by Tom Roston
“It feels like this road could go on endlessly,” Elijah Wood says, spinning around and then walking on the flat, cracked earth of a dry lake bed in California’s Mojave Desert. “You are chasing something that you are not actually reaching.”
We are staring at a mirage, walking toward it as it recedes in the dry heat. Water appears to surround us, reflecting the sage bush and rocks that create a perimeter around this remote, ancient spot a mere two-hour drive from Wood’s home in Santa Monica.
“Now, this is spiritual!” he says. “I’ll have to make pilgrimages out here.” In the distance, a brushfire rages, casting a smoke plume high into the cloudless sky, but Wood focuses on the dusty earth below us, and he flops down on his stomach. “Ahhh, the ground is amazing,” he says. “What would be incredible would be to camp out here. Can you imagine seeing the stars?”
He sits up and peers around, looking again at the mirage. “This is so cool,” he exclaims. “You can go anywhere.”
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.
—Frodo Baggins, The Fellowship of the Ring
There was little surprise when, on July 8, 1999, New Line announced that Elijah Wood had been cast as Frodo Baggins, the lead character of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary fantasy The Lord of the Rings. Sure, there had been talk about finding an unknown to be the chosen one, but Wood was so clearly perfect: At five-foot-six, with otherworldly, wide-set blue eyes and elfin features, as well as a reputation for being one of Young Hollywood’s most talented and diligent actors, he was ideal to play the diminutive, hill-dwelling hobbit.””Elijah instinctively understands how to act for the screen. And he has awesome craft and technical ability,” says his Rings director, New Zealander Peter Jackson. “It’s quite humbling to see so much talent in someone so young.””
Joining Wood is a dream cast: Ian McKellen as the wizard Gandalf, Ian Holm as hobbit Bilbo Baggins, Cate Blanchett as the elf queen Galadriel, and Liv Tyler as the elf Arwen. “It was amazing to be welcomed into a journey that I knew would not only be a journey as an actor but as a person as well,” Wood says. “We all signed on to this knowing that we would be taking an adventure that would mirror that of the book.” Indeed, New Line’s handing the reins over to Jackson—who, though he blew away indie audiences in 1994 with his smart, creepy Heavenly Creatures, had made only one studio film, 1996’s commercially disappointing The Frighteners—was an unprecedented gamble. And allowing him to film the entire trilogy in one stretch, in his homeland, over an unheard-of 15 months, at a cost that is now nearing $300 million, was an act of epic, Tolkienesque proportions.
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