Interviews With “The Lord of the Rings” Cast
On Wednesday, December 5, 2003, Jeffrey Overstreet joined several
other film critics to talk with members of the cast and crew of “The
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Since so much has already
been published about the making of the films, these journalists took
a particular interest in asking the artists about their perspectives
on J.R.R. Tolkien's worldview and whether or not his distinctly and
profoundly Catholic perspective resonated with them in any way. Some
were open to discussing issues of religion and spirituality, while
others were not. This resulted, at times, in something more like
a conversation and less like a typical Q&A.
These interviews originally appeared at Looking Closer, an arts-review
Web site sponsored by Promontory Artists Association.
Editor's Note: Jeffrey Overstreet is both a Response staff
writer and a film critic for Christianity Today.
A Visit With Andy Serkis (Gollum/Smeagol)
It was great to finally see your
face in one of the “Lord
of the Rings” films. What was that like for you?
[For me] to see when Smeagol becomes Gollum
that was the
real reward. Very cleverly Peter Jackson decided to keep that back,
because it was intended to be included in “ The Two Towers .” But
he decided to let Gollum live as a character in the public consciousness
for a year and then ... keep this as a sort of psychological thriller.
Because at the end of “ The Two Towers” we think we know
who Gollum/Smeagol is. We know that Gollum is the vengeful, dark
part of his personality and Smeagol is the innocent one that's
But then we're taken on this other sort of journey in “ The Return
of the King,” where Smeagol becomes slightly more manipulative
and that child becomes, as children can be, equally manipulative.
For me, it was really nice to complete the journey and for the
audience to experience that transformation. I think it gives power
to what the Ring actually means, in how it finds him. We play that
opening sequence — I don't know if people picked up on this — in
the sense that Smeagol and Deagol get the Ring and fight, it's not a
clear cut case of Smeagol strangling his cousin. There's a fight
involved. It's like two children on a playground who find a ticket
to the World Cup and they fight, they're so engrossed in this powerful
thing. It just becomes the center of this fight, and in the end
it gets out of control and they can't police their desire for this
thing. And Smeagol ends up killing another child.
You said [in a previous interview regarding Gollum] that “There
but for the grace of God go I.” Can you expand on that?
Gandalf [talks with] Frodo in the Mines of Moria. Frodo says, “Bilbo
should have killed Gollum when he had the chance.” And Gandalf
says, “Be careful how you deal out judgment. Many that live deserve
death and some that die deserve life. Be careful how you deal out
judgment — Gollum has a part to play in this journey.”
For me, it's very easy to judge a character like Gollum. It would
have been very easy to play him as a cut-and-dried villain. But
I think the power of the Ring is what is essential to the drama
of the character in the films and in the book. And it's very much
about how the individual deals with that responsibility and that
drug — I played him as an addict, really.
I think the reason that there's been a lot of connection to Gollum
over the past year is because people have connected to him and
they've not judged him immediately. They have said, “There but
for the grace of God go I. I wonder how I would have dealt with
the responsibility if I had had this powerful drug thrust upon
me or given to me. Would I have the moral stature to deal with
it?” I don't think most people would have had the stature to deal
with it. I think most people would have been consumed by it. It's
a very potent, powerful thing.
All of us have different addictions. Not even addictions, but burdens. Some
people have to deal with terminal illness. Some people have to
deal with jobs they hate getting up for every day. Some people
can potentially be serial killers, but they can police themselves
and not go through with it. Some people can be fantastic with their
kids one minute and then want to beat the hell out of them the
You talk about Gollum in terms of addiction.
A lot of
addiction recovery programs stress the need to acknowledge a
higher power. And we certainly see that Frodo succumbs, and yet
he is spared from the fate of Isildur and Gollum only by fate
or Providence or whatever
you want to call it. Do you have any additional thoughts on that?
[Frodo] is also saved by the fact that Gollum takes [the Ring]
out of his hand. I think that's so important. The antihero, the
guy we should hate, the guy we should judge, he has played an important
part. Finally, as all the characters have, he's played a fundamental
part in the destruction of the Ring. Had he not been there, Frodo
would have been walking down that [promontory] and we don't know
what he would have done. He does succumb to it finally. It is key
that Gollum does play that final moment.
In cartoon versions, Gollum has been portrayed as a monster.
We were raised to hate monsters, so we have no sympathy at all.
You portrayed him as a very piteous character. When Frodo said, “I
have to hope that he can come back”
I wanted him to
I think the audience should feel that. And hopefully
they do. Because Frodo is also talking about himself. He's looking
at a version of himself. He's carrying the burden of the Ring,
and he's looking at someone who is well down the line of suffering
from the burden of having carried the Ring. He knows he's going
that way. He does, for himself, have to believe that to.
I think for the audience, the tension is so much greater and so
much more tragic — you see this person who can't help himself.
We all know people who we really don't like. They might be friends
of ours who do things we don't like, or they might be somebody
who just makes your day bad and they moan and they give you a hard
time. But you somehow feel sorry for them because you know they
can't help themselves. Times one hundred, that's Gollum, really.
After playing Gollum, do you have a sense of how to help
people who are prisoners to addiction?
I think I have a greater understanding. I have friends who have
been addicts. I know people who are recovering from alcoholism.
I know people who have been through tough times. One, I have enormous
respect for the fight they face every day. They really are heroes
in their own right for doing what they're doing.
Do you think just “pity” is the answer?
Not pity, really. Being non-judgmental. Always believing that
there is a redeeming quality in every single human being.
But Gandalf and Aragorn, when they see orcs coming, they
don't hesitate to pick up the sword. Isn't that a contradiction
within the story…?
I think that's the duality. [Tolkien] was around a great war.
That's why there are so many resonances to what's been going on
in the last few years.
Do you think this gives us any guidance as to when you stop tolerating
or accepting or being non-judgmental? When do you start saying, “Even
though this person
or this orc
may be redeemable, I have
to pick up the sword now!”?
I don't think Tolkien really gives you all the answers. I think
he asks the questions. It's like “ Apocalypse Now .” It's a great
anti-war film, but it shows people murdering each other. Yes, we
show violence. Yes, there's violence involved. Tolkien's not saying
whether it's good or bad. He's like a documentary maker in the
middle of a war. People have to make their own minds up.
When I saw you portraying Gollum, I thought of Iago. He's
close to power, corrupted by the closeness, jealous of the power.
And then I read that you recently played Iago.
Did any of that
experience inform this experience?
Oh for sure. I very purposefully chose to play that role this
year. It was a conscious decision. It happened to fit into the
theatre program with a director I really wanted to work with. I
was keeping ‘in the zone' with Gollum; it's like putting similar
areas of what you're drawing from under the microscope at the same
For me, Iago is a soldier, but everybody likes him, he's good
fun, he's a practical joker, he's a trustworthy soldier, he has
a great relationship with his general, and they get on very well.
And then an event happens, much like the Ring landing in his lap,
where a woman comes and steals this man's heart. He just cannot
cope with it.
Every day we have jealousy. A friend of yours gets a job and you
say ‘That's great!' And 99 percent of you is saying, "That's great!” But
there's a part of you that says, “I wish I'd got that.”
This begins to eat into him. He can't quite believe that he's
feeling these things toward this friend of his. He begins to rather
enjoy the pain he's put this guy through. Before you know it, you've
become this monster. That can happen to anyone very quickly.
If you play Iago as [this guy who says,] "I've plotted and planned
to get this guy for a long time." You can do it that way, but it's
not that interesting. Seeing someone's mind working in the moment — for
an audience, witnessing that is very very interesting. It was a
decision to play him as a guy who goes through a transformation,
a transition to trying to plug into the dark side. He chooses to
channel all of his energy into something very dark and destructive.
Do you have any thoughts specifically on the role of “the
grace of God” or the role of a Higher Power in regarding to dealing
with inner demons. Especially playing this part in a story from
an author for whom Catholic faith was such a significant element?
I was brought up a Catholic, but I got to a point in my life where
I began to feel that religions, conventional religions, different
religions, all mean the same thing. They're just a different way
of saying the same thing.
I eventually moved away from a specific religion, and I guess
I'm much more a believer in energy, and reciprocal energy, and
handing out good energy or bad energy. What we leave behind as
human beings can be good or bad. The energy continues. It's a physics
thing. It just carries on. Every interaction is an interaction,
and sometimes they're not great, but hopefully you can try to make
positive interactions with people and things and the world around
you. I suppose that's my view.
Did it just beat you to death,
playing this character?
It was a very demanding role. It was very physically exhausting
and vocally very tiring. Beyond that, psychologically it was taxing.
And on a technical level… the other actors, whenever they finished
the scene at the end of the day, they knew that their definitive
performance was in the can. It was on 35 millimeter, and that was
it. But for me, it was like, I played the part and played the scene.
When you shoot a scene, it's like you've put a peg in the chart
of the character, and you can build from that. For me, it would
be like two years before the definitive scene would be completed,
because there are so many processes involved between. There would
be motion capture and then revisiting it and then working with
the animators and doing more vocal tracks. There was never a moment
when I went, “Bang! I've got the scene.”
What do you feel you still have to learn as an actor?
Are there other actors or role models whose careers you admire
and hope to emulate?
I don't really have mentors, in that respect. As an actor, I just
want to keep investigating. I'm really interested in observing
people, what makes them tick, their body language, where they carry
elements of pain in their bodies.
I'm also interested in developing further the whole motion capture
aspect of acting. People say to me, “It must be good to get back
to normal acting, or proper acting” as they call it, as
if this hasn't been proper acting, which it has been
I haven't had to wear a costume and makeup. It has really opened
up a new arena of acting. Basically you can play any character
it's been proven. It's a really exciting time for actors.
A Visit With Liv Tyler (Arwen) and Orlando Bloom
You guys were the rock stars of the whole trilogy. That's
how [teenagers] look at you guys.
Bloom: Peter Jackson really didn't know how to
handle the elves. He certainly didn't know about Arwen, or what
they were going to do with [her character.]
As far as Legolas goes, I did all this work on the physicality.
At the beginning we did all of this movement training.
Tyler : It's hard to find "the
look" for them.
Bloom: Tolkien created them as red-blooded fighting
machines as well as angelic spirits that are godlike, androgynous,
zenlike warriors. So I certainly didn't want Legolas to be like
a fairy at the bottom of a garden.
So, Peter wasn't really sure. As the film went on, in terms of "Leggy,"
Tyler : …they found something
more realistic. Originally, the elves were really weird.
Bloom: They were really fairy-ish.
Tyler : They were almost like
Bloom: They were very pretty and… not real. But
you wanted them to be real and accessible and cool . And
Pete got that.
All that stuff with Leggy running up on top of the cave troll and
sliding down the stairs on an Uruk-hai shield in the second movie,
and hopping onto the horse, and, obviously, that oliphaunt scene
was all Pete, because he just started to get it.
Tyler : You don't want them
to look too precious, you know?
