‘Into the Storm’ Star Richard Armitage on Tornadoes, ‘The Hobbit 3′ and His Lost Role in ‘Star Wars’
Growing up in the Midwest, the prospects of seeing a tornado was (A) not as common as you think and (B) still unbelievably terrifying. (In my experience, most tornadoes are experienced from the confines of a basement.) The allure is kind of understandable — which is why we get movies like ‘Twister’ and this week’s new found footage release, ‘Into the Storm‘; not to mention the countless “storm hunter” type reality shows — and that allure leads to exchanges like the one below between Richard Armitage (the star of ‘Into the Storm’) and myself about wanting or not wanting to ever see a tornado in person.
Of course, Armitage — who kinda, sorta practices method acting; depending on your definition of method acting — has the final chapter of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy coming out this December, ‘The Battle of Five Armies.’ Here, Armitage, who plays the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield, reflects on what he thinks the legacy of this trilogy will be in comparison to ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ Armitage also dares us to find him somewhere in ‘Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ — a movie that he is in — and gives us some clues on how to do so, but even he’s not exactly sure if he’s seen himself.
Your character name in ‘Into the Storm” is the most common character name you’ve ever had.
What name do you have?
It’s online as Gary Morris.
They changed it?
Yes. And I’ve been saying it wrong.
So you’ve been saying it wrong?
Yeah, they changed it without me realizing it.
So the whole movie you think the guy you’re playing is Gary Morris?
I think it was something else when we started. But he’s always been Gary, for sure.
Mark Hamill thought his character name was Luke Starkiller for most of the time he was shooting ‘Star Wars.’
Ah. Well, this guy needed a grey kind of everyday kind of name. I mean, that’s who he is. He’s an average guy.
Tornadoes are terrifying.
Have you experienced them?
Only from a basement. I grew up in Missouri. I have family in Joplin.
Oh, really? Yeah, the word Joplin was spoken a lot while the movie was shooting. And then when it came to making the film and producing the film, we were like, “Don’t speak about it.” It isn’t based on a real event, but everything in the movie is possible and, sadly, probable.
And they’re getting worse.
They are getting worse. I mean, we’re making a piece of entertainment and I don’t think people go to the movies because they want to laugh, scream and sort of point at this in a way. I think that they want to be awakened by it, to an extent. They want to see people surviving against all odds. They want to feel inspired were this to happen — because it’s possibly going to happen to some people — that we emerge as a community and that we’re kind of fused by other people.
In the movie, they know the storm is coming, but they still had the graduation ceremony. That struck me as realistic. “Big storms” often turned out to be nothing, and vice-versa.
What do we do? We don’t live our lives? We have to. Whatever we’ve done in terms of climate change, we’ve got to stand up and face it and we have to carry on our daily lives and we’ve got to adapt to it. We’ve got to. And we have to be more prepared for it. That’s not what our movie is about, we could make a whole other documentary movie about that — and many people are — but I don’t come from a place where we have sirens … You know, the mile-wide tornado, which everyone went, “Yeah, that only happens in the movie.” And, already, I think somebody found something that had happened twice the size already. But, yeah, why do we go and watch this type of disaster movie? I don’t know.
There’s the tag on the poster, “Why do we go to these?”
Yeah, “Why do we go?” There’s a weird sense of we will survive, despite all odds. And, also, we want to see it. We want to see what that tornado is like. Because, like you said, you experienced it from a basement. And I bet there’s a part of you that went, “I just want to peak.”
“I want to look.”
I don’t want to see one.
“I want to see what it looks like.”
I do not. I am terrified of them.
I do not want to see one.
Do you really not want to see what it looks like?
You can hear outside?
I think that’s why I will watch a movie like this or watch a documentary, but I grew up terrified of tornadoes and I never want to see one in person.
If I was in a basement and I hear it coming, I’d be like, “I just want to look. I just want to see what it is making that noise.”
