As with blinkered Thornton, small pieces peak through, or: Richard Armitage is hard to grasp

Marlise Boland interviews Richard Armitage for AnglophileChannel, part 2

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When I started to write this, I thought what I’d be saying is that one thing about these interviews I’ve appreciated so far is the combination of playful and adult Armitage. The thing that’s hardest to hang onto, watching Armitage (or, I suspect, watching any crush) is the notion that the person being watched is also a foible-rich human and that the matters he’s being asked about in any interview setting are one piece, not just of who he is in general, but even of who he is at that particular moment, who he has decided to be for that occasion, on that day, in the whole confluence of factors that make up an identity at any given time.

Sometimes I think that what I need to complete my picture of this man is something ridiculously quotidian. Richard Armitage doing his laundry, trying on a jacket in a store, booking a flight, letting the cable guy into his apartment for repairs, ordering in a restaurant, getting on or off a ski lift. I just need to see him as an adult, a normal adult, reacting to normal situations. But I’m not ever going to get that. One luxury of this interview, however, is that it’s plausible as an in between moment. Even though it’s an oddly constructed situation and he’s being asked to remember things about his career, because he’s not pitching a particular performance to press, as viewers we can at least get infinitesimally closer to what he might be like in a conversation. To some extent, yes, he’s giving her what she wants, but (apart from some rather noticeable fight / flight mannerisms when the topics get more suggestive than they would in a press interview — wet t-shirt?) this is mostly adult Armitage talking about his life and career, and it’s a nice grounding episode precisely for that reason.

So it’s interesting to observe Armitage talking about Mr. Thornton after 10:48. She’s just given him a huge dose of direct, intense, fan-squeee “wet t-shirt enthusiasm” and he’s drawn an arrow at the ridiculousness of the situation by pointing at her — against his fidgeting in the seat, ducking his head, pulling on his coat, swallowing, and posture reductions (although I don’t want to discount the possibility that the stooping relates to some interpersonal status issues about getting down to her height to speak to her more directly). When she asks — after underlining all the period drama / romantic hero enthusiasm of fans who made him a heartthrob overnight — how he felt about it, he says,

It’s so interesting, how, how it was received to how it felt from the inside, ’cause I actually saw the guy as somebody, who was ah, kind of terrible in what he did, until the end of the, of the piece, he was so kind of, stifled and restricted in, in his world and blinkered in, in his views, but I suppose the unraveling of that character is something that was appealing, but em, but I remember, em, hearing about the casting for that, and driving down to my local bookshop, very late, just before it closed, and grabbing the last copy, and reading, just reading the little blurb on the back, and just knowing that I had to play it, I hadn’t even read the book, and I just read the little, thing, and I just thought, I can do this, I can totally do this, but convincing them to cast me was really quite a challenge.

I’m not how conscious a deflection this was — it may be an answer that’s become automatic in the meantime, because it recapitulates material from much older interviews from 2005 in which he said he didn’t see himself as attractive, it was Thornton, and Thornton was attractive because he was so repressed. But Armitage totally skips the question of his feelings about being a heartthrob himself and moves toward a statement about his response to his casting. That’s either masterful evasion of an uncomfortable moment in a situation where he’s already been pushed to embarrassment once — or an incredibly revealing move. Which is it?

I’m asking because I see adult Armitage here doing something that one of his characters does. Because my response to his statement about Mr. Thornton’s blinkered qualities (a point I strongly agree with, incidentally — Mr. Thornton’s inflexibility and insistence that he’s right and knows best were major sympathy points in the character for me when I started watching North & South so intensely) — is that it’s not ever quite as simple as that for this character. He’s not just unraveling toward the end of the piece, but indeed he’s aware of his repression repression before that. Yes, Mr. Thornton is terrible in his opening scene, and certainly, he’s arrogant when he encounters Margaret the second time in her father’s study, and indeed, he demonstrates over and over again that his worldview is obdurate and absolute, but that’s not the whole story. Because Mr. Thornton is also peeking out from behind those blinkers he has placed so firmly before his eyes, and we see it episode 1 — it’s one of the reasons the tea scene is so poignant.

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ns1-092Mr. Thornton (Richard Armitage) observes Margaret pouring tea in episode 1 of North & South. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

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One of the key tensions in that scene occurs in the character of Mr. Thornton: Between his mood as a serious man of business who’s had to take up his father’s (shirked) burden and the vibe of true excitement he reveals over the mechanical aspects of what he does; and similarly, between the shame or disregard of a man who knows that he’s barely socially acceptable to the Hales and that a marriage to Margaret would be a misalliance based on any criterion he would normally apply to a prospective partner, and the man who nonetheless looks at her with interest even as he veils his glance after a very pregnant moment. In other words, Mr. Thornton is certainly blinkered. But every now and then in episodes 1, 2, and even in 3 (where his obstinacy about principle reaches a thundering, almost self-destructive, height), we see him trying to see out from around his self-imposed blindfold.

So back to my question — how does it work out, to deflect an unwanted question about heartthrob status into an answer about the appeal of a character and then segue immediately into a reflection about one’s own memories of insecurity about the casting? And what does it mean, the accompaniment of that answer with a lot of down-status body language (head down, introspective looks, shoulders crouched)? If Armitage’s own blinkers here involve an unwillingness to consider, respond to, exemplify, live out, feel anything other than embarrassed by, “heartthrob status” for which he has almost certainly “taken the piss” many times — Richard Armitage the adult who has to be here and tolerate this gushing, but finds it all absurd — it’s fascinating after hearing about Mr. Thornton’s blinkers and the things he won’t see past, to see this self-recollection of a decade-younger Richard Armitage, one who drove late at night to a bookstore and got the last copy (like there wouldn’t have been another one the next morning in a bookstore somewhere else in London?) and needed to read only a line on the back cover to know it was a role for him. Armitage unraveled?