Bloom: The way he shot Liv was particular
and Galadriel were shot very differently than Miranda Otto's character
[Eowyn], who was one of the humans. [The elves all had] a kind
Tyler : They
kind of airbrushed a glow around us.
Tyler : There are moments in
the movie where, watching it with "Hair and
Makeup" [crew], and with Pete and Fran, they cringe at the look
of the elves
[regarding their] hair and makeup and costumes
for all of us that were elves. We were trying to figure
out the look. There was a time we were doing something weird with
We looked like Spock!
Bloom (to Tyler ): So
many of those elven extras just got sliced [out], didn't they?
You remember in Rivendell
there were hundreds of extras in Rivendell,
because Rivendell is the place of the elves, and they were all
peppered all over the place
all of these velvety gowns
Tyler : It looked a bit weird.
Bloom: They're sort of an unusual race. I remember
having to go out and teach them how to walk. I'd been working on
the movement, but I hadn't even been [filmed] yet. I got a call
from Pete, and he said, would I go down to the set and teach these
guys how I was walking? Because they were all just prancing through
You know how with ballet dancers, you can't help but marvel at
the way their legs are ‘ripped.' They can move .
They've got this composure, like gymnasts. They've got that kind
of strength that comes from the core. That was what we were trying
to go with the elves. Although they're incredibly graceful, they've
got that kind of strength that you just marvel [at].
As you probably know, Tolkien believed that humankind
is ultimately unable to resist the forces of evil. And yet there
is hope in the story, suggested by these hints of a higher power,
a higher author of the story. The elves are portrayed as having
a more significant connection to that power
to that otherworldly
reality that he believed in. Does that belief, that suggestion
of a higher influence, resonate with you and your beliefs regarding
where we are in the world today and the hope that we might have?
Did you think about that sort of issue while you were playing
Tyler : I think as you get older,
you tend to lose that voice that you have when you are a child.
I don't know that ‘God'
is the right word. When you're younger you fell more connected.
I think it's so easy to lose that as you get older. I try really
hard in my life to be connected to myself, and to listen to my
own voice of reason, in a way.
How do you go about that?
Tyler : I don't know. I don't know how to answer that.
How much has your dad been a voice of reason for you? [Note: Tyler's father is Steven Tyler, the lead singer of the
rock band Aerosmith.]
Tyler : I don't always listen
to my dad! [laughing] I love him, but
learned more, in regard to all that stuff, from my mother. She
really taught me. At a very young age, she was my manager. She
really wizened me up and protected me. I really grew up quite quickly,
and I got the chance to see the mistakes that people had made.
In a way, I wanted to do everything to not make those mistakes
myself. And now that I'm an adult, I've relaxed about that, and
I [can say] “It's okay to make mistakes.”
During the whole course of the experience of “The Lord
of the Rings,” did you learn a life lesson that you think would
be valuable to pass on to teenagers today?
Bloom: [smiling at Tyler ] We'll
probably answer the same thing.
Tyler : [smiling back] Don't
steal mine. I'll kill you.
[laughter all around the table]
Bloom: (to the press) Well,
that's one thing we didn't learn!!
Bloom: (to Tyler ) You
answer first. You're a lady.
Tyler : Reflecting back, I really learned a lot about patience and trust.
It was such a long experience. So much of it was
it was great
material, but sometimes, it wasn't clear. Sometimes, we would shoot
a scene, and then they would change it, and shoot a scene with
other characters and give them those same words. I learned how
to be patient in that and to trust Peter
to give over to the
experience of working on this movie, and to know that he would
use the best material and do what was right.
It's hard to always trust somebody that much. I think that's something
that can be relevant in school with a teacher. You sort of think
you have all the answers sometimes.
I felt, a couple of times, that I made mistakes, and I wish I
had listened to Peter more. This has definitely made me more aware
of that in myself.
Bloom: There are so many themes and messages
that run through this movie. Friendship, the fellowship of strangers,
mixed races, putting aside their differences to come together and
make a difference. Legolas and Gimli couldn't be further apart,
but then they say, “What about
standing side by side with a friend?” There's something about having
the passion, the wisdom, and the courage to live life with integrity.
All of those characters in “ The Lord of the Rings”
one of them doesn't act with integrity. The message to the kids
of the messages
is one of courage and humility and integrity.
And that's the message of the film as well, that came down from
the top from Peter. It was a real ensemble. There were no egos.
We were all treated very much the same. We all went into it with
that energy. That's a good message for kids, isn't it?
Had you all read the books before? How much did you let
that inform what you did?
Bloom: It was a great tool for us. Legolas is a character who speaks
through action. Actions speak louder than words. He's a very strong
presence within the book, but it's in what he does as opposed to
what he says. I just had this overwhelming feeling that wherever
he was, you could feel his presence and there was a watchful eye
to make sure things turned out alright. He wasn't going to let
anything slip through the net.
Tyler : He was the protector.
Bloom: We all used the book as a way of finding
the world of “The Lord
of the Rings.” Bits from the book came out, and others went in.
But it was all to forward the movie and make it accessible for
a movie audience today.
I ask that question partly because “ The Lord of the Rings” is
more than mere fantasy &emdash; there is a whole religious worldview
behind it. Did you connect with that? Did you think about that
as you were trying to realize your character?
Bloom: In terms of the religious elements? In
terms of that, we were all very much aware of the energy and the
spirit in which Tolkien had created this story and these books.
How would you define that? How would you describe that
Bloom: It's a very positive … I answered that
in an earlier question. There's a group of strangers, of mixed
races, putting aside all of their beliefs, all of their differences,
to come together
terms of the wisdom that is within that alone, I think there is
a great message.
And in New Zealand, for us, which is very much outwardly a sort
of classless society in many respects
we were all treated with
equality. That had a big influence on us.
And nature . So much of this movie is about the landscape,
and about the way that it is shot. We were all affected by the
landscape around us. The environment is very important to us now.
Future Forest which is a company
I know Dom's wearing the T-shirt
is about being “carbon neutral.” Coldplay, and a lot of musicians
and actors are coming together to be involved in this company [that
suggests] if you drive a big car or fly around the world in airplanes,
you can plant enough trees to make what you do to negatively impact
the world cancel out
so that you're carbon neutral.
That's a great message as well.
A Visit With Sean Astin (Samwise)
Compared to your performance as Samwise in the first and
the second films of this trilogy, this third one looks like it
must have been a marathon of emotion and torment and physical
trial for you.
Sean: [pretending to brush it off, like it was nothing] Nah!
How much of that was real?
Sean: Yeah, that was real. All of it. And when
it wasn't we did it again. Glad you noticed.
It's so funny
it's almost like because you are experiencing
this or the first time, I have to pretend [that it just happened.]
But we'd done all that three years ago, four years ago.
It's nice to see people noticing it and acknowledging it, and not
have to be patient
wondering what people might be seeing eventually.
I heard one critic say that
[regarding Peter Jackson's
perspective on] the movie, at the end of the day there was only
one guy who really understood that this really wasn't Frodo's
story, but it was Sam's story
and that was you. Is
Sean: [seems surprised, muses quietly:]
[laughter around the table]
I don't agree really with that. To me,
I was the advocate for Sam. I am the ambassador of Sam. In my interpretation
of Sam, I wanted to be strong.
But would you say it is Sam's story, or is it the ring-bearer's
The story's the story. I think that Frodo sacrifices
more than Sam
It's probably the hardest thing of the adaptation, really. There
were tricky things technologically to accomplish, and logistically
there were a lot of things that were a challenge. But
want the movie to connect with people, on some level they have
to really care about the characters. One of the biggest
challenges was dramatizing the sacrifice of Frodo and the torment
of Frodo. Short of having Elijah get addicted to heroin or starving
him for months on end … how does a serious committed actor communicate
[that idea]? [It's the same] with Gollum who is supposed to be
the real expression of those ideas in the extreme &emdash; he has to be
animated, because you want to service that gaunt, emaciated, tormented
idea. In the writing, in the literature, you can go into these
I think that Sam wouldn't have wanted to be thought of as the
hero of the story. Tolkien saw Sam as his surrogate [and] I think
Peter does too. And Peter has a New Zealand stoicism and reserve.
has been the lead in the movie — he's on the posters
and he's the ring-bearer. They thought that
if he wasn't more
proactive, it would be unsatisfying for people on some level. I
don't think it has to be one over the other. I don't think you
have to choose one sort of hero.
And yet, Sam is the one who has to live in Middle-earth
with this knowledge. The rest of them — except for Aragorn, who
becomes the king — the rest get to go away. Sam has to live in
Middle-earth with the knowledge of the journey. Sam goes back
to Hobbiton. He's got the burden of knowledge.
I kinda like what you're saying: You say “a burden of knowledge.” If
Hobbiton is a place, an ideal, worth wanting to manifest real human
it can't happen without some awareness of what's going
on in the real world. It's maybe a little bit sad that children
just can't be children in a pure kind of world where there's no
danger and there's no threats. But it's the responsibility of the
mature to preserve the sanctity of a world worth living in with
that knowledge. I think Sam is the beneficiary of his experience
and he does get to survive. Part of the punishment of longevity
is having to endure loss in real life. So he has to pass through
those experiences like anybody who lives.
What are Sam and Frodo fighting for?
I think a lot of times Sam is fighting for Frodo and Frodo is
fighting to save the Shire. One of my favorite lines — a lot of
people are talking about how “I can't carry it for you, but I can
carry you” is one of the great cinema lines in cinema history.
But then the line that Frodo has where he says, “We set out to
save the Shire, Sam, and it has been saved, but not for me,” that's
a pretty powerful line.
When Elijah said that line, I, Sean, heard it with a kind of newness
and a kind of wonder. Every time he said it
even when I said
it right now
there's almost this idea that ‘I guess that's what
Sam really was doing.' I don't think Sam was really aware of that.
I think Sam was fixed on helping Frodo.
I don't know if a Freudian analysis is appropriate,
but I think on some deep level, that wasn't in the forefront of
his mind, Sam knew he was doing his duty to be there for [Frodo.]
I don't think he had
this idea of what was really at stake. Frodo
sees the vision in Galadriel's mirror of the scouring of the Shire.
Sam doesn't see that.
What is it about the Shire, about hobbits in particular,
and about Samwise especially that makes this such an attractive
ideal that is so different from the more traditional idea of
Well, human achievement is relative.
We got to meet Sir Edmund Hilary [who climbed Mount Everest ]
on the movie. He came to visit Peter. He's a famous New Zealand
figure who is on the New Zealand five dollar bill. He came to the
set and I shook his hand. And I thought, Well, if this towering
mammoth of a man couldn't walk up that mountain, no human being
could! He's so huge. His achievement is measured on a different
scale of human experience.
But every individual human being has to find some way to survive
and thrive in the world, and so achievement has to be relative
to what the strengths and capacity of every individual is. And
the success of anybody's figuring out how to live a good life isn't
diminished because Edmund Hilary got to walk to the top of Everest.
