those early days, and not knowing exactly what face to put forward.

    And absolutely, he has a very strong drive. Choosing to become an actor is a life that can be very, very tough. Many have tried and failed, just ask the countless hopeful young actors who travel to LA. You definitely need to know how far you’re willing to go, what you need to do get that gig and the next one. A dream is nice to have, but you also need to have the ambition to work towards fulfilling that dream.

    What can’t be denied is we’re seeing a more refined public persona today. Can he still be this “sweet, shy, modest, kind, serious etc” guy? Sure. In certain circumstances. Just like anybody else. I also see some aspects of his personality that can be hard to live with. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s like any other guy. 😉 Well, except for the fact his stage is now international.

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    • Yeah — I think we’re seeing more polish today — part of why I am trying to push this out now is that I want to read this stuff in terms of “how it seemed as it came out” as opposed to “what I think in light of what I know now.” But I’m trying to point out that the way the media covered him doesn’t fully cover up stuff that was apparent even then.

      In terms of “like any other guy,” — I’m torn. I think that’s the baseline assumption we have to start from. And yet, at the same time, there are significant ways in which he’s not like other guys, or he wouldn’t be where he is. I’ve tried to stress the “normality” issue when I’m trying to hold the wall against what I think is unrealistic idolization, but there are some extraordinary things about him.

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  10. […] pay attention, invested many of us increasingly in a more serious Armitage, one who was above all modest, artistic, cultured, shy, and oblivious to or seriously uncomfortable with his personal appea…. And when Armitage agreed, in 2009, with journalists who asked him about his very vocal fandom, […]

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  11. I don’t know if you still monitor responses to old posts, but this is one of the most interesting analyses I’ve read about any actor. Thank you, for this and your other exceptional analytical posts.

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    • Thanks for the comment, Espresso Addict, and welcome. (Yeah, the software tells me about them.) Good inspiration for me to continue and complete this series!

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  12. […] Part VII: Richard Armitage starts to play the role of “Richard […]

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  13. […] are least two more things I should write about the significance of The Crucible. I left off with the interpretive biography in 2004 and there’s so much more data […]

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  14. […] known he was funny. Look at those early messages to fans if you don’t believe me — the “serious Richard” trope which was created in the post-North & South publicity and which many fans jumped on wholeheartedly but in my opinion, mistakenly, and the “precious […]

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  15. Talk about late to the party! I just found this series of posts, and they are fantastic! I’ve been a fan of RA since the Robin Hood days (though not always “active” in the fandom), and though I’ve never claimed to know or understand him, you pointed out some very intelligent and interesting insights, and I do feel I understand him a bit more, or at least my fascination with him. It’s especially great to read these now (post-Hobbit, Crucible, and Hannibal) and seeing how many of the earlier aspects of his personality, training, and work ethic that you pointed out apply to his recent work and career choices.

    Did you ever finish Part IX? And from some of your comments above, it sounds like you’ll be adding even more to this biographical series? 🙂

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    • Thanks for the message!

      I have drafts of the other pieces but I never published them. And yeah, I feel a bit as if I need to go back to revise and modify (and see how much I agree with them still, lol). These are almost three years old now.

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  16. […] even if he had his moments of cultural conservatism. Second, I was operating very much under the image of Armitage created by the press in those years, which is that he was shy and retiring — I hoped he would not do anything against his own inclination. Additionally, outing his […]

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  17. […] From the beginning, I’ve been preoccupied with the question of who Richard Armitage is, with all the ups and downs associated with that. I wrote a bit about how we can know about identity, and my surprise at how controversial that turned out to be led me to outline a series of levels of knowledge as derived from highly problematic sources, with the goal of discerning methods things that might be gleaned, which turned out to be even more of a problem for some readers. As I learned, the question of defending identity via the fandom crush is the source of vicious battles, which makes the whole enterprise of saying “who Richard Armitage is” among fans highly fraught, as each of us builds our own version of the man, tied to our own needs and desires and connected to our own egos. Nonetheless, in an attempt to answer my own questions I ventured onto the terrain of interpretive biographical writing, and I have tried over the years to isolate fan beliefs about Richard Armitage, explore their origins, and analyze them critically, such as the question of the shy, serious sex symbol. […]

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