Translated by Eledhwen.

King Jackson

Despite being buoyed up by the lasting worldwide success of the first two parts of his cinematic adaptation of LOTR, Peter Jackson is not resting on his laurels. Still totally invested in and passionate about the project, the director doesn’t hesitate in returning to TTT to defend his creative choices and justify the differences between his film and the original book.

Q: Did the fact that your producers, New Line, offered you extra credit following the success of FOTR cause unforeseen difficulties?

A: Well, we’d already done that the first time, for FOTR. We brought the actors back together for three or four weeks for extra shooting, but it was planned from the start. It’s also planned for next year. New Line offered us more credit so that we could include more digital effects. Initially we only had 600 effects of that sort budgeted for on TTT, and we ended up with 800. I think that satisfied them. It’s clearly the success of the first film that made them happy enough to give us that financial support at the last minute.

Q: So it’s not true to say, as we’ve often heard, that the three films were shot and finished at the same time?

A: We shot for fifteen months and had the three films in the can at the same time. All we’ve filmed since are extra scenes.

Q: Have these films occupied your whole life?

A: Absolutely. I’m in the middle of editing ROTK at the moment. I can’t really allow myself a break. However postproduction is a great thing to do. In this job, films are often 12 weeks in postproduction. You finish the film and 12 weeks later it’s released. In our case, we filmed the three films two and a half years ago, as if they weren’t three films but one, very long one, nine hours of scene after scene, end to end. And now postproduction is taking a year. It’s great to have such a long period of postproduction because it allows us to really fine-tune the film. There are also lots of scenes animated by computer, which means this year can’t be totally devoted to editing the films, and in any case that wouldn’t take all this time. But integrating digital scenes eats up time.

Q: Did the studio have more input for the second film than the first?

A: They’ve always left me well alone. New Line have really been good from that point of view. I think there are various reasons. Apart from Ordesky, I don’t think many people in the studio really immersed themselves into LOTR. I don’t think many of them have even read the book. They didn’t really make many comments on the scripts, which were already fairly confusing and complicated for us, so I don’t think they were really able to make many observations. And also we were a long, long way away over there, down in New Zealand, and they never came to see us during the shoot – we were abandoned, left to ourselves. They’ve always been great and that’s helped us make the films. Being left alone is really a director’s dream.

Q: Can you highlight the differences between the first and second films for us?

A: I think that the second film in a trilogy, in any cinematic trilogy, absolutely has to obey strict rules. Of course we based our film on the book, but in Episode 2 (I shouldn’t use those words, someone else already has), let’s say the second part, in the second part, therefore, complications occur. We began the journey in FOTR; whoever the hero is, their quest begins in the first film. In the second film, things have to get harder, the forces of evil have to begin to close in. Things really have to seem much harder, so that the audiences ask themselves how the devil are they going to finish their adventure in the third film, given the events of the second. It’s a way of preparing the way for the grand climax of the third film. Effectively it’s a sort of convention, second films by their very nature are darker because you have to apply the pressure, the vice has to close around the characters.

Q: Why did you add Aragorn’s agony scene?

A: We did that for several reasons. I’ll have to try and re-assemble my thoughts to explain it, because it’s two years since we wrote those scenes and I’m now so used to them. From memory – you’ll surely know more about this than me, because it’s ages since I read that part of the book – but from memory, it doesn’t seem to me that much happens on the journey between Edoras and Helm’s Deep. Also, it happened that one thing which we really wanted to do – for me, at least – was a scene with a warg attack. I’ve always found those creatures great, but Tolkien only refers to them once or twice in the book. In any case, he never makes much use of them. I wanted to show them. I wanted to show a fight scene with the wargs. We thought that that moment was ideal, and that it would inject more danger into that part of the story. Once we’d decided that they’d be attacked, from the point of view of the narrative structure of the film, we wanted to change the atmosphere, to make things more sombre. So we thought that to fake Aragorn’s death would be a good way of scaring the audience and for him to ask himself questions about the future. At that moment we’re in the middle of the film. We loved being able to introduce a negative moment and a reversal of fortune at that crucial point. Later on we realised that this also gave us the chance to film a surreal scene with Arwen. A moment where she connects with Aragorn as he lies unconscious. You know, one of the big differences between the book and what we’ve done is the character of Arwen. We weren’t just looking to enlarge her role in the story, but in fact she doesn’t even appear in TTT, in the book in any case – the two characters are geographically separated. We wanted ways of showing their link, their connection, without them actually being side-by-side. So our method was to use flashbacks which showed moments before the quest began.

