Abandoning role agnosticism, or: In praise of Armitage human

Richard Armitage as Chop in Urban and the Shed Crew — as Chop has descended into addiction.

What roles should Richard Armitage be pursuing? I have typically said: “On principle, I don’t know.”

I try to remain agnostic as to role choice, apart from believing that Armitage is at his best on stage and preferring live action of any kind to voice acting, narrations or voiceovers. But I lack data. I don’t get to see what he throws his hat in the ring for, what he’s offered and turns down, or what he gets offered but can’t make work. I’ve stayed out of the frequent debates over whether his agent(s) represent him effectively for the same reason. I figure they have more information than we do, he has more information than we do, and Armitage is the best person to say what he wants. Moreover I don’t enjoy pining for a particular prospective role; I find both doing it and reading about it exhausting and aggravating. I was really invested this spring in following the course of the announced stage appearance, and on edge because the scheduling would have been hard to manage for me and expensive given the time-frame for decision-making, and then crushed when it didn’t materialize after all. Now, of course, we know that he probably decided to spend the time with his mother, which is what he should have been doing and any of us who’d had the opportunity would have done. And this fact should be a reminder to me that I created the problem of unhappiness for myself by allowing myself to be drawn out of my resolve to be agnostic. I let myself build up too many expectations. So I haven’t published (and won’t) a lot of stuff here about role rumors unless I find the role particuarly interesting, or the rumor seems very solid. It’s often hard to figure out the difference between an actual rumor and wishful thinking propagated by fellow fans. In recompense for trying to keep myself from engaging in wishful thinking, I allow myself the freedom as fan to respond frankly to actual castings and then to the projects as they appear. These approaches make me an uncomfortable fan, both because I don’t share in the camaraderie of speculation, and because my judgments are not comfortable for every reader.

So tonight I’m going to break the first rule about avoiding wishing for anything role-wise, and I’m going to say what I wish Armitage would do.

I want him to play real people.

Richard Armitage as Kenneth in Love, Love, Love: “I’m serious. I want to talk to you. I want you to be honest, this isn’t funny” (p. 83).

I’d been thinking this in fairly vague terms since seeing Love, Love, Love. Kenneth is in many ways a caricature, but there were still “real” moments in that play that spoke to me, particularly his repeated pleas to his wife to be sincere with him. There were moments of genuine pain and desire on Armitage’s face. I thought it would have been no huge step from this role to something like Edward Albee or Tennesee Williams, admittedly not my favorite playwrights, but who wrote plays with a lot of emotional depth and conflict. In contrast, Daniel Miller confused me a bit, insofar as the show builds almost nothing into the character and it’s increasingly hard to sympathize with that nothing after the first season. In season one, we at least knew how he felt about his family and his past (confused, conflicted) and we could ponder his problem of being hunted by his own bosses, but in season two, although it would have been easy to build that in, in terms of showing his relationship to the neo-Nazis he was infiltrating, the showrunners apparently decided not to.

After the second season of Berlin Station, I thought, okay, Castlevania, Wolverine, why not. These genre roles are popular and they let people know who he is. And he does make something out of genre roles; he’s not just a placeholder; he adds value. I think every day about Thorin Oakenshield, and even if I still shudder about Francis Dolarhyde, that only demonstrates that he made an impact on me. If Daniel Miller is what’s on offer — well, genre roles are deeper than that, the aspersion cast at them notwithstanding. And since that’s all the rage right now, building up his geekdom street cred will keep him in work and me seeing him.

But then: Chop.

Richard Armitage as Chop in Urban and the Shed Crew.

I’ve only seen it a few times — I don’t want to keep paying on-demand fees to see it, and Candida Brady has tweeted that a DVD won’t be available until September, which I think given her track record is a somewhat optimistic prediction. I kept pausing it and rewinding it so I could watch certain pieces repeatedly. You could almost call it “not wanting to let it end.” But nonetheless, one thing is clear — Chop is a human, less a caricature than any other character Armitage has played in quite some time. Admittedly, if we look at his indie “lost period” the competition for human verisimilitude isn’t very challenging. Chop is more fully developed than Raymond de Merville (who needed to be shown largely without sympathy to achieve the filmmaker’s propagandistic purpose), Tom Cahalan (who’s trapped as a character between a bad script and the need to play a real person who’s probably hard to talk about honestly), and Scott White (who’s primarily Ahna O’Reilly’s character’s wish fulfillment and not real at all). Chop has a subtle interior life, a conscience that chooses between real alternatives rather simply obeying a genre character’s compulsion, he is mightily flawed, he’s conflicted, he has his own ends rather than serving the ends of other people or the purposes of the story, he goes on a journey, he is often self-contradictory, he changes, wanes, waxes.

