‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum (Andy Serkis). Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is the first of three films based on ‘The Hobbit’ novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy of ‘Hobbit’ films are set in Middle-earth 60 years before Jackson’s ’The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy.  The release schedule for the three ‘Hobbit’ films are as follows: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is set for a December 13th release; ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ arrives in cinemas December 13th, 2013; and ’The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ concludes the trilogy on July 18th, 2014.

Can you tell us where we meet Thorin in ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? He has a huge emotional burden weighing down on his shoulders. How did that inform your portrayal of him, with everything that come before we’re introduced to him in this film?

Richard Armitage: Yeah. I think that burden of taking his people back to their homeland, that massive burden, that makes him a lonely figure. Thorin, he’s the living heir to the throne of Erebor. His father Thrain disappeared on a mission a 100 years ago, he went back to try and reclaim Erebor and he hasn’t returned. Thorin’s seen a lot of action, he’s seen many battles, he’s a battle-hardened warrior. He is one of the few survivors of the dragon attack, only himself and Balin have that memory. He’s also somebody that’s lead the refugees of Erebor, and they’ve rebuilt a kingdom and a nation, they’ve had to go back to the anvil to do that, become blacksmiths again. He’s gone from prince to pauper and has sort of made a good life for his people. And he’s about to take his Dwarves back to Erebor, to their homeland, that’s the plan.

I kind of wrote a story for Thorin, about the experiences he’d had as a young man, where he came from and the experiences he’d had at Erebor. Dwarves get harder with age, the best warriors on the battlefield will be the oldest men, which is kind of at odds with how human beings are. They just get tougher with age, but they become more efficient, more stoical. That back-story helped immensely. That burden was something I had to really focus on, latch onto.

While proud and noble, that burden makes him stern and officious….?

Richard Armitage: Definitely. Thorin inherited a quest of vengeance from his father, to reclaim what’s theirs and take his people back to Erebor. And that burden is quite a lonely thing to carry. Thrain disappeared trying to do the same thing a 100 years ago. So Thorin feels like it’s now or never. I think he’s like a dying ember. He has the potential to reignite into a huge furnace, but if he doesn’t do it now, that ember will die. He will die and fade away. That is quite a serious endeavour to assume. So I think in that respect, the seriousness he approaches it….you could say he’s his own worst enemy, but I think would probably do the same.

And when we meet him on this quest, he doesn’t have the same confidence Gandalf has in this Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins.

Richard Armitage: Yeah. I think it was Gandalf who originally approached Thorin and was like, “I’ve been thinking of Erebor and I want to talk to you about it.” Which of course to somebody who’s yearning for that moment, he’s certainly up for sitting down and conversing with him. I think when Gandalf invites the dwarves to Bag End he just says, “Look, this is going to be the place. We’re going to find a burglar, come to Bag End at this time and we’ll make some plans.” I think when Thorin arrives at Bag End he really believes that there’s going to be somebody there who will significantly alter the course of events….and he finds a Hobbit (laughs), who he doesn’t believe can lift an axe, let alone go into battle situation – which I think Thorin is expecting. So immediately his confidence in Gandalf is knocked, and I think he agrees to do it Gandalf’s way because he won’t leave without Gandalf. I think that’s crucial, because Thorin could have said to his men, “Right, we’re going, we’re going to do this on our own.” But there’s something that stops him from doing that.

How was it for you filming those scenes in Bag End, on those incredibly detailed sets? I understand that was the first location for you shooting on ‘The Hobbit’ films?

Richard Armitage: It is like walking into the universe of Middle-earth. It’s so incredible, the detail on the set, you could spend hours and hours and hours going into all the rooms and reading the books, checking out the finest of details. But I don’t think the dwarves were very comfortable in Bag End at all, it was too small and too hot – the food was good though, I’d definitely book in again for the food (laughs). But Thorin didn’t really want to stay that long, the host was a bit of a winger, and he fainted as well. It wasn’t a good start (laughs).

And yes, Bag End was the first week of shooting for this character, so for me and for the other dwarves it felt so different, it was good that it felt awkward. It felt like they were out of place, because they are in that environment. Dwarves don’t belong in a cosy, domestic situation – we’re grubby (laughs). They belong in giant halls and on a battlefield. It was all very useful, that aggravation at being brought here to take this little strange person on a quest.

How was it for you taking on this beloved role, this character that has such a huge responsibilty on his back? Could you relate in some ways?

Richard Armitage: Yeah. There is always building within him this paranoia that he’s not a good enough leader, and that weighs him down. I have experienced that same feeling as an actor in this role. And I was aware of taking on the responsibility of that character, so there was something I could latch onto there, as one of the people who loved ‘The Hobbit’ book and had envisioned that character. It took me a while to be convinced that I could do it, it wasn’t until I saw some sketches, this one particular pencil sketch….there was something about this characters eyes and the way that his hands are crossed, I thought, “I think I can do this, I can pull this off.”

What was it like working under the direction of Peter Jackson? This is a man that knows the world of Middle-earth and these characters inside out?

Richard Armitage: What I find fascinating about working with Peter Jackson is that he has the whole film in his head, and all the characters, to the point where he can actually get up and sort of perform your character. He’s such a good actor that it’s really entertaining to see him do Balin, then to see him kind of rolling on the floor as Bilbo (laughs). The very subtle, nuanced guidance that he will also give you, which isn’t necessarily what you wouldn’t have originally thought, it just fills you with confidence knowing that you’re in safe hands. There’s been many times where I’ve felt on shaky ground, like I really didn’t know what I was doing, but because of the confidence I have in Peter I would just hand it over to him. He knows what he’s doing, he knows this film and he knows the character better than I do, so I sort of just let myself be guided – and I’ve never done that before.