Q: And you think there aren’t enough episodes like that in the book, is that it?

A: Most of the key episodes in the book are in the film. In my eyes, I suppose, the second book of Tolkien’s novel is the weakest. There are scenes in the film that aren’t in the book, absolutely. We specifically decided to develop the character of Gollum further, and then there’s this battle with the wargs which isn’t even in the book. Above all, we wanted to expand upon and develop threads which the book suggests but doesn’t explore.

Q: [Unreadable – something about Arwen?]

A: Yes, that too. We’d already taken that liberty in the first film. The character of Arwen, played by Liv Tyler, has little importance in the book. She literally only appears on three pages out of a thousand. We constructed a story for her which lasts throughout the three films. Fundamentally, we were faithful to the book, the situation is the same – she’s in love with Aragorn. We loved that idea of bittersweet love where a mortal Man, who will age and die, is in love with an immortal Elf who will never age. That dilemma is profoundly sad. That’s how Tolkien wrote it. All we did was develop that aspect of the story more than he did.

Q: Were there cuts which you didn’t want to make?

A: There always are. But now that DVDs exist things are easier. We’ve just released the DVD of the first film and we were able to insert 35 minutes more than the theatrical version. I’m sure we’ll do the same with the second film. That way, things are less annoying. So if there’s a scene which I really like a lot which was impossible to put in the theatrical version, I know that it’s not lost and that people can see it later on, thanks to the DVD.

Q: Did you think about doing a prologue or a sort of resume of earlier episodes at the start of the films?

A: No. I’ve always been against that idea. I’ll tell you why. My point of view rests on the theory that only a tiny fraction of the audience for the second film won’t have seen the first. I don’t want the first five minutes of the film aimed at only a small proportion of the audience. I saw things differently. For me, the viewer is someone who saw FOTR, who left to have a little popcorn break of one year and then came back to see the rest of the film. I wanted unity and continuation.

A: There’s been a lot of talk about how the success of your film stems from the fact that fantasies like this are popular at the moment – do you believe it’s a question of fashion?

Q: I don’t know. That would effectively mean that science-fiction and stories based on technology have become less popular. It’s also being said that demand for those sorts of films keeps on rising, and we’ll have to wait for more heroic fantasy films to be released. I suppose in a way the success of Harry Potter and of our films only confirms that. But I doubt it. I think that LOTR is timeless. Tolkien wrote his novel between 1937 and 1949. It was a period of unbelievable torment for the whole planet. Fifty years later, we find ourselves in quite a similar situation. Nothing has fundamentally changed, and I fear that in another fifty years nothing will really have altered. We’re human, and we’ll always fight each other, we’ll continue to attack each other and cause each other great pain. Much of LOTR deals with those themes and so I think it’s a work which will never age and will remain outside fashion.

By Marion Ross and Karen Butler.

John Rhys-Davies

Used to supporting roles, John Rhys-Davies has made films with the best directors. Witty and self-deprecating, the actor playing Gimli saw in Peter Jackson all the qualities required to make him great amongst the greats.

Q: At what moment did you discover that you’d also be playing a tree in LOTR?

A: It’s sad, isn’t it! My whole career has been spent on set, and now I’ve become part of the set! (Laughs) Peter Jackson came to see me one day and asked me if I was interested in doing the voice for Treebeard, and I said yes. And you know, I was much more stressed by the idea of voicing Treebeard than all I endured playing Gimli. Gimli is quite simply marvellous, all an actor has to do to find the character is to read the book. It’s all a combination of the way he uses his weight, what he looks like, the way he moves, that’s what leads you to portray him. But on the other hand, you can’t act Treebeard as he’s described in the book, not only because he’s the oldest creature on earth but also because he’s so slow; that would kill the film.

Q: How was Treebeard shown?

A: We needed a way of showing all that, the age and the difficulty he has in going back to his oldest memories, but we couldn’t make him senile because there’s also the scene where he is enraged by the evil he finds at Isengard. I spent four or five weeks on him. We tried everything; the only restriction we imposed was that there would be only one voice. But how can a tree talk? A vegetable doesn’t have lungs, so we imagined that he’d breathe in more than out to form words. In a way, that seemed more natural. Then we thought about accents, and we decided it would be more natural if he had touches of accents from here and there, a little from everywhere. After that we had to assemble all these elements and try to make a rustling of leaves mixed with roots and branches cracking. It was mad. I won’t tell you how many hours and days we spent on that assembly.