So the fact that this movie says “The smallest of us can achieve
what the greatest of us cannot” is kind of a cool idea.
Somebody asked me, "What cartoon figure do you identify with?"
I might have said ‘The Tasmanian Devil' or any one of a number
of things throughout my life. But I saw a little clip of Peanuts
while I was channel-surfing the news last night, so I just said "Charlie
Brown." I think if I can see myself as Charlie Brown, then I think
it's pretty easy for anybody to see themselves as a Hobbit. In
a world where you never know when the next terrorist event is going
to hit … it's so hard to have any significant impact or control
of what's going on on the face of the earth right now in any positive
way. You can write a song, you can write a poem, you can build
a building. But what's really going to change the face of the earth
right now is a collection of tens or hundreds of millions of simple
individuals leading good lives. I think this movie amplifies that
How do you conceptualize Sam's relationship with Frodo?
Are there any relationships in your life that you can project
[onto that] — a brother, best friend, caretaker, mentor? Who
was Frodo to Sam?
The prism that I looked at the relationship through was what Peter
said to me in my first in-person audition with him. He told me
about the British army in the first world war. These officers would
have assigned to them an enlisted attendant or aid, and how those “batmen,” as
they were referred to, were characterized by their loyalty and
their bravery and their sense of duty. On some primal level, I
just understood that. I really understood that.
Being deferential to "Mr. Frodo" was very comfortable for me,
and I sort of attribute it to working people. The idea of being
polite and serving others is one that is really ennobling to the
spirit. Those ideas are what I gravitated to.
If I'm really honest with myself … I've been disappointed in myself
and my own inability to be more like Sam with my friends. I don't
know if I can in order to survive, in order to be a good husband
and a good father and have a career. I try, in moments, to manifest
the better angel of my nature with my friends, but I'm not as
good a friend to my friends as Sam. It's a little bit hard to be
the sort of emblem, to portray the character as an emblem for those
things, and to know in my own life that I can't. Or maybe, if I
can, it's going to be somewhere in my future when I'm more mature.
Sam and Frodo are buddies. Why does Sam call Frodo ‘Mr.
Basically, Sam's father worked for Frodo's uncle as a gardener.
Have you ever had a gardener? There is an amazing kind of reciprocity
and mutual respect when you don't know how to cultivate your own
soil. You want to walk out and look at a nice garden and when somebody's
doing that for you, you tend to appreciate them. But there's something
about it — Does the gardener just walk in the door? Does the gardener
just walk in the house? No. There's something about when [a person]
tends the land for somebody … it's class-based. There's some feudal
inheritance there. The lords of the land figure out the economics
of it, but it's the peasants, it's the serfs who work the land.
So, how do they relate to each other? Hobbits are not people of
letters, really. They look askance at Bilbo's writings and the
fact that he's tucked away in his hole reading books and thinking
about the big world.
I played Rudy [in the film Rudy ] who was this working
class hero. [But] I come from this bizarre hybrid of the acting
class in America. It's an interesting tradition. If you're working
in television or films, you make more money than almost anybody
in society except the barons and the corporate titans and those
sorts of people. You make more money than 99 percent of the rest of society,
but you're not part of the intelligentsia necessarily. It's an
interesting thing to come from that world as a second generation
performer. I feel a kinship. I married a girl whose dad was a firefighter
and my mom married a guy who is a soldier. We weren't smart enough
to be ambitious and strategic about our relationships. We like
the Rockwellian idea of America.
That working class ideal is alive in the spirit Sam. And to call
[Frodo] “Mister” is a sign of respect, but it's not something that
puts him necessarily in a sort of subjugated role, because there
is mutual respect. The key is mutual respect.
So Mr. Frodo shows that Sam has the dignity of himself
[Elijah Wood has just entered the room and crept up behind
Sean Astin. He interrupts:]
You're my manservant, and you know it!
[laughter breaks out as Sean looks astonished]
So stop yakkin' off.
[Sean gets up and embraces him
in a rather subservient
and humble way
as the press applaud the unexpected conclusion
of the interview.]
A Visit With Peter Jackson (Director)
In the late 60s, Zeffereli introduced Shakespeare to a
generation that thought Shakespeare was difficult to handle.
You have done a similar thing for this generation with Tolkien.
I know what you're saying. I don't normally think about the statistics:
I just believe that if you want to make a movie or there are reasons
to do something you should do it. New Line went out and conducted
all sorts of research at the beginning before we started as to
what The Lord of the Rings was today, and they came back
and told us that, ‘Most young kids today don't know The Lord
of the Rings &emdash; they haven't read it. It was read by generations
in the 60s and into the '70s, and that today
which was 1998 that
this conversation would have happened
no one knows it. So don't
assume that you're making something that's based on a popular book
because the main moviegoing audience doesn't have a clue about
it, don't know anything about it.' That's what we were told by
the studio when we went into the making of the film.
Of course what's happened now is that the book sales have gone
through the roof since the films started to come out. They've just
exploded. The books are now way back up on the bestseller list.
Somebody said that The Lord of the Rings sold more copies
than the Harry Potter books did last year. So it's right
up there again now. Clearly what's happened is a bunch of young
kids have gone and picked it up and actually read it. I'm very
pleased with that. It's fantastic. It's not an easy book to read
when you're young!
You've spent so much time in Tolkien's mind. What do you
find most appealing about his view of the world, his view of
morality and spirituality? And what do you find most discomforting
What I kind of admire about Tolkien, learning a bit about him
from the books — and I learned more about him obviously from researching
the scripts prior to that — he was just a guy who was profoundly
irritated by things and annoyed. And he vented through this book
that he created. And most of the things that he was irritated about
are very reasonable things to be angry about.
He hated the way that the English countryside had been destroyed
by the industrial revolution in the mid 1850s. The Shire represents
obviously the England that he loved, the past rural farming community,
simple life, simple people. And then the factories arrived, the
industrial age, and suddenly chimneys were belching smoke. There
was pollution. Forests were being cut down to feed the steam-driven
machines and townships were no longer like Hobbiton
now terraced housing that were being built around the factories.
You were enslaved to the factories. All of the workers were living
there, and when the whistle sounded in the mornings, they would
just file into the factories and disappear until 6 o'clock at night
and then file back to their homes again. You were all enslaved
to the machinery of the factory, and the Ring is obviously a metaphor
for the machine. It enslaves you, it takes away your freewill.
And so he vented about all this stuff. The Ents he created — he
made the trees fight back. He flooded all the industry at Isengard
with the dams. Nature struck back. He protected the Shire. He was
a guy who put passion into this so-called ‘fantasy novel.' I do
admire him for that.
We actually tried to honor all that stuff. We made a real decision
at the beginning that we weren't going to introduce any new themes
of our own into “ The Lord of the Rings” films . We wanted
to make a film that was based on what Tolkien was passionate about.
What about the other part of that question? What did you
find disquieting about that vision?
Jackson : There's nothing disquieting
about it particularly. Tolkien was quite modern in that sense.
He was quite caring about the environment long before most other
people were caring about the environment. He started working on
this book in 1938 and ‘39 and it was published
in ‘53. So he was ahead of his time in a lot of areas.
He was also a product of the war that he fought in — World War
One. Seeing all but one of his school friends killed during the
course of that war
coming out of it and realizing that there
are no winners in war
you only lose, really, in war. I think
that's important for “The Lord of the Rings” because, in a sense,
Frodo cannot win. Even though the war has been won, there is no
victory for Frodo, really. I think that's what he felt coming back
from World War One and seeing all these young men destroyed by
the war and the sense of ‘What did it achieve? What was it for?
Do you feel better when you've been through a war?' You've been
damaged by it. You know you will never be the same. That's what
he felt about Frodo. That's from his own experiences.
Tolkien once wrote in a letter that he did not believe
that human beings were capable of resisting evil ultimately.
But he said there is hope in the fact that we are not the author
of the story. Does that resonate with anything you believe — the
symbolism about the Secret Fire or the power of the Valar?
Jackson : I don't know.
I don't know whether evil exists. You see stuff happening around
the world and you believe it probably does. I think that human
beings are not capable… I think that evil exists within people.
I don't know whether it exists as a force outside of humanity.
One of the things that's in Tolkien's book too is this feeling
that the elves are this perfect race. They're intelligent,
they're spiritual. If you have the elves
in charge of the world, there will be no wars, there will be no
hatred. And the whole thing with The Lord of the Rings is
that that age is now past and men are going to inherit this world.
Tolkien was writing it as a pre-history. So the story that he was
writing in the sense that he had the orcs which represented the
enslavement of people being defeated by men in a time that elves
were leaving. He knew that Aragorn inheriting the world and mankind
taking over was only going to lead to World War One eventually,
because he imagined this book as happening six thousand years ago.
He certainly wasn't writing with a degree of triumph that mankind
is now in charge. He felt that we are flawed and they we don't
deserve to be in charge of the world.
Tolkien also felt that The Lord of the Rings was
a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, ‘unconsciously so
at first but consciously so in the end.' [Do you feel the same
way about the film?]
Jackson : I think his Catholicism
not a Catholic, so I didn't put any of that personally into the
film on my behalf, but I am certainly aware of certain things that
Tolkien was thinking about. The passing of Frodo into the Gray
Havens is clearly Tolkien's dramatization of the journey into an
afterlife, into a spiritual afterlife. Frodo essentially dies at
the end of the film. The way we filmed it, it isn't a moment of
death, but there is a moment of passing ,
which for Tolkien represents the same thing.
One of the major themes is that in the very last stage,
Frodo fails. He is spared the fate of Gollum and Isildur only
by … chance, fate, Providence ,
whatever you want to call it. Do you think that for us, watching
the film, as we struggle with our own inner demons, that this
has any resonance? I'm thinking particularly in regard to some
of the ideas in some of the addiction-recovery programs of the
acknowledgement of a higher power. Do you think there is anything
we can take away [to that effect] from the films?
It's a good question. I'm not sure. We modified the film a little
bit from the book. We tried to have our cake and eat it too. This
is not really answering your question, but
we did want to honor
the sense that it was the pity of Bilbo that was ultimately going
to lead to the destruction of the Ring.
Bilbo not killing Gollum, and Frodo not killing Gollum at various
stages of the story —many people would have regarded that as the
sensible thing to do. Frodo showing pity to Gollum was a factor
that led to the destruction of the Ring directly. Tolkien made
that connection very simple in the book. In the book he had Frodo
injured with his finger being bitten off and then Gollum dance
for joy on the edge of the Crack of Doom, and then he slips and
falls into the lava. Tolkien just did it the most simple way that
he could for what he was trying to achieve.
In the movie, we felt that there was a problem with that. We felt
that audiences — a lot of people haven't read the book, of course — would
feel very let down and would actually judge Frodo badly for just
sitting there watching as the ring got accidentally destroyed,
and they'd feel that Frodo would have failed essentially in his
quest, and it was an accident that stepped in. We had to be careful
in the movie to keep Frodo from looking bad because of that.
