The Hobbit Cast Talks
Life in Middle Earth
by Lynn Barker
In this first movie of three to tell the prequel story of “The Hobbit”, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf the Gray (Sir Ian McKellen) join a team of dwarves led by warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to recapture the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor. On the quest, Bilbo has an encounter with weird little Gollum (Andy Serkis) and walks away with the famous Ring.
These actors have a lot to say about their cool characters and how they feel about the “Rings” movies and this new film. We learned that Gandalf (Sir Ian) babysitted Bilbo’s (Martin Freeman) kids and that Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) really charmed Sir Ian in their scene together. Elijah Wood, Frodo in the “Rings” movies, admitted that his face was “de-aged” for his brief appearance at the beginning of “Hobbit”. Check it out!
Q: Martin, how big of a fan were you of the Lord of the Rings movies, and how crazy was it when you were actually on set and had to interact with people like Gandalf and Gollum?
Martin Freeman: The Lord of the Rings Movies were fantastic. I didn’t grow up as a Tolkien head. I read Tolkien in the run up to this. So my experience of Middle Earth was by the films which I think are still great pieces of work. But, it was a pleasure to be with Pete (Director Peter Jackson) and with a crew that committed, to get to know the actors who I knew a little bit from home, who subsequently became friends and to meet other people I’d never met whose work I liked. It was great. It had a way of not being intimidating which was lovely.
Q: For Andy, can you talk about your first moments back as Gollum? What did it feel like, and how will he be different in these three films?
Andy Serkis: Well he’s, you know, he’s 540 years old in this film and not six hundred, so he’s much hotter (laughter) and will have a huge fan base with the teenage girl fans. (okay…he’s kidding). But what was great about Gollum this time around what obviously when we were working on Lord of the Rings (we didn’t know much about) the performance capture side of things. So that was an ongoing track alongside development of the character. Returning to the character twelve years later, that wasn’t an issue. We were able to play our scene out and the performance capture happens at exactly the same time.
The only weird thing about getting back into Gollum is that these characters have been absorbed into the public consciousness to such a high degree, there really was a sense of “Am I doing an impersonation of a character I once played ten years ago? I feel like Gollum, I’m moving like Gollum, I’m sounding like Gollum but I’ve heard thousands of impersonations so is it really my version or is it a pale imitation?” But, (in our scene) it was so thrilling to watch Martin develop Bilbo in front of my eyes. It was amazing.
Q: How many times a day do people say 'my precious' to you?
Andy: (laughs) 432. No. But, an amount.
Q: Richard and Martin, can you tell us about the first day when you saw yourselves in your full makeup and costumes and how did the look of your character help you get into this world?
Richard Armitage: The first day I was created into a dwarf it was quite shocking, I remember it took four and a half hours and I had to keep my eyes closed for all of it because I didn’t want to see how it worked. I just opened my eyes at the end. It’s very strange when you don’t recognize yourself. They went through a process of sculpting many different kinds of faces and (finally settled on one). In terms of getting into character, it’s always brilliant when you look in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself. I really enjoyed that.
Martin: It was sort of gradual. Bilbo went through a few phases. There were a couple of noses for Bilbo. There was an almost snub nose or just a Cyrano De Bergerac-shaped nose and it was decided my nose was weird enough (laughter). The wigs slightly changed and the color changed and so it went from (looking like) a middle-aged rocker to being what Bilbo looks like now which is (he pauses) well….a middle aged rocker. It was gradual. It wasn’t just like one minute you are you and then the next minute you look like your character. It’s an incremental process.
Ian McKellen: It’s an interesting piece of trivia, that every single character in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit wears a wig, and many of them wear a prosthetic: false, ears, feet, hands, in my case nose.
Q: Andy, you don’t wear prosthetics.
Andy (Gollum): I don’t take it personally. I’m a digital prosthetic (Andy acts out Gollum wearing a motion capture suit. That information is captured by computer and ends up the Gollum you see on screen).
Q: What was it like coming into the movie franchise and creating a fellowship with new people? Richard, as dwarf leader Thorin, what was it like for you?
