Monday 12 March 2012

Richard Armitage & History & Acting (1)

Monday, March 12th

In the beginning, Richard Armitage made scores of fans -- and he keeps on making them!
• To kick off the fandom chain, Didion converts friends to Armitage love
Phylly3 reports on her fandom experiences
• In the Hobbit chain, Ana Cris writes on her recent film location visit
Mrs. E.B. Darcy speculates about what our hero will do in An Unexpected Journey (spoilers!)
King Richard Armitage chain begins with Maria Grazia on a film adaptation of Richard III
• Beginning the fanfic chain, fedoralady explains fanfic's mainstream appeal
• In the freeform chain, Fabo files an eyewitness report on Richard Armitage's visit to U.S. accent school
jazzbaby1 wonders "what were they thinking?" re: Lucas North's women
• and ChrisB opens the Armitage Alphabet, with "A is for Action"

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Richard Armitage & History & Acting

Mr. Armitage talks about history and his way of research in his Christmas Message to his fans (3rd December 2007).

[...] Richard III is still very much in development, I am weighed down with history books in my determination to uncover as much fact as possible before we embark on telling his story, which will ultimately be a fiction!

An interest in history is quite closely connected to an interest in literature, and interest in literature quite often leads to an interest in the implementation of the literary creations.
History is the art to find the background of the stories someone wrote down and the time they were created, so literature and history come together in one art to bring the creations to life in a performance or film-adaption. (Though, I must confess, most modern theatre productions do no longer make that connection immediately recognizable.)
To understand the full meaning of a play, to some great extent the historical background is researched, to understand
-  the motives of the author, but also
-  to understand the motives, the author wanted to give his roles on their way to the audience
-  to find out more about the time and its rules which made the depicted situation and its specific outcome possible.

So, history for an actor mostly consists of history of literature, which, especially for all English speakers and Mr. Armitage in particular, who has his own history in the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), means :

I could not find the original source, so took the image
from Nat's blog at ArmitageFanBlog.
Here is Mr. Armitage in his role as McDuff in “Macbeth”. And at least in regard of costume, this RSC production evaded historical references, at least to the time the work was created by Shakespeare.

History and the occupation with times past always held another fascination than just to find something out about literary works we have from past times. It is also the wish to discover, where we came from and what formed our present in the way it is. History also is a way to search for solutions, the past perhaps can already tell us and which may help us in our present time.

One historian of my acquaintance once brought it down to a point: "A scientist, confronted with a problem, thinks the problem must be a new one, as he does not immediately know the solution, so he goes and calculates, draws back in his laboratory and tests.
A historian confronted with a problem, does not think the problem is unique, but goes into the next bookshop or library and searches for the solution someone else already found for him."

The historian believes, the problem lies in a more general constitution of human nature. This is also a central point of research for performers, as they must be avid observers and researchers of human weaknesses, strengths, motivations and motives. What gets people to act and what motivates them to keep quiet and go along with certain situations?
That Mr. Armitage gets the small motivations for his roles so very right is one of the reasons he is able to keep his fans hooked and get them to return and re-watch his acting again and again.
But this requires a deep research into what motivates his character in a certain situation and that means historical research into a person’s reasoning and self-justification to a great extent and also sociological research into the background, social behavior of groups not one’s own. Even his contemporary roles require the same attention for detail and research as roles are separated from oneself either by social standing or time and so the actor is not immediately familiar with the small and significant behaviourisms of a group his character belongs to.

Mr. Armitage's performances show us, that he does his research admirably well and so the characters he playes become wonderfully alife for us.

<< Tomorrow's FanstRA-post will continue with the topic 'history' for actors by comparing "Fantasy & History" - Have an enjoyable FanstRAvaganza 3 Week !  >>

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  1. I find it fascinating how an interest in an actor can lead us to all sorts of other interest. Especially history!

    1. RA and history for me are an absolute 'dream-combination' ;o) Thank you, bccmee! Your interview was absolutely great!

  2. I don't think that I would have read about RIII if it hadn't been for Richard Armitage's work. I love the way he researches for a role and develops his backstory for his characters.

    1. I agree, I don't think RIII would have got so much of my attention if it were not for RA.
      I very much like the work ethic, his attention for detail and the understanding for human weaknesses, RA shows in his approach to his roles. Thank you and welcome here, M58!

