We’ve already taken a look at some of his hottest red carpet moments, but now it’s time to learn a little bit more about Richard Armitage, the tall, dark, and handsome actor who won our hearts in North & South, took us on a wonderful journey in The Hobbit, and scared us silly in Hannibal. As the dashing star celebrates his birthday, here are some fun facts to help you learn a little more about the man behind those myriad characters!
1. Richard doesn’t like talking about his age, so let’s just say he was born on 22 August.
2. He grew up in a village near Leicester, England, with his parents and an older brother.
3. His mum was a secretary, and his dad worked as an engineer.
4. There were no artists in Richard’s family, and he took his initial steps in the area of art when he was taken to dance classes because of his pigeon toes.
5. He developed a strong interest in music and dance and pestered his parents to send him to Pattison College in Coventry, a secondary school dedicated to performing arts.
6. Richard describes his teenage self as “a beanpole with a nose I hadn’t grown into.” Indeed, at 6’2″ the handsome Brit tends to tower over his castmates — and prefers to slink into the background when it comes to photos.
7. Like a fairy-tale story, Richard actually joined a circus when he was 17 and spent a Summer throwing batons at jugglers in Budapest. “At the time you needed an Equity card in order to work, this was my way into the business”, he said.
8. His first job after the circus was a role in Cats, and Richard fondly remembers playing a seaweed in a video for Sarah Brightman.
9. However, dance was not where Richard saw his future, and he snagged a place in the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art where Oscar nominees David Oyelowo and Benedict Cumberbatch were his contemporaries.
10. His first foray into film sounds impressive: Richard was in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace — playing the third Naboo fighter on the right. “I’m in one of those blooming white outfits with my face covered up.”
11. Richard’s big break — and first contact with the adoring (and mostly female) public — came with the BBC’s 2004 period drama North & South where he portrayed the haughty-yet-crushworthy mill owner John Thornton against reluctant love interest Margaret Hale played by Daniela Denby-Ashe.
12. Richard’s initial communication with fans is the stuff of legend: When he joined the BBC message board that had been set up for the discussion of North & South, the website crashed under the number of visitors. He continued to communicate with fans through messages on fan websites which he published at irregular intervals.
However, it took him another 10 years to finally debut on social media where he now regularly posts selfies on Twitter — to the delight of his fans, known as the Armitage Army.
13. Despite Richard’s fear of water, his characters tend to get wet a lot — unless the filmmakers are pandering to the audience’s lust for wet shirts. “I have a fear of drowning, and I read each script and think, ‘Great, no nudity, no water, phew!’ But then in the rewrite the director will suddenly go, ‘I have a great scene where you dive to the bottom of a swimming pool!'”
14. In 2012, Richard’s mum accompanied him to the royal premiere of The Hobbit in London.
15. Known for his meticulous research of his roles, Richard likes to write detailed backstories for his characters. “I’d like to ask J.R.R. Tolkien if Thorin had a love interest,” he once revealed.
16. Last year Richard sold out London’s Old Vic theatre for his run as the flawed but principled protagonist of The Crucible, and Richard delighted the public by attending the stage door almost every night of the play.
17. Richard is fundraising for a number of charities and has recently become ambassador for the anti-cyberbullying charity Cybersmile Foundation.
18. In a blog post for Cybersmile, he disclosed that the cause was close to his heart because “it’s taken me a long time to shake off the effects of bullying in school.”
19. Richard plays the cello, the guitar, and the flute and has a chocolatey baritone singing voice that could be heard on the “Misty Mountain” song used in The Hobbit .
20. Talking of chocolate, Richard’s favourite dessert is chocolate ice cream.
21.The multitalented thesp can also draw, kind of. A doodle of his recently fetched $250 in a charity auction.
22. Richard’s first reaction to playing the new villain currently appearing on Sky Living’s Hannibal, Francis Dolarhyde, was “I am going to have some quite dark nightmares!”
23. Dreaming in character is one of the by-products the method-acting thespian has had to endure for his craft in the past, too: The Hobbit’s Thorin Oakenshield, Strike Back’s John Porter, and John Proctor from The Crucible have all visited Richard in his dreams.
24. Richard’s recipe for life? “Chocolate ice cream. Treat others as you would want to be treated. And lots of chocolate ice cream.”