Hobbit star Richard Armitage heads back to his Yorkshire roots to talk about his first foray into writing and much more.
“It’s been a really interesting journey I’ve never had a burning ambition to be an author but then Audible came to me and asked if I wanted to write something,” says Armitage who will be talking about his book on Friday October 13 at Sheffield’s Off The Shelf literature festival.
"They asked if I wanted a ghost writer I said absolutely not if people are thinking they are reading my words then I want them to be my words and I think they got a bit scared. I put together a really detailed story breakdown about how the whole book would look and they really liked it.”
It took Armitage about 18 months to write Geneva, a scientific thriller. "I was throwing all of my obsessions at it – from Alfred Hitchcock to Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming – all the things I love to watch and read, I was creating a movie in my head and then writing it down but also it was only ever supposed to be heard, I was reading everything aloud and that was all the book was ever going to be - an audio book - but we got to number one on day two of release that was an amazing surprise. Then Faber stepped in and said they really loved it and would like to publish it.” Geneva has also been optioned by Sony to be turned into a film which the Hobbit and North and South actor is planning to play one of the lead characters.
"If Audible hadn’t put the idea in my head I don’t know if I would ever have had the time or the confidence to think that I was capable of this. I would have stayed in my lane and worked on adapting other people’s work. But given the opportunity I really got hooked and when the book was finished I was really bereft – I thought what do I do with my Sunday mornings…. I asked if I could do another one and they said yes.”
Armitage, whose father hails from Leeds, is more than aware that his route to becoming a published author was not a normal one nor one that he would ever to take for granted.
“I have guilt, I do understand how difficult it is for anybody to get their work read or seen. I have had a few other opportunities like that in my life like when I was asked to do the Hobbit and North and South I recognised the massive gift I was being given and thought do not waste this. Don’t let your readers down if this is going to be the only book you ever write make sure its a bloody good one. I went over every word that was spoken painstakingly, I am a musician as well and so I became quite obsessed with the sound of the words.
While writing Geneva he was also filming Obsession for Netflix, based on the novel Damage by Josephine Hart. “I’d read her book and it really inspired me - rather than influenced me. When someone goes big it inspires you to do the same. I’m not saying it (Geneva) is a work of genius but it inspired me to be the best I could be.”
Geneva is about a Noble prize-winning scientist who’s retired but she is persuaded to come out of retirement to endorse a new neuro implant by her husband. She is showing signs of Alzheimer’s and her symptoms start to acclerate once she is in Switzerland and she realises she is in the middle of something sinister. “I love a good thriller – I love a conspiracy theory, I love the idea of science based intelligent thriller,” says Armitage who is currently writing his second novel due for release on Audible next year.
“The second one is quite different, it’s more about childhood – a murder and what happens when we grow into adults and take the scars of the past with us – it’s a different type of thriller not so James Bond it’s more rooted in character.”
He says he is taking his time with the second book, and he does have a bit more time on his hands than he would normally due to the Screen Writers Guild of America strike. "Come January fingers crossed we will be back on the grindstone. I’m developing a couple of other people books into screen plays.”He may be known for playing some weighty roles but Armitage, 52, wasn’t always a serious actor.
“I started as a song and dance man but realised it wasn’t quite the right lane for me and so I went back to drama school. I think I knew I was an actor much younger than I admitted it. I was maybe 11 or 12 and I’d finished reading Lord of the Rings and I was bereft at the loss of these characters. They’d become my friends because I’d immersed myself so completely into that world and looking back I think my imagination was triggered there and then.”
It is ironic then that the role that brought international acclaim for Armitage’s was when he landed the role as the dwarf king in Peter Jackson's film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit.
“You could have picked me off the floor,” he says of the moment he was offered the part. “I remember exactly where I was sitting. Both of my London agents had invited me for dinner and I thought I was getting sacked but it was the opposite, they said I was being offered the role – it took me six months to get my head around it. I kept pinching myself every single day during filming – I couldn’t believe I was really there and also that nobody knew my secret.”
Armitage says his success is down to a mixture of talent, hard work and opportunity.
“I can apply myself and work really hard if you can call that a kind of talent, but you can work your back side off and if the opportunity doesn’t present itself then you are banging your head against a wall.
"I have had a number of lucky serendipitous moments in my life where a particular director has fought for me or a role someone has dropped out and I’ve stepped in – I’m sure I’ve had new misses as well but you don’t count those you only look at the positive stuff.”
He says his first big break, being cast as the lead in the television adaptation of Elizabeth Gasgill’s North and South, nearly didn’t happen. “I was one of the first actors the casting director saw,” says Armitage. “I was basically a nobody and they were looking for a somebody. I hadn’t heard anything so really didn’t think I had got the job. But when they couldn’t find a somebody the casting director went back through all the months of audition tapes and called me back If she hadn’t had the patience to do that I wouldn’t have landed that role.”
He says landing the part in the Hobbit was similar. “The film had already been cast and was in preproduction when the directorship changed and Peter Jackson took over. They did a world tour looking for the characters. When I went into audition for Peter Jackson I was filming Spooks and had injured my back and was on a lot of painkillers. I think I was in so much pain that when I read the scene I obviously showed some sort of agony that was actually down to my back injury – but you have that one moment to make an impression. Peter Jackson has come all the way from New Zealand and you just cant waste that moment – you have to give it everything you’ve got.”
Off the Shelf Festival of Words takes place from October 13-29, www.offtheshelf.org.uk