Richard: We arrived together at beginning of 2011 and we went straight into a training program, all the dwarves together Martin joined us as well so it was a bonding experience which became extended because there was a delay in filming. That process really formed our group and the hierarchies formed during that process. As far as coming into an existing (movie) franchise, we were always made to feel very welcomed, like we were coming into a family and so many people returned that were working on the “Rings” trilogy. It was just very easy.
Ian: It’s not a franchise, they’re films. This isn’t X- Men.
Q: Good point. How did you all manage to shake off your roles emotionally and physically when you weren’t filming?
Elijah Wood: I don’t know. I think that playing Frodo over four years and ending that chapter, a funny thing happens as the films came out and the characters become absorbed into popular culture and the character became bigger than I. The characters, in that way, have been with me ever since. The emotional end came at the last bit of pick ups and that was sort of it for me. The character is everywhere and people on the street daily reference Frodo and it’s been that way ever since so it’s like a little shadow.
Richard: We haven’t finished the story so I don’t think I’ve made any attempt to shake it off yet.
Martin: Without sounding glib, I take off the wig and the feet and the ears and that’s it.
Ian: If you’re acting for film it is with a certain intensity but what you might have difficulty shaking off when you remove the costume and the make-up. It’s not the character but the effort that you’ve put into it and the intensity; the fact that it was difficult today or joyfully easy or there was something you could not quite get right and were struggling over. That effort might remain with me and that’s what you’ll be thinking of rather than being lost in the world of Middle-earth.
Q: Ian, you’ve stated that you preferred Gandalf the Gray over the Gandalf the White. What qualities appeal to you, and did you use those same good qualities when you were playing nanny to Martin’s children?
Ian: Well I was only allowed to do that once and it was a very enjoyable evening. I don’t babysit as a rule. For just a couple of hours I was the nanny and I haven’t forgotten it.
Martin: Neither have they.
Ian: Awww. Well Gandalf the White who is in the second of the Lord of the Rings movies, is on a mission and he has to help to save the world. And so he’s cut his beard and gone White in the process and doesn’t have time for jokes. But that’s the story of where the hero doesn’t make it back home. Bilbo gets back home because he’s on an adventure and it’s different. He doesn’t need Gandalf the White to look after him, he needs the Gray who he can have a smoke with and a drink with. They gradually learn to trust each other and like each other’s company. It’s on a much more human level that befits the quality of the adventure they’re going on. There’s more range for the actor in Gandalf the Gray which is why I selfishly prefer doing him.
Q: When the book (by Tolkien) was first published, one of the reviews said it holds up the mirror to the “human nature” and I was wondering what personally you take from this story about humanity?
Richard: One of the things that I really find, when I look at that book, is I can get a sense of Tolkien’s Catholicism, his Christianity. Not necessarily in a denominational way, just in terms of his chivalric view of the world. His nobility which is expressed through kindness and mercy. I think that pervades all of his writing. It’s almost in all of this characters and I find that inspiring.
Martin: Well, it seems like the classic tale of a small guy who ends up being a hero against his will. And I think true heroism is when deeds of bravery are done when you’re scared. If you’re not scared then you’re not being brave. You know, then you’re just being normal. When I read it, I read it more looking at Bilbo, I guess. I can’t read it as a civilian. But (Bilbo) is literally a small guy thrust into a huge world who manages to do the right thing most of the time, which I think it’s not a lesson, it’s not a lecture to us, but it’s got very interesting things to be drawn from that as a reader, and hopefully as a viewer.
Ian: He takes old people very seriously and gives them their full weight and due and young people he’s very keen on. And I think the message is that, yes the world is organized by people who are extremely powerful and have an overview, and are concerned for the preservation of Middle Earth. But they are entirely dependent on the little guy; that it’s not the great people we build statues to that change the world, it is the foot soldiers who measure up to the moment and we can understand that.
Q: Ian there’s a great scene between Gandalf and Lady Galadriel and you’re talking about small things and acts of kindness that rid the darkness. How was shooting that sweet scene with her?
