A Guide To Recognizing Your Dwarves From The Hobbit

The hobbits in an unexpected journey.
(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

There are many complications that come with adapting J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit for the big screen, and the group of dwarves at the center of the story. For those uninitiated, the novel follows Bilbo Baggins as he travels with a band of 13 dwarves to the Lonely Mountain so that they can steal their great treasure back from the monstrous dragon Smaug. What makes the presence of the dwarves so difficult is not only the fact that you’re juggling an incredible number of main characters, but also the fact that Tolkien doesn’t spend much time fleshing out each individual. This was something that obviously needed to be changed for the film, and while spending time on the set of the movie I not only found out that it was a problem they were fixing, but also the important traits of most members of the team.

As you may have already know, back in mid-May a small group of journalists including myself were flown down to Wellington, New Zealand to watch Peter Jackson and his cast and crew once again bring Middle Earth back to life. While the production was breaking for lunch, eight of the 13 dwarves were kind enough to give us some of their time to talk about their roles in the movie and what we could expect from their performances. But just who are Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bombur, Bofur, Balin Dwalin, Fili, Kili and Thorin Oakenshield? Start finding out below with our very special Guide To Recognizing Your Dwarves.

Thorin Oakenshield

Played By: Richard Armitage

On His Beard: “Once we'd decided what the beard was going to be like, I realized I could probably grow it myself. Because we started with a stick-on beard which was this kind of length. When it comes to the action stuff, and especially water and any kind of battle cry, it just starts to lift, and there's much less fuss with this. And it looks better, I think.”

His Surprisingly Tall Stature: “The real height of Thorin is five-foot-two, so actually he's not really that short. I think most five-foot-two people would be quite offended if they were to be called dwarves. And I think I'm sort of-- They put lifts in my shoes because they wanted Thorin to be half an inch taller than Dwalin, so actually they made me slightly taller. But what's really crazy about it is that when you've got all the gear on, the padding, the costume, you feel bigger than your real self, so mentally, I've been walking around for the last year as a bigger version of-- It's like a giant version of yourself, and then they shrink it down. But it's not until you see it shrunk down that you think, actually-- Yeah, it's just a connection that you make in your head, 'cause you're bigger than everyone, and heavier. But I think that's not a bad thing, that we haven't been playing small people. And when you see the way that they've got their kingdoms, they have this inflated-- They're compensated for the fact that they are a secret forbidden race that were nearly destroyed. And the Elves have their privileged existence, this almost spiritual existence, and the dwarves have to really fight for their place. And so they do it by aggrandizing their environment. So that's been interesting.”

On Exploring Thorin’s Darker Side: “I think knowing that his father and his grandfather have been touched by this dragon sickness which doesn't necessarily affect all dwarves, but some dwarves are susceptible to it. It's this attraction to gold which becomes their downfall, has always been at the back of his mind. And I think the burden of taking his people back to their homeland, which is so massive, makes him a lonely figure, I think. Knowing that his grandfather failed, and his father failed, so if he doesn't do it, there's no other member of his line that will ever do this. So he will continue through history as the king that failed to achieve the potential for his people. That's something, again, which is a huge burden to carry. And I think that's what drives him, but it's also the thing that he fears, that he will fail. And there's many opportunities for him to fail on this quest. But we haven't really got into the mountain yet, and had to play around with the dragon sickness, but I think it's going to be very interesting. I've looked at all sorts of different-- I've looked at drug addiction, and along those lines, so that it actually has a physical effect on him, his mind and his body. But I think because he's been a very heavy, melancholic character, I think the gold is going to change that, and it's going to sort of bring him to life and make him the king that he should be, and more vibrant. But it comes at a price, I think.

On Meeting Gandalf And His Feelings About Bilbo: “Yeah, it's something which-- They've used a lot of the appendix in Lord of The Rings. I think there's two versions of this chance meeting between Thorin and Gandalf which happens prior to this story, which I've certainly used. We've discussed The Hobbit, and why we need to take him. But in terms of this story, it does unfold as we go along that we need a Hobbit to go in to try and find the Arkenstone. Because the dragon will not recognize the smell of a Hobbit, whereas he knows very well the smell of a dwarf. And there's a possibility that they may be lighter on their feet, and more able to get in there. But it's kind of a loose project for Thorin to accept, I don't think he's ever bought that. I think he needs Gandalf to go on the quest, and if Gandalf says they've got to take this Hobbit, then fair enough. 'Cause he can't really do it without him, because Gandalf has the map and the key, and he's kind of hoodwinked into doing it. But all the way along, there is this antagonistic relationship between Thorin and Gandalf. I think Thorin is trying to prove that Gandalf isn't correct, and most of his assumption is that he's trying to usurp his leadership. When Gandalf isn't there, Thorin really becomes a leader, and when he turns up, he has to be subservient, and it's not something that he likes at all.”

