"The Lord of The Rings required a commitment from our cast to learn how to swordfight, horseback ride, canoe, learn Elvish, climb mountain peaks and at the same time bring the magic and magnetism of Tolkiens characters to the screen. They were up to the task."
Barrie M. Osborne, producer
At the core of the story in The Lord of the Rings are the cultures that make up Middle-earth: Hobbits, Dwarves, Humans, Elves, Wizards, Trolls, Ents, Orcs, Ringwraiths and Uruk-Hai.
Each culture has its own rich way of life, its own customs, myths, ways of dress and even style of fighting. Each is fully developed in The Lord of the Rings, creating the essence of a living, breathing world just beyond our own history.
For example, Hobbits are gentle and close to nature, an almost child-like group who live off the land. With an average height of 36", the furry-footed creatures dwell deep in furnished holes on the sides of hills. They love the simple things in life: smoking pipes, eating, and, of course, storytelling. They live to around 100 years old, with the age of 33 marking the start of adulthood.
Elves, on the other hand, are noble, elegant, magical beings whose time is running out and who seem to possess a bittersweet sense that they are now about to pass into myth. Although they could be slain or die of grief, elves are immortal in that they are not subject to age or disease.
Dwarves are short but very tough, with a strong, ancient sense of justice and an abiding love of all things beautiful. Small in stature, they live to be about 250 years old.
Wizards are supremely powerful but can use that power for good or for evil, depending on where their hearts lie.
Men in The Lord of the Rings are a fledgling race just coming into their own.
Other creatures are even more fantastical: the leaf-covered Ents try to protect their brethren, the trees; the misshapen Orcs fight for Saruman; and the sinister, black-cloaked Ringwraiths are neither living nor dead but cursed to live in the twilight world of Sauron.
To bring these remarkably diverse beings to life would require a cast of true versatility and also a cast willing to spend months in the deep heartland of New Zealand bringing life to a literary legend. It would require a group of actors who could carry their characters through three chapters of climactic changes.
In the first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, the actors get a chance to introduce their characters and their individual quests. At the center of it all is the storys 36" hero Frodo Baggins, the shy but forthright hobbit who assumes the responsibility for destroying The Ring. Despite the help of the Fellowship, it is Frodo who must bear the burden of The Ring and resist its constant temptations of evil. For the actor to play Frodo, the filmmakers chose 20-year-old Elijah Wood for his energy, innocence and charisma.
"Elijah has a sincerity of purpose that just makes him a natural in the role," observes Barrie M. Osborne. "He is capable of taking the character through a real transformation, which begins with The Fellowship of the Ring."
Wood describes Frodo as "a very curious adventurer. Frodo lives in a time when most of his fellow hobbits want to stay with their own kind, but Frodo is very different in that he wants to leave and see the rest of the world and all its wonders."
Which is exactly what he does in The Lord of the Rings. As Frodo begins his journey, Wood was struck by how much like a person, rather than a fantasy character, the hobbit began to seem. "He became alive for me," he admits. "The way we shot the movie, everything was so real that we all believed that Frodo and the others really existed in history. Once I had on my prosthetic ears and feet for the first time, I knew what it was to feel like a hobbit. It sounds bizarre, but it felt the same as playing a historical character, as if hobbits had actually once been alive."
One of Frodos closest allies in his plight to destroy The Ring is the old and powerful wizard Gandalf, who begins to demonstrate his full powers and purpose in The Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf is played by renowned screen and stage star Ian McKellen, who was thrilled to take on such a magical role.
"I see Gandalf as the archetypal wizard," says McKellen. "I think in the creation of Gandalf, Tolkien was playing with ideas about wizards from stories and fairy tales throughout time. Gandalf is related to Merlin, and maybe even Prospero, but he also is very much his own man."
"When the story hops up and the journey begins and great things are at stake, he makes a real contribution to The Fellowship," he continues. "He shows his stuff as a warrior." Showing off that stuff was a perfect match with McKellens own innate nobility. Notes producer Barrie M. Osborne: "Ian McKellen has the stature to make you truly believe in Gandalfs power and wisdom."
Frodos quest to destroy The Ring begins with his cousin, Bilbo Baggins, an aged hobbit with a history of bravery played by Ian Holm. Holm says that "Bilbo is not unlike me. Hes quite grumpy on the outside but basically he has a heart of gold. He is a little fellow who things seem to happen to but when hes put to the test, he comes up trumps more than most people."
