John Rhys-Davies Q&A at GenCon 2003
A HUGE Thanks to HannColl for getting this JRD Transcript down on paper for us! Take a look at part I
(JRD comes onstage unannounced to cheers and applause)
GenCon Moderator: Well, he’s pre-empted me, but I suppose that goes without saying. John Rhys-Davies, everyone! (cheers and applause)
(JRD starts to speak into the microphone, but the moderator, whose back is to JRD, cuts him off)
Moderator: Well, what we’re going to do here today is uh .if you folks have some questions you want to ask him, there’s a microphone back there, and if you could go back there and form an orderly line we could slowly incorporate your questions as well as some of the questions I’ll be asking him. Welcome.
JRD, setting microphone down on table: Do I have to use this damned mike? Can you hear? Why don’t you all come a bit closer, hey? Come on!
Moderator, indicating catwalk part of the stage: Would you prefer just to come out here, sir?
Moderator: Why don’t we move the table out of your way and you can come out here? (GenCon people move the table to the side.)
JRD, using microphone anyway: All right, so who’s got the first damned fool question? Oops! (covers his mouth in mock-embarrassment) (laughter)
And let me go ahead and give you an answer ahead: Girls – I do not have Orlando Bloom’s phone number. (laughter) If I had it, however, I would indeed give it to you and to the world. And yes, I do know who Sean Astin is. (cheers) And incidentally, I should talk about Sean Astin, I kind of placed a small bet on Sean getting a nomination for his hard work. (loud cheers) An absolutely marvelous performance, and when you see it, take along a handkerchief to the cinema with you because it’s very moving, very moving.
All right (mock-frustration) well, come on, ask some questions, for God’s sake!
Question: Are you going to do Sallah for the next Indiana Jones movie, when it’s being done?
JRD: I’ve been asked that same question probably every year since 1988, and I suspect I shall be asked that question next year and then the year after that and the year after that. (laughter) IF they make a new one and IF it relates in any way to Egypt and the best digger in Cairo (laughter), um, IF I’m still alive, if Harrison Ford and I have not been moved into the geriatric ward (laughter), yes, I would love to do it. [inaudible] I would imagine that Paramount probably sends a very nice food hamper to each of those guys every Christmas, begging them to do another one, but I don’t really have any certain news about it.
Moderator: [Asks people to ask their questions into the microphone.]
JRD mock-mumbles and complains to nearby audience members.
Moderator: Is it safe to say you have a rebellious nature?
JRD: What? Who’s a stinker? (laughter)
Moderator: I was just speaking of your rebellious nature.
JRD: What? I don’t have a rebellious nature! (laughter) I’m the most conforming bloody dwarf you’ve ever met! (laughter)
Moderator: What kind of preparation did you do for the role? I mean, knowing that you have local fan collectees that have sort of protective instincts toward the character that they love:
JRD: Never mind about protective instincts; what about my knees? (laughter)
Question: Hey, John?
Question (from a young boy): I had heard that like you and everyone else in the fellowship got like a tattoo, and I wanted to know what it was and where it is? (laughter)
JRD: Dear, evil child. (laughter) if I had a tattoo for every movie that I’ve done, I would be a walking billboard. (laughter) And if you think I’m going to allow myself to have my skin pierced by a drunken Maori with a filthy needle, you are insane! (laughter) I did what any real actor does when faced with a stunt with real danger – I sent my stunt double. (laughter). And, frankly, I don’t CARE where he has his tattoo. (laughter) But nice question.
Question: Well, speaking of Orlando Bloom.(laughter, JRD rolls his eyes in mock exasperation) I think that it would be really great if they made the Hobbit with him playing Thranduil and you playing Gloin. Would you be interested in playing Gloin, your father, if they made the Hobbit?
JRD: I would not take a prosthetic part again for all the money in Hollywood. I would like to have a face. It gives me a complete skin peel every time I put it on, and it’s too much suffering. I’m not interested in that anymore. On the other hand, I am prepared for not an inconsiderable amount of money to give Legolas’s father. (laughter) I think I could do that; long wig. (JRD nances around the stage to laughter and applause) Or maybe Legolas’s mother if I have to. (laughter)
Moderator: The makeup was really that much trouble for you?
JRD: Oh, I hate that makeup.
