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Here's Why Thorin From The Hobbit Looks So Familiar

Legends speak of Thorin Oakenshield, ruler of Durin's Folk, King in exile of The Lonely Mountain. He who took back his home of Erebor from the dragon Smaug, along with his company of Dwarves and some minor help from the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, the men of Laketown, the Elves of Mirkwood, the skin-changer Beorn, the Elf Lord Elrond — basically the whole Middle-earth gang pitched in.

So it was actually a lot of help, dispensed over the course of three movies in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, which makes the tragedy of Thorin's greed for the treasure of the mountain after the defeat of Smaug all the more lamentable by expanding significantly on the classic Lord of the Rings precursor novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. He ought to be generous, the audience thinks. He ought to know better. There might be something else audiences thinks they ought to know about Thorin, too: the actor playing him. 

It makes sense that he's hard to place. To match Thorin up to other roles you might have seen him in requires you to look past the long hair, the full beard, and the tricks played both in-camera and after the fact to make his height appear more dwarfish. If you strip it all away — and stretch him back to his full height — you'd be left with Richard Armitage, a veteran of television and film perhaps best known for roles not as the tragic hero, but as the dashing villain. 

Richard Armitage plays a lovestruck mill owner in North & South

One of Armitage's first film roles was a blink-and-you-missed-it background part so minuscule it's essentially become an Easter egg from Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace in light of Armitage's recent success. He's briefly visible behind Padmé (Natalie Portman) and her double (Keira Knightley) during the scene in which the queen and her entourage are pleading to Boss Nass for the help of the Gungans in their fight against the Trade Federation. Though any appearance in one of history's most-anticipated blockbusters is a nice bullet point for the ol' C.V., safe to say that's probably not what you know Armitage from.

Instead, if you're familiar with Armitage's early career it's almost certainly from his work in British television. His most prominent early role came in the 2004 BBC historical drama miniseries North & South, based on the 19th century novel by Elizabeth Gaskell. Armitage plays John Thornton, a nouveau-riche mill owner in the fictional industrializing city of Milton caught between the frustration he feels with his workers and the contempt his nation's wealthy elite feel for him. He falls for series protagonist Margaret Hale (Daniela Denby-Ashe), who helps him to navigate his uncomfortable middle path, even as she spurns his proposal of marriage — at least at first.

Armitage plays a bad Guy on Robin Hood

Two years after North & South, Armitage leapt into another role from the English literary canon, playing Guy of Gisborne in the BBC's Robin Hood series. Spoilers ahead.

This version of Guy is depicted first as a petty, jealous antagonist, one who takes the hero's place as Lord of Locksley in exchange for serving the Sheriff of Nottingham's (Keith Allen) ends after Robin (Jonas Armstrong) becomes an outlaw. Like Robin, Guy desires the hand of Lady Marian (Lucy Griffiths), but his all-black wardrobe (Armitage's Guy bears at least a stylistic debt to the brooding, black-clad performance as the Sheriff that Alan Rickman gave in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves) and general sniveling evilness prove to be real turn-offs. When she rejects him, again, in the middle of a battlefield at the end of the second season, he finally snaps and kills her with his sword, only to be immediately overcome with regret.

Despite the murder of their mutual love at his hands, Robin and Guy find common ground in the series' third and final season when they learn their secret half-brother, Archer (Clive Standen), has been sentenced to execution. Their tentative alliance is sustained even after the rescue, and Guy battles alongside Robin and his band against the Sheriff and his men until he meets his own death.

Richard Armitage joined the MCU as a Hydra assassin in Captain America: The First Avenger

Not content to appear in two of history's biggest blockbuster franchises, Armitage went for a third with a small but crucial part as Heinz Kruger in the early Marvel Cinematic Universe entry Captain America: The First Avenger.

Though it's always dangerous to generalize too broadly about these things, given The First Avenger's World War II setting, you would be correct in guessing that Kruger is not one of the good guys. Instead, he's the assassin sent by Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and Hydra to kill the scientist Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), and the first to get a taste of what Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) can do with his new abilities.

Kruger completes his mission and steals a vial of the super-soldier formula shortly after Rogers undergoes the procedure that transforms him, but his attempted escape by stolen taxi and hidden submarine is thwarted when Rogers runs and swims him down, showcasing just how effective Erskine's method was. Faced with capture, Kruger kills himself Wellington Yueh-style by biting down a false tooth containing poison, getting in one of the MCU's first "Hail Hydra's" before his death.

Richard Armitage plays one of Hannibal's fiercest foes

The Hobbit's Smaug isn't the only dragon that's driven an Armitage character mad. In the NBC thriller series Hannibal, Armitage took on the role of Francis Dolarhyde, a prolific serial killer who begins a phone correspondence with Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). 

Dolarhyde is obsessed with a series of paintings done by the poet and painter William Blake of The Great Red Dragon, going so far as to have the image tattooed on his back, and believes his murders are part of a process to transform himself into his dragon alter ego. Dolarhyde initially overpowers Lecter and the criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) when the pair attempt to apprehend him, but by working together the pair manage to turn the tables and finally slay the Dragon.

Armitage's part on the show was short-lived, appearing in only six of the show's 39 (and counting?) episodes, but Armitage's performance was hailed as a highlight, and the actor took home a Best Supporting Actor on a television series trophy from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films' Saturn Awards. It was familiar territory for Armitage. 

The year before he had won the Saturn for Best Supporting Actor in a film for playing Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.