Richard Armitage the adult, the one I want to somehow “see,” takes it all in stride and manages the questions with a hefty (occasionally too hefty) dose of British self-deprecation. But behind him, Armitage the unknown peeks out and by undermining the adult, makes the man we see all the more intriguing. His statement here that his way into a personality as an actor lies first through physicality makes it all the more compelling to observe what his body does when he tells a very dramatic version of a pedestrian, but oh-so-decisive moment from his past. We might be tempted to conclude he places the “difference” between his construction of the (to him unappealing) character and the audience reception of the finished Mr. Thornton as “romantic” hero in analogy to the difference between the younger, distant Armitage, the one who drove to the bookstore, grabbed the book in a rush, and thought for a long time that he would not get cast even though it was a role he knew to lie in his artistic grasp, and Armitage, the actor who so succeeded in convincing in that “romantic” role that a website crashed and a career aborning for years finally took its next step.

It’s entirely impossible for me to say here what Armitage intended to achieve with this answer — I would guess, on some level, the point of this answer was very much to say, joke all you like about Darcy and wet t-shirts, humorously or suggestively, but I nonetheless reject the label of heartthrob, the character was not a heartthrob but rather a stifled man who experienced an epiphany, and most of all, when I was trying to get cast I was certainly not heartthrob material, but rather nobody with very little chance of success and not much more than conviction.

At the same time, however, I know how it strikes me — and that it strikes me in the same way that Armitage’s characters often do — that there’s something in or behind their eyes that’s searching for a way to express itself. I thought I wanted to see Armitage the adult — but just at the point at which I am seeing that persona most clearly, beginning to grasp who that adult is, I see Armitage the struggling actor of ten years ago peeking out from behind him. It’s a paradox that we see repeated countless times in Armitage’s work, these conflicting impulses that make his characters seem so real, the fact that we don’t always know how they will react under certain circumstances — but it also eludes or even defies attempts at putting things down descriptively, at establishing who Richard Armitage is. Somehow, he manages to continue to tease us as to his identity, even as he appears to be telling us a deeply personal anecdote. As a performance of self this kind of evasion, one that seems simultaneously mature and naive, is masterful, a kind of hiding in plain sight. As a subsidiary matter — it practically guarantees that I’ll keep looking.

~ by Servetus on March 7, 2014.

69 Responses to “As with blinkered Thornton, small pieces peak through, or: Richard Armitage is hard to grasp”

  1. Interesting thoughts, as always. I thought he did this a few times in the interview — answered in a way that did not seem to be, on the surface, a direct response to the question asked. It’s intriguing, trying to follow the thought process. Perhaps he was trying to deflect from things he didn’t want to talk about, or perhaps he was diverging into areas that he felt would be more interesting? Perhaps they had discussed some of these subjects in advance, and he’d been thinking about them since, and what we’re seeing is a tangential riff?

    Whatever the case, the things he doesn’t say are nearly as fascinating as the things he does tell us, and I agree, this has been entertaining if for no other reason than as a possible glimpse into what it would be like to sit down and have a conversation with him. (Which, as a writer, is something I would very much like to do on the subjects of character and motivation. That’s basically my ultimate Armitage fantasy.)

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    • absolutely agree. I would like to hear some statements on how he sees motivation not least b/c understanding his own motivation is somewhat difficult (and in this interview he’s asked directly and doesn’t answer beyond very vaguely).

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  2. Hell will freeze over before RA admits to being a heartthrob. Comparisons were made to Darcy very early on ( I remember because I was a Colin Firth devotee and wondered who this upstart Armitage was, trying to take my man’s crown) and I find it hard to believe he didn’t realise from the start that Thornton had the potential to create the same interest that Darcy had. He may have put that to the back of his mind to immerse himself in the character during the filming but the struggling actor standing in the bookshop must have hoped for the Darcy effect.

    Whenever the heartthrob question comes up I do find myself wondering how RA is supposed to react. I think he has deflected it every which way he can – denial, the suggestion that it is the characters the fans love, silence and moving the conversation to something related but different. Short of saying – “yes, I am sooooo hot” he’s tried everything and must be nearly as sick of it as the circus question.

    I quite liked this interview though as I felt it did give us a (very) little glimpse of the ‘real’ RA. One of the things that has come over consistently though in the time I have been reading this blog is an understanding that we are only ever seeing the RA that is on show that day , at that time. That RA chooses to show different parts of his personality ( or perhaps the character called Richard Armitage) in different interviews. It’s always been stated we all have different personas for the different parts of our lives and he is no different. Although it seems to have lessened of late, I’ve felt for the guy when fans seem to hold him to something he said years ago ( like going back to theatre) as if his personality and hopes and dreams are absolutely fixed and because he wanted to do The Rover in 2007, he still wants to. It’s no wonder he has become so guarded. And although there were moments of discomfort, I think that is understandable. A slip up on camera has the potential to be on his resume forever, endlessly rehashed on YouTube. Having been interviewed for a documentary myself, I can vouch for how difficult even a short interview is- I could barely speak by the end, let alone be witty (which, in my case, was thankfully not required). I know he is a professional but he could still not have been completely at ease and I think a bit of downward glancing and nail picking could be as much about simply being scrutinized as about the interviewer or her questions.