Moderator: How long did you have to sit in the chair and do whatever it was to have them put.
JRD: Well, we got it down to about five hours, but that’s not the end of it, you see, because it takes.I mean right at the end of the day it takes virtually another hour to get it off, and you’ve got somebody fussing around in your face for at least eight hours a day.
Mod: What did you do during those five hours?
JRD: Well, you can’t do anything. You sit there and you have to remain awake because you’ve got to lift your eyes up and turn left and right and all that sort of thing. It’s very tedious. And you know, after about 50, 55 minutes it would start itching and you just have to sit there and try not to want to scratch, and that makes you insane. But actually on the very last day of pick-up shots.which I did actually just about three weeks ago I did actually hit on the real solution. I borrowed a couple of Valium from a friend (laughter) so the two Valium, the antihistamine, the aspirin and the Tylenol combined well and actually I had the first uninterrupted day of delight because I was sort of out of my mind. (laughter). If only I’d discovered that combination beforehand I would’ve been great. But you know, the skin cracks and you literally lose all the skin around your eyes and it gets worse each time and it’s getting further and further into the cheeks. So really, I wouldn’t do it again.
Mod: You mentioned that your knees were giving you trouble for the role?
JRD: My knees? Well, because I spent all my time on my knees all the time. Either that or there’d be somebody up here and I’d be down there, you know. (to audience member going to his seat nearby) Come, come here, my dear fellow (man doesn’t notice JRD speaking to him) Oh never mind.but anyway, uh, yes I spent a lot of time on my knees and that was AFTER getting the job (mock-groans and laughter from the audience) but it was.not good. I would demonstrate but it’s a brand-new suit. But I mean, you try fighting on your knees with an axe. You just swing that axe and bang, straight headfirst into the mud. (laughter) That was the first shot, first day. (laughter) First discovery that all that training with axe-work made no use whatsoever. Complete waste of time. Oh well.
Mod: You had a lot of time training with the axe then?
JRD: With the accent?
Mod: Uh, yeah.
JRD: Well, I just copied Sean Connery (laughter). Oh, did you say the axe or the accent?
Mod: Well, I said the axe, but you took the accent, so.
JRD: Oh all right then.
Mod: Next question here:
Question: Um, I heard that each of the cast members got to take home a prop from the set. Which prop did you get to take home:
JRD: They actually gave me my axe, (applause) which was rather lovely. The only snag is they had to send it home because you can’t really take an axe on an airplane, you see. I don’t know why (laughter). I mean, well just think about it. You wanted to hijack a plane, you know, an axe isn’t actually your first weapon of choice. (laughter) (Demonstrates in Gimli accent) ‘Oh, one moment while I get my axe.no actually this is my cousin Balin’s axe, and I’m gonna hold your plane for ransom!’ (laughter) Wouldn’t quite work. So it’s um.I hope it gets there because the two other things that they sent along as well, they’ve arrived but the axe hasn’t arrived. (‘ohh’s from the audience) But I’m hoping, I’m hoping that it will turn up. Her Majesty’s customs in England are probably saying “oh, this is a pretty suspicious-looking axe.” You know, trying it out, chopping wood somewhere. But ah well, there you are.
Question: I know you really get tired of hearing all this about Orlando, and you really need to know that there’s a lot of us who think that dwarves are quite hot. (cheers from other audience members)
JRD (in Gimli voice): I’ll see you later. (laughter)
Question: But my question. those of us who spend way too much time on the internet noticed that you get asked, or all the actors, get asked a lot of the same questions over and over again and so I just wondered what you wished fans or journalists would ask you about.
JRD: Well, I mean there’s a difference between fans and journalists; there’s a difference between talking about the film, which I think is one of the great pictures of all-time (applause and cheers). But the question I’d like to get asked is ‘Does it mean anything?’ and uh, I suspect it does. I think that Tolkien is a man living in a particular age of crisis and his life is quite uneventful, really, except for the fact that he’s a captain in the First World War. He was at the first battle of the Somme. The British army in the first DAY of the first battle of the Somme I think probably had 20,000 dead and maybe 60 or 80,000 wounded. And that was the first day. You don’t go through that sort of furnace without having to ask yourself questions: Why are we fighting? Is the cause we’re fighting for a just one? How can I justify the deaths of those men that I’m leading? And I think that
Tolkien found a justification for it. His justification is that there are certain times when your civilization is challenged and if you do not meet that challenge and overcome it, you will lose your civilization.
