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Richard Armitage: From Hobbit to Hannibal

English actor Richard Armitage is Francis Dolarhyde (a.k.a. Red Dragon) in the psychological suspense series Hannibal  

MANILA, Philippines - Richard Armitage, who is best known as the conflicted dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit film trilogy, takes on another intense character as Francis Dolarhyde in the American TV series, Hannibal. 

The STAR had a phone-chat with the English actor recently wherein he talked about how his character figures in the third (and last) season of the psychological suspense-thriller that brings the story to Europe, where psychiatrist-turned-serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter is on the run, with FBI profiler Will Graham hot on his heels.

Season 3, however, ushers in a “new predator,” a Hannibal fan and serial killer preying on families. He is Francis Dolarhyde, tagged in the press as the Tooth Fairy, but who commits gruesome crimes under his self-proclaimed alter ego, The Great Red Dragon. Will is forced to turn to his archenemy Hannibal for insight to hunt down this new threat.

According to Armitage, “Dolarhyde is caught in a tug of war between Will trying to save him from his fate and save the family next in line, and with Hannibal who was pushing him towards the edge of doom.”

Dolarhyde has already been portrayed in movies like Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002), both of which were based on a series of novels by Thomas Harris. In the series, the character gets to be explored more with a six-episode story arc.

Armitage added, “He is one of the very first stories that (the author) Thomas Harris told in terms of the Hannibal legacy and it’s the first time in that original novel that we meet Hannibal Lecter, so he’s bit of a stand-alone character. His journey is a contained piece of work so we have six episodes to tell his story and it seems to fit clearly and succinctly into those six hours. It’s very faithful to the book.”

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Nevertheless, what foremost attracted Armitage to the project was the opportunity to work with producer/showrunner Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me). “I was a big fan of Bryan Fuller’s work. I followed most of his television work. His reputation is so high in the industry that, you know, people really come to Hannibal because it’s a Bryan Fuller show. That’s why Hannibal has held on to such a strong fanbase across the globe. So, I was very excited to work with him.”

The actor admitted though that he wasn’t very familiar with latest reincarnation of the Hannibal story. “I was not very familiar with (the new Hannibal Lecter). I knew the previous films. So, I studied the book in detail and then the materials/scripts that were coming out from Bryan’s mind were really the places where we started. I worked from a very physical place, so I spent a lot of time at the gym (as preparation) and I studied Japanese butoh for the beginning of the character.”

The mental preparation for the role, on the other hand, was on a whole different plane. “I think the most difficult part of the character was understanding the mind of a man who was in great pain, who was experiencing love for the first time and at the same time, was having these terrible impulses, which were very confusing to him in terms of his need to destroy families in order to empower himself,” he said.

“It was quite a difficult thing to think about, to understand, to portray. I mean the most challenging side of it was the horror he inflicted on people. Because as a person I have sympathy for him because I have studied his background, his childhood, his physical disabilities, at the same time, I hated what he was doing to these people, and I wanted to condemn him, so that was the most difficult part.”

Armitage recalled that the first day of filming immediately proved to be challenging. “I got to Toronto and it was in the middle of winter, minus 17 degrees the night that we shot, and it was the scene where I was out in the garden, naked and covered in blood and howling to the moon. It was quite a difficult scene to shoot because it was extremely cold and it took a lot of courage to stand in front of a crew that I didn’t know without any clothes on. It was trial by fire, really, or trial by snow, I would say.”

Asked to further discuss favorite scenes, he said that having read the book, some of the most interesting things “I found in the novel, we didn’t actually play those scenes, but they translated (them) to some ideas.”

“One of my favorite scenes from the novel, which I had actually pitched to Bryan Fuller (and) I really fought for it to be there, it’s a scene where the dragon and Francis Dolarhyde separate in his mind, it’s a kind of schizophrenia, and the dragon attacks Dolarhyde. We get to play that scene quite late in the series. It’s described as the dragon ripping the flesh of his back and I was excited to try and find out how it was possible to even play that scene where you are arguing with yourself and fighting with yourself. We took that opportunity.”

After essaying a dark character such as Dolaryhde, how did he unwind and spend his downtime after the shooting of Hannibal?

“I finished Hannibal (in April) and I went to Belgium and Ireland to play a French knight in a period piece called Pilgrimage, and now I’m in Vancouver working on a true story called Brain on Fire (with Chloe Grace Moretz), which is based on a girl who has a rare brain disease. So that’s where I spend my downtime (laughs).

“At the moment, I’m playing a very loving and kind person who is fighting very hard to save his daughter’s life, somebody who is a real family man and in a way, it’s a very nice antidote to Francis Dolarhyde who was a very destructive character.”

Having worked on television and in the movies, Armitage said that both formats didn’t actually show that much contrast from each other.

“In terms of the art form I bring to the shoot, really, there’s not a great deal of difference. It’s just about the time and the money spent. You know, working on The Hobbit was a very fulfilling, collaborative experience, but it was very technical at times. So after The Hobbit ended, I went in search of (certain) characters, seeking out independent movies that were character-driven, and a character like Francis Dolarhyde came along and Hannibal is a great television show. It was great opportunity to explore something I haven’t played before.”

(Hannibal Season 3 airs Tuesday nights at 9:45 on AXN.)

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