So I said to Elijah, “We've obviously modified it. So when Gollum
dances on the Crack of Doom, we want you going back for the Ring.
Now, you know, it's really got to be ambiguous as to whether you're
going back to take the Ring and destroy it and complete your mission
or whether you want to take the Ring for yourself [in a way] that's
got nothing to do with destroying it.” And Elijah said, “Oh, I
think I want it!” [chuckles] So I said, “Just play it in a very
ambiguous way.” So Frodo went for Gollum — Elijah went for the
Ring. The two of them fought: Andy Serkis was there, and Elijah,
and the two of them fell in.
So we still tried to preserve what was important to Tolkien — the
sense that it was the pity that [resolved the conflict.] There's
nothing that takes away from that. If Gollum hadn't been there,
if he had been killed earlier, then Frodo would have just kept
it. We still had the presence of Gollum being the catalyst that
led to its destruction.
[Regarding the added scene of Sam rescuing Frodo from the
We didn't want to make Frodo heroic. We wanted to make Frodo feel
that he had failed. At that point, he's free of the burden — the
Ring is destroyed and it's no longer having that power over him.
There's a sense that Frodo feels like he wants to let go, he feels
that he has failed, and Sam says, ‘No, don't do that.'
Why do you feel these epic stories needed to be told right
now, in these last few years?
Jackson : It's sort of interesting
because there's been so much written about the September 11 th
events and the movies. And in my mind there was never a connection
between them because we started working on this in '95. We shot
the movie in '99 and 2000. It was filmed and what you saw in the
movie was four years old. But it is strange, because we made these
movies when the climate in the world was much different than it
We made these films because it is such a great book and because
of the themes in the book. The themes in Tolkien's work
and I think that is what is genuinely special about them. I think
the only reason that a book can be popular for 50 years and stand
the test of time … is because it is genuinely timeless. It is not
dated. It is not fixed to a particular moment in time, whether
it's post-September-11 or pre-September-11 or World War Two
or World War One or any of these cataclysmic times in our age.
They're not related to current events, they're just timeless themes.
Your films really give me hope — hope for the world, hope
that the world can improve. Were there certain themes [that you
had in mind to that effect]?
Jackson : We didn't try to put
our own baggage on these films. I agree that hope is there. At
least, I hope hope is there! It must
be about hope. I don't think the alternative is particularly attractive.
There has to be some degree of hope.
Going into “The Lord of the Rings,” you weren't exactly
a household name. And now you've put out three extraordinary
pictures. You adapted a classic book and your next project is
to remake a classic film. What is the feeling that you as an
artist have coming out of “The Lord of the Rings” different
than when you went in?
And when are you going to do The Hobbit ?
[laughter around the table]
Jackson : Everyone asks me about The Hobbit ! I'll
answer that in a bit.
It's interesting. I've never really felt different to how I was
when I was seven years old making movies with a Super 8 camera.
I'm just a kid. I feel like I'm still a kid. I feel like I'm making
movies because I love making movies. I'm making “ King Kong” because
I saw that movie when I was nine years old. It cemented in me a
desire to want to make films for the rest of my life. I'd been
making films on Super 8 and then I saw that film and I thought “I
just want to do this so badly.” That's why I'm making “King Kong”
just love that movie so much.
There's a generation of kids now who don't watch black and white
films anymore … they don't watch classic movies anymore. The generation
at my age did, and the next generation now doesn't. They don't
care for looking at black and white stuff. Even our kids — as soon
as something black and white shows up on TV, they just don't want
to see it. So I think “ King Kong” is a story that can
legitimately be re-introduced to a new generation.
I was thinking more about you as an artist, having the
Jackson : I think those kinds
of questions are much easier for you guys to talk about and debate
amongst yourselves. I have no real self-awareness. I feel like
I'm a bit more experienced now. I used to be terrified of studios.
When I was making “ The Frighteners” it was
the first time I'd ever worked with a studio.
I was terrified
of meeting the studio people. I'd only made New Zealand films.
I was a bit insecure. I feel less insecure which is good. I feel
a bit more confident, which is a good feeling.
But I don't feel that different and I don't know what expectations
are on me. Expectations for myself are just that I make a good
movie, and that what I hope to do, whether it's a zombie movie
like I used to do or “The Lord of the Rings” or or whatever it
is. You just go into it wanting it to succeed on its own terms
and “ King Kong” to be an entertaining piece of cinema.
Fortunately with “The Lord of the Rings” we had very
strong themes which Tolkien created … but I don't think generally
I make movies for messages. I make movies for entertainment. Hitchcock's
quote is my favorite quote: ‘Some people's films are slices of
life. Mine are slices of cake.' But fortunately with “Lord of
the Rings” we had a slice of Tolkien's life in there which
we were able to use to strengthen the movie.
The Hobbit has never been discussed. That's actually
the truth. It may seem strange, because everybody asks me about
it, so they have assumptions. New Line has never ever had a conversation
with me about The Hobbit. I do know that the rights are
complicated because United Artists has for some reason — I don't
actually know why — has some distribution rights to The Hobbit .
In other words, if anybody makes The Hobbit , United Artists
has to distribute it, which New Line wouldn't want because obviously
they have a distribution division of their own that they'd want
to use. Lawyers would have to talk to each other. New Line and
UA would have to talk
and they wouldn't talk to me until they
had all the legal stuff cleared. I haven't heard that they've even
had a conversation about it.
Peter, I appreciate what you said about 9/11. The collapse
of the towers at the end bears an eerie striking physical resemblance
to the collapse of the World Trade Center .
I'm curious about the timing. Is that just wildly coincidental?
Jackson : Well, the collapse of the tower is
obviously a very important part of the book. The collapse of the
tower is really a metaphor for Sauron's physicality because he's
just a flaming eye, he's a force of evil. The tower is really his
I know what you're saying about the similarity. I don't know how
you can have the collapse of a tower and not have it be
similar. We tried to stay away from it actually. We deliberately
tried to make it feel different. We actually had versions of the
collapse where they put a lot of dust into the collapse, and I
said, ‘No, this does look much too much like the World
Trade Center , so let's make it dry without dust.' So we made it
look more like black ice that is collapsing, like a sort of ice
tower that was cracking up and falling in shards. We tried to give
it a different quality because we were very aware of the problems
A Visit With Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf)
Was there a particular challenge to playing Gandalf in “The
Return of the King” as opposed to the previous two films?
McKellen: Well, of course, the big divide comes
when he dies and comes back to life. And that happened in Part
Two, so I was never really aware of what Part Three was.
Let me clarify: “The Return of the King's” Gandalf seemed
more susceptible to crises of faith and courage, even more so
than Gandalf is in the book.
McKellen: When I was called back to do pick-ups
this year, that's what Peter wanted to ‘beef up.' He thought that
was an emotional line that would be helpful to keep together what
would otherwise be two separate stories — he wanted a link between
everything that was going on with Aragorn and Frodo and Sam and
Gollum. Gandalf was the link. It was a good thing to have done.
It helps to give Gandalf a bit of humanity that he perhaps doesn't
have in the second film.
He is such a beloved character, and you have done just
so beautifully with him.
Oh, thank you. It's very sweet when grandparents who know the
books bring their grandchildren to meet Gandalf and they look up
at you like this
[wide-eyed] and I tell them, “Well, I'm not the real Gandalf.” It's
like Father Christmas saying, “I'm not a real Father Christmas.
He's busy somewhere.”
During the entire experience of “The Lord of the Rings,”
you learned a life lesson that you think would be valuable
for teenagers today.
Except that my parents brought me up to think that there
was a ‘prime of life.' And it wasn't gonna happen any time soon.
You had to wait. You had to earn your prime
when you knew what life was about, when you were accomplishing
And then the Beatles came along and told us that the best time
of your life is when you were young. And I thought I'd rather missed
Here I am at 64, and this is my prime of life.
That would be my message! Don't worry ! Don't try and hit it too
early — your time might be later on. Everyone has a different prime
One of the things we keep hearing from the actors is what
a collaborative process it was to make the films — even regarding
the script. Gandalf is a character who is rather pithy. To what
extent did you feel wedded to the text? Did you have some latitude
there? Was that a tension?
McKellen: Gandalf speaks an awful lot in the
novel. He's always telling people about the past, filling them
in on the history of things, making recommendations. And although
this is a “talkie,” there's
less talk in it than there is in the books. So I was always saying
to Peter, “Shouldn't there be a big scene here for Gandalf? Shouldn't
he say more than he does?” He is more pithy in the screenplay than
he is in the book. He speaks in long rolling sentences that go
on for pages sometimes.
That's the novel. The film is different. But the character is
the same, actually.
Of course, it was a venture that everyone had their contribution
to. Everyone's contribution was welcomed. These movies were not
directed by a tyrant. No man could have done it all by himself… no
woman could do it. But what he did—and it's true of all good directors — he's
brilliant at casting. Not just with the actors, but with the heads
of department. He picked the right people. No one was sacked on
this movie. That's because he'd picked the right person.
So the point of doing your job was to bring everything you possibly
could to Peter Jackson's table so that he could approve or discuss
or say no. And that process was going on every day. However early
in the morning you got there, Peter was there before you sitting
at his chair and reading a book. And the book he was reading was The
Lord of the Rings.
And I had mine. There was a pocket in Gandalf the Grey's costume
for the book. And if ever you felt something wasn't quite right
or you wanted a little help, out came the bible and you looked
it through and you said, “On page 279, Peter there's something
pretty good.” And he'd look it up and say, “Hmmm, alright.” If
Tolkien wrote it, you're onto a good thing. You could usually get
something slipped in.
Did the younger actors look to you as a father figure?
And if so, what kind of actor traditions did you try and instill
in them… especially the hobbits, since you spent about a year
McKellen: No, I don't think they did look at
me as a father figure. I don't think Peter wanted them to. And
I think I was allowed to join in their fun and games. They'd been
at it for three or four months before I got there. They were well
established. They introduced me to everyone and everything. It's
one of the great joys of acting that you get to mix with equal
terms with people of other generations, so when I was their age
I loved talking to the old actors. But did they love talking to
me? Maybe I liked being with them more than they liked being with
me… I don't know. It was not a relationship
of respect and being patronizing. That wasn't part of it at all.
But I don't remember anyone coming to me for help. Being slightly
interfering, sometimes I did offer advice, yes, usually referring
to stuff in the book.
Sean Astin was saying yesterday, and I'd forgotten — when Sam
meets up with Frodo in the bedroom after it's all over, and everyone
comes through the door like in the Wizard of Oz, I said “You know,
Tolkien says Sam takes Frodo's hand
and that's pretty significant.
I think you should do that. I think some people will be looking
out for that mark of friendship.” So he did that.