And I think that there’s a terrible resonance between that period of time and our period now. I do think that our civilization is being challenged. We’ve been challenged internally because I think we’ve lost so much character, moral fiber, decency, integrity, and I think it’s being challenged partly, because we have lost those, externally by fundamental Islam. And I think that if we do not pull ourselves together and recognize that that challenge is there, we’re going to end up with people taking a hammer to the Pieta and to the.you know, defacing pictures and portraits in the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
But you Americans I think are further along the way of realizing that. I actually think that you’re morally a stronger country than Britain is. I’m appalled by what I see in England these days. There was a time when an Englishman’s word was his bond and an Englishman didn’t steal. Even Welshmen. (laughter) The little town where I live in Wales, well not far from where I used to live in Wales, has one of the highest rates of carjacking in the world. More cars are stolen from Exely and Swansea and places like that than almost any other part of the world, including Bogotá and places like that. I’m ashamed and embarrassed by that but you, know unless we start to affirm that we are not going to steal, that we will not put up with theft, that we will not put up with drug-taking, we will lose our society, and then perhaps it will be for the best that fundamental Islam, which forbids these things, sweeps across the world. I personally dread that thought. I hope one day that I will have great-granddaughters and I am very adamant and determined that one should not lose one’s daughter’s fingernails to the local Taliban if she dares to paint them.
The resonance between Lord of the Rings and present time is that we need people of courage to take the real challenge to our civilization and meet it head-on and win.
And that is a very unpopular cause, often, and it is very easy to say ‘Oh, let somebody else do it’. And that is one of the questions that I wish somebody would ask. At least, one of the answers that I would give to one of the questions that I wish someone would ask (applause).
Mod: Well, I think you’re right and I hate to have to go back to what seems kinda frivolous (inaudible) but I know we have some more questions, so is there one there?
Question: Yeah. Uh, not to take away from the strong words you just said, but uh, I came here this weekend with the intention of saying just one thing to you.”Cairo!”
JRD: Was that ‘Cairo’ (laughter) City of the living. (applause) I like Cairo. Has anyone here been to the Cairo Museum? Oh, God, the stuff in there is just amazing. Including a copy of that head of Nefertiti.does anyone know that beautiful head of Nefertiti? (audience members say yes) You just know that the sculptor was so in love with his subject . just that probably artificial elongation of her neck to counterbalance that headpiece. Did anyone see that program which suggests that they may have found Nefertiti’s body? (a few audience members say yes) Yeah, it’s very sad, what happened to her. And Akhenaten, what a strange man. Yes, sorry?
Mod Question: You seem to have a fondness for your background, where you came from in Wales, and I had a chance to go out there myself. What’s your favorite place in Wales to be?
JRD: Well I love Wales.it’s where my spiritual and human roots come from, so I have an affinity there. They’re surprisingly loyal to me there as a Welshman, some of them. The Celts are a BAD people really (laughter). There’s a saying in the Isle of Man, for instance which is the same, again, a Celtic people. They talk of the manx crab. When you go crabbing you get a bucket full of crabs and there’s one at the top and it’s trying to haul itself out and it’ll just about get over the rim of the bucket and then another crab pulls it back in. And there’s a curiously self-destructive quality about Celts, quite exemplified by Dylan Thomas and to a certain extent by Burton. The Celts often start off by shouting “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me, I’m a genius” and then when everyone is looking at them they go “Oh my God, everyone’s looking at me”. (laughter) “Now, watch me destroy my genius!” It’s a sad thing.
Mod Question: Well, with such a love of Wales, I’m curious what actually ended up bringing you over to the US and when you came over for the first time and what that was like for you. Was it culture shock, or.?
JRD: Well, you know, in my holidays when I was in Wales, I spent my short holidays in Wales with my grandmother and my Auntie Meggie. And I used to try to go to the movies as often as possible and they used to change the movies every three days in Wales. So there were three cinemas in the town and they’d show a different film on Sunday so I’d sometimes manage to persuade my grandmother that the best thing I could do was to just slip out of the house of an evening and I’d go sometimes to see six different films in a week. I knew Hollywood and America better than you guys did (laughter) as did Tony Hopkins, and most of us did actually. But coming here has been a hugely rewarding experience just in terms of work alone, but I grew to love America and Americans, and I have the greatest respect for you people.
