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“Having a box office figure next to your name is unbelievably important when it comes to certain castings.
But I don’t think it would have made a difference coming to the Crucible.” And after 13 years of concentrating on film and television, returning to the stage is a very big deal for him.
“I think if you’ve got stuff to hide, there’s a level of stress that people live with.
I think I read somewhere that someone said I was fiercely protective of my private life, and I thought well, there’s nothing fierce about protecting a private life. And in a way the shyness is me protecting other people from that.
He says this sort of understanding is essential to his approach to acting.
He’s bearded and dressed in thick shapeless trousers, heavy boots, and a rough collarless cotton shirt open at the neck to reveal a broad chest. Anyone who knew the 42 year-old only as the dwarf Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit films might have quite a shock.
The Crucible is at the Old Vic, London until 13 Sept.
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“I haven’t seen any of them but I’ll take your word for it,” he says. I know what Twitter is, I don’t use it, I don’t use Facebook, so luckily it does zero to my ego.” His unwillingness to share his private life with the press has led to rumours about his sexuality.
I ask him if, in the era of tabloid witch hunts, those in the public eye live with a fear that one day they’ll wake up to find that they’ve become the story, and whether this means having to censor parts of his character in public all the time.
Can it escape that allegory and find another, I ask him.