Not that some genre characters don’t do some of these things, too — but Chop is more relatable than all of these, as he lives in a world that resembles one I can recognize, one that is not determined by the fantasy lives of its authors or the stylized aestheticism of its own conventions. It is a world that I can move through. Above all, we can imagine a different ending for the human Chop in ways that are impossible for most of the other characters that Armitage has played recently.

Claude Becker (Richard Armitage) and Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) kiss for their lives in Ocean’s 8. One thing you’ve gotta say about Armitage: he always looks like he’s enjoying the heck out of kissing.

Seeing Claude Becker on screen only intensified this desire. Perhaps paradoxically — in that Becker is even slightly of a caricature than Kenneth was, a step backward, so to speak. But he has a real face (although, after several viewings, I’m not convinced he has all of Armitage’s real hair). He wears (except for one or two scenes) real clothing. I can see real wrinkles. He’s not a fully realized person. But he is enough of one that he makes me hungry for more: reality, verisimilitude, humanity. Not a hero, not a villain. A human working through the same problems we all work through. Lucas North, John Porter, John Mulligan, John Standring, and even Tornado Gary had these problems and in different ways, both Chop and Claude Becker reminded me that we used to see Armitage regularly as a normal human and that we used to identify with those characters and their problems.

Armitage said in the Paris interviews recently that when he picks a character he prefers someone much better than him (he said this quite a while ago, too) or worse because people like him are boring. I can’t venture to say whether his self-assessment is true; but I don’t think that real people are boring. I know those multi-faceted dramatic roles are hard to come by and a long stint as a genre character or even a franchise may be necessary for him to obtain possibilities. But I hope, if they come along, he doesn’t reject them only because they aren’t sufficiently heroic or villainous, or because they are too much like him.

Because one thing I do know about real people: their mutability, their indeterminate endings, their sense that their life does not serve only one purpose call forth my emotions and identifications in a way that it’s hard for a genre character to do. This is not to criticize genre characters so much as to point out that one task of drama is to help us deal cathartically with our real lives as they are, not only as they exist in our fantasies. I would welcome it if Armitage were able to return to more of that kind of activity.

~ by Servetus on June 16, 2018.

36 Responses to “Abandoning role agnosticism, or: In praise of Armitage human”

  1. And, of course, IMO the “realest” and most human of all — and the one that came out of nowhere and smacked most of us now long-time fans out of the blue — John Thornton. I will never tire or fail to be moved by him.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I didn’t put him in here because I think a period drama protagonist is challenged on the “real human” front. But I agree there are important similarities.

      Like

  2. Nice piece, Servetus.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Love this piece, Serv.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. An interesting point of view and I agree that “real people” roles will show even more the huge power and palette of his acting. His talent to bring new colors and depth to any character prove that his “boring”, as he says, personality is the infinite visible part of a very rich and deep being. I hope that will have the chance to see him as often as possible and enjoy his unforgettable presence.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s really great food for thought this post. I would wish as a diehard romantic that he
    indeed play a real guy modern maybe set in London non violent, non spy, non military
    that has a happy ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not looking for a happy ending so much as a narrative that has different possible end points. To me, one big issues with genre roles (and Armitage has acknowledged this) is that they have to have predetermined ends: evil is rewarded, good is punished, etc.

      Like

  6. I am fed up with some of the roles he has taken post Hobbit; he seems to have played a lot of caricatures (and shouty dads). IMO he has missed a trick in terms of his talent: one of his strengths lie in showing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
    I would like to see him in a quality, well scripted TV drama with strong characterisation (and no American accent), preferably wearing a cravat!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Part of the problem is that so much TV at the moment is genre TV. There are many more roles than here used to be but there is also so much more predictable stuff.