Ian: We had appeared in the same scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings movie but we hadn’t met. They photographed us separately. Then, there she was in person. We had such a congenial relationship and we got extremely close and affectionate with each other. Her husband wasn’t around (laughter). And there was a moment (on screen) when she just adjusted my hair, but I think it was Cate rather than Galadriel and I think it’s made it into the movie (It did) and I’m still rather shaking. So I think that there was a lot of innocent love and dependence going on. And we’re talking about something that Gandalf feels very strongly. It’s about the little guy that we need (Bilbo) who may be expendable, who may not come back. And it’s one of the things I remember most about us working together. When Martin (as Bilbo) said, “Am I going to come back? Can you promise that?” And I say, “No.” Not many commanders would say that to their soldiers. It’s a chilling, but heartwarming moment.
Martin: Yeah, because I think that’s a pivotal thing for Bilbo. He still chooses to go on that journey having had that very honest appraisal by the man who is going to take him. If you do come back you won’t be the same, which is also a very scary prospect for most people, and certainly most hobbits. But he still chooses to go. I think that’s quite touching.
Q: Richard, the Thorin character is a little different than in the book. Can you explain?
Richard: In the book you don’t really see the character in a flashback. You don’t see too much of his prowess on the battlefield. (In this film), you really see that character coming into his own, and I found, personally, I really connected with the character when I fought for him, or inside of him. You know what I mean? And taking on Orcrist (Thorin’s famous sword) and making that sword move was a moment where I really found the character. So that’s really his essence.
Q: This is a question for everybody. Making these films is a really long process so what did you each learn about yourselves?
Elijah: For me this time it wasn’t really an entire journey. You know I can certainly speak to The Lord of the Rings. My experience was unique. I was 18 when I traveled to New Zealand, so they were formative years for me growing into being a man. It was the first time I lived away from home for a great length of time. It was a huge journey for me as a person. I made some of the best friends of my life, and connected with the country, endured a responsibility as an actor I’ve never encountered before. So it totally changed me as a person. I think through the collected experiences of making the film, and going on that journey, I’m partially the person I am today as a result of that.
Richard: I suppose working with Peter, the thing that I realized, is just when you think you’ve given everything you’ve got, he asks you for more and somehow you find it. I’ve had to let my limitations drop because there’s always more to give and when Peter Jackson asks you for another take when you think you’ve got nothing left and you can give him three more, that’s something that I’ve learned about myself.
Martin: I’m not quite sure yet what I’ve learned about myself. I don’t think that’s all fallen into place. I learned that I can be away from home that long. You can survive that. But yeah it’s like when you’re at drama school and the teacher says to “This might not make sense now but in seven years you’ll go, “Oh that’s what you were talking about.” I don’t think it’s all fully dropped for me yet.
Andy: What I learned there are three thousand people on this film, and more. It actually feels like most of New Zealand made this film. It’s the enjoyment of other people’s craft. It was such an enormous pleasure watching and learning from fellow actors and just seeing people commit 150 percent each day. And these are really long stamina jobs. It’s like being pushed out onto sea on a very rocky boat, and all agreeing to get on that boat and seeing a big, big stormy sea ahead of you for a long time and knowing you can never get off it and you have to adapt. In nice way too.
Ian: I thought we were on a luxury liner. (laughter)
Andy: I was in a different boat. But, I think that we were all totally reliant on each other in a big way.
Q: Ian, you’re playing Gandalf hundreds of years younger this time. How did you do it?
Ian: Gandalf is 60 years younger. Yeah. I just played him the same. These six films, in the future, will be viewed in the order not as they were filmed, but the order of the story. And is it going to be a little bit alarming for them to see, as it were, everything getting younger. The technology is younger. Do you remember Gollum in the first movie? He looked like a glove puppet compared to this.
Elijah: And now Frodo is going to get younger. I was actually de-aged for this. They softened my face in computer. I’d lost all my baby fat.
Uncredited photos copyright and courtesy New Line Cinema, 2012
This film is rated PG-13
Web Site - THE HOBBIT: An Unexpected Journey