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    • I was interviewed once for a national print publication and what I said was taken so out of context that I refused interviews after that, and I was just asked about possibly being interviewed on film about something and I said an emphatic no. So yes, kudos to him for putting up with this, indeed mastering a skill where you have so little control over the final product, even less than you have in making a dramatic film.

      I think one reason to look back is to assess continuity vs change. (He did in fact say in the fall of 2013 that he’s still interested in doing theater, so when fans hold him to that, in the sense that they can, i.e., by affirming that they wish he would, or wish he wouldn’t, I don’t think they’re being totally unreasonable.)

      I think a general discomfort in interviews is clearly a feature of his performances of “Richard Armitage.” But it’s really fascinating to observe exactly *when* those moves become most acute. There are points in these interviews where those gestures are completely gone and others where they are so in evidence that they are almost distracting.

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  3. If you substitute the “heartthrob description” for the title “sexiest man alive” Richard’s responses are in line with other serious actors who were celebrated primarily for their good looks. George Clooney, twice blessed (or cursed) joked about having to go to events wearing a sash, a la Miss America. An actor may not take any hotness references seriously, he sounds like a conceited bore, so he can change the subject and/or use humor. He certainly can’t agree with interviewer as to his hotness, even when he is joking or sarcastic, it can be misinterpreted as arrogant or conceited when taken out of context, and we all know that never happens. I agree that he rejects the heartthrob label modestly with a thoughtful analysis of Thornton’s transformation from a brutish bully to a romantic hero, giving us an intriguing glimpse of his acting career breakthrough. I also think, though we will never know for sure, unless he tells us, that he had to be aware of the romantic waves he was sending out in the station scene. He was “in the zone”, dramatically. He certainly could not anticipate the size of the waves, but the feedback from the director or other production members must have given him a clue that it wasn’t only the train that was steaming. Yes, I will keep looking with you.

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    • well, if Miss America has to wear a sash, why shouldn’t George Clooney? 🙂

      I didn’t mean to suggest he should say “oh, I am so hot.” What was interesting to me was/is that while there are plenty of ways to respond directly that deflect all that (such as joking), he *doesn’t* pick that strategy. He gives a relatively serious answer — another personality clue?

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      • Could be, I didn’t think about that. He did not deflect with humor, so choosing a serious answer might be a clue. More Ra food for thought, as if we didn’t have enough already. You would probably know the answer to this question without having to do any research, so I will ask. Has he had his “hotness” come up that directly in an interview before? I mean suggesting throwing water on his chest is pretty direct. Not that I would object, as an interested observer.

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  4. I was really struck by your post from a little while ago about Thornton desiring what he thinks he can never have because it hit on exactly what I think makes the character so appealing to women. The viewer sees a beautiful man, wealthy man that many would want. But here he is hoping against hope that the object of his desire will care for him. He plays out a different but somewhat similar dynamic in Robin Hood and Sparkhouse (men who see themselves through the eyes of their objects of desire and see themselves sorely lacking but nevertheless hope against hope that that somehow their feeling may be reciprocated). I think Richard plays that dynamic so well because he’s also very practiced in it himself. He clearly really wants to succeed but then he seemingly goes to great efforts to mask that. An interview that always stays with me is from the behind the scenes video from Frozen. He’s asked about whether he enjoyed filming the movie and he replied that he did because they had great laughs and always had a good supply of sweets. It’s not possible to take that answer seriously but perhaps that’s the point. He didn’t think anyone was taking what he thinks seriously, or he didn’t want to reveal how seriously he took it. What struck me in this recent interview is that the story of getting the role in North and South shifted slightly so that it emphaised how much he wanted the role and his active agency in obtaining it. I don’t recall him every articulating so clearly that this was something that he passionately wanted from the first moment he learned about the story, and I don’t recall him ever saying that he himself sought to convince the casting team that he was the right person. To me he’s getting more comfortable with saying “I want this”.

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    • This piece by a blogger who’s since retired might interest you:

      http://spooksfanblog.com/2010/10/11/richard-armitage-and-the-character-of-desire/

      He did say that he wanted the role badly but thought he wouldn’t get it, iirc twice. However, I agree that what is new is his statement about “convincing” the casting team — we’ve never heard that before. The casting team said something like “he was the first and the last person we saw,” implying that they’d sort of forgotten him until they’d cast everyone else.

      If he is more comfortable expressing wanting things, I’d like to attribute that to living in the U.S., where the cultural pressure against admitting your desires is qualitatively different than in the UK.

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      • Thanks for the link. It is a perceptive piece. I agree that watching these men so strong desire a woman is part of the puzzle. But I think you that what really makes Thornton (and to some extend also Gisbourne and John) really appealing is that various tensions are laid on top of this singular desire. As you note in your post Thornton knows that he is barely socially acceptable to the Hales because he lacks the education, taste and social manners of a true gentleman, and thus he constantly tells his sister and mother that he does not desire Margaret. Despite these outward denials he continues to kindle an inward desire which we constantly see peaking through. Thornton constantly deprives himself (rest, luxuries etc) and yet he cannot deny himself this. I think you are spot on when you suggest the viewer is invited to give him what he desperately wants but can barely admit even to himself.

