Since this film departs more strongly from Tolkien’s novel, where do you maintain a balance between taking ownership of the character and bringing him to the screen as Tolkien created him?
I feel lucky that Thorin is pretty much all Tolkien’s creation, apart from maybe his look that wasn’t Tolkien, and actually the path that Thorin treads is the backbone of the story and the spine of our tale as well. So my digressions weren’t particularly dramatic, but I actually really enjoyed some of the things that aren’t in the book as well. I think it’s important to know where Gandalf goes, and I didn’t realize it until recently, but until you see the emergence of Sauron from the Necromancer and the formation of that army of orcs, it really makes sense to me. Because when we get into the Battle of the Five Armies in movie three, when war breaks out, it’s not just about armies coming together to fight—and there’s real purpose behind it, and political purpose, I think.
How reluctant or eager do you feel like Thorin is ultimately to embrace his birthright?
I think it’s all-consuming for him. But these are the questions I ask the character—is it a selfish mission? Does he just want to sit on the throne and be king for his own glory? But I do feel that through what he says and through the inheritance, he really is fighting for his bloodline. If he fails and the line of Durin dies, there will never be a king under the mountain if he dies—and that would be his legacy. So it’s a mixture of personal glory and the need to bring his people home.
How much responsibility do you shoulder in helping create a group of characters that are both cohesive and distinctive? Do you pay attention to their character choices, or just your own?
That’s really the core of my belief in acting, that a character is really only the sum total of every other character that they interact with. So Thorin is nobody without all of the dwarves, without Bilbo, without Balin, without the dragon, without everything he faces. He isn’t anybody, and he’s only the person he is because of the past and because of his potential future, so I’m completely reliant on understanding all of the characters. Because I think that’s how we are as people—we become different people around whoever we’re with, and you see him kind of become a son with Balin. You see him become a brother to Dwalin. You see him become an uncle to Fili and Kili. And that’s why the relationship with Bilbo is very complicated, because he is his leader, but there is also a sense of paternal instinct towards him as well.
How would you distinguish Peter’s approach to each of the films, to make them different and yet cohesive?
Pete is one of those people that just doesn’t really repeat himself. There could have been a danger that he really did with these movies, just try to make another version of “Lord of the Rings.” I think there’s a lot of people out there that want another version of “Lord of the Rings,” and are dissatisfied because it doesn’t look the same. But he’s doing something new, he’s trying something different. It’s not the same—it feels like a new filmmaker. But what I love about the way he works is that he paints with big, broad brush strokes in terms of the scale of something he has to operate, but then when it comes to directing actors, his notes are so fine and succinct. And you think, how can you work on all of those different levels? But he does—he understand the psychology of my character probably better than I do, and all of the other characters in the movie as well. So he’s the master director.
In terms of the editing of these films, what has been the most surprising aspect of your character that emerged without you necessarily trying to emphasize?
I think that introspection that emerges in this second film. When he’s talking to Balin outside the door and he goes, “I’m not my father.” The feelings of, "I’m not my father, but I feel myself treading the same path, so am I going to suffer the same fate he suffered?" And it’s quite a scary notion—a grandparent that perhaps had a terminal illness and he’s beginning to notice the same symptoms in himself, and yet he still has to go down there. I think those are the things that surprised me most about the character. I didn’t know we were going to go that deep into him.
Is there any material that has been cut from either of the first two films—possibly restored or to be restored in an extended cut—that you think is vital to your character that you hope audiences would get to see?
Yes, and I’m not sure if it won’t end up in the third film so I won’t talk about it in too much detail. But Thrain, who is Thorin’s father, there’s a big sequence of Gandalf encountering Thrain, and a flashback to when Thorin and Thrain were fighting side by side on the battlefield and Thrain is lost, which is why Thorin goes out on the quest in the first place. So that may make it into an extended edition, but it also may appear somewhere in Movie Three.
What are you most eager to see realized in the third film—his arc? Some aspect of the special effects coming together?
Really, the dragon is the jewel in the crown of this movie, but I think in the third movie it will be the Battle of the Five Armies. It’s got to be one of the greatest battle scenes ever imagined. And Pete’s really interested in war, the first World War and planes, and this is a three-dimensional battle because it happens on the ground and in the air. So I think it’s going to be pretty spectacular.
"The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug" opens on December 13th.