A Quest For What Is Rightfully Theirs And A Quest For Gold: “I think the dwarves by nature are greedy and stubborn, and they covet gold, there's no getting away from it. They don't see that as a bad thing. You have to remove your human sentiment when it comes to greed and the accumulation of wealth. They see it as a very positive thing. But this particular group of dwarves, only thirteen of them have come out on this quest. Everyone else turned their backs and said, "No, no, no, leave it alone. Stay away from that mountain." So it really is about thirteen survivors that are going to attempt to do something which people have dissuaded other dwarves from doing. And so there is a sort of spirit of conquest in the dwarves. But as I say, we haven't actually-- We've done a few chase sequences around the mountain, but we haven't actually got to the point yet where we really see the gold and start touching it and owning it. So it's going to be interesting to see how that divides this very tight unit of questers.”

The Weight Of One’s Armor: “At my heaviest, I've carried an extra 30 kilos [about 66 pounds] on top of my own, so it's about a quarter of my own body weight on top of what I already have. Yeah, it's been tough, but the only downside of it is you're hot and you're tired, but because everything's bigger, your movement is kind of reduced. So you watch playback and you think, 'I know I'm working hard, but it doesn't look like I'm working hard enough.' So you have to put extra effort in to make it look really dynamic. And then they shrink you down and it looks even smaller, so I don't know. It's been an ongoing challenge.”


Played By: Peter Hambleton

How Gloin Fits In With The Rest Of The Dwarves: There's various sets of brothers. And my older brother Oin, who I respect and revere enormously, gets on my nerves quite a lot. So there's all sorts of different textures of loyalty, affection, family feuds, family versus family, where our family is a bit suspicious of that gang over there. So there's plenty of little friction-y things, and individual idiosyncrasies, but we're very united and rock-solid as a team. We have our butch sessions, where there's dissension in the ranks.”

The Talented Dwarf Singers: “It's quite good that a lot of the dwarves are quite good singers. Jimmy is a very good singer, Jimmy Nesbitt. Jed is a very good singer. I enjoy singing. But no, it's tremendous. There were a couple of harmonies that were actually written for it which were fabulous.”

Gloin’s Role, As Described By Co-Star Graham McTavish: “Yeah. Gloin is the treasurer of the group, really. I think he's bankrolled the expedition and wants to see a return on his investment. Whereas some are very, very gung-ho and some of us are a little more in it for the fight.”


Played By: Mark Hadlow

On Adding To His Character And How Dori Fits In With The Group: I guess we were given a certain amount of freedom and scope with regards to what we came up with. But obviously, the way Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] wrote was from the perspective of the story of the Hobbit leading the dwarves to get the gold. So whatever we were doing had to fit in with the premise of that. So the story was more important than our own, ‘Wow, let me do that, 'cause that'll be really good for the character". So it's very much a team job. That's probably, I think, the most important piece of equipment that we can use, is whatever I'm doing, does that benefit my brother Jed [Brophy, who plays Nori], and Adam [Brown, who plays Ori], who's playing my other brother. Does our family benefit the Gloin and Oin family? So it's very much that sort of thing.”

Dori’s Relationship With His Two Brothers: “I'm very bossy of my two brothers, which my middle brother hates, and actually my little brother hates me mothering him. But that's something that we've… 'Cause you want to mother him anyway, and he leads him up the wrong path, it's terrible.”

How The Singing Lessons Helped Him: “Some of us who aren't great singers were brilliantly coached by the whole musical team that we worked with. So they somehow miraculously melded us together.”  


Played By: Jed Brophy

How Long It Takes To Put His Make-Up On: “Two-and-a-half [hours].”

How Long It Takes To Take His Make-Up Off: “Forty minutes to an hour depending on how slow you are at the end of the day.”