  3. Hi CD,
    Thanks for sharing about Richard Armitage's artistic process. He is a phenomenal storyteller!
    Cheers! Grati ;->

    1. Thank you, Grati! Yes, that he is, a 'phenomenal storyteller'. He glues me to the screen and even leads me to give attention to characters I would not normally like ;o)

  4. I'm excited to read your posts this week! :)

    1. Thank you, Nat. I am so looking forward to yours and am happy, that SFR is back and even got a cup showing his summer holidays ;o)

  5. quote: 'Mr. Armitage's performances show us, that he does his research admirably well and so the characters he playes become wonderfully alife for us.'

    Loved your subject & Post! A few years ago, a popular British actor when asked about how he prepared for his role as one of the most popular Period Drama characters flippantly said that he never read the book or watched the TV series of the same story. You could tell that was so by his performance (one dimensional).
    On the other hand:
    A poster on one of the many comic book sites mentioned how much they respected RA for reading a book about a similar character he was playing in Capt America to help give his small role depth & character.

    A thoughtful piece and will be back for seconds, please!

    1. Thank you very much, Phoebe!
      I fully agree with you. I especially cherish his roles and the characters he depicts, because he gives them subtle reasons for their actions. This is not something generally stated in the scripts, but individually researched and thought through by RA himself. That way he creates characters we really care about, though they might have some flaws or 'occasionally' are the bad guys ;o)

  6. So interesting! You know I love literature and history, so your series of posts will be unmissable to me.
    I would listen to Richard telling about the books he loves, the researches he carries on for his work, the in-depth analysis he does before playing any of his characters, even the minor ones, endlessly.

    1. Thank you, Maria Grazia.
      I am absolutely with you and this is the reason why I can't understand his interview partners. They never ask him about that. I would need hours to squeeze out everything I want to know out of him. (Fortunately he does not have me as interviewer ;o)

  7. Very interesting post! Part of what I find so fascinating about Richard Armitage is his dedication to each and every character. Even if they only get a few minutes of screen time, he still seems to give it his all.

    I've not looked much into Richard III, but RA has definitely peeked my interest.

    1. Welcome here, memythoughtsandwhoknows and thank you very much!
      His attention to the details of his role was the first thing which head-over-heals flung me into unexpected fandom ;o)

      What RA could do with such an ambivalent topic as King Richard III really fascinates me.

  8. His seriousness to act is one of the reasons I like him. He not only becomes his characters, he IS the character....

    1. Welcome here, Vec170203!
      RA makes his characters so real, that we even love the bad guys ;o) I completey agree with you!

  9. It's amazing how his work ethic affects my interest. I call it a kind of "value added" of being a fan of Mr. Armitage. Because I'm sure that by the fact that he IS the character he plays I was looking for information about the Stanislavski method or looking for books about RIII and many other things.

    1. Welcome here, Ania!
      Yes, I must admit, I did research many things for no other reason than because of RA ;o)
      The Stanislavski method really is a fascinating concept and it heightened my apprehension, why RA as actor needs privacy to unfold the full potential of his acting. But his results are worth the effort!

  10. Nice point about how historians view problems and their similarities to the way actors might think. I've often envied actors their freedom from history, though :)

    1. Thank you, Servetus. You are absolutely right here. Actors have the freedom to leave historical accuracy behind, historians not really ;o)
      - I am not sure you will like my next post ;o)))

  11. I'm praying for Richard III for our Richard. I live in hope that his interest in this history will evolve to some great TV series :)

    1. Thank you, Jonia's cut. I also sit impatiently and hope and pray, that it might work out. I am so curious, what he could reach with this topic with his attention for detail.

  12. Thanks for the detailed analysis of how a great actor (RA)does, and all actors should research a role.

    You noted that the RSC evaded historical references in the costuming of the Scottish play when Richard was cast as McDuff. This technique has often been used by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario (which is a short drive from where I live)sometimes with great success, sometimes not so much. This coming season of The Stratford Shakespeare Festival opens on May 28th with Much Ado About Nothing. You can find the festival at:

    I wish RA would find the festival sometime and perform with the company......


    1. Thank you very much, A Scattering.
      A lighthearted Shakespeare play, I could imagine RA to take part in. With playing "Richard III" in the Shakespeare version, I really have my problems imagining RA in that role. I much rather would like to see him in his own film version of "King Richard III" ;o)