Karl from SciFi.com sent us this transcript from the John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) chat they had today.
JRD: Hi everyone out there, all of you who have been so loyal, inquisitive and busy on the Internet. Your interest has made the launch of the picture far more piquant. It’s been a great joy to talk to so many people who have been waiting for this picture for so many years..
Hi everyone, thanks for joining us here. I’m Patrizia DiLucchio, welcome to SCIFI. Generations of readers have been captivated by the epic fantasy tales of writer J.R.R. Tolkien, a British University Professor who created the genre of Epic Fantasy from the seeds of classic european mythology. No other writer has come close to achieving the levels of complexity found in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. For more than fifty years Tolkien readers have awaited a serious film adaptation of the Middle Earth classic The Lord of the Rings, and that wait is finally over! The first of a three film series The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring opened this week to universal critical praise here in the United States. Adapted for the screen by award winning director Peter Jackson, the creation of the Rings films was itself an epic undertaking shot in New Zealand and produced by New Line Cinema. Today we’re thrilled to be chatting with veteran Bristish actor John Rhys-Davies, who plays the dwarf Gimli in the Lord of the Rings. John Rhys-Davies is one of the best-known actors in the science fiction and fantasy genres, having appeared in films including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, King Solomon’s Mines and The Living Daylights. SCI FI fans remember Mr. Rhys-Davies thanks to his role of Prof. Maximillian P. Arturo on the SCIFI series Sliders. John, let’s start with an easy question — is it difficult taking the role of a character so well known and beloved in literature, but never before seen on the stage or screen? Are there risks involved?
By the way, have you seen that Lord of the Rings has already received Golden Globe nominations for best film?
JRD: I suppose there are risks that people will throw stones at you. But in truth, a character that is so well written as Gimli could probably be played by any competent actor..
SciFi.com: In the Tolkien stories the dwarf race plays a central role in The Hobbit, and Bilbo’s discovery of the ring. For those not familiar with the books, who is Gimli and what’s his connection to the hobbits and the ring?
JRD: There is quite a jump between the Hobbit and LOTR. Gimli doesn’t appear in the Hobbit — he’s a newly introduced character. He’s a dwarf aristocrat. His cousin is the lord of Moria. And he’s very anxious to take everyone and impress them with the greatness of the Dwarf Halls. But rather like the earliest viking settlers in Greenland, nothing has been heard of the Dwarfs of Moria for a generation. Gimli believes that that’s an index of their secrecy, because they’ve dug unimaginable riches out of the rock. Gandalf and the Elves suspect something more…sinister.
SciFi.com: Elijah Woods said in an interview that the fellowship all got elvish 9 tattoos…so if there’s any truth to that wanna tell us where you got it?
JRD: “9 there were of the Fellowship. And 9 tattoos were made.” This fiendish decision was taken in a drunken meeting in a pub in Queenstown. I was not present, but was presented with a fait acompli. The elvish tattoo was designed but, as I am a professional actor, whenever there’s anything dangerous or that involves blood, I sent my stunt double to do it. So I’m proud to state that I sent my stunt double to do it. I can only guess, with horror, in what fiendish place it resides. (If I had a tattoo for every film I was in, I’d be a walking billboard by now!)
SciFi.com: The story that makes up the Lord of the Rings was written as a single novel, but was published as three seperate books of which The Fellowship of the Ring is the first. How closely do the films follow the three books in terms of action? Does the first film end where the first book ends? Does the film borrow material from The Hobbit to explain how Bilbo got the ring to begin with?
JRD: GO AND SEE THE DAMN MOVIE. Don’t expect me to do your work for you. *sits back, smugly.* I will say, however, that those who have seen it feel that the film has been as faithful to Tolkien as can possibly be imagined. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
SciFi.com: John, I saw LOTR and thought you were wonderful, but I wanted to see more of you! Will Gimli’s part be expanded in the next two movies?
JRD: LOTR has, I believe, 18 principle character. There’s only about 3 hours per film. And, much as it breaks my heart, it’s not a Dwarf’s Story, it’s a Hobbit’s Story. But that said, barrage Peter Jackson and demand more Gimli material. *ACTION smiles.* What the public demands, it will get. (maybe)
SciFi.com: What was the deal with wearing the makeup? I heard that you were severely allergic to it.
JRD: I did develop a topical ecxema after about six months of being in it. So, essentially I lost the top layer of skin every time they put my upper and lower eyebags on. This became cumulatively worse, and made me like a sick, puffy-eyed panda with bloody eyes. This probably in turn affected the amount of screen time I got, because there were days when we could not shoot because there was no skin to stick the prosthetics too. I felt very sorry for myself!