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  5. 🙂 The Authoress don’t likes compliments so..” pretty please Richard , be hard to grasp”

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  6. Very interesting analogy. I don’t think we’ll ever know who he really is because keeping that to himself is his strength (as a person). He is an actor because he can be whomever he wants to be. Either Thornton was someone whose personality is like his own or it’s one he would like to have. I’ve never analyzed, read, watched so much about one actor in my life. I just think they are good, good looking and put them on my list of favorites. Richard Armitage is young enough to be my son, so at the same time I see him very handsome and thrilling as a man (I’m not that old yet, or dead), I also think of him as a child, learning, surprised as the reaction of those around him, etc. I can imagine him as a gangly teenager who probably isn’t the school heart throb, maybe even “geeky”..I did hear him once say something about “growing into his nose”. I’m also a teacher and I see gangly teenage boys all of the time and watch them grow into very handsome men. So, my reaction to him has become interesting to me, because the more I watch him, the more I see a young man “growing up”.. Yikes! I’m becoming his Mother!!!!

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    • We don’t know who the people around us really are; there are just even more and greater perceptive obstacles to understanding Armitage. I don’t know that he’s like Thornton, though; he said conflicting things about that at the time, at one point saying, there’s a good piece of me in him, at another time saying they weren’t much alike.

      I happen to be roughly his age but he has a lot of fans who are presumably his mother’s age, too — and I think the impulse to mother isn’t limited to that group. I wouldn’t describe my primary reaction to him as motherly, but he does bring out protective impulses and I am not a very motherly person. He just calls out so *many* emotions.

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  7. Snogging melons? Whaa????? Ok. I’ll let that go for now.

    The bit that has stuck in my head was he started saying something about Austen’s male characters being two-dimensional and aspirational. Then changed course and agreed with the interviewer that Austen and Glaskell really understood the 19th cent male mind. Hmmmm….

    The interviewer let some really good follow up questions go, esp about the Lecoq school . She needs to relax. listen more, talk less, let the conversation go instead of trying to get in her questions. And ditch the jangly bracelets. They jingle and are extremely distracting.

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    • yes, that statement about male characters was a bit funny — I didn’t write about it because I couldn’t decided between the explanations that occurred to me.

      Absolutely on both the bracelet and the questions, but it’s a beginner’s mistake. You’ve got your list of things you want to get through, think you have to get through. (It’s similar in classrooms — you start off feeling you have to make it through your plan for the class and as time goes on you become more comfortable with the class steering itself, realizing that learning will happen either way.)

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      • Love to hear your thoughts on his thoughts on 19th cent male characters. That was a bit of a brain tease…

        I also thought it was interesting that when he was answering her questions he didn’t make eye contact. He was looking down and away. Then would pop up at look at her or ham it up for the camera a bit.

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        • In western culture, normal eye contact for a speaker is 38-41% and 62-75% for the listener. When these percentages are reversed, conversation becomes awkward- one of the common problems for people who struggle with eye contact is that they over compensate which then makes the listener uncomfortable. Visual dominance for the speaker can also be an intentional ploy to dominate. Speakers adjust their gaze so they are unfocused in order to access memory and look at their listener to indicate they would like a response. As 3rd party observers, we don’t see the interaction in the same way as the interviewer does- IMO RA does pretty well in the eye contact stakes and it’s one of the reasons virtually everyone who has ever conversed with him seems to warm to him.

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        • he has a kind of mannerism — this was evident in the live Hobbit event in Nov, I think, too, where when he’s finished what he has to say he looks down.

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    • Oh, and this is now the second reference he’s made to doing commercials / commercial castings in the early 1990s. I wonder if anyone’s scouring British tv commercials looking for him? They don’t appear on either of his public CVs.

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  8. Hi Servetus, have you ever thought about his Mbti type (I saw somewhere that you know about this tool)?

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    • yeah, I’ve thought about it, but I’m hesitant as an amateur to use a professional tool on someone who’s not here to answer for himself. I think about the MBTI types a lot, though — they are a useful pattern recognition tool in my life, especially for figuring out interactions.

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      • yeah, i feel hesitant too and yet i couldn’t resist anymore after getting into the mbit more. but i always keep in mind that i might be wrong. it’s just that as a selftyped infj i analyse people anyways and mbti gives me the grid i was always looking for. it’s not easy though in the beginning, i had to get a feel for the different types, mostly through people i know, youtube and forums where one has to differentiate between correct and mistyped persons and maybe find their real type, if given enough valuable material. i also read a lot of type descriptions. without all that i thought i couldn’t even try to type people who are less obvious.
        i found that i’m most afraid of typing people i like. so i’m really careful when doing it and i take my time, it’s actually quite exhausting to get a feel for the types of a specific. it scares me even more when i come to the conclusion that they are a type i generally like (only because i generally dislike a type doesn’t mean i can like certain people of that type) because i’m asking myself if i’m biased but i haven’t found yet that i am ;). my biggest fear about typing is that i mistype a person who has developed into a mature person or adapted to the mbti types around him/her and therefore wouldn’t only show behaviours of her own type but of other ones too.
        so with all that concern ahead i allowed myself to type mr. armitage, finally. i put it off for a long time since he’s the actor who had the biggest fangirl impact on me yet. and it’s not even that i like him so much, the impact came from the fact that i saw myself in gisborne’s eyes and it was pretty eery since that never happened to me before.

