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Bernard Hill's King Theoden doesn't appear in The Lord of the Rings trilogy until midway through The Two Towers, but he makes a memorable impression when he finally arrives. Gripped by the evil of Saruman and Wormtongue, Theoden's regal stature is restored in spectacular fashion by Gandalf's power and his family's love.

It takes an actor of some stature to handle such a transformation, and the veteran British player is a perfect fit. Here, Hill discusses Theoden, his resurrection and the joys of working on Tolkein's trilogy.








  Theoden's such a strong, complex character. Where did you turn, aside from Tolkein's text, for your inspiration?
I was leaning towards a kind of old Celtic king, an Irish king. The idea of Henry V came to me as well. I wanted him to be somebody who led from the front. Not a general who stood on a hill directing troops, but someone who went out with a sharpened sword and put life and limb on the line.

How did it feel to be leader of Rohan?
I loved the Rohan concept and the idea that they're like an ancient Celtic race. I've got a lot of Irish in me-my grannies were Irish-and I felt very comfortable dressed up with the extras who were the Rohan people.

  Can you talk about Theoden and his role as a father figure to Eowyn?
After Theoden's resurrection, he's full of self-doubt and self-blame. He thinks he's let his niece down. When he sees her laughing for the first time in ages because she's in love with Aragorn, it's a great delight for him. It's part of the process by which he recovers his true self. It's a big arc that doesn't actually fulfill itself until they ride out of the great hall at Helm's Deep. His relationship with her comes more into play because when they get attacked by the wargs, he comes up to her and says to her, you must take our people to Helm's Deep, 'you must do this for me.' It's important for him that he sees her as being his successor in a way, and it justifies his status as the King of Rohan once again.

What first brought you to this project?
I was busy directing a play and I didn't have time to go to the casting people in London, so I put myself on tape. I got a friend who had a lot of camera equipment and a little studio, and we set the stuff up in his barn and I directed myself.

Obviously your tape did the trick. Do you remember your first meeting with the LOTR team?
I had a phone conversation with the writers, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, which went on for an hour and a half. They kept talking too fast for me and I kept pretending I knew what they were talking about, because in the original script my scenes weren't really padded out yet. When I got to New Zealand, Fran and Philippa came rushing in and said, "Great! You came on an act of faith, we won't let you down." And of course, they didn't.

What was it like working with Peter Jackson?
Working with Pete was a daily delight, really. Pete's enthusiasm was infectious, and if your head dropped, you couldn't let it drop too far because his didn't. Someone would say, "You mean he's not tired?" I mean, come on, this guy was going to bed with the rushes every night.

You must have some memorable moments from the production...
Like the first time we see Theoden, when the evil power of Saruman gets exorcised from his body and he goes through this wonderful morphing process. It's basically a scene between Ian McKellen and myself. When we arrived to do the scene, Pete said, "I don't know what we're gonna do here. Why don't you two do the scene." We did the scene, and he said, "Well, its very high." So we took it down a bit, and it was too low. Over the course of three or four days, we developed the scene. Now I don't believe for a minute Pete didn't have an idea of it at all. I think he just didn't want to step in too much and too hard.

What was it like doing those scenes at the Battle of Helm's Deep?
When we all got there, we all went to Bob Anderson, the fight master. He had his own way of teaching and we went through rehearsal after rehearsal. Then they'd call "action" and all hell would break loose. I was on a great horse called Deep End, short for Dependable. He'd just stand there forever, not bothered by any of it. We bonded with the stunt guys and they became our friends, our drinking buddies. We'd have parties in pubs, and birthdays were celebrated. We just kind of looked out for each other.

Theoden also plays a critical role at the Battle of Pelennor Fields in Film Three. How does that differ from Helm's Deep?
Helm's Deep was a defensive thing that nearly went wrong, whereas Pelennor Fields is an attack. It's like the Light Brigade. Theoden says, "Follow me, let's charge." So it's a completely reverse from Helm's Deep, and much more positive.

 
You've said you think The Return of the King will be the best film of the bunch. What makes you think that?
I think the story is the strongest of the trilogy. It has a higher emotional content than the first two films. Plus, Peter's been living with Film Three the longest, and he will take advantage of everything he learned on Films One and Two.

Looking back on it, what's your overall impression of your time on LOTR?
I think for me the great delight was the work process. Everybody was so tight-knit, so bonded together, that it felt almost like a low-budget movie where no one's doing it for the money. And then being in New Zealand was precious too. It was just a wonderful experience, taking this book and putting it onto the screen.



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