Q: Do you appreciate what Peter Jackson has done?

A: There again, you see the mark of genius of Peter Jackson. There are so many other things in this second film that it would be easier to cut Treebeard. A walking, talking tree is an intrinsically risky idea. Wisdom would say that you cut those scenes and tell the public that there were already so many things to see that a choice had to be made, and that you could very well do without Treebeard. But that would have been cheating with Tolkien. So, doing that scene was a risk, but we had to try. In New Zealand, at every press conference, I came over like a madman because nobody understood what I was trying to say. I was the first person to talk like that because of my past experience of big films. You end up knowing when a project will succeed, but instinct. I think we’ve succeeded in making one of the great epic films of all time. When you see it all together, you’ll know that Peter Jackson has made a masterpiece. The scale of this film is such that I’ve never seen its like before in my life, and I’ll probably never see it again.

Q: You’ve worked with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas?

A: Yes, and it was a lot of work, but they’re not alone. I also worked with J. Lee Thompson who unfortunately died recently and who I adored to the point of worship. He was the stereotype of the director who has forgotten more about cinema than young directors will ever learn. I’ve worked with Blake Edwards too. I have a pretty precise and documented idea about what makes a good director. This little Hobbit from New Zealand that’s Peter Jackson has all it takes. He has imagination and he can do everything, right down to the tedious task of preparation. In two weeks, he managed to succeed in convincing me that his film, which made me nervous to the point of wanting to find any way out of it, was in fact the masterpiece of which I’ve become a passionate defender. I remember being there in New Zealand, telling anyone who would listen that we were in the middle of making a film that would be far more important than Star Wars. When you’ve seen all three films, you’ll know that you have had the privilege of seeing one of the best, most extraordinary films that you’ll ever see. Until some cretin decides that he hasn’t got enough imagination for his own project and proposes remaking it …

By Honie Stevens

Viggo Mortensen

As ROTK puts him in the spotlight, the actor Viggo Mortensen talks to CineFilm(s) about his casting and what he has gained from LOTR. When everything hangs by a single thread …

Q: Did you know the novel?

A: Before the films, you mean? No. I got a telephone call and the next day I was on a plane with this huge book on my knees (laughs) trying to read as much as possible before finding myself in front of the cameras.

Q: When they cast you, did you hesitate because it meant a part for three years?

A: Oh, yes. When they called me I was as flattered as I was shocked.

Q: They called you in Los Angeles, at your home?

A: Yes, I was at home with my son and I hesitated. It was of course a huge opportunity, but having to leave the next morning for such a long time, when I didn’t know the book and I knew the other actors had been there for weeks, even months, rehearsing, horse-riding and fencing … They’d already got used to the location, the rest of the crew, their costumes and all that. They had been shooting for two weeks. Professionally I felt at a huge disadvantage and I was scared I wouldn’t match up. You know, you always want to make the best contribution possible. It was evidently a very important project. And then, there was my son. If I went, I’d be away from him a long time.

Q: How old was he?

A: He was eleven. When I put down the phone, he asked me what I was talking about and I said nothing, just this thing, LOTR. He’d already discussed it with his friends who had read it and he himself had begun to read it. He told me it was a great book and I should do it. I explained that would mean me being away a very long time. And then we argued. No … we didn’t argue as such, it was great to have his approval even after I’d explained it would last a long time, a really long time, and actually it’s lasted even longer than that. The breaks we were supposed to have during the second half of shooting never happened. I didn’t even have a holiday. Even if it was good to have his approval, I still had to decide for myself. I thought it was ridiculous, really, to join something like that in such an impromptu manner. I thought hard for two hours and finally decided to do it. And that didn’t leave me long enough to read the book. (Laughs.) I finally decided to do it because I knew I’d always have it on my mind somehow. It’s the sort of thing, the sort of challenge I’ve always been waiting for and that was stronger than me. But if I hadn’t accepted to do this film, I know I’d have been kicking myself afterwards for my cowardice, I’d have lost self-esteem if I hadn’t even tried.

Q: Why did it happen so quickly?

A: There was another actor, but he was much too … He was younger than me. He was the same age as the guys who play the hobbits. That was a definite disadvantage in his position. What I understood was that his departure was a mutual decision. They’d have had to make him look older all the time, he’d have had to play the role giving himself the air of having long experience. You know, Strider isn’t just someone who’s older than the others, no, he’s much older. He’s of a race whose life expectancy is double that of [other] men. In fact, he’s nearly 90 years old, he’s been around a while, and even though many people he meets in the second film, like Théoden, seem much older, in reality Aragorn fought alongside the father of this king when the latter was just a baby. It’s weird, but he doesn’t appear that way.