One of the things that has come up in connection with
this movie is having sympathy and understanding for mindsets
that might be different than what we usually have sympathy and
understanding for. The obvious example would be the case of Gollum,
who has been portrayed as a monster in other renditions, but
who has been very humanized, and we really come to have some
sympathy and some understanding for him.
I'm curious how you — and I'm sure this is something you've
given a lot of thought to — committed yourself to this film based
on a book by a man whose mindset and whose beliefs are very different
from your own, and yet who created something that for you I'm
sure has power and beauty as it does for us. [How did you approach]
wanting to honor this man's accomplishment and his achievement … being
aware that this work is infused with some things that are very
different from your views?
McKellen: You mean because he was a Catholic … which
I am not?
McKellen: I note with delight that Hobbiton is
a community without a church. There is no pope in this story. There's
no archbishop. There's no set of beliefs. There's no credo. I think
what he's appealing to in human beings is to look inside yourself
and to look to your friends and to join a fellowship. They don't
join a church or a political organization. Everybody brings to
it whatever there individual strengths are. I'd be with Tolkien
But, Tolkien and I both lived through the Second World War. He
was writing this during the war, and I was sleeping under a metal
shelter in our house in the north of England waiting for the bombs
So there was a Sauron around.
And although [Tolkien] doesn't think of it as an allegory for
the Second World War, how could he not be affected? Because his
Frodo, his boy, was fighting in the north of France. Whenever
I had to think, What is Sauron? &emdash; who we never seen in
the film &emdash; I would think of Hitler. He's the great evil force of
our time. And certainly of Tolkien's.
So I always think of Frodo as the representative of all those
kids who have given their lives for everybody else. They're still
doing it… they're doing it now. And it's very very painful, this
journey that Frodo goes on. And you can see it in Elijah's face
when he's going mad with confusion at the end. He gives his life… he
doesn't get back to Hobbiton. I always thought he was too beautiful
to play Frodo. I thought Frodo was everyman, an ordinary kid.
But as you go around New Zealand, in every village there's a war
memorial to men who died in the first and second world wars, usually
fighting wars that had nothing to do with New Zealand at all… they
were all part of the British empire. The angelic faces of these
fallen soldiers, teenagers… Frodo looks like one of them. He's
got that wonderful milky marble skin, soft and hard like marble
is. You see it in their faces. I wonder if Peter Jackson was thinking
of those people. Those are the connections I've got with Tolkien.
Your character and Saruman are very similar. But Saruman
makes one choice and you make another. What do you think it is
that Gandalf sees that sways him? Is there an inherent goodness
in Gandalf? Is it just that he makes one choice and Saruman doesn't?
McKellen: You're right. They are alike, even
physically alike. They are mistaken for each other. New Line Cinema
sent me photographs of Christopher Lee to approve… they thought
they were sending me Gandalf photos.
When you're telling a story as an actor, you're just part of the
storytelling process. You're at the behest of the writers. And
in this case, not Tolkien, but Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens and
Peter Jackson. It's their version of the story that we're now telling.
Tolkien set down the myth and this is their interpretation of the
Your job isn't to start judging the characters, just to try and
But, what I like about Gandalf, and what Saruman doesn't like
about Gandalf is that Gandalf likes hobbits. Saruman doesn't &emdash; he's
extremely disparaging about them.
not just the tobacco?
McKellen: [narrowing his eyes]
You think it's tobacco they're smoking, do you?
[laughter around the table]
They're not only smoking. They're eating a great deal. They're
having parties. They have big families. They don't know what's
going on in their world, they're just happy to be where they
are. They're very contented. [They're not] adventurous souls
go off and discover the world. Saruman doesn't rate hobbits one
little bit. And Gandalf does.
And who destroys the ring, finally? A couple of hobbits. That's
a message for our world. Don't look to the great commanders,
the great politicians, the great wizards to know what's right
or to do what's right. Look to the hobbits. And we are all much
closer to [being] hobbits than we are to being wizards.
In the last movie, there was a lot of physical activity.
How much of that did you have to do, and what did you have
to do to prepare?
McKellen: Well, I've been fighting all my life
professionally. Quite recently I played Captain Hook in “Peter
Pan.” At the end of a three-hour
show in high heels on a stage to fight with a guy who's a third
your age, up and down the stairs and on the rigging, and then
jumping off twenty feet onto the stage, and pretending to be
eaten by a crocodile
that's harder than anything I have to do
because you actually have to do that. There's an audience.
Here, it's no secret
I am not the only person to play Gandalf
in this movie. There are a lot of us. If you ever see my face,
it's me. That wasn't a face that was added to somebody else's
body — although that does happen in this film — but if you see
my back galloping up a steep slope or down it or wielding a weapon,
that's probably not me. I had a riding double — Basil — who could
ride a horse without a rein, without stirrups, without a saddle,
which is what Gandalf's meant to do on Shadowfax. And then there's
Paul. If you ever see Elijah's legs, and Gandalf is with him,
it isn't me because I'm not big enough. And then I have stunt
doubles as well, and I'm only too grateful to let them do the
life-threatening [things.] I'm not over-brave about putting myself
When you talked about the pouch in your cloak in which
you kept the book, it struck me that you were a sort of guardian
of what the book is really about. How much did you think about
there being fans all around the world who would go and see
the movie knowing so much about the book?
McKellen: So many films, alas actually, are
adaptations of other media. I wish there were more films written
specially for the screen, but as long as the version you're doing
relates strongly to the original material, which this does
I hadn't read the book when I was asked to do it. I just took
the job on the job on the basis of the script. And almost immediately
on my website I learned that millions and millions of people
had read the book and were longing for the film and dreading
it at the same time. So we all knew … and this is unusual … that
people were going to go and see it … that that opening-week
audience was there. And if they liked what they saw, we were
probably going to be okay.
So Peter kept saying publicly and in private that he was a fan. And
he related strongly to the other fans. And he contacted them
through the web, which New Line didn't like. I think New Line
felt, “The Web is a danger. We're losing control.” But Peter
and I reveled in telling them what was happening. They were on
our side, for goodness sake. It was wonderful. So there was that
enthusiasm for the original and the hope that the film was going
to match it was something that we all shared.
There are a lot of critics who are quick to take the
story of “ The Lord of the Rings” as a way of talking
about the conflict between the literal West versus the literal
East. They're finding political correlations between what happens
in the story and what's happening in the real world. Do you
see a relevance of that sort in the story, and if so, what
I wouldn't go beyond anything I've said so far in rather general
My personal reaction is to think if Sauron exists for me. And
I suppose he has, as I said before.
But [Tolkien] was consciously writing a myth. Myths of course
are open to interpretation. That's the point of them. There's
no One Received Truth. It isn't a religion. It's a pre-history
which never happened, but which of course could.
There was a woman who asked me for Gandalf's autograph. I said, “Gandalf
doesn't sign autographs.” She said, “No, please.” And I said, “He's
not here! You can see, he's not here!” And she persisted. And
I said, “Look, Gandalf doesn't exist!!”
Well, you can't say that. Because he does
I'm still in the mode of just the actor who was hired to play
Gandalf. I don't know how long it will take me to get away from
it and look at it objectively, so that I could give you a better
A Visit With Fran Walsh and Philippa
As you adapted this story, I suspect it crossed your
mind that such a powerful myth of clashing cultures might be
easily misinterpreted as a political allegory. Did you have
t to craft your script to avoid having the story be interpreted
as a blatant allegory of the literal West versus
the literal East? Were you at all concerned that your
treatment of various cultures and peoples and events onscreen
might echo current events too loudly?
Boyens: You're absolutely right: it is something
we do fear and worry about. We hear the line “war is kindled” — which
is in the book, and which we changed to “hope is kindled” — not just
because of the world today, but as a sentiment ... which actually
is also in the book as a line —“Hope is kindled." But as
a sentiment, it played better in terms of storytelling, and resonated
better in terms of today's audience.
You've really inspired young men...
Boyens: Oh good! Who? Where are they?
through the writing.
through the writing.
(Everyone gets a good laugh.)
Were there certain qualities that you wanted to inspire
through your writing. You wrote a lot of male characters.
Boyens: We've both got sons. One of the things
that I love about this new generation of boys &emdash; certainly in our
boys' cases &emdash; is that
they're gentler and that there's a sensitivity there, and they
can embrace their inner movie, such as “The Lord of the Rings,” just
as much as they embrace the charge into battle and Aragorn fighting
and those sort of things. And a character like Viggo Mortenson's
portrayal of Aragorn
certainly plays to that. And he has
a son as well. To that extent, we know our boys and we love our
boys, so that's easier to write to. My son's called Calum.
Walsh: [Mine's] Billy.
I'd like to hear more about that scene when Arwen makes
that decision that she will never know that child if she does
not stay [in Middle-earth]. Can you give us a woman's perspective
on that scene?
Walsh: It appealed to us that she isn't just
driven by needing to be back
with the guy …
Boyens: That's the mother in us again…
Walsh: …and it is a part of her extended story,
that Eldarian, in fact inherits the kingship. But yes, there
were things driving her that were other than the pure romantic
notion of her need to be with him. It has to do with carrying
Boyens: She may not endure. [Aragorn] may not
endure. Their love even may not endure because they'll both be
dead. But it will carry on through this child &emdash; and also that
she never know that, and she would rather know that and experience
Richard [Taylor ]
said it was ultimately their responsibility to bring Peter's
vision to life and not necessarily Tolkien's vision to life.
Hopefully in many places there would be synchronicity. Did
you all feel that tension of needing to bring Peter's vision
but working with the text?
Walsh: I've never felt huge discrepancies between
the way Peter viewed the story and the way I've read it. Maybe
there are massive differences. In terms of the scriptwriting,
we've made big changes. Sometimes they were embraced and sometimes
they weren't so much, but I never really felt that Peter's brought
something to life in a way which was very different to how I
perceived it in the book; I've not felt that.
Walsh: Not with the Ents, or with Gollum or
with anything the way the characters were realized.
Boyens: This had to work as a film and
that's what we were most conscious of, wasn't it?
Walsh: I think the single biggest challenge
of the book was undoubtedly the Eye &emdash; which plays easily in
the book &emdash; it's the Evil Eye, it's the psychic eye, and its
powerful. But in terms of its visual dramatization, what a nightmare!
I mean, it's a flaming eyeball,
the lidless eye.
We used to have jokes about what was under, you know... in the
prologue Sauron is marching around in this suit of armor, this
large armored figure, and we had this idea that under the visor
was a large eyeball. [laughter] It was hard
to really invest that eye with the dread and horror it needed
to have, and the profound sense of omnipotence that it needed.
