Ian McKellen (Gandalf). “Naughty”
Elijah Wood (Frodo). “Wonderful”
Sean Astin (Sam). “Joker”
Dominic Monaghan (Merry). “More naughty”
Billy Boyd (Pippin). “Even naughtier”
Ian Holm (Bilbo). “A pleasure”
Liv Tyler (Arwen). “Beautiful”
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn). “Brave”
Cate Blanchett (Galadriel). “Serene”
Sean Bean (Boromir). “A gentleman”
John Rhys-Davies (Gimli). “An experience”
Christopher Lee (Saruman). “Great fun”
Orlando Bloom (Legolas). “Passionate”
Sean Bean and I made fun of the elves, and they made fun of us. They said we were dirty and smelly and less intelligent and graceful, all of which is probably true. We commented on their vanity: ‘Well, when you are done with your nails, we are being attacked.’
We were doing this scene with 30 horses lined up. We had to shoot, like, five takes. We had to ride up over this mound and down into a gully; and then there were rocks and a sheer drop. Well, horses are pack animals, man. And when that many horses get going, they’re really going. On the last take, the director said, ‘Now imagine the Orcs [ogre-like monsters] coming up from behind.’ So I had my bow up, but the horses just weren’t going to stop. Gimli fell, he landed on top of me, and I landed on a rock. I cracked a rib and Vig cracked his tooth.
I did Pete Jackson, Orlando, Elijah, Viggo, Billy, Ian McKellen. But the best one I did is Karin Shah, Elijah’s size double. I impersonated his voice and called the producers pretending to be him, and Pete loved it.
One night, me and Gimli stayed up all night. We’d been working till about 11pm, and we wanted to get the red dawn in the morning. So we stayed up. We brought our trailers around in a circle, like covered wagons, and lit a campfire in the middle, where we cooked sausages. And we stayed up the whole next day.
I loved The Goonies, and The Ice Storm for Elijah. One time coming back to New Zealand from England, I was in a hotel and jet-lagged and forgot I’d asked Sean to get me a copy of Rudy because I never saw it. And I was in tears at 4 in the morning! I called him Rudy for months after that.
That piece of yak tail had a life of its own each day. After six months of it, I developed what is gleefully described as topical eczema. I sort of looked like a panda. It was red, raw and also swelled up.
That was an idea that we had early on, but a few of the fellowship members were reluctant to do it at first because they felt like, “What if this isn’t a good thing? We don’t know enough about how the production’s gonna go now to determine whether getting a tattoo is a great decision.” So we took a wait-and-see attitude. During the last month of filming, we brought the idea up again and everyone chimed and said, “This is something that we need to do.” We actually had one of the guys from Weta [the special-effects shop] design various scripts in elvish. He gave us pages and pages of ways to write the number ‘9.’ We finally decided on one. And then we all went to this one guy in Wellington, kind of an older guy, who has this parlor. He opened on a Sunday for us. And the fellowship entered and we stood by each other as we all got branded. I have mine just below the waist.
The crew was amazing. Some of them were still walking around with the Lord of the Rings books in their hands, even near the end of the shoot, when everyone was exhausted. Even on a regular-length shoot you don’t often get a crew that’s as into or and involved with the story, as the director, the cast and the writers. It made for good teamwork. People definitely had to supress their egos. They had to get over themselves a little bit. There really wasn’t much room to be fussy on this project.
We spent about five weeks rehearsing the swordplay and getting used to the weapons. So, by the time we started, we all had our distinctive styles. Viggo and I had these big, heavy swords, real chopping blades. Occasionally, someone missed a move, and people got bruises and stuff. But if you imagine the amount of battle scenes that we were doing, there’s always going to be somebody who gets a clunk.
As Gandalf, the Gray Wizard, I had this fight with Saruman, the White Wizard. Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman, points his staff at me, and I twist around on my shoulder with my legs in the air, on the ground. That was me. I achieved that with my legs in the air and a magnet keeping my shoulder on the ground. But just off the view of the camera was a chiropractor, an osteopath and a masseur.
Vig used to call me ‘Elf boy’, and I’d call him ‘filthy human’. As an Elf, I never got a scratch on me, never got dirty. And Vig would come out with blood and sweat all over him. And he’d say to me, ‘Oh, go manicure your nails.’
