I REALLY would like to thank Eledhwen and Cuivienor for the scans and the english translation of the article, check it out!

CINE LIVE, Issue 48 Summer 2001. Pages 24 – 33. Interview by Marc Toullec, translated by Eledhwen.

PETER JACKSON – The secrets of the Elf affair

With as much hair as Rasputin, round as a barrel, passably sloppy and a malicious gaze behind his glasses, Peter Jackson isn’t much to look at and resembles a hard-rocker making his comeback. However it is this forty-something New Zealander who has just completed a heroic-fantasy trilogy on a cult level in line with Star Wars …

Cine Live: Do you now have the feeling of being on Earth to direct the LOTR trilogy?

PJ: If you’d asked me the question, “Would you be interested by an adaptation of LOTR?” five years ago, I’d have looked at you with big flabbergasted eyes … No, I haven’t spent my life since my earliest years to bring Tolkien’s novel to screen. I was actually 18 when I discovered the book, and it was much later before I re-read it. It was practically 20 years later before a friend and I first suggested bringing LOTR to the screen. We asked ourselves why nobody had yet attempted an adaptation with flesh-and-blood actors. It was a very trivial conversation without a second thought, at least at the start, and that’s how everything began …

And afterwards? How did you get connected with the film project?

We then called our agent to ask him who held the rights of Tolkien’s novel. One thing led to another, and I got in contact with the directors of New Line, a company I’ve known for years because, in the Bad Taste and Brain Dead era, they had already offered me several projects to direct. The search for the rights, negotiations … All that needed a year. A year during which I didn’t open Tolkien’s book. I worked on the project using only my memory, superstitiously. I thought that if I got back into the novel, I would become so addicted that extracting a film from it would become impossible. A way of immunising myself, of blinding myself against a powerful deception! I waited until everything regarding the acquisition of the rights and so on, including my involvement, was sorted before re-reading LOTR …

LOTR takes its place in the continuity of the short films you made in your adolescence. Shorts which notably included cyclops … You were already quite close to Tolkien!

In a way, yes. It was my passion for the fantastic and the marvellous which led me to LOTR. Ray Harryhausen’s creatures were obviously important, the Seventh Voyage of Sindbad had such an influence on me when I was a kid. To such an extent that I pinched a few monsters to furnish my first shorts. There is also some Ray Harryhausen in the first part of LOTR, particularly in the battle sequence against the Orcs. A homage on my part.

Holding the reins of such a trilogy forces personal sacrifices …

Yes, I’ll admit that. Any film, actually, demands some form of sacrifice. Having said that, a project as gigantic as LOTR mobilises you 100%. Luckily, my wife Fran Walsh took part in the adventure as a script-writer. She was very understanding. Of course, I wanted to help her look after our two children more, but LOTR doesn’t leave me any time. This trilogy is exhausting. Four years of exhaustion, two down and two to go, but an exhaustion which I’ve got used to, as if it was a way of life, exhaustion clearly diminished by enthusiasm, passion … Between starting on the project and the release of the last film at the end of 2003, eight years will have passed. An enormous slice of life. And also, a fourteen month shoot, the responsibility of a $260 million budget, that’s not at all restful!

How do you analyse your fascination for the world of LOTR as a book? Your interest goes a lot further than the picturesque fantastical creatures, evil spells and magic …

Much of the interest of LOTR rests in its credibility and realism. The imaginary universe of Tolkien always seems real, solid. It’s not a made-up world, bing, like those in science-fiction films. Tolkien was a professor of language and mythology, he spent his life creating the universe of Middle-earth, giving it a specific history of several millennia, particular customs. It’s a completely separate planet, with its nations, its different cultures, its conflicts … Everything holds its own in LOTR. Nothing is free, especially the reasons which lead Frodo to destroy the Ring.

Can we, from there, consider LOTR as a fantasy film?
The term “fantastic” is so open to interpretation! I didn’t shoot LOTR as a fantasy film, but as a historical panorama. I adopted the same point of view as Tolkien in the creation of Middle-earth. No question of letting the imagination run wild and go off on a tangent. That’s why we set off on the long search for costumes, weapons, accessories … We never said, “That doesn’t exist.” It had to exist, to have the air of a historical reconstruction on the same level as Braveheart!

How did you go about adapting Tolkien’s novel? Did you anticipate fan reactions at the writing stage and on the set?

No. Really LOTR is not a film made for fans of Tolkien, but rather a film made by fans of Tolkien. There’s an appreciable difference. Of course, there’ll always be people moaning that we reduced the importance of one character, that we slashed such a part of the novel …Even three two-hour films cannot suffice to retell all of Tolkien’s narrative, which is very complex, very dense. I’m talking about those who read LOTR every year. [Translator’s note: I do, and I’m not moaning!] They’ll jump on me, even though the film never betrays Tolkien. On the contrary.

You’re taking the risk of not pleasing people?
The challenge of such an enterprise is actually trying to please as many people as possible! In fact, to touch people, you have to start by pleasing yourself. And that’s what I did with LOTR. I never thought of the public. I thought simply of the film I dreamt of seeing, exactly as in the time of Bad Taste, Brain Dead and Heavenly Creatures!

Statements like that don’t reassure producers. Especially when the financial aspects are so important …

The people in charge at New Line left me wonderfully alone. What they said was simple: “You know what you’re doing, great, we’re not Tolkien specialists …” They stepped aside. Truthfully speaking, we had a sizeable ally in the shape of the chief producer at New Line, Mark Ordesky. We’ve known each other for years. His mother admitted to me that when he was a kid, he stuck LOTR posters in his room!

Was convincing New Line to shoot LOTR in New Zealand, in other words at home for you, difficult?
Any American or European filmmaker with common sense would have chosen New Zealand as the principal location for the trilogy. I didn’t shoot LOTR in my country from laziness or selfishness, but simply because I found there Tolkien’s descriptions of Middle-earth. New Zealand and Middle-earth are one and the same. Everything’s there. Active volcanoes, a thick European-style forest, snow-topped peaks, lakes, rivers, grasslands, even a desert … There’s no need for special effects to recreate Tolkien’s world, or very few in what concerns the natural settings. Clearly New Zealand still possesses the fibre and the aspect of the legends of old Europe, those that inspired Tolkien.

Why did you first hire Stuart Townsend for the role of Aragorn, before replacing him with Viggo Mortensen?
Stuart Townsend is an excellent actor, and also a big fan of LOTR. He was really happy to act in the film, but doubtful from the start. Several times he warned me: “You’re crazy, a character of this stature should be older, marked by experience of existence.” And we replied systematically: “No, no, it’ll work on screen.” It’s true we wanted a young Aragorn. After shooting several scenes, we realised our mistake. Stuart was right. We’d got mislead. We were then really pushed to find the perfect Aragorn. Luckily Fate brought us Viggo Mortensen, who fitted the part perfectly.

Elijah Wood corresponds so well with the Frodo Baggins of Tolkien’s book that it’s worrying …
Frodo Baggins is a hard character to visualise. Even more complex when you think that Tolkien made him the narrator of his book! We started the marathon of auditions with the certitude that the role of Frodo had to be played by an English actor whose mind corresponded with the description of hobbits. We auditions hundreds of possibles, but none were right. We hadn’t thought of Elijah Wood for a single instant on the pretext that he was American. So it was him who suggested his services, firstly by a motivation letter! Despite my reticence at the idea of hiring an American, I let him audition. As soon as he walked into the room, I faced facts: I had in front of me the Frodo of the book, exactly the same! It only took a few diction lessons with a teacher to get the English accent and Elijah was ready for the shoot.

Now you’ve directed LOTR, do you still feel close to what you were when you made ‘Bad Taste’ and ‘Brain Dead’, pinnacles of small-budget gory films?
I’m still the same, I haven’t changed a bit. Like Bad Taste, Brain Dead and even, to a certain extent, Heavenly Creatures, LOTR has a certain sense of humour. Tolkien had humour in his book, the hobbits are very funny and mischievous beings. In addition, humour adds greatly to the realism, to the reality of the fantastical world which is Middle-earth. We could have taken the book in a very pompous and solemn manner and consequently fallen into the trap of being too serious. There are obviously dramatic passages in the film, but others are much lighter. We alternated according to the development of the story.

There is more and more talk of competition between the LOTR trilogy and the two future ‘Star Wars’. What is there exactly?

The competition between LOTR and the next SW exist only in the heads of certain people. It would exist if the films were released in precisely the same week. That’s not the case. Disagreeable things have been attributed to George Lucas on LOTR, circulated by the internet and total lies. Besides, he immediately rang me to deny having said such things. Now and again, I read declarations on the internet or in the press that are complete codswallop, but which I would have done. Some people are trying to create a rivalry between us via fantastic rumours. I can simply assure you that George Lucas and I get on very well. When we were starting to prepare LOTR, he even invited us to Skywalker Ranch. We saw the animated storyboards and special-effects models for the next SW … It was very friendly. George Lucas and his team gave us real support in the challenge we had to attempt.

Do you have the feeling that by making LOTR, you have become a star filmmaker?
Really?! Fame doesn’t interest me. The public can consider a director as a star, but nothing obliges the director to play that role. I only want to shoot the films I want to make. No question of going to show off in Hollywood. I’m very happy in New
Zealand, at the end of the world, and far away from all that racket.


6 months before the official release of the first part of LOTR, PJ came to the Croisette [that’s the promenade in Cannes] with two finished reels of his work. Mouthwatering.

It’s clear that the twenty minutes seen at the Film Market of Cannes is a bit short to definitively judge a work which will probably be longer than two hours. But the twenty minutes in question already make the mouth water. Where the reunion of the wizard Gandalf with Bilbo the hobbit constitutes lovely moments of emotion and happiness, the start of Frodo and his companions’ descent into the bowels of Middle-earth are shown by convincing images of the most epic passages of Tolkien’s book. What do we see? Sets of overpowering size, a sort of titanic cathedral directly carved into the rock, unending staircases plunging into the bowels of the Earth, thousands of warrior Orcs more credible in their abundance than the extras in Gladiator … And the demon Balrog, a sort of hybrid between a dragon and a bull, erupting in scenes of overwhelmingly powerful special effects. What hits you in this ‘digest’: the actors are completely in tune with the characters of the book, the scope of Peter Jackson’s direction, his efficiency without being showy. Without any bluffing, he has given life to Tolkien’s novel. Stanley Kubrick and John Boorman, once interested in adapting Tolkien to the screen, would undoubtedly have done it differently, but not necessarily better.

[There’s also a rundown on the fifteen main characters (the Fellowship, Bilbo, Saruman, Gollum, Arwen and Elrond) which I didn’t bother translating because there’s nothing new! The pictures throughout are ones we’ve seen before, but there are lots of them …]