I don't know if there was a way to do that, but it was our single
Talk about your perspective on the writing process in
regards to those who have read the book and those who are encountering
it for the first time through the film. There seems to be a
large dissonance between those who have read it and those who
have not. Some of those who hadn't read it thought the film
was too long, and those who have read it thought things were
Walsh: We've always put as our primary goal
to make these books --- to realize them for the screen as engaging
entertainment. That's our job, to make them translate. I guess
we've failed if it's playing long at the end. But we've always
put the cinema audience ahead of the book audience in that regard,
because the readers of the book have the book and that's
never not going to be. And yet we've obviously tried to honor
it as much as we can within that parameter. It's been always,
for us, a challenge to try to fulfill at least some of the expectations
that come from fans of the book but not overload the
film to the point where people who are not familiar with it cannot
enter into the experience of the story.
The end for us was difficult. It was very difficult because
we were wrapping up not one film, but three. We felt also that
these characters were due their moments, that Aragorn and Arwen,
when they come back together … you need to see that and be with
them. You need to attend to the Shire. And you actually need
to send Frodo away too, as the end for him.
So it became ‘What can we leave out?' Well, we can't leave any
of that out! And we needed also to see Sam and Rosie, together.
We needed to give that character [closure.]
Boyens: The ring is destroyed ... and you could
say “End of story!”
But Frodo is also destroyed . And that's the
end of the story.
Walsh: I think it also possibly challenges
your sense of how movies should end. You're used to the big explosive
climax and then there's a little coda wrap-up, it might be two
or three minutes, and it's over. You're already getting up out
of your seat after the world's blown up and you're out, you know.
And yet we had twelve minutes [or more] of stuff, and that's
not normally done and I know… I was very aware, all the time
when we were doing it
She was very worried about it.
Walsh: We had this big argument. It was terrible.
Boyens: I don't give a stuff! I do not care.
If people are with those characters, they'll love it, or they'll
go there, Even people who think, well that was one [ending] too
many, I understand that, I can appreciate that. But that's
I think it's frustrating if you're in the audience and you're
thinking, well do I
is it over now? Do I
Boyens: She was so worried. That's what it
is though, that's the film. That's the way the film plays. That's
what these films taught me
They will find their own level and
they'll find a place at which they play. Ultimately the person
it had to play for was Peter. And it played for him. It played
for a lot of us. And he made the movie that he wanted to see.
That's what the movie is.
Walsh: Coming to it with fresh eyes, you have
an expectation about how films resolve themselves. This isn't
traditional in that way.
Boyens: It could have gone even longer, because
Peter's going to edit the movie even more.
Walsh: In the end, it is what it is, and that's
what happens in the movie.
Can you talk about your feelings about good and evil
and how it plays out in what you brought to the film and what
Tolkien brought to the stories?
Walsh: I think that stories do offer us comfort
that we live in a moral universe, whether or not that is
who can say? The
world seems to be quite an amoral place, governed by
something arbitrary and not-founded on a great sort of underlying
sense of decency. Sometimes you have to question that.
If anything, Tolkien's faith informs the third book
faith that the enduring goodness of men and in men will prevail.
Faith that even those who leave us too soon or who are lost in
war or who die young — and Frodo certainly represents all of
those — they go to another place, they don't just fall into nothingness.
They transition to somewhere else. Faith that we can all be better
than we are.
He took that from his own war experience and from his own profound
Christian beliefs. Those ideas in the book, we attempted as much
as we could to invest them in the film. The values in them, they
give you a sense of hope, that it isn't chaos, that it isn't
arbitrary, that it isn't without a point. I love storytelling
for those reasons, because so many things fall away as we charge
forward into this new century. There's so much cynicism and such
a lack of ritual and a belief system to govern anything. I like
stories for that because they still offer it.
Do you think there's anything in human beings that says
things aren't arbitrary? Anything that is a reason why we connect
with a story, that says on a deeper level that there is a
Walsh: I think it's about the enduring power
of goodness, that we feel it in ourselves when we perceive it
in others in small acts every day in other people. And that gives
you reason to hope that it has significance for all of us as
a race, as mankind, that we're evolving and getting
better rather than becoming less , diminishing
ourselves through hatred and cruelty. We need to believe that.
We need to have a sense of preparation.
In spite of the element of the goodness in humanity,
one of the significant things about the story is that Frodo
ultimately fails. And yet Frodo is saved from the fate of Isildur
and Gollum, by providence, chance, fate, whatever you want
to attribute it to. What does this say to us as we wrestle
with our inner demons, and how does that relate to the principle
that comes up for those wrestling with addiction — the idea
of a higher power?
Boyens: That's funny, because addiction was
something that we drew on a lot in terms of Gollum, the idea
of the junkie. And for Frodo, in that moment, absolutely. It
also had to do with
of the things Tolkien understood because he was a humanist
that we are all frail, and we have the ability within us to fail
at any stage. Faith requires us to believe in a higher power.
Gandalf very early on in the book says “The Ring came to Bilbo
and in that moment something else was at work.“ Not
the design of its maker, this evil power, but some other power
was at work.
So it's whether you believe in that or not, whether you choose
to believe in that or not. Actually that was the combination.
Frodo dragged himself to that point, and failed. And another
power intervened. And he ultimately surrenders to that power
at the end of this movie, which is one of the most beautiful
moments in this movie
when Frodo turns and he smiles. That
is his redemption.
Fran, Andy [Serkis] referred to you, Fran, as the “guardian
of Gollum” and he says that "She has an extraordinary
mind and I think she has drawn from her own life
Do you address yourself as "we"?
Walsh: I enjoyed Gollum. He's my family dynamic.
I haven't had drug addiction problems. But I have I had a dysfunctional
family background. I completely understand how he works because
he's my father. There are elements of my own parenting in
there and my sibling and myself. I understand the persecutor-parent
and I understand the child who wants to please their parent but
who also wants to be free of that conflict. And also the pathos
of Smeagol versus the rage of Gollum. And Gollum is curiously
protective — in the
end, when Smeagol is hurt. He is angry. He is angry because his
child has been damaged. So he's a very damaged character, but
yet I drew on my own family background to inform him, and I think
it's probably quite common for a lot of people. So I think that's
why he strikes a familiar chord. People do empathize with him.
A Visit With Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn)
You've worked with so many of the great contemporary
directors, playing smaller roles. And now you've had this enormous
responsibility, this great opportunity, working with Peter
Jackson. What have you learned as an actor from working with
Mortensen: Even more patience.
It was a long haul for all of us. It wasn't like a movie that
lasts a month or three months even, where you could look ahead
[and say] “Well, in another few weeks I'll be doing this or that.” There
was no end to it. The weeks just ran into each other and the
days got longer and longer. By the end it was 16 and 17 hours,
six days a week, collapse on Sunday and do your laundry, and
all of a sudden you're on the set again!
How did that affect your relationships?
My son did come and visit quite a bit and stayed for some lengthy
periods. But yeah, it made it difficult. For me, the hardest
thing was not three-and-a-half months of night shoots at Helm's
Deep –– it was those absences from my son, and finding a way
to stay in touch consistently.
But I knew going in that it would be kind of like the Fellowship,
when they say, “Yeah, we'll go in and join this club and do this
thing.” They have no idea — even Aragorn and Gandalf who know
Middle-earth and know what they're up against
all. As Gandalf says in the book, [Aragorn is] “the greatest
traveler and huntsman of this age of the world”
the places we see in these movies he's been to many times. All
of the languages, all of the cultures, as aware as he is of the
obstacles he's going to be up against
he still has no idea how
bad it's going to be. Each step of the way gets harder.
It was the same. Setting out, I knew the absences were going
to be lengthy. And they got a lot longer, and the breaks disappeared
Your character goes through a tremendous story arc,
growing in his ability to accept this role of the king. And
yet in the first film, he's already so masterful that not only
can he take on five Nazgul single-handedly, and not only can
he take on an entire army of orcs, but he is the one character
in the film who calmly and easily puts aside the temptation
of the Ring
without freaking out and without a momentary
hint of succumbing.
After doing that, how do you develop and ennoble and
grow the character [of Aragorn] to the point where he becomes
so much more than that that he's finally able to take the crown?
Mortensen: You make it sound easier than it
was. I think when he sees the Ring and the Ring calls out to
him in the first part of the trilogy, and it's in Frodo's hand.
There is a moment where he
thinks about it. But he overcomes that, you're right. There is
something in him that is able to do that.
With the Nazgul on Weathertop, he knows that fire is not their
friend, so that's something he uses to his advantage.
But yeah, he is psychologically strong, although he does struggle
at times, and he sometimes shows a hesitation and doubt, which
I think are good qualities for a leader. I wish more leaders
in our world had those qualities
because that implies a lack
of arrogance. It implies a concern with, among other things,
the effects of your words and actions on others. A lot of our
leaders, including, unfortunately, the one who leads our country,
the United States, doesn't show much compassion, in my opinion.
He uses those kind of words, but his actions give a lie to that.
I wish there was more of that.
And by the end — to answer your question — he has to
confront those doubts. As big a battle as the Black Gate is,
or coming in with those reinforcements at the Pelennor Fields,
is the conclusion of his psychological battle, when he confronts
the dead. That is, in a way, his biggest struggle.
There is that, in the third movie, that he has to face up to.
But also, when he goes to the Black Gate, it's not just throwing
yourself out there the way Gandalf does in Moria
which all of the Fellowship members at some times
[like] Sam literally carrying Frodo
but he has to not
just do the Lone Ranger thing and go on his merry way. He has
to, by the example that he sets and his conviction, persuade
the whole army of Rohan and Gondor who have survived the Pelennor
Fields, and Gandalf, against Gandalf's initial better judgment
Merry, and Pippin, and Legolas, and Gimli
and not only commit
suicide himself, but convince all of the others to do the same
to do what looks like sure death, and would have been
if Frodo hadn't gotten there.
The lesson is the union with others is more significant than
your individual existence. It doesn't deny the importance
of your individual existence; it just means that you are a better
person the more you connect with others. You're going to know
more, you're going to be stronger, and you're going to have a
better life if you get over yourself.
Over the course of making the trilogy, did you have
any kind of a life lesson come home to you that you think would
be particularly valuable to pass on to teenagers today.
Mortensen: I don't know how to put it in one
quick sentence, but
over yourself,” I guess.
I mean … it's part of growing up.
My son is 15 and he
he has a healthy lack of respect
in a way.
Just as Aragorn has had as his friend and mentor Gandalf for
just as with any father and a teacher
a point where to become mature as a person, whether the decision
in itself is good or bad, a moment at some point you have to
say, “OK, now I have to think for myself.” To judge when that
is, it's hard to say. But at some point you have to make that
break to be an individual.
In the story, at least in the movie — well, not in this one,
anyway, but in the Extended Edition — there's a point where there
is a hint of that when Aragorn says, “I think we should do this
thing. We should go to the Black Gate and draw them.” When Eomer
says, “We cannot win with strength of arms,” he's saying, “That's
suicide.” And Aragorn says, “Yeah. But that's the best thing
we can do.” That's him thinking for himself and making his own
It's good you when you have to do that. I'm not saying tell
your parents to f*** off
Maybe it has more to do with your peers. There's the one side
which is “Get over yourself and don't be selfish and listen to
others. “ But you have to balance that with “Don't believe everything
you hear.” There comes a point where you have to say, “Hmm, the
newspaper says this or that. The President said this or that.” You're
not forced to, but you can try to inform yourself further
and make up your own mind.
