In the latest “Grey Book” entry on his Official Site, Ian McKellen describes what it was like to work with his dimunitive namesake, Ian Holm, and reveals some very good news — the Grey Havens will be in the film!
“For Bilbo’s last scene, Ian wore a latex mask of wrinkles and scrawn before sailing away to the distant Havens where Tolkien’s good people achieve their rest.”
Bilbo’s scenes were all shot in the studio and I shared three of them. Gandalf knocked on the round door of Bag End last January – Peter Jackson answered offscreen for Bilbo “Go away!” and then Kieran Shah (shot from the back but in a mask of Ian Holm) let me in. Cut to two months later as Ian Holm shuts his front door behind me in the interior of the hobbit hole in the studio.
Peter Jackson was alert to the need to get both Ians onscreen together, rather than using the big or small double too much. By placing Gandalf closer to the camera, Bilbo could be shrunk and the two of us could see each other’s eyes. Ian’s twinkle and pierce you through — he is so observant and yet he looks at you as the character. And this illusion that Bilbo is present is achieved each time the camera rolls.
Ian never repeats himself on film — in each take he is different and yet always in character. It is a daring approach to film acting, dicing with spontaneity. Most of us, pretty clear what is required, will hope to deliver a good take full of life and believability and if a retake is required for technical reasons (“Nothing to do with the actors – let’s go again!), we will try to repeat what felt good about the previous attempt. Ian will have none of this so that what you eventually see of Bilbo was never tried before — it happened for the first time just as you see it. He calls this exploring the character as through a kaleidoscope, giving the final choice from a wide range of takes, to the director and editor.
It makes you think how limiting film can be — no matter how often you see a movie, the performances are fixed, unaltering whether on the big screen or on the back of a seat in a 747. See the same actor on adjacent nights in the theatre however and assuming he is not aiming to be an automaton, you will discover, as he does, new aspects of the character. Ian Holm brings the advantages of live theatre to the cinema, so that resting in the spool cans is a “complete Bilbo” until Peter Jackson makes his selection. The actor not as marionette but as tool for the director’s storytelling.
For Bilbo’s last scene, Ian wore a latex mask of wrinkles and scrawn before sailing away to the distant Havens where Tolkien’s good people achieve their rest. It was an odd experience because Galadriel was with us but Cate Blanchett was not — more scope for film magic to add the genuine Elf Queen who goes voyaging with Bilbo and Gandalf at the end. Odder still to realise that this final scene, when completed by the technicians, will not be screened for another three years!
I have now been shown the first Bilbo/Gandalf scene at Bag End roughly cut awaiting some revoicing that will remove extraneous noises and the enhanced soundtrack of effects and music perhaps. So here is the first critical review of Lord of the Rings. “Bilbo lives and if the rest of the cast matches Ian Holm‘s performance, you are in for the treat of a lifetime”.