      Like

  7. He has an uphill battle and kudos to him, and those around him, aiming for a sustainable career. His best work is ahead of him and moving to New York was a smart move.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well said. I think O8 can only be good exposure for him so the more successful it is the better for him in the long term. I’m happy if he is in NYC but I live on the East Coast any any future theatre opportunities would be great there!

      Liked by 3 people

      • The issue with NYC theater is that it will increasingly exclude European fans as it becomes gradually harder to travel into the US (and many people now have ethical reservations about doing so).

        Liked by 1 person

    • I agree that moving to NY was the right decision — by 2010 he’d been in two primetime BBC series and Strike Back, so he’d kind of covered a lot of what TV in the UK had to offer. I’ve been less sanguine about what he actually got from NYC, except, of course, Love, Love, Love, which is important. I hope you’re right that his best work is ahead of him, but to be honest, at the moment, I’m enjoying his pre-2010 stuff a lot more than most of what he’s done since then except Thorin.

      Like

      • Ahh Thorin! Do you think he has peaked as
        Thorin and now he’s sort of ebbing along like w Audible which my guess has a smaller audience base as well as independent projects like My Zoe or hopefully that leap into the next
        stratosphere of Big roles is on the horizon?
        As an aside this is he or isn’t he in BS 3 is just perplexing since he is supposed to be the lead in it right?

        Like

        • I hope he hasn’t peaked as Thorin. I wonder if he’s suffering at all from the calendar issues — the big budget projects have very inflexible schedules and the indie stuff he seems to be inclined to do are very erratic. I honestly wonder if he gave up something for My Zoe, as it seemed to keep being delayed.

          re: BS3 — what’s bizarre is no press release from EPIX.

          Like

  8. I love this, Servetus – he so excels with complex characterization that I think we who watch him closely can’t help but feel a certain sense of waste whenever this is absent (i.e. Claude, Daniel)…. although O8 is basically a light-hearted romp & I had no expectation of anything more profound than wall action w/Anne H lol.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I am planning to see Ocean’s 8 this week and expect a light-hearted romp any A Lister could manage lol
      Somehow I always want more from RA

      Liked by 3 people

    • As frivolous as Claude is it’s infinitely preferable to me to either Wolverine or Hannibal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didnt’ listen to Wolverine, just not my cup of tea but Hannibal I have to say was just brilliant. He made the character of Francis so complex. I felt both empathy for him and physical longing with his scenes with Reba where he was tender and romantic in odd ways (ie the tiger scene). Maybe the intensity of the role and how he played Francis got me hooked. But the series on the whole was very macabre and disturbing to say the least.

        Like

        • It’s not a question of whether he can do something well. It’s that if he starts down the path of doing mostly genre roles he will be considered a genre actor. It’s a bit like how they always cast eastern Europeans as vampires in US film. If he wants to be able to do naturalistic roles in future he needs to keep his hand in.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes quite true but I don’t know if he can have his cake and eat it too- widen his scope for more well known directors/films and also do indie films and eventually produce his own. I know this has been brought up here a few times –is that the fault of his agent(s) not finding heady roles for him or he’s picking and choosing projects based on content/personal preferences. My Zoe was so up in the air for quite awhile bec of financing issues that maybe 2-3 other projects could have flown by him. Do you think he wants to become a Clooney or Pitt type of star or just work steadily?

            Like

            • Stipulated that we don’t know what’s on offer, and also that there’s always the problem of having to get roles in order to get them. I think for him, anyway, he wants to keep working (at all costs) and will do genre roles if that’s what’s on offer. The strategy common in Hollywood is that you do those big projects (franchises) to have the freedom pursue the creative work you enjoy (more). It’s just that if he only does the genre work, it ends up undercutting itself as a strategy if he doesn’t get to do projects that feed his creative side more fully. It seems like in the absence of projects currently (and maybe also conditioned by uncertainty about his mother’s end of life) he’s decided to fill the time with audiobooks. I just hope he doesn’t see that as a career goal.

              re: what he wants, I don’t think he would want to be Clooney / Pitt (and realistically speaking, if he did, it’s too late to follow that path), but I wonder if there were a particular role on offer, he wouldn’t take it and damn the consequences. There have been Bond discussions in the fandom for years (first he said he’d want to be a Bond villain, later there were some indications that maybe he’d want to be Bond), and my position has always been that if the attention that came from The Hobbit bothered him, Bond is an entirely different category.