The Importance Of Making The Individual Characters Stand Out: “In terms of our personalities, we were given quite a lot of scope, in terms of the personalities we were allowed to bring to the characters. But, yeah, the story has very clearly defined people telling the story, and in terms of the fans and in terms of the people who know the story, they have to pay tribute to that as well. So there's a fine balance between us bringing too much personality that's not written, but enough to make them individual from each other. So in terms of making them individual, we had a great deal of scope, and Peter's great at pulling back on if you do too much. But he's rather see too much than too little.”

How The Dwarves Come Together As A Company: “As soon as there's some outside force, we become an immovable group of people who will fight to the death to protect each other. We don't mind dwarf-on-dwarf fighting, but if it's someone else fighting us, it's like, ‘Look out. We'll bring it.’ Which is great.”

Learning How To Sing And The Song We Hear In The First Trailer: “We did that, logically, at the end of Bag End. Pretty much where it comes in the story, actually. We'd done a lot of training together, getting our voices to the right pitch, to be in harmony with each other. And on the day, we realized it was a fairly solemn occasion, in terms of, these dwarves don't rip into the song without good reason. Peter explained the solemnity of the song, and the reason why we do it is to try and get ourselves girded to go on this long journey, but to remind ourselves of what we are as a people, and what we’re going to do. And pretty much as you see it in the trailer, was how it was set up. It starts with Thorin singing at the fireplace, and the rest of us are carried away with the story to a point where we end up joining in. And so at the end, you get this very solemn, but also quite rousing song.”

Performing The Plate Throwing Song: “We also did a lot of the actual plate throwing. Some of it is CGI, but a lot of it is actual physical stuff. I did juggle cups. I'd never done it before, but in front of Peter Jackson, you do these miraculous things. I did, I did! Don't look at me like-- I honestly did. It wasn't CGI at all, none of it. It was all done just by me, mainly.”


Played By: John Callen

How The Character Fits Into The Group And What Makes Him Special: “I think because, as an actor, I'm ten years older than the next person down the list, they thought I should be, while still a warrior, somebody who might be a little more considerate. Oin is meant to be something of an apothecary. And, it won't be part of the film, but I did do some research about them, and in the olden days, they also acted as what we today call midwives. So we-- Peter Hambleton and I, he plays my brother Gloin. So we thought Oin and Gloin-- Gloin is the father of Gimli, and we decided that probably, I was assisting at the birth of Gimli, and he turned out the way he did because I dropped him on his head. Something like that, for instance.”

How John Callen Was Able To Add To The Character: “Oin and Gloin don't appear frightfully much in the book. And what's wonderful about this production is that we've all had an opportunity to make an input into certain things. One of the things I do is carry around a satchel which is full of little lotions and potions and things like that. So if somebody is sick, I'm meant to be the one who steps in to look after them.”

On How He Got The Gig: “I did an audition, probably six months, seven months before I heard I'd got a role, but I didn't actually audition for the role I have. So how I got this role, you'll have to ask the director. I don't know, maybe it was because I could do a halfway decent Scottish accent, which I have to do. His Dwarvish accent is very clearly East-end Dwarvish. Very clearly, yeah. He's Los Angeles Dwarvish, really.”  


Played By: William Kircher

What Makes Bifur…Special: “It's a fantastic opportunity for an actor. When this came out, when I first saw it, in about a second, I thought, "Well, that's a bit strange." Then I thought, "No, that is fantastic!" Because Bifur is slightly intellectually challenged, because this is an Orc axe. And so his personal journey on it, is I'm looking for the guy that did this, and I'm still hoping to find him. But Bifur, at the start of the journey is quite zoned out. He is actually-- This has an effect on his brain. And he has what is-- It's sort of a version of foreign language syndrome coming from frontal lobe trauma, which is like having a stroke. And he can only speak in Dwarvish. Which is great, because it's a whole-- The production has somebody that has written Dwarvish, off in the U.K., and so every now and then I get to throw it in. It's a really good thing for the fans, it's a really good thing for the story, because it is an ancient language.

“That's part of the story. But Bifur's also a toy maker, so he's actually quite a gentle character, but he's insanely violent as well. Which is part of the reason I'm here. It's because I may be a bit of a burden, but I'm very handy in a fight. He's a bit of a maniac in a fight, and he can't stop, and he uses his fists a lot. And as John said, what's been great is to all have an opportunity, right from the start, to give input and to flesh out the characters and make the dwarves, give them all living, breathing, different beings. And the picture has really-- Because you have to, in the picture. You can't just have a bunch of guys. You've actually got to have an emotional attachment to them, either hate them or love them or something. That makes them all a little bit different and a little bit special.”

