Billy Boyd plays Pippin.
Ten years ago, Billy Boyd was working for a Glasgow publisher, manning a pony-binder as it slapped covers on to paperbacks. Among them was Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Although he often read the books he bound, he never attempted the great trilogy. It just wasn’t tea-break reading.
As an apprentice bookbinder from the east end of Glasgow, he wasn’t to know that he would go on to secure a major part in the film version. Boyd plays Pippin, one of four hobbits in what is easily the most ambitious movie project of the decade so far. All three parts of the trilogy have now been filmed, and will be released over the next three years, starting in December with The Fellowship of the Ring.
Right now, Boyd is in the calm before the storm. Nursing a big cup of coffee – his second of the morning – he sits in the Traverse theatre bar in Edinburgh, talking about his current play like any jobbing actor. He’s in that strange limbo-land where the film is made, but the dizzying media round has yet to begin. Anticipation is reaching boiling point over the trilogy. Websites have been tracking its progress for years. Rumour has it people have been buying cinema tickets just to see the trailer.
That could put a lot of pressure on the actors. Boyd laughs . “Once I came home, I had a few waves of anxiety,” he says. “But when we were there [on location in New Zealand], it wasn’t a problem. It was as if we were all in a Lord of the Rings family. We felt we were here to make this thing, and just tried to make it the best that we could.
“Sometimes we were working six days a week, 15 hours a day. You would get tired, but all you had to do was remember it was Lord of the Rings. You would think: `Man, this is a one-off, you’ve got to get the energy and do the best job you can’. I think we have done.
“No matter what happens, I won’t feel bad about what we did. I don’t think you can have a definitive version of Lord of the Rings, I think what we’ve done is one version of it. Whether it is the right one, and one that people will enjoy, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Boyd seems very grounded. He never loses sight of his own ordinariness, or anyone else’s. He grew up in Cranhill, Glasgow, making his stage debut at primary school in Oliver. He played the Artful Dodger and loved it. Encouraged by his family, he joined a local youth theatre, but when he left school, his career faltered.
“It’s one of those things about growing up in a working-class area: people saying you should get a trade first, before you do something different. I don’t know if anyone actually said it – I just knew.” Thus there were six years of book-binding before he auditioned for the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) in Glasgow. After graduating in 1995, he worked in theatre, from Much Ado About Nothing to Trainspotting and David Greig’s The Speculator. He also appeared in two low-budget movies, Urban Ghost Story, and Julie and The Cadillacs.
Boyd seems a natural choice for a hobbit. Like Tolkien’s shire-folk, he is small of stature with a young, expressive face, an even temper and a natural sense of optimism. Also hobbit-like, he has untold depths. He’s 33, but, fair and fresh-faced, could be taken for 20. “Thank God, or I’d never have got the part,” he says. “It’s funny because I’m the youngest of the hobbits, although I’m acting with Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood who are 24 and 20.
“I feel really privileged to be the person to play Pippin. I think he’s a wonderful character. In some ways, very innocent, naïve, especially at the start, but then that’s a lovely place to start, because you have the room to grow.
“No matter where they are, hobbits can get interested in the smallest of things. That’s a big thing for Pippin. Through that, he gets himself into trouble, which is fine at home, but once they’re on the journey, it could mean one of his friends being killed. He has to grow up very quickly.”
Boyd spent 18 months on the film set in New Zealand, where director Peter Jackson and his team meticulously recreated Tolkien’s world. During that time, he also read the three novels almost constantly, end-to-end. “Your life was The Lord of the Rings,” he says. “But it was great. We were all great friends, to the point that after filming for a year we had a four-week break, and five of us went on holiday together.
“You were in New Zealand for so long, you actually had time to set up a life. I did have friends who were nothing to do with the movie. It was really a lovely time, a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
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