It is late 1999 in Queenstown, New Zealand, two days after record rainfall caused the worst flooding in the history of the district. We have suffered some setbacks; the weather has stuffed the schedule. Two of the actors, Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom, have been caught between two landslides and are now trapped in a tiny town in the middle of the South Island. They have been taken in by a kindly woman who has offered them food and a bed. They were last reported to be cooking spaghetti and cracking into a bottle of red wine.
Yeah! Every morning, I start with about two and a half hours of makeup, which means some very early mornings. We’re usually picked up around 5 a.m. I come to the set, and I get into my feet, which takes about an hour. They actually are very comfortable, thank God, but it does take a while to put them on. Initially, that was so exciting. Got the feet, got the wig and the ears. And then it was like, Ooooo-kay…I could do without this in the morning! Then I put on my wig–it’s the first time I’ve worn a wig in a film, so that’s exciting–and the [prosthetic] ears, which fit on very well, so it’s cool. You feel like a hobbit. We really transform in the morning, which is neat.
I took a car trip down towards the South Island with Sean Bean. We were filming down there, but Sean’s not into flying. And as we were driving, torrential rain started pouring down. You’ve never seen so much rain. I was videoing it and thinking, ‘This is insane.’ It didn’t stop for, like, 12 hours. And after nine hours of heavy rain, the roads just started to wash away. Then we saw a massive landslide coming right towards us. We spun the car around, but we ran straight into another one, further up the road. So we pulled into this petrol station where there was already a queue of people. And we managed to find a little cottage, where they let us stay. They had to carry us out in a helicopter, in all this torrential rain, which was kind of hairy. Sean was gutted. He’d done this whole drive just to avoid the flight.
As difficult and exhausting as this project was for everyone, there was an element of play, like kids in a game. But I wasn’t seven years old in my backyard with a wooden sword pretending I’m in a deep, misty forest with monsters coming at me. I was actually there. I was wet and tired, and there were a hundred guys coming at me full blast. If I didn’t remember the choreography, I knew I was really going to get whacked. But I loved it.
There is something inherently comic about spending all day in the company of people wearing false noses, flowing hair and ridiculously long beards. It was not uncommon to see as many as four Gandalfs in wizard regalia roaming around the studio at any one time; Gandalf stunt double, Gandalf stunt rider, Big Gandalf (a seven-foot-plus actor who was used to make our hobbits look three-and-a-half feet tall) and even — on occasion — Ian McKellen himself. This is not taking into account the Gandalf digital double, who took on tasks in the Mines of Moria that mere humans could not expect to survive. Ian was not the only actor to find himself with a virtual “other.” All the main cast had their faces scanned and body movements captured by Weta Digital, our New Zealand-based special-effects company, which grew from a staff of 30 to more than 250 during the course of production.
We referred to each other as “the hobbits”. Within the first month, we were those characters,’ Wood explains. ‘We called ourselves the hobbits because we adopted the relationships that were important to those characters. We were always together. We were on set together, we went out for meals together, we loved being around each other.
This big beast comes up out of the water and grabs him by the leg and starts whipping him around in the air. But Elijah was just like a cat that couldn’t get hurt. He’d fall down, and then he’d just pop right back up again.
We all had such a great time together, and we wanted something to remember the experience. At first, we talked about a ring, and then we got on to the tattoo. It became a group project. We rang up this guy who had a tattoo parlor that was closed on Sunday–our only day off–so we convinced him to open up for us, and we had a real party, taking photos of each other and everything
It really became my home. It was amazing, like the most beautiful parts of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales all put together on one tiny island; mountains, plains, rolling fields and lots of sheep. And when you’re thrown together on such a project, you have no choice but to make friends for life.
It became a sort of dark expectation that whenever we turned up on a new location the weather would turn bad — and sure enough, the locals would announce: “Hasn’t rained like this in 16 years!”
The first day I put on the feet, it was amazing. People were gluing stuff to my feet, and they looked really cool. But that wore off so bloody fast. Once we started filming, I wanted to have nothing to do with them, because putting them on meant losing an hour and a half of sleep. I had the sweatiest feet of all the Hobbits, so the glue was constantly melting, and we had to reapply them. It was just a mess.
