Only to herald thee into his sight […] Not pay thee #richardarmitage

Richard Armitage, backstage photo before the first scene of Macbeth, presumably sometime between November 1999 and June 25, 2000 (the DVD was made in 2001). Tweeted by Robert Whitelock on July 21, 2016.

[Finally, some writing about Richard Armitage! Thanks for your patience.]

When this picture appeared in July, I was at the end of my rope and it saved the day. Not just because of the visual combination of my favorites (cigarette, beard, dirt on the face, and those spectacular thumbs) or even the expression on his face. It’s a bit of an “Armitage in the wild” photo, but that’s not the whole story, either. The relationship to youth gets me in these photos every time, and each one we’re given adds a new facet to the picture.

Armitage’s youth and early career continue to fascinate me; it’s the part of his biography that interests me most, perhaps because it’s the hardest to grasp, or the most vulnerable? A few years ago, we saw a picture from his immediate post-LAMDA days, one that moved me because of the air of ambition and capability, perhaps with just a touch of silliness, that wafted from it. In this photo, he’s probably twenty-eight.

What is it about that smirk on the left side of his face, the weird stage eyebrows painted on above his own, that exaggerate his raised forehead so, the clumsy asymmetry of his hair that foils any attempt to look rakish? The huge, clumsy eyebrows are endearing, too — did he do his own makeup at this stage? And yet, somehow, he still looks just a bit as if he’s about to pull a trick on someone. I try to build a story around the picture, keeping in mind that in the late 1990s one still had to remember to bring one’s camera in order to take pictures, as the first (Korean) camera phone was still a year or so off. What made it worthwhile for Whitelaw to have his camera along, to snap a picture? Was he documenting an occasion or something routine? Is this just cigarette to keep him occupied, as we’ve seen before? Is this a signal of bravado before an early performance? Made up and ready to go, is Armitage about to go outside to smoke a cigarette to calm his nerves? Or is this a later performance, and the thumbs are ironic, as relatively little rides on Angus (the juxtaposition to the actor looking at himself in the mirror is interesting in this regard? Is this backstage in England? In Japan? Or the U.S.? Is he making fun? Or is this a return to backstage after the first scene, giving him time to smoke in the interval before his next appearance?

It’s a subtle note, a mere undertone, but to me, anyway, this “young” photo, tweeted by a fellow actor who not unlike Armitage did a stint at the RSC in several minor roles, speaks to something mildly transgressive about the routines of that life stage. (Admittedly that’s part of the appeal of the cigarette for me, too.) As a twen, one conforms and builds one’s career, but still there are often thoughts elsewhere. He’s in the RSC, but he’s playing a minor role, a professional, an essential participant, but even so part of the scaffolding rather than the headliner. There are all kinds of things about a life that frame this kind of moment, and I’ve often wondered how well his concentration works in such settings, if he was ever on stage acting in a minor role but thinking about when he’ll find time to buy groceries or what he’ll do on the weekend, if acting is sometimes primarily a job. I like to think of the young actor, about to smoke a cigarette, ready to go on stage, reviewing his cues. But I also enjoy thinking about him leaving the theater — leaving work — after for a pint or some other entertainment, with Whitelaw and his girlfriend, Polly, or perhaps leaving the theater entirely behind and meeting a different group of friends. Here he is, about to do his job, and yet there he is, with an entire additional context to explain his presence in the photo at this moment.

It’s certainly the ungraspable that keeps me looking, and of course that sense of potential that buoys his smirk. But there’s also that bit of him that isn’t encompassed by the theater or his career thoughts that draws me, the notion that here he’s just wearing the character’s clothes and there’s an entire world outside that for him.

~ by Servetus on October 1, 2018.

18 Responses to “Only to herald thee into his sight […] Not pay thee #richardarmitage”

  1. I love the spontaneity of his expression captured in this photo. He looks like someone who enjoys a laugh. I much prefer this to the virtue signalling, serious Cybersmile ambassador version.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely on both counts. Obviously each of us picks her own “version of Armitage,” but I prefer the slightly mischievous one to the preachy one any day.

      Like

  2. Oh noes! I didn’t know about the smoking and I read the link to your post about RA smoking! Whilst I agree smoking can be aesthetically beautiful ( and I was once a social smoker moons and moons ago) -the thought of kissing a smoker is completely repulsive these days-which knocks on my fantasy of that beautiful kiss from North and South!lol

    Re this post, it’s a lovely piece of writing as usual

    Like

    • If it’s any consolation, Daniela Denby-Ashe also smoke(d) at the time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lol! I’ll get over it 😊

        Like

      • Diese Information werde ich durch pure Willenskraft wieder löschen. Dieser Kuss ist “DER” Kuss schlechthin und daher kann er nicht nach kaltem Rauch schmecken… ,nein, geht nicht.
        “Ich mache mir die Welt so wie sie mir gefällt!”, um mit Pipi Langstrumpf zu sprechen und in Bezug auf einen Filmkuss erlaube ich mir das.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Wow, this is SO interesting. People used to get upset about him smoking because it was a health risk, bad for the people around him, etc. — but now here are two of you saying it ruins your fantasy of the kiss. Fascinating.

          Like

          • well what people do with their own body’s is their own choice, but after dating a smoker years ago the thought of a smokey kiss is stomach turning to me! I never preach to my patients either about smoking-i just educate them about the health risks pertaining to their oral health and encourage them if they want more advice.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I assume most people know it’s not good for them by now? I don’t know about the UK but the numbers of smokers in the US seem to have fallen dramatically in my lifetime.

              Like

      • Double ewww 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

        • I second that. That is a deal breaker. The smoker I dated asked me to buy his cigarettes bring a stupid naive twenty something I complied. Ugh… 😱😤

          Liked by 1 person

          • Being sorry not bring idiot phone ☎️

            Like

          • Smoke stink AND bankruptcy? nice

            I used to date an ex-smoker who developed a spectacular poster tube arranging fetish after he quit smoking. Is it a wonder that I now stick to imaginary boyfriends? 😛

            Liked by 2 people

            • But then the imaginary boyfriend is sooo handsome and dashing and sigh sigh sigh. I couldn’t even picture the second half of your comment on the poster 🤔😳but I appreciate the comment and glad I’m not alone …

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Cute backstage picture. I love the glimpse of personality that it gives. As for the smoking, he was in his twenties and people do a lot of things in their youth that they probably wouldn’t do when they’re older. I smoked in my twenties but I wouldn’t do it now. The first time I saw a picture of him with a smoke, it kind of shocked me, but only because it shifted the image I had of him in my head. Now the idea of it doesn’t bother me — even a smoky kiss might be okay!

    Like

    • My impression is there’s a lot of smoking in the film / tv industry in part because there’s a lot of standing around and waiting.

      Sometime else that’s always fed into my perception of this discussion is that the vast majority of American non-smokers think all smoking is chain-smoking. And indeed, most of the American smokers I’ve known have been chainsmokers. Whereas occasional smoking is more prevalent in other places I’ve lived.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My sister and I both used to think that it helped us to focus our thoughts and to be calm. (Of course in those days we could smoke at work.) I wonder if actors find that too.

        Like

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