        ok, here it comes, i think armitage is an infj. it explains a lot to me and why i draw a lot from my own experience when i watch him doing anything: the reason why he seems intelligent but not brainy, why he delivers the emotion so beautifully and yet doesn’t get how he comes across sometimes (gisborne, thornton), why i think i know how he feels when i see his eyes cast down in interviews and what kind of thoughts shoot through his head, his chamaeleon ability, his evident discomfort & guardedness in public and now the mastering of being more relaxed (but i’m sure it’s still difficult and still drains him at least sometimes), his genuine care for people in need, the dorkiness & enthusiasm mingled with a darker/sarcastic/ironic tone, his puzzlement about red carpet events,…and his uniqueness among other actors for apparently a lot of fangirls by now. and a lot more details.

        i think seeing armitage play gisborne was the effect infj’s experience when they find out who they are in mbti, even if it was just recognising another infj playing a character. i think i found mbti after i found armitage, so i experienced it veiled but the feeling was yet strong. heck, he drew me with the one over the shoulder glance from the first hobbit trailer into raddiction.

        i hope i’m not wrong.

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        • Hmm — I’m an INFJ, too (I’ve been typed professionally 3 times, and it’s a pretty sophisticated thing to do, one wants to have a professional doing it), and I’ve never thought he was an INFJ, but I haven’t really made a study of him in all that much detail. There was a post about Mr. Thornton a while back on tumblr that made Thornton into an INTP (iirc) which I thought was interesting … and there have been some fans speculating in comments here off and on whether INFJ is a prominent type in the fan community (although INFJs are relatively rare).

          I think it’s quite interesting to speculate about his psychology; a lot of people have done it over the years — but I think it’s hard to do it on the basis of the evidence we get since he is always performing in some way or another.

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          • I’m an INFJ too! Had to do the test for work a few years ago. Apparently it’s quite a rare type.

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            • one meets a lot of them in this fandom. (?)

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            • well perhaps the answer re: RA’s type is whoever INFJ’s are most attracted it 😉 I have no idea as the framework has never felt that compelling to me.

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              • Possibly 🙂 I’ve been typed so many times because of questions about vocational direction — I think it can be really useful in the workplace. But as stated i don’t believe it describes something objectively real. Then I don’t believe in objective reality, anyway, so I’m prejudiced 🙂

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                • Honestly I’m prejudiced against it because the only people I know who openly talk about their type use it to excuse their own poor habits. I have a colleague that is usually nice to me but chronically abrasive and abrupt with others. When confronted about this she recounts her ‘type’. I have a second colleague who is chronically disorganized and rarely follows through, and again the consistent excuse it “I’m an ENFP” – I can see that it could be used in the workplace to help you identify weaknesses that you can work on but I’m yet to see it used that way.

                  Similar to you I think the world is so infinitely complex any framework for understanding it will always be partial and thus a construction.

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                  • So you’re with Alyssa. I think sometimes managers use it to help figure out ways around conflicts between people who must work together on teams.

                    I suppose I use it in that way, though. I just don’t tell people about it. I would never say, “because I am an INFJ I am not coming to this optional evening social event for the department.” But I definitely would think something along the lines of how my own needs require that I skip extra social events outside of work hours or command performances if at all possible. I probably wouldn’t have understood that so fully without the MBTI. I’d have thought, uch, I need to do what these people want me to do, even though it will make me tired, stressed, and unhappy, because the request is not unreasonable, and “normal” people can do this without any trouble. It’s definitely a defensive tool in that sense.

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                    • Yea I think Alyssa hits the nail on the head. Can one have mbi dysphoria? I force myself to go to all the extra social events my work demands not because of others’ expectations but because I want to enjoy these activities. But like you I find them intensely draining.

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                    • I’d like to, as well. But as I grow older I am less and less optimistic that I will. It doesn’t mean I never go to evening events, but it means that I have become self-protective and choosey. I will go to support a close friend’s project, for instance, or to show hospitality to a visiting job candidate. I justify the decision to stay away in terms of being able to work better and to be more “there” for my students and my research, and I think that’s not wrong — I have to have priorities in a job that will take every waking second if I let it. In a way, my awareness of what the MBTI says about my personality allows me to defend myself against the demands of what was an overgrown superego that would have demanded I be there for others, and also against the kind of cultural demands that life in a capitalist society (in which we should give our entire selves to the pursuit of surplus alue) makes. Perhaps some people perceive that as laziness, but I’m probably past caring what they think.

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                    • @bollyknickers. I’ve always found the BFI useless for predicting how people will react in the workplace. A few years ago I was forced to use it to assign people to project teams and I found it really unhelpful. Then we hired an org psych expert with a PhD who told use that actually mbi is strongly criticized in the currently literature and that the Big Five Personality Test would be much more effective. I’m was DEEPLY skeptical but it was very, very strongly predictive. Among other things it measures neuroticism and agreeableness, two things that really strongly affect how someone preforms in the workplace.

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                    • @servetus – Indeed you work in a profession that asks you to think of yourself and your work as the same thing. Makes it very challenging to keep a clear sense of ones feelings/priorities beyond work.

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                    • I attended one lecture during my psych degree on the MBTI – i confess i didn’t take much interest because organisational psych didn’t float my boat and i naively thought i would never use it – as it is, i work for a large organisation and recruit around 100 people a year, and train them, and manage them… When we recruit, we have to justify our decisions by way of a questionnaire but time and time again, my colleague and I find our ‘gut’ scores differently to the questionnaire. And time and time again, we’ve been proven right – the difficult person who we KNEW was going to be high maintenance but couldn’t turn down based on their test results. And also the person who got through on a wild card because both of us thought they were really good, despite a low test score, who turns out to be an absolute gem.