              Generalizing — given that he didn’t enter the profession out of a desire for notoriety, I’d assume his priority is to do work he wants to do. The question is the tradeoff for getting to do that, whether it’s worth it, and whether it ends up being realized (do the sacrifices generate the outcome?).

              Liked by 1 person

              • Yeah, or even using a Batman or Wolverine franchise as a launching pad to producing his own stuff but then again is that trade-off worth it as well? There are sooo many competing British actors these days for it seems minimal quality roles that going the franchise route such as Jackman did or Craig did would garner more attention and lead to more freedom to do what he really wants. It worked for Jackman sort of. Maybe Cumberbatch or Hiddleston are better examples.

                Like

                • I think it’s kind of hard to generalize (arguably Cumberbatch got the franchise opportunities after Sherlock, for instance, so a hit TV series could do it as well, and Cumberbatch also gets plenty of juice “normal” roles on offer).

                  Like

      • I enjoy the light-hearted very much for a change, just as I love his turn as Harry the accountant (though it isn’t one of his roles that moves me most). I actually liked the Wolverine audio series because I like that character & what he brought to it (as I also really liked the darker Batman incarnation that Christian Bale began & I think RA would have carried on so very well). I was really surprised to find myself agreeing that Dolarhyde was such a standout performance for him (though certain scenes I don’t feel the need at this point to keep my eyes open for!)
        I think something in him was perhaps born to plumb the depths (exhibit A: ambition to produce Bridget Cleary!?!), and while at times we all struggle to go there too, it doesn’t change that he can do this type of character perhaps better than anyone out there. (In my unbiased opinion :D)

        Like

        • I guess there’s probably a fundamental question here in how one sees genre characters. Francis Dolarhyde is maybe the best of the options he’s had, or maybe he brought more to that role. But to me, they’re basically all variations on Guy, some more sophisticated, some less. (He didn’t do anything to make me interested in the Wolverine character, but that’s because of the script. I have no idea who the character is except that he screams and is inexplicably violent.) The problem is that their ends are pre-ordained. They play stock roles. As Armitage said, it’s a certain kind of drama, Guy is evil and he must be punished. There’s a certain amount of variation within that, but the end is always known and always the same.

          If he wants to plumb the depths, that would be fine with me, even though I believe strongly that there are numerous ways to do that don’t involve the violent, gory murder of women — but he doesn’t need to pick a genre character to do that. There are plenty of nasty, tortured, troubled real people out there, too — who are given more options in a script than a comicbook villain. John Porter was troubled too: but he was also real.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, and I still find John Porter a very compelling character (besides being incredibly sexy 🙂). And true, it’s more intriguing NOT to know the end from the beginning.

            Liked by 1 person

            • It requires, too, putting the characters in a situation where good and evil are not so incredibly clear. (Black Panther is the only superhero film I’ve seen that has exploded these categories.) Porter had real moral dilemmas — save a child or save his friend. Save an individual fellow SAS man or serve his country’s interests. Dolarhyde isn’t confronted with equivalent possibilities. He has dilemmas (resist his compulsion / illness or not), but it’s not a moral dilemma in the same way because the “goods” involved are not remotely comparable. So I suppose it’s heroic that Dolarhyde chooses destruction when he finds he can’t shake off his delusions, but it’s fairly predictable.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m also in the camp that I would enjoy seeing him in a different type of role than he has recently played (exception to that: I liked him in Ocean’s 8, but I enjoy movies as mindless entertainment so I wasn’t looking for great drama in that role). But I wonder if you hit the nail on the head, Serv? Is he just not being offered better choices? Maybe he accepts the best of a bad lot? And I’m not sure if that is his fault or the fault of some agent, but here we are. Maybe our expectations are too unrealistic? (not in regards to his acting, I think he’s a great actor, but in the casting process in the industry)

    Like

    • I’m sure he’s not turning down stuff that is genuinely good. I wonder which stuff he turns down that is as good as what he’s taking, if that makes any sense. I hope he’s not picking these genre roles in preference to stuff that has more subtlety to it but less exposure. But yeah, we don’t know what he’s being offered.

      Like

  10. Yes, I can very much subscribe to this!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. i prefer when he plays complex roles, men with worries, problems,dark secrets, etc. I really am not keen on fluffy roles like Harry for Vicar of Dibley.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
%d bloggers like this: