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The Giant who was Gimli
Surprisingly tall … John Rhys-Davies. Photo: Steven Siewert
A small role turned out to be a short cut to stardom, writes Garry Maddox.
For someone who has played probably the most famous dwarf in cinema history, John Rhys-Davies is surprisingly tall.
Dressed in a dapper three-piece suit, the British actor who played the ferocious axe-wielding Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy drops instantly into character when asked about the height difference.
“It’s not really a question of size now is it?” he growls. “The actor that purports to play me may be about six foot but Gimli is a giant. That’s what you don’t understand – in the cosmic scheme of things, Gimli is a far bigger person than this actor!”
Although Rhys-Davies has acted in two Indiana Jones movies and a James Bond, the celebrated fantasy trilogy has raised his profile considerably. It has also brought him to Sydney as the star attraction for a Lord of the Rings convention at the Lidcombe Catholic Club.
But some children are still disappointed to meet him.
“They have a particular affection for Gimli because he’s their size,” says Rhys-Davies. “And he’s very fierce and very brave and very protective…
Rhys-Jones was surprised to be offered the role. “I can’t say being offered a three-foot-eleven dwarf is something that had been serious in my mind before. And, of course, I tried to say no as any actor would.
“Just imagine, you spend 30 years trying to be recognised and then you immerse yourself in a full prosthetic make-up. The only thing you can see of me are the eyes and a little bit of the lips … Why would an actor do that?”
After being convinced by his son to take the role, it took many filmmaking tricks to play a dwarf. Rhys-Davies acted in the background while his co-stars were in the foreground. He stood in a trench, other actors stood on a platform. They had doubles and everyone acted at times against a blue screen for visual effects, which Rhys-Davies believes is a health hazard over time.
“I had friends who were working on Star Wars in Australia roughly at the same time,” he says. “They reported that after five weeks of blue screen, they were getting very depressed. The human mind needs a full spectrum to be healthy.”