Mod: So it was film and TV that brought you over originally?
JRD: Yes, I should’ve come over after I did Shelton actually, but I came over to do a little television series called “The Quest” which lasted one season and then got bucketed and they didn’t like it or something like that. But it was very nice.
Great times. And I’ve driven America which I love to do.I love long safaris by car. And I’ve had some great safaris. Actually in two separate trips I’ve driven really from the cape to Cairo and I have certainly driven you know (inaudible) to Cape Town a few times and driven up into ( ) coast. When I did that film with Virginia Hey, the Bond film, I had 21 days between Vienna and Morocco and just drove; got in a car and just drove; just a wonderful time. So, I’ve done Virginia to Vancouver; I’ve done London to.ah, what am I talking about, I’ve done New York to L.A., I’ve done Chicago to LA. I’ve done a few cross-countries.
Mod: You’ve adopted the love of the car that the Americans have.
JRD: Ah, I love it, yeah! And I love your cars, too!
Question: Yeah, getting back.not that your telling all about your life and where you came from and your roots is not very interesting, I love hearing about it. But back to the movies.(laughter) Gimli seems to be the butt of a lot of jokes…
JRD, in Gimli voice: WHAT? (laughter)
Question. especially in the Two Towers and it’s a little bit bothersome to me. I hate to see the jokes at the expense of Gimli. Some of the funny lines are great, like the dwarf-tossing lines are just wonderful, but some of them I don’t like and I wondered how you feel about that, and in Return of the King, are we gonna see Gimli as less a comic relief an more of a serious warrior character?
JRD, in Gimli voice: Ah, you’re astounding me, that people could be laughing at a dwarf?! (laughter) Oh, dear me, this is shocking news; I don’t know how to reevaluate this but. (regular voice) well, there’s probably something structural in filmmaking that .if you look at the way that Tolkien wrote the book, and you realize, he sold the rights I think for 100 pounds, ’cause he didn’t think anyone could make a movie out of it. And what’s the plot of Lord of the Rings? Well, nice things happen and then something unpleasant happens and things look a bit gloomy, and then worse things happen and things look worse and then there’s a fight and things look bad. And there’s another fight and it swells into a battle and things look even worse after that. Now, after the next battle, things look really, really bad and THEN, there’s another battle. (laughter) And um, it’s hard to make a film like that without being able to sort of modulate the amount of tension in it. And one of the vectors, we decided, had to be Gimli.
I think you’ll find that part three isn’t really Gimli’s story . well, neither were part two and part one, now that I think about it! (laughter). “John, it’s not about a dwarf.” But um, I think you’ll see a bit more of the Legolas/Gimli friendship (applause) and the great camaraderie between them I mean, it looks as if they are going to die together, and it looks pretty darn grim, but you know one of the reasons we love Gimli is, he doesn’t realize he’s small. (laughter) So it’s when he’s running across country with Strider and with this immortal elf that it occurs to him that short legs are an evolutionary disadvantage. (laughter.) (Switches to Gimli voice, panting) We dwarfs are wasted on cross-country. We’re natural sprinters. (laughter and applause) (Regular voice) Anyway, thank you for your concern about Gimli.
Question: I wondered if you have any stories about working on Raiders of the Lost Ark? And also, why were you killed off on “Sliders?” (several audience members say ‘yeah!’)
JRD: I’m told that legally I mustn’t talk about “Sliders” too much because otherwise I shall end up getting sued, but I think that there was something somewhat strangely repetitive about some of the plots that felt strangely reminiscent of other films that I’ve seen and I just thought that we could do better with “Sliders”. It seemed to me that we could go anywhere in the universe, and because of a concept called ‘relativistic time dilation’ you could actually go anywhere in time as well. Do you understand that? Any physicists here? I bet there are real physicists here. (a couple of audience members raise their hands) Well, if the.correct me WHEN I’m wrong, not IF.(laughter) If the Earth went round the sun just a couple of minutes slower, we would be living in a completely.you know, two worlds would be living in completely different sort of evolutionary era, if there were such things as parallel worlds. Because.well, um.well, it’s called ‘relativistic time dilation;’ do look it up! (laughter) We could have gone anywhere in the universe, anywhere in time and we should’ve done better than we did. We should have really explored the possibilities of different ways of living instead of cribbing other people’s plots from other people’s films, basically.
