British actor Ryan Gage makes us smile and squirm as Alfrid Lickspittle, the Master of Lake-town’s councillor, in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Alfrid himself is not the most likeable character, but Ryan plays him with such aplomb that Middle-earth News just had to find out more! In our exclusive interview Ryan talks to us about developing the role of Alfrid, singing with Ed Sheeran and working with the new Doctor Who.
Middle-earth News: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Ryan, and how you became an actor?
Ryan Gage: I can’t remember ever thinking I was going to be anything else. I remember becoming quite anxious when it was time to leave college because I realised that it was time to finally enter the profession as a full-time job and I didn’t really know what I was doing. So I applied for Drama Centre London and was accepted. I worked hard at learning how to learn, if that makes any sense: learning how to learn is the hardest part and it never stops. But it’s the key, I think. I’m still trying to learn new skills and to push myself a bit further to see what I discover about the character and myself. The trick is not being afraid to take risks and to fail and maybe be bad sometimes: it’s the only way to learn any new thing really. That and enjoy what you’re doing.
M-e News: We know you as Alfrid in The Hobbit but originally you were to play a different role in the film. Can you tell us how you came to be cast and then recast?
RG: I originally turned up at the audition with no role in mind, a general. Amy Hubbard gave me Alfrid just to see what I’d make of it, but I think they were seeing actors a fair bit older than me for the part at the time. I was brought back a number of times and eventually I got a call telling me they had decided to write the character of Drogo, from The Lord of the Rings prologue, in. I was very flattered, of course, and started to prepare for the part Drogo, chiefly by eating lots of chocolate biscuits as he was supposed to be fond of food! I later got a call saying they had changed their minds and had decided to give me Alfrid instead. I was thrilled because that’s the part I had wanted all along. The only downside was it meant I had to stop eating the chocolate biscuits!
M-e News: Did you have much of a say in developing Alfrid?
RG: Alfrid as a character was very clear on the page, but physical choices were developed when we started costume testing. The process always felt very collaborative and my suggestions were always listened to by the team: sometimes they got excited by my ideas and we went with them, sometimes they listened patiently and then decided on something much better. Which is always for the best.
M-e News: How did you decide on Alfrid’s voice and accent? And what about his overall look: his clothes and makeup?
RG: Alfrid’s voice and accent was just the way I heard the character speak on the page. There was something Dickensian about him, he reminded me of Uriah Heap and that was the voice that just emerged. The costume was pre- designed on paper but we still had to try a number of costumes to get it just right. There were a number of hat options, I seem to remember, until we found the one we went with. Peter, Fran and Phil obviously get the final say on everything and I think it was the lovely Fran who came up with the idea of Alfrid’s distinctive eyebrow.
M-e News: Alfrid is a political character and very self-serving. Do you know what made him so?
RG: Alfrid has a disturbing amount of mistrust for people and their motives. This can only come from feeling very badly mistreated himself, over the years. As far as he is concerned he is just trying his best to survive and, who knows, one day even thrive. I feel sorry for Alfrid. He isn’t very happy.
M-e News: Was he fun to play?
RG: Yes great fun. He is insecure, calculating, venomous and silly. These are all very cathartic things to perform.
M-e News: How much did you draw on your experience of playing Osric in Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company, when playing Alfrid?
RG: I always do a lot of research for every character I play so, having already played a political servant meant I knew a few things about life in those positions. Osric never had to file down his Master’s bunions however, which is probably one of poor Alfrid’s duties!
M-e News: You and Stephen Fry (Master of Lake-town) have great on-screen chemistry. Did you spend time getting to know each other or did this just “happen”?
RG: Well, both. We spent a great deal of time on set together and we also got to spend plenty of time together when we weren’t. He is one of the loveliest and most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We still see each other from time to time and email and text jokes and things. He’s a wonderful, wonderful, man.
M-e News: Until recently you have mainly been a theatre actor. What do you find are the biggest differences between performing on stage and in a blockbuster film?
RG: Really, at its core, stage and screen acting is the same thing, it’s just a question of theatrical “volume”. I don’t mean vocally, but the entire physical volume of your performance has to be brought down for screen. It can be difficult to judge at first if you’ve trained to perform in large spaces. You have to do all the same character work, but then perform it with less physical volume. It’s actually more natural but, in order to be expressive on stage and be clear, we learn, as actors, how to sort of “push it out to the back of the auditorium,” which just isn’t required on screen. It’s fine once you get used to it, but it can be counterintuitive for a stage actor at first.
M-e News: I know you were in the stage musical Quadrophenia a few years ago and can sing. I can’t imagine
there’s much call for that from Alfrid but did you ever get the chance, off set, to sing with some of the other cast members?
RG: I’m not sure that I did actually. Philippa was always trying to get me to sing. There was a night at Ian (McKellen)’s house where Luke (Evans) gave us a very beautiful Roberta Flack number and my girlfriend Bridgette (Amofah) who is a singer by profession, she sang a Whitney Houston song in tribute as it hadn’t been long since the news of her death. Oh no! Wait! I did sing some Irish folk songs with Ed Sheeran at a DOS premiere after party. There was a lot of singing that night.
M-e News: Did Peter Jackson give you anything as a memento of your time on The Hobbit?
RG: Yes, but I have put them into storage as I wouldn’t trust myself to look after them properly. He gave me a ledger, a bag of gold (not real gold of course!) and a rubber fish!
M-e News: We all know Peter films far more footage than he can use. Is there anything that wasn’t in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug that you hope will turn up in the extended edition?
RG: Yeah, there is more stuff between The Master and Alf that I’m sure will turn up.
M-e News: Can you tell us a little bit about your current projects and where we can see you whilst waiting for the final part of The Hobbit trilogy?
RG: I’m currently playing King Louis in The Musketeers for the BBC. It stars the new Doctor Who, Peter Capaldi, another lovely bloke. Louis is a very different character to Alfrid, obviously. They both share a clownishness and are riddled with insecurities, but their brains are wired very differently because of the circumstances of their lives. One of my favourite things about being an actor is getting to pretend to be very different types of people. Trying to understand how they think and feel and how you can relate. Sometimes you have to be very lateral but when it clicks it can be strangely enlightening and great fun!