Melanie Schmitz
May 01, 2013 6:00 am

Every time a bell rings, an angel inserts the Pride and Prejudice box set and women everywhere faint collectively – or at least I think that’s how it goes. Over the years, there have been several on-screen  incarnations of the illustrious Fitzwilliam Darcy and the plucky Elizabeth Bennet. There was the recent Matthew Macfayden and Kiera Knightly turn in Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation of the famous novel, the faux-reality-doc web sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, featuring a dashing and quick-witted Daniel Vincent Gordh and Ashley Clements duo and my personal favorite, the utterly romantic Wishbone and Dee Hennigan combo of the 1995 television adaptation Furst Impressions.

Still, one silver-screen version seems to always trump them all in terms of age-old allure and sparkling charm. In 1995, the BBC released a mini-series based on Jane Austen’s treasured masterpiece featuring none other than a fresh-faced Jennifer Ehle as the brainy protagonist opposite (ahem – sound the trumpets please) the one and only Colin Firth as a muted yet gentlemanly version of the notorious Mr. Darcy. We were goners.

He was perfect. The perfect Mr. Darcy: quiet and slightly smarmy, cold yet still kindhearted, gentle but strong in character. He was the ultimate gentry/awkward-guy-at-social-event mix, even-tempered but passionate. From then on out, it was Firth Fest: women everywhere were buying bonnets and ribbons, splashing through fountains and improving their minds through extensive reading in the hopes that they might have a chance at being swept away suddenly and languorously. In reality, Colin Firth was just as, for lack of a better term, dreamy. He spoke fluent Italian, treated his ex-girlfriend’s children as adoringly as a father would, had a silly sense of humor and rapport with Bridget Jones co-star Hugh Grant and was an all-around nice-guy to nearly everyone he met.

In the last few years, we ladies have watched proudly as the ridiculously talented Colin Firth has taken on character after character, filling up his dance card with memorable and vastly different roles such as the eternally-miffed Lord Wessex in John Madden’s Shakespeare in Love, awkward politician/dad Henry Dashwood in the Amanda Bynes flick What a Girl Wants, the artist Johannes Vermeer in Girl With a Pearl Earring, additional “Darcy-work” on the incomparable Bridget Jones’ Diary and a BAFTA and Oscar-winning turn as King James VI in 2010’s The King’s Speech. It’s safe to say that Colin Firth has secured his place in the hearts of every single man, woman and house-pet.

So, what next?

If you’re searching for your next gush-worthy, swoon-worthy, “my-god-how-are-you-human” unorthodox heartthrob, try this one on for size:

That’s right. That’s a photo-set of Richard Armitage.

The recently spotlighted Hobbit actor has become something of an enigma over the last few months. Women who had never previously been into the whole fantasy or Tolkien genre swarmed the theaters after the first glimpses of Armitage in his Thorin costume, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps out of beard-love. No one can be sure.

What we do know is the following: Richard Crispin Armitage first broke onto the acting scene in roles such as the impressive John Thornton in the BBC’s epic North and South (which, if you haven’t watched yet… shame on you), a lovely yet tortured personification of the master Claude Monet in the 2006 BBC mini-series The Impressionists, and a well-suited Lucas North in the British television hit Spooks. Just when you think you have him pegged, he shows up in the Marvel hit Captain America: The First Avenger as a grumpy-pants gunman/cyanide-fiend Heinz Kruger and leaves you scratching your head: Who is this guy and why do I feel compelled to watch everything he’s ever been in since the dawn of time?!

With the release of The Hobbit, these kinds of questions began to swirl. Was he like his character? Did he attract loyal armies of people wherever he went? Did Richard Armitage talk like Thorin? How did a guy who’s 6’2” so convincingly play a vertically challenged dwarf-king? Everyone began to assume he and his royal embodiment were one in the same.

But that was the catch. Richard Armitage is, if nothing else, the nicest, kindest, most humble man on the face of the planet. His co-stars are constantly gushing about him. Fellow dwarf Graham McTavish once spoke of him, “How you imagine him to be is exactly how he is—wonderful, kind and a natural leader to our group”, while Jed Brophy added that Armitage was possibly “the nicest human I’ve ever met”. His interest in acting came from reading books and plays and was once quoted as saying that the best advice he ever received was to “’do something other than acting if you can, but if [acting] is the only thing you could live with yourself doing, then you have no choice’… and here I am.”

Humility would not be the first word that springs to mind when one first lays eyes on the statuesque, steely-eyed Armitage, yet there it is: on the set of The Hobbit, Armitage reportedly didn’t unpack his suitcases for three weeks, worried that his performance would be lackluster and director Peter Jackson would send him home. He’s okay sacrificing other substantial offers to work with Jackson, saying, “There’s nothing that would have stopped me from [playing] Thorin. If I never do another piece of work again after this, I think I’ll be happy, genuinely happy. It feels like an arrival.”

Armitage spent years dreaming of his big break, working in a warehouse, a laser-tag arena and ripping ticket stubs at theaters, watching other actors poorly portray roles that he could only dream of; because of this, he says that he rarely turns down a job when asked. He sings, plays cello, guitar and flute, but insists that he’s not adept. Richard Armitage is modest in the most confident way possible.

If you aren’t enlisted in the Armitage Army at this point I’ll leave you with this little gem, a snippet of an interview from a Hobbit production video log where Armitage does his best impression of a hopeless romantic:

“One of the [filming] memories that really sticks in my head the most is walking in through the gates of Stonestreet at 4:45 in the morning when it’s dark. And there’s no one else here and the stars are still out, and then slowly the studio comes to life and the sun comes up… I saw a lot of those days.”

Swoon.

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