On Bifur’s Calm Down Button, As Explained By Co-Star John Callen: “One of the things I liked about Bifur was explained by Bofur, who's played by James Nesbitt, who said that if he starts getting a bit weird, you just have to hold him down, grab him, and then just adjust this slightly, give it a twist, and he'll be as sweet as a lamb after that.”

Speaking a bit of Dwarvish: “[speaks Dwarvish] That means, ‘Mighty Dwarf.’ I say that on the production diary. [speaks Dwarvish] means, "friend." [speaks Dwarvish] means, ‘my heart.’ But Bifur also makes beautiful little toys. So they've given him a very-- It's an interesting line for a character: He's insane, slightly mad, zones out, and violent.”


Played By: Graham McTavish

How Dwalin Fits In With The Other Dwarves: “I suppose Dwalin is the veteran warrior of the group. He's the one along with Balin and Thorin that have seen what the dragon has done. They've experienced battle, whereas a lot of the other guys, I think this is the first time for them. They've not really had that sort of life, and when we talked about it when we started the job, it's a bit like somebody who is going into combat for the first time, I suppose. The young ones are very enthusiastic and think it's going to be a great adventure, but the older ones realize that it's going to be something a lot more harrowing, and I think that's where Dwalin coming from. And he's there, I think, for a very specific purpose. Which is to regain the honor of the Dwarvish race. It's not so much for the gold or the money, it's to get back our homeland. It's very much a returning to an occupied territory almost, and getting it back. I hit a lot of people and I'm very violent. That's the shorthand.”

His Tattoos And His Weapons: The tattoos. Yeah, we decided early on that Dwalin would have tattoos both on my head and on my arms. We've shot the pre-sequence with Moria where the younger version of myself, where I don't have any of those things. The tattoos, I believe, are an illustrated history of our people. With what happened to us at Moria and with Erebor, etcetera. It's a permanent reminder to me of what we need to do and what we've lost. That's how I interpret the tattoos. There were lots of suggestions as to literally what they meant, but we went with that. And similarly with the axes. I have two axes that I strap to my back, and I wanted very much to have them as characters in the story, almost. I remember that Emily Bronte had two dogs, hounds, called Grasper and Keeper, and I'd never forgotten that. And I thought that they would be great names for Dwalin's axes. That he grasps your soul with one axe and keeps it with the other. And when I suggested it to Peter-- I literally suggested it as a character note, rather than something that I wanted, he went, "Oh yeah, that would be great! Oh, yeah, we could get it in Elvish and the fans will love that!" So, there they are, literally the next day they appeared. [Pointing to the tattoos] ‘Grasper’ and “Keeper’”

On The The Goblin Set: “It was a very hot set. We were fighting actual people, rather than imaginary people. And because when you're fighting imaginary people you always win, and it's not even an issue that you're even going to get harmed, but when, obviously, you're fighting real people that doesn't go that way. It was very hot, very tiring, but, yeah, very exhilarating.”

What It Was Like Getting Into Costume For The First Time: “Right from the beginning, even before I got here, I was very keen that he was bald, and Peter went along with that. I think they liked that distinction in the group. Physically it's important that we're distinguishable from each other as well as in character terms, and that was something that I was very keen on. And then when we had the prosthetic tests, it was a fascinating process to see the tiny adjustments that they would make. They'd do a camera test and then-- My nose is, believe it or not, actually smaller than it was. A little bit. I had more scars than I have now. They decided to take some of those scars away. I looked at some of the concept art the other day, and in one of them I had an eye patch, and a whole head of hair. I think Richard Taylor was saying for my beard alone, they did eight hundred and nineteen separate drawings. Choices.”

The Trick With Props: “You always have to be careful what you suggested and requested in terms of weapons and bags, because then you'd be carrying them for a year and a half.”

How Dwalin Feels About Bilbo Baggins: “I think my character relationship with him is that Dwalin is the type of man, or sorry, dwarf who doesn't trust people easily. He's very black and white in his views, so that you're either somebody who has his undivided loyalty or you're potentially an enemy. And until you prove that you're not an enemy you are assumed to be so, and I think that's his attitude towards Bilbo. I don't think it was my idea to take him along for sure. And I don't think I'm happy about it once it's decided. I know Thorin isn't and I tend to take my lead from Thorin as a character. We grew up together, we've known each other all our lives, and I'm the last one in the story to find my loyalty tested with regards to Thorin. So with his attitude to Bilbo I follow them. But working with Martin it's great. It's lovely and we all have a very nice interesting piss taking relationship. All of us, me and him.”