A longtime fan of Tolkiens novel, Holm likens playing such a renowned character to another character noted for its many interpretations. "I think playing Bilbo is a lot like playing Hamlet," he says. "I mean, this is my version of Bilbo, just as it would be my version of Hamlet. Hes an eternal character but as an actor you play it as you see it in front of you and trust in that."
Says Barrie M. Osborne of the choice of Holm: "He brings out all the nuances in Bilbos character he gets the crustiness of the hobbit, but more importantly, he reveals what lies underneath."
Three hobbit friends also join Frodo on his journey: Sam, Merry and Pippin, played by Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd. Astin plays one of the trilogys most moving characters, the ordinary seeming Samwise Gamgee, who turns out to be the most extraordinary of friends to Frodo.
"Sean Astin is a wonderful choice for Sam because he brings a real joviality to the role, as well as an empathy for Sams struggles," says Osborne. "I think its also a real bonus that he and Elijah Wood are such good friends that closeness really shows in the relationship that develops between their characters."
Astin was drawn to a character that seems to define the best of hobbit-hood. "To me, he personifies decency, simplicity, honesty and loyalty, the ultimate hobbit," says Astin. "Most of all, he has an undying friendship with Frodo that is so strong, hes willing to face the adventure of the unknown to help him."
Astin also sees Sam as a man of the land. "I look at him as this kind of pastoral figure, a farmer whose hands are always in the soil," he comments. "Hes not the most sophisticated being in the fellowship, but he makes up for it with his earnest steadiness."
Dominic Monaghan, a young British actor who comes to the fore in The Fellowship of the Ring, brings out the quick-witted cleverness and fun-loving spirit of the hobbit Merry, formally known as Meriadoc Brandybuck, another of Frodos closest friends. "Like most hobbits, Merry always looks on the bright side of life," says Monaghan, "but I dont think even he realizes at first how brave he can actually be. As situations arise at the beginning of their journey, he starts to become pretty important."
Monaghan continues: "The main thing I wanted to get across in the beginning, with The Fellowship of the Ring, is that Merry is just this very sharp, sarcastic and funny boy who hasnt grown up yet. But hes about to go through incredible experiences and adventures that will change him into a new person."
For the comical hobbit Pippin, or Peregrin Took, the filmmakers chose rising Scottish actor Billy Boyd. Boyd was amused by his characters "knack for doing the wrong thing at the wrong time" but also moved by Pippins transformation throughout the odyssey. "One thing about Pippin right from the beginning is that his whole life revolves around friendship," points out Boyd. "He loves his friends in the Shire more than anything."
But when Pippin embarks on the journey to destroy The Ring with Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship, he discovers a world unlike anything hes ever imagined. "Suddenly, things turn very serious and dark for Pippin. Hes falling in marshes and meeting magical creatures and hed rather be back at the pub chatting with the ladies!" admits Boyd. "But thats what makes him so dynamic a character. He tunes into the fun and beautiful side of life, even in the middle of a war."
Also joining the Fellowship is the man Boromir, a valiant warrior who lacks respect for The Rings devastating power. Boromir is portrayed by Sean Bean, who liked that the character "brings the human element into the Fellowship. Boromir has the human qualities of being honorable and brave but also having a very clear opinion about everything." "In the beginning," he continues, "he sees The Ring simply as a solution to the problems of his people. But he finds out that it isnt quite so clear-cut, especially as he becomes susceptible to its powers."
Then there is Elrond, the elf of great powers who knows much about The Ring. Elrond is played by Hugo Weaving. Weaving adored playing such a wise yet wistful hero. "Elrond is so wise, so good, so noble and yet he also has, for a lack of a better word, a real humanity to him. There is a side of him that has been made desperate by the perpetual state of war. He has a real sense of how hard it is for people to get out from under evil," Weaving says.
The Fellowship is completed by an elf and a dwarf: Legolas, the sword-fighting son of an elf king, played by Orlando Bloom; and Gimli, the stout-hearted axe-man who comes to represent the Khazad, the dwarves of Middle-earth, played by John Rhys-Davies. The comic contrast between the boisterous dwarf and the elegant elf becomes a constant source of humor and delight. Orlando Bloom explains: "Elves see dwarves as these muddy creatures who steal from the earth without giving back. But Legolas and Gimli grow to respect one anothers differences. They learn to rely on each other in battle and to laugh together."
Rhys-Davies loved that The Fellowship of the Ring kicks off something many people havent experienced in a long-time an epic, serial adventure. "I think today there is an enormous hunger for adventure and a dynamic life that can only be met in the imagination . . . or in movies like this one. Tolkien feeds that hunger, because in our hearts we want to be part of a heroic civilization like the elves, hobbits, dwarves and men of Middle-earth."