I loved working with the cast; we were all so close together, and yet in the end it seemed to me that. The average American child watches 14 hours of television a week. This gives you an enormous responsibility and if you cannot impart a bit of knowledge and a bit of good judgment along with that in the business of entertaining then it seems to me you’re wasting a) time and b) the very precious life of children (applause). I did not want to play the bad Professor in Lost in Space, which was one of the instructions some idiot gave me – ooh, did I say that out loud? (laughter) Uh, it seemed to me that one of the qualities that Arturo could bring was to show intellectual curiosity and intellectual excitement and of all things intellectual passion seems to me to be most the admirable thing that any teacher can offer any child. There’s an old paradox somewhere in me and one of the reasons why I think I sort of really wanted to make it a more interesting rather than (in deep voice) an evil character. Anyway, so that’s that. So I managed to get fired but believe me, you’ve no idea how hard it is to get fired if you’re really trying.
(laughter) I had to be SO rude to SO many people.and did I enjoy that? (laughter) Yes! Now, uh, Indy.what was the question about Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Moderator: Well, he just asked I think about stories about Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you have any. Any funny stories, behind the scenes.
JRD: Oh. Well, there’s all sorts of extraordinary stories about Raiders of the Lost Ark. My favorite, which I’m not going to tell you, but you must ask Karen Allen about that wonderful night we spent in the car when we broke down in the desert in Africa. And I love Karen Allen; wonderful lady. Uh, what else? She’s gotta tell you the story. And it is not true that I kicked the driver (laughter). Well.maybe not very hard. (laughter) This bloody idiot drives into the desert and suddenly the lights go out; the car stops and the lights go out. So, he gets out and he lifts the bonnet and starts hitting the battery. [I said] ‘What’s the matter?’ (in African accent) ‘Bad connection with the battery.’ I said, ‘Well, why don’t you take a spanner and tighten it up?’ He hadn’t got a spanner. So I said ‘Well, the next village why don’t we just stop and get a spanner and tighten it up.’ So, we go THROUGH the next village. The lights go out again. This happens two or three more times. I am a polite fellow.sometimes (laughter) but I’m trying to explain to him that one of the rules of being in Africa is you do not drive into a desert with a car that’s going to break down! (laughter) Finally we go through another village, it breaks down again, and I said ‘OK, I want to make this clear to you. If this happens again and we cannot get the battery started, you are going to have to walk back. I don’t care how far we are, I’m going to kick you out of this car and you’re going to have to go back, because this is what’s going to happen: you are hitting the terminal of the battery with your shoe. The terminal of the battery will detach itself and go into the plate of the actual battery and you will have ruined the battery and we will be stuck.’ Well, five miles along, lights go out again, car cuts out. He gets out, he lifts the bonnet, he takes his shoe off and hits the battery again, and guess what? (laughter) Terminal breaks off and goes into the battery, I get out of the car and I do kick him. (laughter and applause) So we had 24 (Tabs?) in the back of the car, and Karen and I spent a wonderful night in the desert singing all the bad songs we could find and having a marvelous time until, alas, we got rescued.
Question: I had another question, but he made me go back to the end of the line. The question is, there are people here from bitofearth.net, which is Sam Gamgee’s official fan club. And we of course are excited to ask you questions but also to ask Sean questions, and we were wondering if you could give us any idea of something that we could ask Sean about that maybe nobody’s heard of that might bring us a bit of a laugh?
(JRD mock-glares. Laughter)
JRD (in Gollum voice) Dirty, stinking little hobbits! (laughter) (regular voice) Uh, you understand that I .the hobbits tended to work together. I had to spend my time in makeup, that’s all. (laughter) So, uh, all I can say is that they all displayed remarkable qualities and remarkable courage. I remember one time Sean had to go sort of rushing into this boggy water and there was this stalk underneath the water that went right through this artificial foot that he’d had put on and right into him. And, I mean, it was really quite a serious injury and he gamely plodded on and finished the shot and then was airlifted to a hospital or something like that. He was.I don’t really have any difficult, embarrassing questions. (audience awwws) He was there with his wife and his newborn and then there was another newborn coming along. Uh, he worked hard, he was a good family man; he loves and adores his family and rightly so; they’re fabulous. I think his eldest daughter is what, she must be getting on to nine now or something like that – nine going on about ninety-eight, dispensing advice to all of us men I think at the age of six or something like that. Um, I’ve got no difficult or embarrassing questions for Sean.
