Last night I was able to attend a banquet held here in Auckland for 180 Japanese LOTR fans who had come to New Zealand to do a Nippon Travel/ Red Carpet tour of the locations. Now, who do you think would be the target market in Japan for a tour like that? I bet you guessed wrong. Nippon Travel advertised in a few magazines and websites that are read mostly by young Japanese women, and the response was overwhelming.

So, last night I turned up at their dinner along with friends including Ringers Kimi and Mr. Kimi, and saw scores of young Japanese women sitting around tables.

We Kiwis all went up on the stage and introduced ourselves – when I said I was Tehanu from there was a murmur of recognition. I felt quite humbled by that, knowing that these fans still visited TORN despite the fact that English isn’t their first language. It’s harder work reading in another language, and most of us are too lazy to do it, but not these fans!

Now, I’d thought that these would be people who just wanted to do a tour of NZ because it was fashionable, and maybe some of them would have seen the film. Not so! Many of them were wearing green polarfleece hobbit cloaks, and many more had the leaf brooch, or a Ring replica on a chain, or even Arwen’s pendant.

Each of us Kiwis was asked to describe when we first read the books, then our favourite scene and character from the movies. There was another murmur of appreciation when we described our favourite scenes. These people knew their movies. I must add, we had a wonderfully expressive interpreter working with us.

We stepped down and things got bizarre for me, as a few dozen people wanted their photos taken with me and a few of them also had things for me to autograph. My friend Declan was looking at me like I’d grown feathers. ‘You’re a star, I had no idea!’

Ahah, but there were REAL stars due to arrive. After the meal, two of the character actors turned up – Hama [John Leigh] and Grishnakh [Stehen Ure]. Stephen was a great raconteur and he and John made a great double act together. Actors are great at this kind of thing anyway – they act out their stories, and most of the time the Japanese were laughing before the interpreter had translated them. Stephen said some funny things like the costume made him look so good that when he first saw himself in it, he figured they could have filmed him reading the telephone book and it would have looked pretty interesting. Also, PJ was so focussed on the film – it didn’t matter where or when you ran into him, getting a coffee or whatever, you’d never get into an idle conversation about the rugby or something, it was always straight into the film. And one day, when Stephen was filmed chasing Merry and Pippin through Fangorn, it was really really hot under all that makeup and prosthetics, and Stephen just had to stop. PJ asked why, and he complained that he was just too hot and tired, he had to rest. PJ said, ‘What do you mean, I saw the rushes for yesterday and you were leaping and doing two-footed flying kicks and everything!’ Stephen explained that that was his stunt double. Long pause, then PJ said, ‘Well, just do it anyway!’

He also had a funny story about his first scene with Christopher Lee, who he met for the very first time already in makeup, seated in his throne looking about ten feet tall. Stephen had to do a scene where he whipped some Uruks in front of Lee. First take, it was ‘cut!’ immediately. Stephen had whipped Lee (who was standing behind him) in the face on his windup stroke. Next few takes were cut as Lee kept stepping back out of the shot, and PJ kept trying to herd him back into it, with Lee finding excuses why the role demanded that he stay away from Grishnakh. ‘But it’s a close shot!’ PJ argued. The final shot never made it into the movie, since Stephen was so paranoid by this time that he could only do a really wimpy gesture with the whip.

What else….Liv Tyler hated sword practice, they said, and would complain she’d hurt her hand and give up after 5 minutes. “She wasn’t Xena.”

Anyway, that was all fun, and the fans had some perceptive questions. Then Craig Parker (Haldir) came in as the guest of honour.

Well, forget any preconceptions about the Japanese being all buttoned up and afraid to show emotion. The girls screamed, they leapt out of their seats and danced for joy, one of them near us was actually crying with excitement. It was so cute!!
Craig was terrific – natural, funny, respectful of his audience. First he just had to STAND there for about five minutes while hundreds of flashes went off in his face. Every time he moved at all, the cameras would go crazy. It was extraordinary!

But some of the questions for him were very good, later, and he answered them seriously or jokingly or sometimes both. Things about why the Elves came to Helm’s Deep – that PJ wanted to kill an elf, [that is, an immortal being] to show the waste and carnage, that in that dying moment Haldir, who could have lived forever, died thinking that evil would win and Middle-earth was lost. There’s a scene filmed between him and Elrond and Galadriel that was cut, but he couldn’t tell us much about it except that it once existed. He mimed the familiar elf walk with the inevitable pratfalls the actors experienced – because elves walking gracefully never look down, and the NZ bush is full of tree-roots. Somebody asked him if PJ insisted on what underwear the Elves should wear as part of their costume! That was a left field question. [Blame Liv Tyler for announcing to the world that she didn’t wear any!] He just laughed and said Calvin Kleins, of course.

One girl asked why Haldir was the only Elf not to wear a helmet, and Craig answered with a laugh ‘Because my hair was so pretty!’ He went on to say he was glad, because the nosepieces on the Elvish helmets tended to dig into people’s noses [especially if they were hit, I suppose!] so you could always tell during the lunchbreaks who the Elves were because of the bloody lines and bruises across their noses.

Another asked why he Haldir reacted the way he did at Helm’s Deep when Aragorn hugged him. Craig said partly because Elves were not very huggy people [at least, I think that’s what he said] and also because ‘you have to remember, Aragorn hasn’t changed his clothes in the entire film. Pheww!’

Anyway, it was a great if bizarre evening. Later in the year the same company will advertise a South Island tour, which Red Carpet will also guide around NZ.

Oh, and if any of you Japanese fans from last night are reading this and you have photos of the Stone St. Studios you want to send us [we know you saw some of the sets through the gate there!]……just remember to send them to and we’ll post them up.