SciFi.com: Hi John, This is Xoanon from TheOneRing.net, can you tell us how you think the internet helped hype the film?
JRD: The Internet makes it easy for fans to communicate to each other. And it reinforced the studio’s awareness of just how much of a demand there was for this picture. That, in turn, made it very easy for Peter Jackson to insist on sticking to Tolkien’s story. The enthusiasm of the fans — and all you guys out there on the Internet — has been HUGELY important to the makers of this film. And all of us actors, and everyone involved in the piece, is really so grateful to you guys. And we hope that we live up to your expectations.
SciFi.com: Gordon Pattison at New Line deserves some credit for the excellent job he’s done over the last two years spreading the gospel as it were for Lord of the Rings. It was a very ambitious undertaking
SciFi.com: In an interview on SCIFI.COM, Peter Jackson stated that he has read the novel “hundred of times…literally.” How many times have you read the book and did you ever picture yourself as a dwaf before getting the part.
JRD: I’m afraid I was one of the retards who didn’t read the book before I was asked to play the part. Didn’t much care for it the first time reading it. And now fully accept that this is the most remarkable piece of imaginative fiction that I know of, in the 20th century. Never in my wildest dreams would I have pictured myself as a dwarf. And now I expect I will picture myself as a dwarf for the rest of my wildest dreams. Thank you, Peter Jackson. And I think I may have to kill you. *ACTION laughs.*
SciFi.com: I was wondering if they are going to expore the relationship Gimli has with Legolas, and if it comes as a result of his admiration/infatuation of Galadriel in the second film more.
JRD: We shot those wonderful sequences where Gimli sees Galadriel, and instantly falls under her spell. I think you are going to see them next year. They were in originally, but we had to cut to get it down to a reasonable 3 hours, and that was one of the things that went. As for the relationship with Legolas, it is there fully in the story, and I think you’ll see more of that in the next two films.
SciFi.com: How long did the cast spend in New Zealand shooting the three films that make up Lord of the Rings? What was it like working for a long period of time so far from home?
JRD: Most of us spent 14 months working on the picture iin New Zealand. I think some people found it very hard. I got an idea that Liv Tyler in particular felt it was a long long way from where her family and friends and love was. But I could be wrong and you’d better check with her. For most of us, it was a god-given opportunity to explore this most beautiful of countries. The New Zealanders are the most generous and friendly people. There’s very little crime, and not too many people. In my top six list of places I would most like to live, three are now in New Zealand.
SciFi.com: First- I thought your performance as Gimli was fantastic. Q: Did you go through a great deal of training in using your axe?
JRD: wait…Go and see the place for yourself. It is bewitching. I think it’s the most beautiful country in the world. (now on to the next question) Yes, I did. And the moment I had 70 lbs of costume and armor and arms on me, and got down on my knees and started swinging my axe… …I ended up face down in the ground. So it was back to the drawing board. We had to think around how to shoot me when it became obvious I couldn’t actually fight, just on my knees. I suppose I could’ve bitten some orc ankles. But we found lots of ways around every problem that occured. (I’m sorry Tom Bobbadil wasn’t in the picture, but we had to select the material and the writers and Peter thought quite fairly that the line that we had to take was Frodo’s tale.)
SciFi.com: Hello John, thanks for spending your time to chat with us, have you heard anything about the Sliders movie project that Robert K. Weiss is scripting,
JRD: No, I haven’t.
SciFi.com: As an actor, at least here in the US you’ve become closely identified with genre roles in science fiction, fantasy, and adventure. Weere those the kinds of roles that appealed to you when you entered the profession?
JRD: A friend of mine reminded me the other day that when I was at university I swore I would only do Shakespeare, and had not the slightest interest in going to Hollywood and working on films. I was also 100 lbs lighter then. *ACTION laughs*
SciFi.com: In that case, we HAVE to ask…which Shakespeare role is your favorite?
JRD: Othello and Falstaff were both favorites. I would love to play Henry IV in parts one and two, and Bolingbroke in Richard II.
SciFi.com: Hi, who do you think has the better scottish accent, you or Pippin ? 🙂
JRD: Pippin is a genunie Scottish Hobbit, but he should have a shire’s accent. If he doesn’t, he’s a bad Hobbit and I will smack him next time I see him. (what a marvelous performance he gives, too, but then I don’t believe there is a weak performance in this film.)
SciFi.com: Tolkien invented whole languages in creating Middle Earth. How much time did the actors in the film spend with coaches learning to pronounce Elvish of Dwarvish words?
JRD: They were on the set every day for every scene. They were brilliant, all of us have an immense debt to Ian, Jack and his beautiful assistant. We really tried to give all the characters an accent that donated a different part of the pre-historic Britain that they came from.
JRD:Typically a film day is a minimum of 12 hours. It is generally 6 days a week. A film is scheduled around the availability of locations, actors and weather. You schedule what are called “cover sets,” ie. something that you can do under shelter in case outside is pouring with rain. This generally means that you shoot out of sequence. Depending on how much make-up, an actor may be called earlier than the rest of the crew so that he is ready by the time they set up the camera. ie. if they were intending to shoot at 7am, somebody like me would be called in at 3am, and several of the hobbits would be called in as well, because sometimes the make-up takes longer than you would think. obviously, when things go wrong you have to swap the schedule around. when we filmed in a flooded location in Te Anau, we had the marvelous observation on the call sheet that went: “we cannot shoot tomorrow because the lake is underwater.” In Queenstown, I had to climb into my bedroom window by stepladder because the town was underwater. There was a major landslide, which cut off our production office from the main road into town that turned a 2-minute drive into an hour and a half drive. All these things, a schedule has to cope with. And it did. I got more days off towards the end because my face was so raw. So I had a few days off, and then we would go back and put my make-up on again until it was raw again.
SciFi.com: What does the mirror of Galadriel hold for you? What comes *after* a project on the scale of The Lord of The Rings?
JRD: *ACTION laughs.* For 32 years, I have tried to become a recognizable face. How dumb do you have to be to do three major films in a row that condemn you into wearing a full prosthetic mask? My career is over. I am doomed, I tell you. DOOMED.
SciFi.com: I would love to know what you thought of the film when you first saw it in its entirity?
JRD: I had been the first (to my knowledge) to say that we were making a masterpiece. I think I stared saying this after two weeks of working on the film. When I saw the film, I was overwhelmed by the epic size of it. I always suspected it was unlike any film I had ever seen before. and it was so different, it stunned me. I must confess that I liked it even more on the 2nd viewing, and I’ve begun to feel more comfortable with it on a 3rd and 4th viewing. It’s easy to overlook the structure because of the overwhelming epic vision it presents. Let me say what I started to say 2 years ago in New Zealand: I believe we are making a film that will be bigger than Star Wars. I believe we are making one of the great, classic pieces of film for all time. I think that in 20 years, when we look back on our personal top ten films of our lifetime, perhaps of all time, Lord of the Rings will be there. Now that may seem pretty damned ambitious. All I can say is: if you were impressed with part one… you ain’t seen nothing yet!
SciFi.com: John, I should tell you that we have many Sliders fans here today. You are much admired here on SCIFI where Sliders is genuinely LOVED…Next question
JRD: Yes, of course. But it is too demanding to do a show that you cannot fully commit to. I have found it very hard to talk nonsense when, with a bit of intelligent writing, you can talk of profound thing that matter that are based in plausible science. I love science. And I love reason. And I hate scientists being constantly stereotyped. More than that, the average American child spends 14 hours a week watching television. I’d like to do a show that not only entertained in the most brilliant way but exposed their young minds to the wonders of the universe, the glory of man’s inquisitiveness… to a sense that intellectual enthusiasm is a worthwhile passion, and to give them a dream of what heroism and adventure can really be about.
SciFi.com: Hey let me just say you were incredible and i cut school to watch the movie. Anyway I wanted to know how the shooting with the computer animated monsters worked. Would you simply perform the choreographed move and then later they added the monster or what? Amazing job!! Already one of my favorite movies.
JRD: Well, thanks. There are lots of tricks filmmakers use to get you fighting monsters. Peter Jackson uses all of them. And, yes, there were times when we swung our axes in bluescreen at a blue pole with a blue rag tied to its tip. Do you understand how bluescreen works? Everything except the images you want to preserve are in blue (or green). So the actors would wear no blue or no green. Then you subtract all the background blue (or green) and you can then paste the image that you have into another background. It’s very tiring, and very boring. And it involves an awful lot of very clever people who know about computers, motion control cameras, lighting in special circumstances, artists, graphic designers… it’s a hugely technical area of filmmaking. And something that has a great future, too. So if any of you guys (and girls) are looking for an exciting career with a wonderful future, think technical.
SciFi.com: what was the most exciting scene to act out in the first film?
JRD: The most exciting scene, I think, is…. hmm, I better not say, for those who haven’t seen the picture yet. As far as I was concerned, the great drama in Moria was about as exciting as it got for me.