You've passed over a Rubicon from being an actor to
being a celebrity. Do you feel a responsibility to use that
platform that you have to share your political beliefs, or
do you just do that out of who you are?
Mortensen: No. I've never really done that
before. It is really just a reaction that comes out of being
told over and over — not asked — but
told, as if it is an accepted fact, that in the case of this
story there is a direct parallel. In other words, we, “the Fellowship” are
the United States , and the bad guys are the faceless or brown-faced
nameless Islamic terrorists. It's a dangerous comparison to make.
It's just as faulty as what Tolkien objected so strongly to,
which was to knowingly misapply Nordic cosmology, literature,
mythology, to justify the military actions or the racist policies
of the Third Reich.
It bothered me, so I reacted. I thought, at a certain point
I'm seeming to agree with what they're saying, and I can't
do that morally. Do you know what I mean?
And I don't think that it's my job — or any celebrity's
job — to speak out. But on the other hand, I disagree
with people who say, “You're a celebrity, so just shut your
mouth and do your thing.”
You saw that in the Vietnam war, where the government would
say things or the media would reinforce that, [saying]: “Let
the congressmen, let the people in government judge the moral
course of the country. There were placed there to judge these
things. Let them do it” That's not what this country is about.
This government is a government by the people, for the people .
It's wrong to say, “Because you're a plumber, a taxi driver,
a journalist, an actor, unemployed, a single mother
have a right to say anything.” The history of the United States
and other nations [shows that the practice of] leaving to those
who govern the moral decision-making and the course of the country
has not been a very successful one.
Given that, what is your worldview, your platform for
making these moral judgments?
Mortensen: I believe we have more in common
with other people than not. And for the United States, in regards
to Afghanistan — which
is treated already as “the distant past” almost like Vietnam,
and the government likes it that way — the consequences of what
we did there are still being felt and will be for a long time
Forget about the effect on our infrastructure and our standing
in the world.
[pauses, searching for the best words]
My point of view is that we have more in common with others
than not. If you look at yourself as this country's government
has tried to — “We're Americans. We're different. If we can use
the U.N. as we did in Korea or in the first invasion of Iraq,
and they're going to go along with us, then great. If not,
then screw ‘em. We're Americans, we have a right to do things
that other countries don't.” By separating yourselves as Americans,
as Frenchmen, as Iraqis, to separate yourselves from others and
consider yourselves as special or different, that's to construct
the walls of your own prison. That's a one-way road going the
Aragorn's of noble birth, but he doesn't seem to want
to accept his kingship. Do you think that individuals have
been given special talents or tremendous resources have a responsibility
to intervene where we see injustice?
Aragorn … accepts it to do well by his fellow men, and realizes
that if he doesn't do something it won't get done. [But] those
words can be easily twisted and abused. Those kinds of words
can be used to justify actions that those who undertake them
and have the information available know is misleading
they are misapplying those words and those ideas.
That is reprehensible. It's as reprehensible as what the Germans
did, in terms of the “high ideals” of Nordic literature and Nordic
I see what your point is, but I don't think the United States
has any more of a right to police the world than any other country.
Where we go wrong is in saying that we do not have
to adhere to the principles or the ideals of the community of
we just spat on that, and did what we wanted, and walked
right over that, and did what we wanted out of self-interest.
That is really what we did. That cannot be questioned. We denied
what the U.N. was saying. We said, “No
what's good for us might
not be good for you, but we don't care.” That's what we did.
A Visit With Elijah Wood (Frodo)
Do the movies look different to you now, three years
after you gave that performance? Are you seeing things in them
you didn't see early on?
Wood: It doesn't feel like there is that much
distance between working on the movies and the movies coming
out, because every year we've gone back to do pickups. Every
year that we come and talk about these films and every year that
we see these movies it feels pretty recent in our history.
I think if I were to go back now and watch “ Fellowship” and
watch “ Two Towers ,” I think I might have a slightly different
review on them and see them from a slightly more open perspective,
but I think pretty objective about them anyway just because there
is so much of these films that a) we don't know what it's finally
going to look like when we see it, and b) certainly for films
2 and 3, the stories are so separated that there's a good two-thirds
of each film that I had no concept of what was happening to the
other characters because I was so focused on my own journeys.
For the first time I saw “ Two Towers ” and the first
time I saw “ Return of the King,” it was sort of like
watching a movie that you weren't a part of because there is
so much new coming at you.
You spent so much time in Tolkien's world and seeing
through his eyes, have his view of the world, spirituality,
and right and wrong influenced your own thinking? Do you find
his view of the world appealing or discomforting?
Wood: I certainly agree with him. I think in
playing a hobbit, I was at the very center of his ideology, his
perspective of what was good and what was wrong with the world.
He wrote hobbits and certainly the Shire as all that is good
and pure in the world. I sort of agree with his perspective on
the fact that there all these wonderfully good and pure things
that are being threatened by Mordor which is in my estimation
the modern world threatening all that is good and pure.
Those themes that are very important in the story to Tolkien
became very important to me. I think I agreed with them before,
but especially after working in New Zealand . I think those things
resonated even clearer. Working in a country that is so lightly
populated and is so pure in terms of its ecosystem and its nature.
There are bits of New Zealand where there are no people at all,
and it is just sheep and landscape. I think we all learned — if
we hadn't already — I think we all had a relatively good perspective
of the earth and the fact that it's being threatened. But after
living in New Zealand and working in New Zealand I think we all
have a better perspective of the state of the world and that
it needs to be saved and preserved.
You play a hero in this film who sacrifices all that
he has in him but ultimately fails. He succumbs to the addiction
of the Ring. And he is saved from the fate of Gollum and Isildur
by chance or fate or providence or whatever you want to call
Wood: It's mercy. It's in the book: It's Frodo's
mercy for Gollum that destroys the ring. Had Frodo killed Gollum,
he would have possibly gotten to Mount Doom and he would have
kept the ring for himself and the world would have been doomed.
[It was because] he saw a kinship in Gollum and had an understanding
and an empathy with Gollum that Gollum stayed alive and ultimately
impeded upon Frodo's own destruction, which destroys the ring.
There is also the theme running all the way to the first
film where Gandalf says to Frodo, “There is another will at
work … in the finding of the Ring, that it came to your uncle
that you were meant to have it
and that is an encouraging
thought.” Given the way that the ring was represented almost
as an addiction, and that is certainly how Andy Serkis played
him … as an addict. … I wonder if you have any thoughts about
the Ring as a metaphor for addiction, particularly in regards
to the common idea among addicts of a need to acknowledge a
higher power to overcome the addiction. Is faith in a higher
power necessary for overcoming addiction?
Wood: Whoah! That was well done, by the way!
I'm very proud of myself for being able to hold that all in!
I certainly give credence to that in life. I'm not sure it pertains
to Frodo's particular journey. The way that Frodo gets through
is ultimately in his will and his courage and his own inner strength
and belief that gets him through. It's also Sam as well, belief
in Sam, his love of Sam. It's the love in his heart and the good
in his heart that holds the evil at bay for as long as it does.
I don't think there is anything else that he looks to to free
him of this addiction.
What about calling on the name of Elbereth?
Wood: Well, yeah … calling on the light of
Earendil. But I don't know that there is any higher power that
he believes in to help him get through. I think it really is
about, if anything, Sam.
Frodo is unable to go back to the Shire. But Sam carried
[the Ring] for a while and he was able to go back and live
Wood: Sam did for a brief moment carry the
Ring, but he didn't carry the
Ring. It is that experience of having been burdened by that evil
for that period of time that has permanently etched away at Frodo's
soul. That is something that he can never get back. There is
something sacrificed in the destruction of that ring, a piece
of Frodo. It is almost like a loss of innocence. He's gone back
home war-torn, like someone who has seen the atrocities of war
and then come home and their home doesn't look the same to them
anymore and they can't find the same pleasures that they used
to because they've experienced something so horrid. Although
Sam was there with Frodo and certainly experienced his fair share
of the atrocities of the journey, he doesn't know that ,
what that Ring did to Frodo. He never experienced the true weight
and the profundity of that.
I noticed the marks on your neck as you got closer to Mount Doom ,
almost like a stigmata…
Wood: It's because the Ring gets heavier, and
keeps getting heavier and starts to tear at Frodo's neck. With
Sam being able to go home at the end, he never lost a bit of
his soul. He never lost what makes him Sam. He never lost his
purity. Frodo did.
Do you have a “Sam” in your life that helps keep you
centered and accepts you unconditionally.
Wood: I've got a few people in my life that
keep me centered. All of my friends
and my family. In a lot
of ways, Sean is Sam to me. We may not see each other every day
and I may live in a different state now. But there is a real
truth to the relationship that we had in comparison to Frodo
and Sam. Not as intense as that, but we became brothers. We love
each other very much despite differences.
What about role models? You have a lot of acting ahead
of you, we hope. You'll be recognized as Frodo everywhere you
go, I'm sure. Is there any actor who has gone before and been
through similar levels and success and familiarity who you
would like to follow their career arc for yourself?
Wood: I really admire Johnny Depp's career.
It's never been about celebrity or fame. He's definitely had
a certain amount of fame, but he does what he wants to do, and
he tends to only work on projects that he's really passionate
about, which has always been my philosophy. He's done that really
well. It doesn't matter how big or small the project is. It's
always just about the role and the quality of the project. He
leads a very good example in Hollywood today for the right way
to go about one's career. There are a few actors that I think
embody the same [thing], that never really let me down … I think
they always choose things that they really believe in and only
do it for the work and have their private lives. He's also brilliantly
mixed his own life privately with the work that he does. You
never really see stories about him, these days anyway. You don't
see him in the public eye too often. He works very hard at keeping
his private life separate. I think he's a good inspiration.
I'm also really inspired by Viggo, in terms of personally someone
I know, his work ethic. On the set, he was a constant inspiration
to all of us. The man gave 110 percent every single day. He's
also such a giving individual and a kind-hearted man, and a brilliantly
talented actor, painter, photographer
At the end of the filming process, did you feel in leaving
Wood: Did I feel like I was leaving for the
Yes! Was there any kind of a similarity?
And can I add to that … what will you take with you
[now that the project is over]?
Wood: We've wrapped like five or six times! [laughs]
But I'll speak of two of them because two of them are very significant.
The first time we finished the films [laughs again], we wrapped
up principal photography. At that point we did not know that
we would be coming back for pick-up shots. As far as we knew,
the films were over. I don't know that when I left I felt like
Frodo felt because I think Frodo felt… shed of all that burden
and he is at peace. And to me, there was a real sense of mixed
emotions. I was leaving my family and people I'd become really
close to, and a country that I loved, and a way of life that
I'd gotten so used to. And I didn't know what my life meant anymore
at home, in my own daily life. So it was difficult. Great in
that I could finally get home and relax and feel that peace,
but that peace didn't come without its consequence.
