Best of Times, Worst of Times: Dominic Monaghan, who plays Merry the Hobbit in The Lord of the Rings

Dominic Monaghan, 24, plays Merry the Hobbit in the Lord of the Rings films. For him, the 18-month shoot in New Zealand was a fine adventure – even if the make-up wreaked havoc on his face and feet.

By Kathy Brewis

Being immersed in such a stunning location, you couldn’t not be swept away by the romance of it all. On our days off we would hang about on set and soak up the atmosphere. Nobody kept themselves to themselves.

The fellowship – who go on the quest – were encouraged to spend as much time together as possible. We did a lot of boysy things – surfing, horse-riding, bungee-jumping. The camaraderie was great. We became brothers. It was one of the best experiences of my life – it was such an all-encompassing thing. And it’s probably had the biggest influence on my career and on my personality of anything I’ve done. New Zealand is such a healthy country, it made me love that outdoorsy and bohemian way of living. It was a lot less hectic than living in London. I’ve always had a lot of energy – I still do – but it used to come out in a more aggressive, manic fashion. I was like a Tasmanian devil running around, never able to keep still, always wanting to get onto the next thing. I’m a lot more philosophical, a lot calmer now. It really chilled me out.

I got homesick a few times – we were working so hard, the days were so long, and I really missed my folks. Mum sent me a cute toy dog and she’d sprayed it with her perfume, so when I opened it there was a powerful smell of back home, which made me feel a lot better.

But the highs were always a lot greater than the lows. One time, we flew in a chartered plane in a thunderstorm and had to turn back, make an emergency landing, and drive for about five hours in the rain. At the time, you’re exhausted, but they’re the real adventure moments, the things you’ll remember for the rest of your life.

The first couple of weeks’ shooting, the press were really keen to get photos of the Hobbits. So to get us to the set, we were bundled into cars in hoods and dressing gowns. We Hobbits had big hairy feet, pointed ears and a wig. I think it still looks like me in the film, hidden away under all the stuff. The feet were made of latex, which took an hour and a half to apply every day. You slipped your foot in, and then they poured in glue, which was freezing cold and annoying. So you were stuck fast in this very, very tight shoe. Your toes tended to hit the end and curl a little bit, which would be really painful by the end of the day. And you’d trip over when you were running, or stand on your toes and they’d rip off, and there were splinters and cuts all the time.

My feet are ruined, because they had to shave them every day, toes and everything, to put the glue on. Now they grow quite hairy and they’re covered in scars – it’s gruesome. At the end of each day they shoved metal brushes down your feet, poured alcohol in them to loosen the glue, pulled off the feet and shredded them – people tried to steal them out of bins.

Hobbits have clean, blemish-free faces; they’re very childlike. So we weren’t allowed stubble. It was horrible, horrible. You get up at ten to four in the morning, and you’re stood there ripping the crap out of your face because the day before you’ve sweated buckets or caught the sun or had fake blood all over your face.

Then, in the afternoon, the make-up people do checks and you have to shave again. It killed my face.

Peter Jackson,the director, had told me to get fat for the part. But I wanted Merry to be very quick on his feet, so I wore a fat-suit, which is made of foam and makes you sweat, then trousers over that, then a waistcoat, a cape and a hood. I had to drink three litres of water a day so I wouldn’t get too dehydrated. We trained by going to the gym and canoeing and horse-riding. It did get tiring running around in the middle of a hot forest for 10 hours, but at the end it was just boys having fun.

They concentrated very hard on making the fight scenes look genuine. Sometimes you’d be fighting Orcs, sometimes Uruk-hai, big gorilla-like animals, and sometimes Oliphaunts, which are four times bigger than normal elephants. If you’d rehearsed that you were going to duck at a certain time, you’d better do it, because somebody’s going to come at you with a sword. Once, I got hit in the head with a stunt axe. I was on my knees; I got to a move too early. It knocked me to the floor – enough to give me a warning.

You were always expected to be in a good mood on set, which could be exhausting. But I embraced being a Hobbit. They are very positive, very up, very confident. They feel emotions easily and they’re open with them – if they want to cry they’ll cry, and if they want to laugh they’ll laugh. They enjoy eating and drinking and smoking and company and a good time: they really indulge in life. They live in the Shire, which is like heaven, quite carefree. They’re only 2ft 6in, but being short isn’t an issue for Hobbits. Which is cool, I think. In their world it’s who you are from the inside that matters.

I got really used to being a Hobbit, to the extent that I’d be sitting there playing with the hair as if it were my own. I’d go to a party out of costume, and someone would say: ‘Hi… oh, it’s you.’ That was quite weird. We were comfortable being Hobbits. We used to sleep in our wigs and costumes.

At the end of the shoot I remember thinking: ‘I don’t want to give you back this coat. It’s mine.’ I’m sad that I didn’t keep it, because if I had kids I’d like to have shown them it, and instead it will end up in a museum. But I did get to keep a pair of feet – which wasn’t allowed, but f ’em. It wasn’t fair that they should just get shredded.

At the end of the shoot it was really sad to think you’re not going to be seeing those people you’ve been with seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

We’d become such good friends. But it never ended, really. I speak to those guys all the time.