SciFi.com: Have you seen the action figures for Gimli ? What’s it like to be an action figure?
JRD: A disgruntled ex-girlfriend of mine once sent me an action figure of Sallah, a character I play in Raders of the Lost Arc. “Read the description,” she said. I read it: “Poseable: flexes at the knees, waste and arms.” “Sounds like a comprehensive description of your acting,” she said. *ACTION laughs very loudly.* Now you can see why she’s an ex. It’s wonderful to be an action doll.
SciFi.com: John, I love your work in the Indiana Jones movies. Would you (or will you) be involved in the rumored Indy IV movie?
JRD: There are always rumors of a fourth Indiana movie. The go-ahead depends on the enthusiasm of Steven Speilberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford. These guys have GREAT careers and they don’t want to do anything that is less than enhancing to their careers. So any script that’s good enough has to be really remarkable to pass their scrutiny. There is no mileage in it for them to compromise to make just another film, and make Paramount richer. So, my guess is that if nothing exceptional ever comes along, there won’t be a fourth film. And you may equally regard it as a certainty that if one does come along, and they are behind it, then you are set for the hottest “E” ticket in town!
SciFi.com: I loved the movie! It’s the best movie I’ve seen in the short 13 years of my life. Excellent, and I was so excited I was shaking, having a panic attack almost! Anyway, what is it like, when you finished filming such a great movie? Do you miss it at all after working together for so long and so hard?
JRD: How I envy you, to be 13 and seeing this film. You know, when you work with good people for a long period of time, you become very attached to them. And at the end, you always feel a great wave of nostalgia and sadness. We haven’t actually felt this yet, because we’ve still got two more films to finish. We will probably shoot some additional material for part 2, now that we know how part 1 has cut together. It’s not really re-shoots, it’s more “connective tissue,” if you understand what I mean. And we are all committed to making sure that part 2 and part 3 are even better than part 1 is. So we are going to be meeting each other and gossiping and renewing friendships for the next two years. And I should think that when we finally, FINALLY have to let go, we will all be in quite a state of shock. But thank you anyway for coming to see our film. PS. You do realize that your generation is going to live to be, probably, a 150 years of age. Find out about something called “stem cell technology,” and don’t fry your brain using drugs. Ever.
SciFi.com: What do you think your acting career will be like now that you have acted in what may be the biggest movie of the decade? Will your role as Gimli change it at all?
JRD: I really don’t know. By and large, everyone associated with a mega-hit tends to get some career lift. I am not so sure that it’s going to do *me* any good because I am quite unrecognizable in this film. I have discovered one great secret, though: if you are in a film that young people love and enjoy, 15 years later when they’re young and upcoming film directors they give you parts in their films. So all you young directors out there who are at the moment only 10 or 12 or 13… REMEMBER THE DWARF!
SciFi.com: John, a final question. And thanks so much for taking the time to join us — we know that you are incredibly busy. Epic story talling goes back to our days in the caves, and in literature certainly to Beowulf. Is there anything that you hope, (or think) we may learn about ourselves as we watch the sage of the Ring unfold in this first film and in the films that follow?
JRD: Beowulf was written probably 1200 years after the Ilyad and the Odyssey was composed, and they in turn were after something called the Epic of Gilgemesh. I think great literature generally asks certain questions: how should we live? how should we act morally? is there good and evil? and how do we stand for good in our lifetimes? Now Tolkien fought in the first World War. He was at the first Battle of the Somme where the British army lost 20,000 men in the first day of the battle. In some ways, the death toll from the first World War was greater than that of the second World War. It wiped out a generation of young men. And yet, Tolkien doesn’t write about that war specifically. What he says is there are times when you have to stand up and fight for what you believe in, and what your civilization stands for. In some ways, the Ring represents all the power of evil in the universe. and it will certainly destroy all the races of men, unless it is opposed. And his lesson is that greatness is to be found in carrying the light of reason and the fight against evil, even in the jaws of certain death and destruction. Great literature gives us great dreams to dream.
SciFi.com: Our time up. Thanks John for a great chat. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is now playing everywhere. And a reminder…Visit http://www.scifi.com/passage is see our website devoted to the making of the Lord of the Rings. Also, a transcript of this chat will be available in about twenty minutes, so stay logged on to SCIFI.
SciFi.com: Good afternoon everybody.
JRD: Thank you for your patience. I’m sorry if my thoughts appear rambling and incohate, but I’ve been to premieres in London, Rotterdam, New York, Toronto, LA and Dublin in the last seven days (!) and I am brain dead. A lot of intelligent questions. My special love to all my friends in New Zealand.