Darn! I wish I’d had notice of that; I could’ve made something up. (laughter) There must be some scandal that I can ferment here (laughter) Uh.no, all I can tell you is you’re looking at, I think an Oscar nominee (applause), I think uh.a future head of the Screen Actors’ Guild (applause and cheers), maybe a future Governor of California (cheers), and who knows?
Question: OK, getting back to “Sliders” (laughter) Earlier today my wife and her friend got your autograph, and I had the privilege of asking you about the final episode that you were in of “Sliders”, that you had a story credit for. And you mentioned that they didn’t actually use your story idea.
JRD: Uh, well, they took bits of it. Um, the story I had was basically that the sliders had landed on a world where there had been a nuclear winter brought on by.Schumacher-Levy.you remember Schumacher-Levy hit Jupiter, didn’t it? In this particular universe, I was predicating that it had perhaps hit Earth and that created a nuclear winter and that essentially there was apparently no life on earth and then they got.but they managed to find themselves quite close to a Motorola factory or.and there was a huge pile of chips there and the professor and Quinn had decided that one of the characteristics of the device that they use to jump from world to world was due to a particular quirk of a chip and they worked through this huge pile of chips and actually found another chip that would get them directed back to the world where they wanted to be. At this point they were contacted by a sort of military recon group that was trying to put together all the survivors, and they realized that what they could do was to take all the survivors from.and there weren’t that many.to another world by using this chip but by scaling it up.but by scaling it up so that in fact you held the wormhole open for a sufficient period of time so that you would literally drive a convoy of cars through it. The problem would be, of course, that the life of the chip would be infinitely reduced if it was opened on that sort of scale. And it was basically finding the right world, finding the opportunity to get through and there were one or two disastrous things because people wanted to bring through things that they shouldn’t take through to the next world and ended up kidnapping a couple of the sliders and we had to wait to find them and sort things out, at which point of course the wormhole burned out. We had got through but we were back in the same place again. That was basically the story that I wanted to write.
What we ended up doing was.see there is this characteristic of Hollywood which is so dumb and irritating.industrialists are always bad. The military is always bad. Generals, things like that, are all power-loving, evil people who are basically out to destroy democracy, etc., etc., etc. But there are all these awful clichés of left-wing Hollywood that I cannot, cannot abide, and so we ended up with this piece of crap. (laughter) But anyway.no, it’s too painful.
Question: You seem to have a very strong moral and ethical voice inside of you, and I’m wondering how that has affected the roles you’ve chosen, or if you’ve maybe had to put that on the side for some roles?
JRD: Those roles are generally chosen by my bank manager. (laughter) Uh, not to offend anybody here, but when I was at Stratford in the Royal Shakespeare Company, we used to have a saying: ‘Art for art’s sake and money, for Christ’s sake.’ (laughter)
Question: Uh, I think that answered my question.
Question: Uh, I know you’ve done a lot of work in movies and TV and I also know that you’re a real big stage actor with Shakespearean-style stuff; have you done anything else entertainment-wise?
JRD: You mean, this week? (laughter) I’ve been a working actor for most of my life.
I taught for a year when I graduated and I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and wasted my time; it was a big mistake, but then I didn’t quite know how else to get into the theatre, I suppose. I should have just applied to a theatre.
But I can do other things: I can weld, I can turn, I can build. I rebuilt the engine for my Rolls-Royce and there weren’t TOO many bits left over. (laughter) I have been known to fly an airplane, but I’m not current at the moment. You would want me if you were on a safari in Africa or someplace like that because I can get us there and not get us killed and get very close to big game. I grew up in Africa so I’m sort of a bit of an African really. I’m a semi-useful, fat old man, there you are. (laughter)
End of part IPosted in Old Special Reports on July 31, 2003 by xoanon