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How did you approach Gollum psychologically?
Peter was very clear that he wanted Gollum to be led by one actor psychologically. I did a lot of work with Peter and Fran and Philippa [Boyens], and we decided that Gollum should be played as an addict. He physically relates to the Ring like it's his fix, and he suffers from withdrawal symptoms.

That interpretation makes him a very sympathetic villain.
Yes and no. He's the audience's way in to the Ring's power to corrupt. So rather than prematurely judge him as this evil sniveling wretch, he's made more like Frodo. They form a strong bond because they both know what it's like to carry the burden of the Ring. Frodo's looking at Gollum and seeing his own future. He's a very solitary character, so I spent a lot of time on my own, isolating myself.

In addition to the mental demands, Gollum is also a physically exhausting role, right?
Yeah, especially as we decided to play Gollum as a quadruped, which means I've spent most of my time on my hands and knees. I've spent three years crawling, basically!

How do you keep a grip on the character over such an extended time?
Gollum's voice is extreme, and takes a while to get into, especially after jetlag from flying to New Zealand, or making other films. There was always the fear of losing him. But once I realized the job wasn't two weeks of voiceovers, like my agent said, but four years of ongoing work, I settled into it.

And now, after glimpses of Gollum in The Fellowship of the Ring, he comes into the spotlight.
It's been a long wait! There are scenes I filmed two-and-a-half years ago that are being worked on now in post. It's only in The Two Towers that Gollum finally gets seen. The upside is there's time to develop the character and make him complex. I understood him mentally and physically, and I created a physical vocabulary for where he carried his pain, and how he speaks.

How did you cope with the extremes of location shooting?
I love rock climbing, so I love being stuck on mountains at 5 o'clock in the morning! But the real challenge was the mental stamina for the job, for coming back time after time and working on my own. For one scene, I had to dive into a pond to catch a fish. It was the middle of winter, and it was snowing. I was put into a wetsuit, which was so thick I couldn't move. I dived in and it was so, so cold, it knocked my breath out when I went in. The look on my face says it all--there was no acting required!