                      But whilst i don’t have much time for MBTI, i have a friend who is ASD with severe facial blindness (i’ve known her 8 years and i have to introduce myself if i change my hairstyle and she once left her baby at a creche and then didn’t recognise him because he had been sick and they had changed his clothes) who types everyone. For her it is a way of understanding people because she can’t rely on the things i use, like intuition, body language and micro expressions. It seems to work for her – she can make sense of the social world and functions well within it. i can be ranting about someone’s poor behaviour and she will patiently tell me it’s about their personality type and i shouldn’t take it personally, which is a really fair point. She tells me i’m a INFP, whatever that means…*

                      *No – please don’t tell me. I don’t care.

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                    • I think I’m starting to get that what you and Missey object to is the use of MBTI as an ideology that doesn’t permit of outlying data. I would agree with that. I also would argue that that’s a misuse of the tool (a bit like people in the US using BMI as a measure of physical health). It’s not supposed to explain every single interaction or manifestation of personality. When I’ve been typed, it was always at the suggestion of a career counselor or a therapist, i.e., in response to a specific problem articulated by me, they were trying to get a portrait of certain aspects of my personality; and when we discussed the results in therapy, the emphasis was on active interaction with the results (how is the J inhibiting me, for instance, something I talked about a lot in 2009). It gives the reader additional information and perspective on the information that one already has; it’s not supposed to supersede processing of perception via professional experience. I would argue that no psychological test should do that.

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                    • I guess you’re right that my problem with the mbi does fall into the category of not dealing with outlying data. I wasn’t thinking about the issue of professional judgement, though I completely agree with *bollyknickers’s point. What I learned from the org psych is that there are lots of different personality tests and they aren’t all equally suitable for a particular challenge (e.g. choosing a career, assigning teams). The mbi appears to be used by some people as if it is a tool that explains everything, a bit like the BMI. *

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        • i.e., we’re always observing behaviors — we’re not really observing states of mind directly, and the connections are not always clear or direct.

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          • Based on your writing I would’ve thought you’re an introverted intuitive, not infp though, rather intp or maybe infj, but that’s hard to determine only from text, I prefer video for that matter. I hope you agree with your test results because I wouldn’t be surprised if you were an intp and I’ve read that misstyping can do damage. No offence. I wouldn’t dare doubting your test results – especially professional ones and in public – if I wouldn’t have a strong enough inkling and I think my best friend is an intp too, have to tell her yet but am still constructing and putting off the mbti assault 😉 but she knows I’m onto something in that direction. My thoughts are meant in the most caring way possible, I just thought it would be wrong not to speak about my observations, again, no offence, I don’t mean to be intrusive.
            I think I “subconsciously” always knew which traits are most dominant in me but wouldn’t accept them, so that’s how knowing my type is helping me. I look at type rather as a clarifier than as a guideline. I just have observed that correct typing is like puzzle pieces falling in the right places, relief is felt about new found understanding and that’s why I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, I wanna understand people, including myself.

            When I get the chance I’ll definitively get tested to confirm my musings or get totally shocked to be another type, which wouldn’t make sense to me, I’ve been going through some missconceptions I had about myself and don’t find myself in any other type more than in infj, the match is almost scary.

            I always find it a bit useless, dangerous and frustrating to type fictional characters, especially when their type is portrayed by an actor of a possibly different type. And who guarantees me that those characters show patterns of one type consistently and are those patterns especially strong for that character or just there? I think I often see when patterns are strung together just for the sake of matching them to a type without considering the importance of the individual pattern and the overall network of patterns. In my mind I can construct characters that wouldn’t work psychologically in real life, so I’m very sceptical of such discussions, even if I can see where the intp for Thornton is coming from and why it is interesting. Even if intp for Thornton looks plausible to me – without further analysis about it – I can’t help but notice the difference between an intp and Armitage’s type, whatever that might be. I’ve noticed that with every actor I’ve watched more closely, especially after watching them as person in interviews or anything public – where they already conceil part of themselves and yet can’t help but be themselves while doing it – I still see that real person pretending to be another person while acting. Looking at Armitage it becomes pretty surreal because he’s good at portraying the nuances of other people and only looking at his portrayal really makes him look like a chamaeleon, yet when I change levels I still see Armitage the person channeling and amplifying different sides of himself, even if he would never use them as Armitage. Or that’s how I believe it to be ‘^^.

            I’ve seen that infjs like intps (thornton?) and other infjs (armitage?), so I’d not be surprised if a majority of fans were infjs. I’ve run out of energy to explain this further right now ‘^^. Rarety is not an argument if he is an “infj magnet” *smirks*.

            Agreed, we’ll never see an actor’s completely private face, yet I don’t believe that they want and can hide their personality so completely that I can’t get to conclusions if I look close enough, except the actor purposefully wants to deceive the public audience, then I’d be pretty confused about his personality I think but Armitage always struck me pretty honest about some questions, the relevant ones, whatever I believe to be relevant *lol*. And since he provided us with even more evidence lately I’d believe it would be hard to hide his whole personality after the hobbit happened, so many interviews…I see your point and yet I think there’s still a lot to trace back from indirect behaviour. Armitage can drop certain behaviours or facts about himself but looking at what evidence we get, guessing isn’t that far off, at least regarding my perception of the underlying dorkiness. I’ll never really know but judging from my guesses about other people I’ve known my guesses aren’t too bad to roughly know what to expect from a person. At least if I get what the person is about, there are persons I simply don’t get as thoroughly, possibly because I have a hard time to accept their way of thinking. Nevertheless I can’t foresee the decisions of a person, which makes it interesting and surprising again to watch people ;).

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            • No, I said someone speculated that Thornton is an INTP. I am an INFJ. I had the last one not that long ago and they did something slightly different than the previous time, which was tell me the relative weights of the individual types. I’m more introverted than I realized 🙂 The main result that had for me was that I felt free to accept my need for solitude.

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              • discussing or speculating about fictional type, i’m still sceptical about the value of it. that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun to do, i just don’t take it too seriously.
                yay for infj solitude and accepting it, had the same problem!
                thank you for bearing me.

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                • I don’t see the point in doing it for a fictional character, though I thought the thought itself was interesting. For me it’s mostly a means to understanding my own stuff, and to some extent, if I know someone else’s type, to think about more effective ways for steering interactions. I have a problem with psychological theories that are used to explain everything.

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                  • I think most people use it like you (and I) do, which is great. I don’t think Mbti explains everything if you meant that. It’s simply not possible; yet I find it fascinating that we have abstract behaviour patterns which we follow more often than we often realise. There is still plenty of room for unique personality traits and behaviours I guess.

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            • I didn’t find this comment intrusive in any way, by the way.

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              • 🙂

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              • I always feel such a complicated blend of reactions when conversations like this happen around me. I’ve never been accurately “typed” and I have a great deal of skepticism about the very concept, but other people seem to get *so much* out of it, both in understanding themselves better and in dealing with others. Part of me is jealous of that certitude, and part of me is just stuck with eyebrows permanently raised. Two of my best friends in the whole world will slip mentions of their type into conversation as a functional shorthand of an explanation for why they just did or said something in particular. It always leaves me feeling a few steps behind.

                I think maybe I’m not sure where the line is between using information like one’s type in a way that is helpful (like allowing yourself more alone time instead of pushing yourself to be detrimentally social as an introvert,) and using it to let yourself be lazy about just going off of type instead of learning each person you meet as a unique entity with requirements that will be different from anyone else’s. It might be especially tempting to type a person you’ll never meet (like a celebrity) and feel like you know more about them than you do based on those assumptions.

                (I’m just musing here, not assigning value judgments to anyone’s preference for using personality type indicators or not.)

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                • I think we have a hard time, from outside, knowing whether someone is being lazy — that’s my first response. What seems to me like it could be laziness in someone else is true struggle or incapacity for them. On the whole, people only change if they want to change, and I think I have to leave that up to them. I always think understanding oneself better and more accurately is a good thing. Do people sometimes use that knowledge poorly or as an excuse? No doubt. But my view of what helps or doesn’t help them understand themselves isn’t going to change their behavior.

                  Second response — In my own case, my mother thought of me as a shy child, and she related this to her own experience, in which her inability to make friends easily caused a decisive turn in her life that she was always ambivalent about. (Note — introversion is not the same as shyness, but it’s easy to make that confusion; she did and she pushed it onto me.) That diagnosis on her part resulted in a very concentrated effort to make me “not shy.” Years of pushing me into unfamiliar situations, sleep away camp, all kinds of activities to “get me over that” and make me gregarious, outgoing, friendly, easy to make friends with, etc. I have, as a result, learned the behaviors of an extrovert and function well in situations that demand those behaviors and until about three years ago, most people who knew me thought I was extroverted because I thought I had to hide my introverted traits. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, except that the cost to me, and my creativity, was severe. Knowing that some of my reactive behaviors are the coping mechanisms of an introvert has been helpful to me in judging myself more compassionately.

                  Thirdly — in my opinion, none of these systems are real. If we want to go back to Freudian theory — the superego is not a real thing that we can touch. It’s a tool for understanding oneself and for explaining why certain kinds of behaviors occur. They’re all about pattern recognition — they all have capacities to make us understand the world better, but they also all have the possibility to be misused if they are turned into iron ideologies that have to explain every moment of human behavior. But that doesn’t distinguish them from any other kind of knowledge. No theory explains everything. I’m for finding the ones that are useful to one and using them creatively to change one’s life — but this is only something that can be done by those who seek change in the first place.

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                  • Me not being accustomed to meeting new people when I was very young, being choosy and careful has been labeled shy too. Part of me believed it and the other part never saw how I was like other shy people. Yet your story sounds way worse. Draining.

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                • The other thing is that this whole blog is an exercise in extrapolating information that pleases me as the author based on unrepresentative data sets. That’s one of the key features of fantasy. *Of course* I think I know Richard Armitage better than I actually do. Probably every fan does. If that thought experiment is off the table, I can close up shop now. This whole blog is about fantasy and the legitimacy of fantasy as a means of self-exploration. I personally choose not to explore what I can know about Richard Armitage via MBTI typing because I find the topic too complicated to write about based on what I know (and am willing to spend time) learning about. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t. He’s not reading this, anyway, so the risk that he could somehow be hurt by fans’ amateur MBTI typing of him is IMO relatively low.