On Working With Ian McKellan: “I remember all of us as actors, it would have been the first day that we were on set and Ian appeared in the full rig and that was quite an out of body experience in Bag End, because you did feel like you'd stepped into a film, or another world that you were familiar with, and then suddenly you were actually inhabiting at the same time and that was quite a trippy moment.”  


Played By: Stephen Hunter

On Bombur’s Fear of Dwalin: “I'm actually quite scared of Dwalin. Quite intimidated. Bombur's different because like Bofur, my brother, and Bifur, my cousin, who you just talked to, we're not from the line of Durin. We're sort of more simple folk, farmers. So to us it still means quite a lot to go and take over the mountain, but we're just going along for the ride. I'm pretty quite naïve in a way as to what to expect. Don't mind a good scrap, but my brother or cousin will be in there fighting all the way if we need to, but probably don't have that real deep attachment to that royalty and to the gold that the others have. I go along with everything, but it's a bit of an eye-opener for Bombur. And obviously he eats, falls over a bit. Cooks, he does cook.”

On The Amazing Set Design: “The sets are incredible. You go to work and suddenly you go to a new stage and a new set that you haven't seen before. Bearing in mind we get to see a segment of it and the rest of it will get built around green screens everywhere. So it might be that and then it's going to be a huge size and go on forever.”

What It Was Like Getting Into Costume For The First Time: “Bombur's pretty quick. I walked in and he's like, "Yeah, cool." Fat guy, ginger, great big thing around his neck.”

On His Relationship With Gandalf: “I'm a little bit in awe, with a lot of them because a lot of them are older, they've got a connection to Durin. I've heard stories about most of the stuff that we experience, but meeting him was quite interesting. I felt very curious, Bombur's quite curious about-- Yeah, a little bit in awe.” As mentioned earlier, we sadly didn’t get the chance to talk with all of the dwarves on set, but below you can find the official character descriptions, which come to us via The Hobbit’s Official Facebook Page.


Played By: Kenn Stott

A descendant of nobility and a Dwarf Lord in his own right, Balin is one of the oldest members of The Company of Dwarves. Wise and gentle by nature, he has been forced to live a life fraught with war and the ongoing struggle for survival. Related to Thorin Oakenshield, Balin is one of his closest, most trusted advisors – but deep in his heart, this wisest and most loyal of Dwarves harbors troubling doubts about the wisdom of the Quest for the Lonely Mountain.


Played By: James Nesbitt

Endearing and likeable, Bofur has a disastrous tendency to state the obvious and blurt out things without thinking. With a love of music and a fine singing voice, Bofur delights in good food and good company and is unfailingly optimistic. Though not especially brave, he will do his best to help those in need, especially those he counts as friends. Along with his brother Bombur and his cousin Bifur, Bofur joined the Quest for the Lonely Mountain partly to seek his fortune – and partly because he was told the beer was free.


Played By: Dean O'Gorman

Fili was born into the royal line of Durin and raised under the stern guardianship of his uncle, Thorin Oakenshield. Along with his brother Kili, Fili is one of the youngest in The Company of Dwarves. He has never traveled far, nor ever seen the fabled Dwarf City of Erebor. A skilled fighter, Fili sets off on the adventure ahead with little idea of the challenges and dangers that lie before him.


Played By: Aidan Turner

Younger brother to Fili, Kili is a loyal nephew to Thorin Oakenshield. Carefree and somewhat reckless, Kili has led a charmed and untroubled life to this point. Handsome and physically able, Kili possesses the invincible courage of youth. He is a skilled fighter and expert archer, having been trained with weapons from an early age. As one of the youngest in The Company of Dwarves, Kili is determined to make his mark and prove his worth.


Played By: Adam Brown

(As described with his two brothers, Nori and Dori) These three brothers, all sons of the same mother, could not be more different from each other. Dori, the oldest, spends much of his time watching out for Ori, the youngest; making sure he’s not caught a chill or got himself killed by Wargs or Goblins. Nobody quite knows what Nori gets up to most of the time, except that it’s guaranteed to be dodgy and quite probably, illegal. Dori, Nori and Ori are intensely loyal to each other – and whilst they are perfectly happy fighting amongst themselves, woe-betide anyone who means harm to one of these brothers.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

NJ native who calls LA home and lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran who is endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.