They glued the Elf ears on, but they never got all the glue off. So, we would be picking glue out of our ears constantly. I went home to New York, and a week later, I still had all this sticky stuff. I was at a party, picking my ears and going, ‘Ooh, sorry.’
One time, a cop stopped me in Wellington, because I was walking out of my apartment building with the sword, and I got in the car with it. I guess it would be an alarming sight to anyone at 5:00 am seeing me walking around with a sword. But, once I told the cop what it was for, he let me go. But, I did keep the sword with me all the time. I just felt that it was part of the job description.
It was quite amusing to see the cast on a night off in Wellington. The Hobbits would be picking their feet, and the Elves would be picking their ears.
I think we lived very Hobbit lifestyles. We were always going to the pub and having a bit of a drink and a meal. Hobbits love to eat, so Hobbits love to drink. We, in some ways, embodied the things that are Hobbity initially, and I think we just became more Hobbity as the project wore on. The Hobbits tended to spend their free time together, so the the closest friends that I had on the movie were Billy and Dom and Sean. And Orlando the Elf, who happened to join us as well, much to our dismay. No, he’s a good guy. The Hobbits went to Australia…we went to Sydney and checked out the Star Wars set. The Elf joined us. We went on surfing trips a lot. It was a close union of boys.
Wherever we went, there would always be somebody’s parents, because the young guys had their parents over. It was sort of a thriving sort of social life. We were all together, very much as a group, living very close to each other for a year and a half. I’ll always remember it, because I made some great friends over there, and it’s a great country. That’s a great way to spend your life, isn’t it? I mean, it was for me, and every day you’d be thinking, This is brilliant.
I love them all, all my costars. We would hang out mostly in the hair-and-makeup trailer, and after work at dinner. We would eat all the time and drink wine and laugh. I was always like, ‘Let’s go get dinner!’ We all lived in houses, some of us in apartments. Orlando and I lived right around the corner from where Peter lives on this beautiful bay, up on these cliffs, and we had just the sea in front of us. You wake up to rainbows and dolphins. So, we had each other and work and some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.
The rain came through so you were walking around in puddles of cold water. I remember doing one night shoot when my feet have never felt so uncomfortable. I was almost in tears. It was quite a relief when they called a wrap.
Peter had up to 10 units going at one time, it was ridiculous. You could have done a shot for the third movie in the morning and a shot for the first movie in the afternoon. Keeping on top of everything was like juggling balls, it was like a nightmare in terms of keeping it all in your head. And multiply that by a hundred for Peter
We all got together one night near the end of the shoot. We’d had a few drinks and decided we needed to get something to celebrate this, something so that the experience would live for ever in our memories. I was the last to get it. Orlando dragged me to get it done in New York recently. I think everyone thought I’d chicken out but I’ve completed the circle now.
I had to train pretty extensively to get fluidity and the kind of grace and ease of movement that distinguishes an Elf. Training with the bow and arrow was a great way to find my character. I got pretty good. At the end, my archery instructor would throw a paper plate into the air, and I could nail it with an arrow.
We did one battle for the second movie that we shot over 3 months straight, at night. It was really a long haul and a lot of friendships were formed during that. The stunt team, I look at them all like my brothers and sisters. They were really incredible. Really remarkable what they put themselves through. I couldn’t imagine a European or an American stunt team having the kind of spirit that those guys did. I’ve never seen anything like what they did. And that does form an important part of all 3 movies, especially the second and third one. We had to really be in synch and really trust each other.
Miranda Rivers (casting director)
What was most interesting for me was that each character started to take on personality traits. People who were cast as hobbits were chatterboxes. You put 100 people who you’ve cast as hobbits together and getting them to be quiet is a major feat. You put a bunch of elves together and you find no one’s eating and there’s a lot of whinging [complaining] and there’s a lot of hair and makeup required. It became a running joke with us. The people who played Uruk-hai, which are the mean 6-foot fighting machines-they actually had this rivalry on set with the elves. They’d call them cupcakes. Because I can guarantee you, if you put the Uruk-hai out there, they’ll last all night with no complaining. You put the elves out there and within a couple of hours they’ll be going, “I’m too tired! And I need more makeup!” Hobbits were cast by large round eyes and big rosy cheeks. Our favorite adjective became roundy. “Are they roundy?” Round tummies, round cheeks, round eyes.