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                  • I’m not suggesting that the danger of trying to understand other people via typing models like MBTI really lies in hurting them, but rather in limiting one’s viewpoint or aim in a way that prevents deeper insight. I don’t think anyone would accuse you of failing to look closer or more carefully at your subject. 😉

                    And I’m definitely not saying we shouldn’t fantasize. Nooooooooooo. I’m all about that.

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                    • snort :)lmao!

                      Every theory, method, discipline, prioritizes some information and some ways of looking at the expense of others. I think it’s only a problem for analysis if we embrace one theory to the exclusion of all others and/or insist that others must do so as well.

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                    • For instance, someone posted a palm reading of Armitage over the weekend. It’s not a theory about that has a huge amount of appeal to me or that has ever convinced me — but presumably most people who use that theory and are convinced by it aren’t basing all of their knowledge of or forecasts for the future of Richard Armitage based on 2.5 minutes of rather breezy advice from an unfocused picture of his palm that was done without his knowledge or permission. There are plenty of reasons to find the whole affair questionable, but still, I can’t imagine it interferes significantly with anyone’s insight about Armitage.

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                    • I’m one of those big grumpy skeptics. As I said, I’ve never been correctly MBTI typed, not for lack of a professional trying, so it’s in the same category for me as any other kind of personality indicator whose mechanisms cannot be proven accurate. (Astrology, palm reading, etc.) I’m just a fun-killer standing off to the side looking annoyed while all the people willing to have a little faith are enjoying their insights. Don’t mind me.

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                    • mind you? I like you. 🙂

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                    • FWIW I feel similarly about “twelve stepping.” So many people get so much out of it — it’s never helped anyone I knew in any significant way, and I think it’s because at least one of the fundamental principles is really questionable. But hey, whatever …

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                    • Mmm. I’m in that boat with Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Recovery program. I know it has helped a number of people and I do not begrudge them the benefits they are able to reap, but I personally found many of the ideas behind it to be questionable. (Actually, more than questionable; I quit the process in a towering rage upon coming to a particular chapter.)

                      But that’s technically another “twelve step,” isn’t it?

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                    • Interesting — I do the Cameron morning pages all the time still, but that’s all the further I ever got in The Artist’s Way — I guess it was all I needed. I haven’t even read the rest of the book.

                      We’re all just looking for the thing that moves us onward, I am sure.

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                    • Yes. I kept the morning pages habit. There was a real benefit to be had from that, in a way that I am easily able to observe. There are a few other ideas that stayed with me and have helped, too. And it did give me what I needed at the time, which was a way forward out of darkness. It just didn’t do it in the way the author intended.

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                    • alyssabethancourt, I wouldn’t use Mbti if it wouldn’t give me orientation, so I don’t think you or anybody else has to but I guess it’s hard to just ignore it when many others praise it.
                      I won’t let Mbti limit me, it’s like sunglasses which I can use when I prefer ;). As long as I’m not relying on Mbti I’m not afraid of using it, it’s just a cloud floating around in my head with not too much definition but enough to understand me and other people.
                      I also don’t get when people talk about which function(s) they just used, it’s useless to me.

                      Actually, I didn’t plan on typing Armitage (or some other people I typed), sometimes it’s more like getting an inkling of what type someone might be out of the blue (before that moment happens I’m sometimes staring at a blank wall so to speak) and then I go back and look at which facts about him might be important to determine his type (not THE type I’m thinking about) and hopefully I was right, else I’d check all the other types. Sometimes I come to no conclusion or change my mind because I think I was wrong or/and had not enough information (i.e. preferably experiencing the person in real life or on video, plus some facts) and that is fine too.

                      I’m sorry when I come across as too certain (I’ve been told I do sometimes but I’ve also been told the opposite), I mainly refer it to the fact that it’s too complicated to always explain all the little uncertainties one has to consider so I tend to swing to a more extreme matter of factly kind of speech because I’m impatient to use careful long-winded wording and I lazily assume others will know what I know *looks innocently at the ceiling* and wouldn’t want to listen to my longish explanations anyways which was often the case.

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  9. 2 errors in this part slipped me (and another one i won’t correct and possibly more i’m not aware of ;)):
    it’s actually quite exhausting to get a feel for the type of a specific person. it scares me even more when i come to the conclusion that they are a type i generally like (only because i generally dislike a type doesn’t mean i can’t like certain people of that type)

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  10. Thanks. It is a perceptive piece. I agree that watching these men so strong desire a woman is part of the puzzle. But I think you that what really makes Thornton (and to some extend also Gisbourne and John) really appealing is that various tensions are laid on top of this singular desire. As you note in your post Thornton knows that he is barely socially acceptable to the Hales because he lacks the education, taste and social manners of a true gentleman, and thus he constantly tells his sister and mother that he does not desire Margaret. Despite these outward denials he continues to kindle an inward desire which we constantly see peaking through. Thornton constantly deprives himself (rest, luxuries etc) and yet he cannot deny himself this. I think you are spot on when you suggest the viewer is invited to give him what he desperately wants but can barely admit even to himself.

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    • Yes — I agree that the category of desire is a broader thing than the post indicated, i.e., desire is about more than sex or romance or a romantic object. This has been a matter of a little contention within the fandom — and I think the personal lessons I took from it because of the way Armitage continually plays this issue both in characters and personally have been really illuminating.

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  11. I felt bad when he mentioned he’d probably make a fool of himself on social media “being political or trying to be funny.” I wonder if he’s referring to the reaction of some to that recent article where he discussed gun control, British politics, etc. Did it come back to bite him in the arsitage?

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