Interviews: Christopher Lee, Ian McKellen, John Rhys-Davies
Here is the first installment of our cast interviews. These interviews were conducted in a round table format with about 9 other reporters, including Harry from AintitCool. While my analog tape of this interview turned out pretty poor, I’m hopeful Harry will post his digital audio to make up for our technological downfalls!
***NOTE: While I attempted to get every word spoken, in some cases I had to paraphrase. A huge thanks to my friend Amy for providing some quality editing before I posted this update. ***
Reporter: How did you get cast?
Christopher Lee: I got a call from my agent saying that Peter Jackson was directing Lord Of The Rings. “Would you go and see him and talk to him? Would you do a reading? And would mind if they videotaped you during the meeting?” Well, I said, “No,” because in the case of this particular story, this great epic, I was perfectly happy to go, be seen, photographed, and read… and do anything they like! Its not something one does all that often. So, I went along and saw him in a very small room in the back of a church in London. And he was sitting there with his wife (one of the producers and also one of the writers) Fran, and the British casting director. And I read something, I don’t remember what it was, and then he said… well, he didn’t say anything actually. But I didn’t say “Well, do I do it, or whatever you want me to play?” I found out later that he had already exactly decided everyone he wanted to for each role. And he got them all.
John Rhys-Davies: What about this business of you getting down on your knees and begging?
CL: That’s not on film. That.. ah… came later. He showed me, like he showed you, all these wonderful photographs of locations in New Zealand, and some of the characters John (Howe) designed. I thought, god this is going to be something unique in my life as an actor, something I always dreamed about… that this would become a film one day. Of course we say film, what one really means is the whole thing. And I always dreamed that maybe I would be in it. So occasionally dreams do come true! Not very often.
Reporter: First you wanted to be Frodo?
CL: No…Bilbo perhaps.
Reporter: Many people said you wanted to play Gandalf, years ago.
Christopher Lee: Oh, well…years ago, when the books came out! And, I was too young to play Gandalf. I was! When the books came out, somebody said to me, “Did you read these books, and do you think they will be made into a film?” And I said it’d be a wonderful thing, but I doubt it. And he said, “What would you like to play?” And, of course I said Gandalf, nothing strange about that. Who wouldn’t? But now, I’m far to old to play Gandalf. And when I saw what Ian did, apart from his performance, and seeing what he had to do physically, I was extremely thankful! I was even looking at you (Ian) running through the mines yesterday (in the footage).
Ian McKellen: Well, i’m not sure that was me.
CL: I wonder if that is you?
Reporter: What do you remember of meeting Tolkien?
CL : Very little. I was up in Oxford meeting some friends, and we were in the Randolph Hotel. And someone said, “What are you doing here, this is all rather correct and proper. Lets go to a pub.” This was a way long time ago. Forty-five plus years ago. And we went to this pub, it’s now world famous, but I can’t remember the name of it. I can’t honestly remember. We were sitting there talking and drinking beer or something, and someone said, “Oh, look who walked in,” it was Professor Tolkien and I nearly fell off my chair. I didn’t even know he was alive. He was a benign looking man, smoking a pipe, walking in… an English countryman with earth under his feet. And he was a genius, a man of incredible intellectual knowledge. And he knew somebody in our group. He (the man in the group) said, “Oh Professor, Professor,” and he came over. And each one of us, well I knelt of course, each one of us said, “How do you do?” And I just said “Ho… How… How…” I just couldn’t belive it. But I’ll never forget it.
IM: I think meeting writers is more special then meeting…
CL: Of course, they originate the whole thing…
IM: … then meeting the Queen or stars. I remember being at the National Theater the year Arthur Miller sequestered. When the author of Death of a Salesman walked on the stage, I don’t know! Or, when I once saw Samuel Beckett rehearsing. It’s just so thrilling. CS Lewis, I used to attend his lectures at Cambridge…
CL: Well, he was a member of the same club, the Inklings, as was Tolkien at Oxford. He wrote three wonderul books.
IM: I think Tolkien has been looking down, or up, on this project. He was always there. The books were always there, just off the set in every single scene. Last minute checks… did we get it right, is that what he wanted, is that what he intended? The devotion to that man,
I think was equal to that of Peter Jackson. It was always there, it never was out.
Reporter: Like a director checking a composer?
IM: It was just like that.
Reporter: Why does he (Peter Jackson) engender such affection?
CL: He can! He is a man you come to love and respect.
JRD: He has everything a director needs. And a director needs an enormous technical facility of some sort. He knows the grammer and syntax of filmmaking. His casting is impecible. It is… present company. I never walked into a first reading of anything before and looked around and identified the characters. “That’s got to be Frodo… that’s got to be Legolas the elf. That’s got to be Sam.” I’ve never done that before in my life. And when I saw that, I saw that he knew. That there was a chance we would be making something big.
IM: You know when this film comes out, it’s just going to say “New Line productions present ‘Lord of the Rings.'” It’s not going to be “A film by Peter Jackson.” Wouldn’t you think you’d earn the right, having brought this project to life, to have your name up there? The man you’ll meet today is the man we met every day. He is always the same. He is the guy that has only got one pair of shoes. He’s wearing a long pair of trousers today I have never seen him wear. He’s always in shorts. He’s always in the same vest, shirt. And there are other people like him in that remarkable country of New Zealand. And he generates such enthusiasum just simply by being himself. He is not a star. He is absolutely reliable. You can go to him and you’ll get the answer, and his knowledge is formidable.
