While I was at the fabulous Best of Both Worlds convention in Canberra just a couple of weeks ago (expect a full report later this week!), I had the privilege of being able to chat with Craig Parker (Haldir of Lorien). The feature has been much delayed by the fact that I’m currently moving house, but I hope you’ll agree that it’s worth the wait!
NB: For anyone who might be wondering – I do not have Craig’s e-mail, telephone or postal address. So I can’t pass messages along, sorry.
An Interview with Craig Parker
Even after a weekend of fandom at the Best of Both Worlds convention, Craig Parker is still very relaxed when I catch up with him on the final evening.
He has a glass of white wine in one hand. In the background, his portable MP3 player fills the room with soothing music. It’s a more thoughtful Craig than the one I’ve just seen entertaining 100-odd people with amusing anecdotes and his razor-sharp wit. Even now – as I write – I find the contrast intriguing.
How do you play an elf?
He tells me that auditioning for Rings felt very strange at one level. “I think I was filming a series at the time,” he says. “I had been working in the morning.”
And then he had to go audition as an elf. He looks up and voices the surrealness of the switch from the real to the unreal: “How do you play an elf?”
“Some of us are still asking that question.” he adds, self deprecatingly. Obviously the joker is not far beneath the surface.
He says that Haldir was used as the generic audition for the elves. “It was a scene that was never filmed – or never made it – up in the flet once the fellowship had been rescued.”
“Auditions universally are usually in some terrible soulless room with a camera on a tripod – so it was literally that. So you turn up, say your words, say goodbye and disappear again.”
He confesses he thought he’d done a terrible job. “You tend to do that. I often find that the auditions I walk away from [thinking]: ‘Yeah, I was great in that.’ you don’t get. And it’s the ones where you go: ‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ – you often end up with those ones.”
It’s the stuff you dream of as a kid
“I wouldn’t say it [Rings] was the most challenging acting work I’ve had in my life – it [his moment in the film] is very brief. But it was great fun, you know? The stuff you dream of when you’re a kid – being able to swordfight and beat up big guys.”
I mention the axe in his back at Helm’s Deep.
“Or getting beaten up by them and killed.” He laughs. “You don’t dream about that so much.”
“But the thrill was being part of such a huge event. The excitement. It’s your perfect kids’ adventure – suddenly you’re in the middle of this huge fantasy world. And I loved it for that.”
Like many of the principal actresses and actors, he did his much of own stuntwork. “The actors would do the whole thing,” he says. “And they would do it a number of times. But you’d also shoot the scene with a double. So your wide shots – sometimes they come in with the double. In this film I can’t tell where it’s me and where it’s [my double]. And that’s fantastic.”
He would float and turn and fly
His own double was “an amazing guy called Morgan. He’s just an artist really – like a dancer. Amazing martial skills.”
He and Morgan would work together, Morgan drilling him through the moves. “So I’d get up and feel quite flash – ‘Yeah, I’m pretty cool at this!’ And then he would get up and do it, and it’d be the same moves but suddenly watching an artist.”
There’s something like awe in his voice. “He would just float and turn and fly. He’s an incredible actor – an incredible acrobat.” [Listen]
He emphasises the safety aspect and is full of praise for the stunt team when I ask about the Uruk-hai fighters at Helm’s Deep. “By the time we got to film anything, we were reasonably confident and sure of what we were doing. And you had to be for safety. There was so many people on set – if you don’t know what you’re doing, someone is going to be hurt.”
“The stunt team were incredible,” he says. “Not only were they in these incredibly uncomfortable, incredibly hot costumes, they’re constantly rehearsing their stuntwork or doing it.”
“They’re being hit with swords and bashed and thrown to the ground. They’re constantly working through all the day in incredibly difficult conditions. And they’re still incredibly generous and supportive of us [the actors].”
“I know I was constantly asking: ‘Sala, Sala can we work through this move? Can we go through this? Can we go over this?’ just so I was sure of it. And they would always be there. So I have huge respect for the guys.”
Lives were lived during this project
Support, encouragement and passion for the project seems to have been a defining trait of the entire cast and crew.
“Peter and Richard – and the various other people who gathered people to work on this film – are remarkably passionate people,” Craig says. “And they also tend to be people who don’t buy into the ego hierarchy. Richard Taylor runs WETA in the most beautiful, elegant way where it’s about support and encouragement. Clear leadership, but not dictatorial control. So he gets passionate people around him and he encourages them to be more passionate than they thought they could be.”
“And Peter does the same thing. I think across all areas, people were chosen because of those qualities. And it was such a long process. My involvement was in and out – it wasn’t so extreme for me – but there were people who spent 10 years of their life involved in this project. People who met, married, had kids, broke up, remarried – whatever – over this period of time. Lives were lived during this project. And the only way people would get to the end was if they really cared about it.”
Having heard so many horror stories of the wet, cold nights that everyone spent filming at Helm’s Deep, I ask whether he ever fell ill during the shooting as a result of exposure to the elements. Craig says he found he tended to be fine while filming. “It’s when you stop and you’ve got a week off that your body collapses and you get the cold and the flu.”
He adds that he was fortunate in that he only spent short bursts of time on the set. “I was the lucky one who would come down for a week, spend a week in these conditions but then go back home for a week or two weeks while all the other poor suckers had to stay there for the three months.”
But it was worth all the pain and suffering, he says. He recalls the cast and crew screening for the first film. “A lot of people had been working that day, and they were tired. And then [after seeing Fellowship] there was a sense of ‘Aaah, we have made something magnificent. It was worth it. The pain and the suffering was actually worth of it.'”
The passing of an age
He interprets the death of Haldir (with all his brethren scattered like fallen leaves around him) as a metaphor for the passing of the elves. “To me – and anyone can read anything they want into it – it was quite a visceral representation of the passing of an age. The death of a way of life and a culture. And the change.”
“It may have had some totally different purpose, but I think it was just to lift the stakes a bit and say everything could be lost, this is a point where it may not be a happy ending.”
“And good versus evil is only interesting is only interesting when we can understand it on a personal level. And I think it’s been the success of this book, this story – especially in film three – our heart is bleeding for Frodo. He has this incredibly tragic journey he goes through.”
It’s not about Schwangor of Planet Kwang
“And I haven’t read a huge amount of fantasy – I’m a sci-fi reader, I guess – but the books I love aren’t about Schwangor of Planet Kwang who defeats a million Thwangors, they’re the stories about the personal relationships.”
“The future technology or the fantasy world is really just a world to set these creatures in who have a personal experience. And I think that for any of us – a film is only interesting if we care about the people involved.” [Listen]
I ask if he feels a sense of ownership of Rings.
“I do, actually,” he says. “I feel a slight sense of ownership. I think all of New Zealand feels a sense of ownership. In a sense that we all know someone who worked on it. New Zealand is such a small place – and we – New Zealand feels a sense that this is our film. And that’s quite lovely, I think.”