Then we wrapped again on the pick-ups of the third film, which
is another significant thing for us because it was literally
the last time we were in New Zealand for filming ever. That was
really hard. In some ways that was more emotional because we'd
already gone through the difficulty of wrapping the first time
and then we got lulled into this sense of security that we'd
have to come back every year. And that was great! We got so used
to saying, “See you next year!”
And then suddenly, we were on the brink of the end, and I didn't
know what to do. I got there and it was this reunion and it felt
like I never left and suddenly I saw actors leaving. Each actor
was given their own farewell. I would go to each of them. I would
watch them and all of them would cry and the whole crew would
be present. And I thought, ‘I don't want this to happen to me.
I don't want to have to go through this. I don't want to go through
the process of having to say goodbye to everyone in this way.
As beautiful as it is, it breaks my heart and I don't know if
I'm ready for it.' It came time to do it and I had to make a
speech in front of the crew and I couldn't articulate what I
wanted to say, I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Leaving that
was very emotional and very sad and moreover difficult to comprehend,
as much as it was sinking in, I couldn't get my head around it.
And now we're at the brink of the end again as we say goodbye
to these movies in terms of their release.
Throughout all of these years and various ends and saying goodbye
that we've done, the thing that rings true, and now I'll come
around to your question, brilliantly! [laughter
all around] is that the thing to take with us at the
end of all this is the friendships made. It is the thing that
will endure for years and years when these movies are in the
film history books. The Fellowship will carry on. There's something
really hopeful and beautiful about that. We can certainly rely
on that. It is the thing that I personally am most proud [of]
and feel most blessed to be able to take away from the last four
years—that sense of family and closeness with the actors and
the crew. I've never felt anything like that.
Did that have to do with the intensity of the process
or from the story itself?
Wood: Both, in a way! The story called us to
have these relationships for the characters, but the two months
we had before the filming really secured the friendships, and
then the process of making these movies… we were there for sixteen
months, and spent all of our time together, and consequently
all of our free time as well.
The majority of this group would call this the greatest
trilogy ever made. Do you have any sense of “How will I surpass
Wood: I don't really want to surpass it. It
was its own experience. I would hate to surpass it,
to try to do something better than that. I think that means I
wouldn't have appreciated it enough. It will endure in my mind
and my heart for the rest of my life.
What were you thinking about with that last smile?
Wood: You know what they cut out though? It's
[He then grins and gives us all two thumbs' up.]
They cut out the thumbs!
[This gets laughter for a long time.]
[getting serious again]
That smile had to encompass a lot. It's essentially supposed
to be peace. Frodo finally has [found] the Frodo we remember
from the Shire, shed of that loss of innocence that he had. The
innocence has returned. It's all of those things. That's all
I was thinking of, trying to be as pure and peaceful as possible.
A Visit With John Rhys-Davies (Gimli)
Mr. Rhys-Davies, you have been part of the two most
beloved film trilogies ever made. In both of them, you have
a significant presence. And yet, in both of them, your character
begins as a well-rounded, three-dimensional, heroic sort, and
then seems to narrow into something like comic relief. I love
your performances, but that aspect of the script sometimes
troubles me. Does it frustrate you at all?
Rhys-Davies: With the first “Raiders,” it
was all very fresh. We were breaking new ground. Of course, they
left me out of the second one, and it's a poorer picture because
[laughs uproariously, and the reporters do too, agreeing
By the time we got to the third one, I was no longer part of
the franchise. One was more relegated in a way. The new hot thing
was the Indiana [Jones's] father line. You grabbed what you could
and made what you could of it.
the choice was slightly different here. As you remember,
Tolkien sold the original rights for a hundred pounds because
he didn't think the book could ever be made into a film. And
he's right. It's unfilmable. If you are going to tell the story
in the book, you will break all the rules of Filmmaking 101.
The structure's impossible.
And it is to the great credit of Peter Jackson that he [strives]
to make a structure work for the film, but he will sacrifice
structure for fidelity. And I think that's the right answer here.
But what are the books? Something's quite nice, and then something
bad goes wrong, and then there's a fight, and then something
gets worse, and then there's a bigger fight, and then
things look really bad, and then there's a battle, and
then things look really really bad, and then there's
a bigger battle, and then things look REALLY really bad.
That's the structure of the damn thing. And you can't have that
mounting tension all the way through. So we needed to find ways
of releasing the tension. And we decided that Gimli was probably
the way to do it. Because there's something innately funny about
There's an exchange, a drinking scene between Gimli and Legolas,
that will probably be on the DVD [of “The Return of the King”]
that I think will make you laugh a lot. I suspect that in a way
that the film would have been better with it in. This film is
very dark and very … well, I teased Peter the other day [saying] ‘You
realize that the critics are now going to accuse you of having
made a homo-erotic masterpiece.'
[More roaring laughter.]
With all of the hobbits and the bed-jumping ... it's a little
bit like Never-land, isn't it?
[Back on the subject of the “unfilmable quality of LOTR:]
You can't have that many characters in a film. Look at the stories
you barely get a snifter at. Faramir and his father. That's a
story you want more time to spend on. There's a family tragedy
here that is just so unspeakable and you want to know more about
those relationships between those two brothers and the son that
is favored by a father.
You remember that marvelous line of Kipling's. Kipling was very
gung-ho and jingoistic and very keen on WW1. You know, ‘beating
the Hun' and all that sort of thing. He sent his 17-year old
son off to the war and he disappeared. He disappeared. He was
seen by a sergeant, he'd been hit in the face and he was making
his way back to a medical facility. The sergeant didn't spend
much time with him because the boy was crying
he was in such
pain and then he disappeared. Obviously a shell landed or something
like that. And they may have found his remains about three or
four years ago. At the end of it, about 1921 or 22, Kipling wrote
a poem that has these lines in it:
If they ask you why we died
Tell them because our fathers lied.
And that just came to mind when I saw that about Faramir.
One of the key things about Gimli's character is his
relationship with Legolas. And the thing that makes it so poignant
in the books and also in the film is that it comes from a place
where dwarves and elves had never really gotten along. There's
a cultural antagonism between them. And yet this dwarf and
this elf become fast friends. Did this have any personal significance
for you as you were playing that role and deploying these themes?
Rhys-Davies: As a matter of fact, historically,
just to correct you slightly dwarves
and elves had been close at one point and then dissension had
grown between them and they'd become enormously suspicious and
hostile with each other. And indeed the only reason the dwarves
showed up at the Council of Elrond is that they don't want to
see the elves get any advantages out of this thing. But it's
interesting that once Gimli tries to resolve the thing by smashing
the Ring with his axe, and ends up breaking his axe and landing
flat on his back, it is from that moment he realizes it is the
power of the Ring and the power of that evil, and he's hooked
The development of the relationship between them is of course
helped by his encounter with [Galadriel] the queen of the elves.
And there's that wonderful thing in the book where he talks about
an enchantress. “If men just set eyes upon her they fall forever
under her spell.” That's scary. [And it] is exactly what happens.
He takes one look at her and he is completely in love with her
forever. And that helps him make that bridge with Legolas. That
friendship doesn't come immediately. It comes with that grudging
respect they develop for each other.
There is a lovely thing that in a way we couldn't do because
we have Ian Holm's character going off on that last boat. But
in the book at the end, [you have this] eternal and young and
youthful Legolas and … this very aged dwarf with white hair and
they take him off on the boat as well.
How much of Tolkien's Catholic beliefs and perspective
resonate with you?
I'm burying my career so substantially in these interviews that
it's painful. But I think that there are some questions that
demand honest answers.
I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged.
And if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose
their civilization. That does have a real resonance with me.
I have had the ideal background for being an actor. I have always
been an outsider. I grew up in colonial Africa. And I remember
in 1955, it would have to be somewhere between July the 25th
when the school holiday started and September the 18th when the
holidays ended. My father took me down to the quayside in Dar-Es-Salaam
harbor. And he pointed out a dhow in the harbor and he said, “You
see that dhow there? Twice a year it comes down from Aden . It
stops here and goes down [South]. On the way down it's got boxes
of machinery and goods. On the way back up it's got two or three
little black boys on it. Now, those boys are slaves. And the
United Nations will not let me do anything about it.”
The conversation went on. “Look, boy. There is not going to
be a World War between Russia and the United. The next World
War will be between Islam and the West.”
This is 1955! I said to him, “Dad, you're nuts! The Crusades
have been over for hundreds of years!”
And he said, “Well, I know, but militant Islam is on the rise
again. And you will see it in your lifetime.”
He's been dead some years now. But there's not a day that goes
by that I don't think of him and think, “God, I wish you were
here, just so I could tell you that you were right.”
What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists
do not understand how precarious Western civilization is and
what a jewel it is.
How did we get the sort of real democracy, how did we get the
level of tolerance that allows me to propound something that
may be completely alien to you around this table, and yet you
will take it and you will think about it and you'll say no you're
wrong because of this and this and this. And I'll listen and
I'll say, “Well, actually, maybe I am wrong because of this and
[He points at a female reporter and adopts an authoritarian
voice, to play a militant-Islam character:] ‘You should not be
in this room. Because your husband or your father is not hear
to guide you. You could only be here in this room with these
strange men for immoral purposes.'
I mean … the abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy.
True Democracy comes form our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience.
If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the
And there is a demographic catastrophe happening in Europe that
nobody wants to talk about, that we daren't bring up because
we are so cagey about not offending people racially. And rightly
we should be. But there is a cultural thing as well.
By 2020, 50% of the children in Holland under the age of 18
will be of Muslim descent. You look and see what your founding
fathers thought of the Dutch. They are constantly looking at
the rise of democracy and Dutch values as being the very foundation
of American Democracy. If by the mid-century the bulk of Holland
is Muslim — and don't forget, coupled with this there is this
collapse of numbers... Western Europeans are not having any babies.
The population of Germany at the end of the century is going
to be 56% of what it is now. The populations of France , 52%
of what it is now. The population of Italy is going to be down
seven million people. There is a change happening in the very
complexion of Western civilization in Europe that we should think
about at least and argue about. If it just means the replacement
of one genetic stock with another genetic stock, that doesn't
matter too much. But if it involves the replacement of Western
civilization with a different civilization with different cultural
values, then it is something we really ought to discuss — because,
[expletive deleted], I am for dead white male culture.
You do realize in this town what I've been saying [is like]
…but we've got to get a bit serious. By and large our cultures
and our society are resilient enough to put up with any sort
of nonsense. But if Tolkien's got a message, it's that “Sometimes
you've got to stand up and fight for what you believe in.” He
knew what he was fighting for in WW1.
[With that, he departed, saying:] Try and
put verbs in my sentences.
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