Facing off against the Fellowship is the evil Saruman, once the head of the Council of the Wise, who has since succumbed to the dark temptations of Saurons power. Saruman wants Frodos ring and is willing to use his specially bred Uruk-Hai grotesque, war-like creatures -- to get it. Perhaps no one could embody Saruman better than that long-time master, Christopher Lee.
Lee had played many mythical creatures before but had never been involved with a project like The Lord of The Rings. "This is the outright creation of an entire world," he says. "It brings together history and languages and cultures and makes a dreamscape come true."
Although Saruman lived around 7,000 mythical years ago, Lee sees his dark reflection all over the place in the modern world. "To my way of thinking, the evil that exists today isnt that different from what you see in Middle-earth. People will always crave power and Saruman wants Saurons power," he explains. "To me, he is not just the physical force of evil personified, he is also very real."
Another mysterious character introduced in The Lord of the Rings is Aragorn, a heroic man and warrior, played with trademark intensity by Viggo Mortensen. Mortensen got so into the role it was rumored he was living in the forest in Aragorns torn, mud-stained clothes! Says Peter Jackson: "Viggo embraced the character so completely its difficult to imagine the two being separate now." Adds Barrie M. Osborne: "Viggo is the perfect actor to play a man who is struggling to redeem himself from his ancestry and his heritage. Hes incredibly dedicated. Hes the kind of an actor who one day had his tooth knocked out by a sword and actually asked if they could superglue it back on so he could finish the scene. He became Aragorn, and he brings a real power to the role."
Mortensen felt a strong personal connection to the project: "Im Celtic and Scandinavian, so I was raised on the myths Tolkien used to inspire The Lord of The Rings," he says. "Its part of my heritage." The actor was also intrigued by Aragorns primal, self-reliant brand of heroism. "He can survive in nature, live from it, read its signs and live happily, not needing anyone, not relying on anything but his own knowledge and discoveries," he observes. "But now he has to take on more responsibility, and its not clear where it will lead him."
Two of the major female characters in The Lord of The Rings are also introduced in The Fellowship of the Ring: the brave she-elf Arwen, who falls in love with Aragorn, played by the luminous Liv Tyler; and the powerful, soul-probing Elf Queen Galadriel, played by Academy Award nominee Cate Blanchett.
Tyler was drawn to Arwen, the immortal elven princess. "To me, Arwen brings a real touch of femininity to the tale of Middle-earth," says Tyler. "In the midst of a war, she has fallen in love, and become the backbone and motivation for Aragorns fight."
Cate Blanchett was also drawn to her characters fascinating strength. "I loved playing Galadriel because she is so iconic. She is the one in The Lord of the Rings who truly tests Frodo," says Blanchett. "I also think she has a profound message to give about taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions. And, Yes, I have to admit I have always wanted to have pointy ears!"
Blanchett was astonished by how completely the world of Middle-earth and its many cultures had been thought out by the filmmakers. "By the time I started working, there was such a strong and real-life sense of the various cultures, their histories and their hopes for the future," she notes. "It was really like becoming part of a whole different universe. Ive never experienced anything like it before."
The entire cast underwent intensive training in ancient arts and languages for their roles. This included studying sword fighting with veteran sword master Bob Anderson; learning horsemanship with head wrangler Dave Johnson; and practicing the Elvish language with dialect and creative language coaches Andrew Jack and Roísin Carty.
Jack and Carty developed a unique accent and cadence for Elvish, based in part on Celtic, yet entirely unique in the world. In also training the actors in other dialects, they gave exercises during which the actors stood in front of a mirror, making curious noises and faces, learning to use their facial muscles in completely new ways. The result was that the actors each found their own accents spontaneously. Jack and Carty taught the actors as if they were learning a language from scratch, not just having them memorize script lines.
In addition to the technical training, every actor involved in The Lord of The Rings had to be in top physical condition not just because the Fellowship scales mountains, fords streams and fights physically intense battles throughout the trilogy, but because they had to withstand the 274-day shooting schedule. Says Dominic Monaghan, who plays the hobbit Merry: "We all started fitness programs well before production began and we worked with physical trainers throughout. Not only was the shoot physically challenging, with huge leaps and big battles and stuff like that, but the hours alone required physical conditioning and fitness. Anybody out of shape wouldnt have made it!"
Summarizes Peter Jackson: "For me the project really came to life when the cast came on board and brought their individual interpretations to the roles. They made it so much more realistic than I had ever imagined."