I feared that if I saw one, my parents’ house would likely be destroyed.
Well, that’s the pragmatic side of you.
I have nightmares about them. But I’ve never seen one in real life and I never want to.
I sort of do.
I don’t think you do.
I want to see what it looks like. Even in England, we got the tinniest, even when a circle of leaves spin, I’m like, “Oh my God, how is that happening?” I want to see what those ropes look like. I want to stand in front of one and see it.
They are unpredictable, you don’t know what direction it’s going to go. I had a bad experience when I was eight years old at my grandmother’s who didn’t have a basement and since that day I never want to see one.
Yeah. I guess if I had been that close to one, too, I probably would be the same.
But it doesn’t bother me to watch it in a movie.
The closest I’ve ever been to something like that was an earthquake in New Zealand. And there’s a moment — it was an aftershock from Christchurch — and it was very, very violent. And there’s a moment when it happens where you think, I’m experiencing an earthquake, and there’s a side to me that went, How awesome, I’m experiencing an earthquake, and then there’s that split second when you think, This could get a whole lot worse. Is it about to get a whole lot worse? And the fear kind of kicked in. And then it stopped.
There is an adrenaline rush, followed by, This could be really bad.
This could be the end.
I’ve heard you poo-poo the term “method actor” in describing how you prepare.
I just really don’t know what it means.
You’re not Jim Carrey pretending he’s Andy Kaufman for a few weeks. Or are you?
Every role is slightly different.
I’d imagine your preparation for ‘Into the Storm’ is different than ‘The Hobbit.’
To me, it’s about concentration — only to be thinking about the character and always be thinking about the character for the time that you’re shooting.
Were you Gary Fuller the whole time?
So you kept doing an American accent?
Yeah, yeah. During the course of the day, I tend not to pick up the phone and talk to anybody outside of the film environment until the end of the day. But, I don’t go home as Gary to Gary’s house and eat Gary’s food. He’s still in my head, but I don’t live my entire life as Thorin Oakenshield [laughs].
Oh, people would love that if you did.
We wanted to go camping as the Dwarves. And there was one day on ‘The Hobbit’ when we were at the top of a mountain and we were left there all day in our costumes. So, we sort of stayed in character all day and we did helicopter shots and that was when I thought, You know what? If I can stay with the character for 12 hours, maybe I’m inside of him? It doesn’t come and go.
We are over ten years from when the ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Ten years from now, what do you think the legacy of ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy will be?
I think when ‘The Lord of the Rings’ was made, it just felt like such a breakthrough in terms of cinematography. Since then, there’s been a huge shift in the technology. I think ‘The Hobbit’ has been a big experiment in technology…
With the 48fps frame rate?
Yeah. And it still takes a bit of getting used to, but I do think in ten years’ time, we’ll look back and it will just be the industry standard. Even 3D, we won’t be using glasses, I don’t think. It will just be an industry standard and we’ll look back on a kind of filmmaking, which feels like Polaroids or lithographs from the 1800s. I think we’ve become so used to a clarity of image and a certain quality of sound you can only experience in a theater — you can’t get that experience watching on your iPad. It’s what Peter [Jackson] wanted. He wanted people to be in a theater completely submerged in image and sound.
Where you actually in ‘The Phantom Menace’?
Yes. i haven’t been able to find myself in there, but I definitely spent time on set. I think I’m a droid in three scenes. I remember sliding a lightsaber at Ewan McGregor as he tries to come through a door and falling down a flight of stairs — and I think I’ve seen them somewhere in the movie.
My goal will be to try to find you in this movie.
There’s a droid. They come into this palace and there are droids on staircases and I remember tumbling down some stairs. So, if you can find that…
[Ed. note: And here he is...]
Is this during the final battle?
No. It’s quite early on in the film. And I’m a droid who goes onto a ship, then comes off and says to somebody, “No one is on board, sir,” in that kind of droidy voice.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.