CL: He knows what he wants. And he will go on doing it until he gets it. You know when he says, “That’s it!” then that IS it.
Reporter: What kind of impact will these films have?
JRD: These are going to be the biggest films of all time. I don’t think there is any question about it. Because half the world has read Tolkien, and the other half will. I have to tell you, that line did not come from me.
CL: I didn’t come from me either. It’s something I read.
IM: Since it was announced these films were being made, the Tolkien estate finances in the United Kingdom alone have doubled. How do we know the film is going to be successful? Look at AintitCool News (pointing at Harry) and other sites. Look at the 400 million hits on the Lord of the Rings site. Look at the responses on my website. There are people just waiting and waiting. It will be the biggest opening of any film. The question is, will it go on then, to be bigger then that? And having seen that half an hour last night, any concerns about that have been laid to rest. It has very good appeal. And it must appeal to people who have never read the book, and will never read the books, and are just going to want to go on the journey. And I think it’s going to happen.
Reporter: Then its a pretty big deal to be in it?
CL: And so it should be. Everything to an actor should be a challange. If it isn’t, there is no meeaning to it for what we do. Everything is a challange. And if it comes off, its a victory.
Reporter: Could you be doubting your roles?
CL: Not amongst this cast. Not with this director.
IM: You know, we wouldn’t all be here. We have all dropped everything to get here, whether we were working or not. We have to be here. The call went out, Peter said, “Would you come?” we said, “Yes, of course.” Anyone who is not here is working and could not get away. It has been a very large family of friends, all of them with some particular talent, either taught themselves or been taught especially for this project… or bringing that master experience. And if nobody wanted to see our film, the experience would still have been worthwhile. But it’s thrilling, the virtue on this occasion, the proper, trying to do the right thing, is going to be rewarded by people’s response.
CL: I noticed last night, there was a cocktail party, I said to my wife, “… this is very interesting, because there are certain people that gravitated to certain people. And the hobbits more or less in one corner, and togther again. It shows you very much. And you know, Aragorn and Boromir are together, and they’re all part of the Fellowship of course.” The interesting thing for me is to see that this, this great affection amongst all of us, is still there. And believe me, after a year or more that is very, very rare. There are some people you don’t want to ever see again usually.
JRD: We can’t tell you any story of temperment or fights or things like that. It was a wonderfully great sense of comradship and comrodery.
Reporter: This was the first time you had all worked together?
CL: I worked with John, I had never worked with Ian.
JRD: On my honeymoon, we went to Oxford playhouse to see a brilliant young actor in a play . It was the third time i saw you (Ian McKellen). In Oxford.
IM: Tolkien must have been around then. Well it was over 40 years ago.
Reporter: You (John Rhys-Davies) have been in other action films before. Can you compare ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with this one?
JRD: There was a wonderful sense of improvisation with the first ‘Raiders of the Lost Arc.’ If you read the first script, honestly, it read like a comic. This was pretty well laid out. Obviously there was fine tuning and writing going on all the time. They were both wonderful experiences. But I… you can’t really compare two extraordinary opportunities of a lifetime. But, I have to carry on, not only is this going to be a big one, but i think in 10 years time, when you look back, and you compose your list of your top favorite films, I think we will find room for ‘Lord Of The Rings.’ It’s the right marriage, only now, that the technology exists to tell the story, the way it should be told. But there is a story. It’s brilliantly executed. It’s so well cast, present company excepted. It is a magical tale. And it’s about good and evil. I think good wins!
CL: Speaking again, quite personally in respect to this drama, I never believed that at my age, which in a couple weeks I’ll be in my 80th year I hope. I don’t believe in the space of a year, just over a year, I’d be working with Tim Burton, Peter Jackson and George Lucas. It’s incredible. It’s all absolutely wonderful in their own different ways.
JRD: Well, you figure you have done what… 240 pictures?
CL: 255… 255 I believe.
JRD: You are probably, about now, just finishing your apprenticeship.
Reporter: Ian, how strange is it for you, after so many years of being a theater actor, to be an action figure; to be in a big epic seen by younger people?
IM: The problem with doing the greatest text ever written, Shakespeare, is that you are impatient with anything that doesn’t begin to match up to his imagination and his expression. So, I turned down probably more films then I should have done because I didn’t think they were well enough written. But in the case of X-men, not a great text, but a great story… I mean a Shakespearian story really. And then Tolkien, who has his own imagination, which is beyond Shakespeare, something Shakespeare never really tried to do, and dialogue which is worth speaking. You haven’t really seen that. You haven’t seen the big scenes yet, but there, a lot of acting is required in this film which has naught to do with racing up mountains. It’s simply eyeballing the actor and discovering them through conversation. Then you say Tolkien is up there with Shakespeare and… I don’t feel there is a great division even though, you can catergorize them as, “Oh, here is a fantasy movie, here is an action movie…” Shakespeare hadn’t a sense and anticipated both.
author’s note: (I skipped a full blown discussion on Shakespeare’s story orgins and the Kings of England.)
IM: I hope all this wants to make you see the film
JRD: You can imagine what the conversations were like on the set.
Tomorrow I’ll be heading to the party of a lifetime, so I’m not sure how much time I will have to get the next set of interviews on line, but I will try my hardest to!
Once again, sorry for the lack of images with these reports. As you know, we were not allowed to have cameras at the Chateau.
CalisuriPosted in Cannes 2001, Christopher Lee, Events, Film Screenings, Ian McKellen, John Rhys-Davies, Movie Fellowship of the Ring, Old Cannes News, Premieres on May 12, 2001 by Calisuri