Q: Apart from having taken 18 months of your life, what did making this film bring you?

A: I discovered that New Zealand and her people were unbelievable. There was a fantastic crew and a superb group of actors. There was a real work atmosphere, everyone had their sleeves rolled up and there was no room for someone with an attitude or the sort of behaviour you sometimes see on big films. It was really a team effort, and that’s even more important for me than the final result. I enjoyed myself and I shared lots of experiences with these people, I realise what we did and I’m proud of it. If all of that shows on screen, I mean the good with the bad, everything that was difficult, hard, everything we contended with from day to day, step after step, all the little victories in the construction of Middle-earth to make it real, then it was worth the effort.

By Robin Lynch.

Andy Serkis

Andy Serkis is the voice of Gollum, the horrible creature of LOTR. But apart from his vocal performance, the actor was able to lend his features and his gestures to bring the former possessor of the Ring alive.

Q: Were you thinking of one or two characters?

A: Just one. Gollum is one character but he has a personality with several facets. He’s not two different characters at the same time. He’s like me. I know, I’m completely schizophrenic. (Laughs.) What I mean is that most of us are like that. Everyone has many sides and our personalities have the tendency to emerge according to the circumstances of our lives. For example, if you’re stuck in a traffic jam, you’re a real Gollum whereas at home with your two-year old you’re wonderfully tender. That’s it, and it’s something I felt deeply, that even from the public’s point of view, if you’re going to spend time with this guy you need to understand him and not just be happy thinking he’s a villain. He’s a real character who’s living through torture. Played that way, the audience can understand him and even feel a little sympathy for him.

Q: Was your voice synthesised one way or another or was it really your own? In that case, it must be hard to produce such a grating sound in your throat.

A: Yes, it was quite hard, but you get used to everything. My vocal cords became like stretched leather. They became insensitive. But once again that was part of the process of discovery, by imagining ways to express his pain. Gollum is nicknamed Gollum because of the sound he makes in his throat. It’s because of a contraction in his throat and I wanted to suffer that contraction myself, I wanted it to be a sort of muscular memory, a tightening as if a T-Rex was biting the neck. For me it was a symptom, an automatic suffering from the memory of having strangled his cousin to take the Ring. It’s also a demonstration of the grip the Ring has on him. I started off thinking of him as very animalistic, because JRR Tolkien describes him very precisely in zoological terms. I have cats. I don’t know if you have cats, but when they have a furball in their throat, you see them convulsing, their whole body convulses to get rid of the furball and they make a funny sort of sound, a little like gollum, gollum.

Q: When you saw Gollum in the film, did you recognise yourself?

A: Totally, yes! And people who know me will recognise me too because they’ll see my mannerisms. My wife will know me (laughs) because the character’s face is modelled on mine and that’s exactly what Peter Jackson wanted. He wanted to borrow my qualities as an actor. In fact, it really is my performance.

Q: I heard that a scene had been shot where we see you smoking and talking with Jar Jar Binks, can you tell us about it?

A: Yes, yes, it’s a thing that was done at the beginning of the year. I’m very impatient to see the finished product because it’ll be animated on top of the motion capture we did. The idea was of an online interview where people were asking Gollum about his daily preparation for work. The telephone rings and it’s his agent who’s just got him a place on a talk show. There, Jar Jar arrives, Gollum asks him how he is and Jar Jar answers that he’s just auditioned for the part of Dobby in Harry Potter but his ears weren’t big enough.

Q: Were you very disappointed that the scene of Gollum’s transformation was cut? I think I understood that it’ll be in the third film in any case, but were you annoyed that it wasn’t used in the second film?

A: Yes, and if I didn’t know that the scene would be in the third film, I’d be irritated. I don’t know if everyone knows that in fact you’ll see me, in the film, in what should have been the second film, transforming myself into Gollum after the murder of Déagol. You see the evolution, the fall into madness and you see Gollum aging more and more and then finally the transformation is complete. Yes, I was disappointed when Peter Jackson told me that it wouldn’t be in the second film because he thought it would stick better in the third.

Q: Will this scene in the third film be a flashback similar to what was envisaged for the second film?

A: They’ll find a way of doing it so it works. In a way, it’ll be quite good because it will allow people to better know Gollum. It’s like an unveiling, a sort of revelation.

By Debbie Bean.