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The Return Of The King

Exclusively for CINEMA, LOTR director Peter Jackson and his stars write about the shooting of the third and final part and explain, why saying goodbye was so hard for them…

It is the third Christmas in a row that millions of people all over the world are looking forward to with especially shining eyes. On 17 December, “The Return Of The King”, the long-expected finale of the triology will at last be released. “I assure you that this film is the best”, promises Gandalf-actor Ian McKellen. Director Peter Jackson also seems to be lacking some of his Kiwi reservation: “It is the part of the saga I am most proud of.” The confidence that the stars and makers are using to increase the curiosity of the fans, does not come from nothing. Not only has the series already grossed several hundreds of million dollars, but also the producers succeeded to convince the skeptical fans of Tolkien all over the world.

Accordingly, there’s hardly any doubt that part three will crown the story of success (see also our review in the next issue, to be released 18 December 2003). In order to provide you an all-embracing impression, we have traveled around the globe in the past weeks in order to collect exclusive photos in London, Los Angeles, New York and New Zealand capital of Wellington, and to talk with Peter Jackson and his actors about the brilliant finale of the saga.

Cinema spoke with Sean Astin (Sam), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Billy Boyd (Pippin), Peter Jackson (director), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Dominic Monaghan (Merry), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) and Elijah Wood (Frodo).

Wood: Next year at Christmas, I will probably be at home, packing my suitcases and wonder why no one picks me up and drives me to a LOTR premiere. Let’s not fool ourselves: This end in instalments is bitter, even though most friendships will be more than the usual set-friendships and will continue long after.

Mortensen: I usually don’t tend to be sentimental, but when we finished the last pick ups in the summer, I was overwhelmed by the feeling of goodbye. Of course, there’s still the premieres in Wellington and Berlin to come, but we saw most members of the crew for the last time. There are actors who don’t care about such experiences. I do. In the end, we all become senile very early, and until then I will feed on the memories and will carry the smell of the New Zealand woods with me. I will never ride into battle as Aragorn, but what I felt in these moments, will give me power and strength for a very long time to come. About that, I am certain.

Boyd: Our goodbye was a little relieved by great presents. Everyone was given an affectionately composed video full of scenes and outtakes of his own roll. Also, we were allowed to chose a souvenir and take it with us.

Wood: I received the ring. The original ring. But I do not exhibit the ring – it’s covered in cloth and packed away in a little box which again was packed away in two larger boxes. And there, it’s well kept.
Bloom: I received Legolas’ bow and a set of sharp arrows. But when I wanted to fly to England, the souvenirs were collected by the New Zealand customs and I was told that they would be dispatched separately. Well, I am waiting still, and I guess that somewhere in this world a fan now owns original props.

McKellen: I requested the doorknobs of Saruman’s tower of Orthanc, beautifully made of fibre glass in the form of lizards. You could hardly recognize them in the film, but it was characteristic for the production: Even the tiniest detail was treated with the same accurateness as the most important total shots. But what astounded me even more: When I showed the doorknobs to a couple of fans, they immediately knew where they belonged. Hardly to believe, isn’t it? You could almost believe they’ve watched the film under the magnifying glass.

Mortensen: I was allowed to take my original, terribly worn steel sword. I’ve always used it despite the enormous weight, whenever the danger of the scenes allowed it.

Astin: I am the proud owner of Sam’s rucksack and, most of all, a pair of Hobbit-feet.

McKellen: I consider myself the luckiest of all LOTR actors because I got to play two roles, and this development comes to a fulminant conclusion in part three. I started out as Gandalf the Grey who has little energy and has to face his greatest fears first – and now I play a mighty role as a leader and fighter who gets mud in his face on the battlefield.

Bloom: ROTK is Aragorn’s story who learns to take a terribly large responsibility. Legolas? Hey, he’s firing off a pile of arrows and does the usual hero sh**. The TT scenes where I surf on a shield or mount a horse in full gallop, were so well received by the audience that Peter thought of a special sequence for Legolas which will top anything else. Promised!

Jackson: I am still in the editing, but I guess that we will be exceeding the three-hour-bounds. Before my inner eye, ROTK had always been the most exciting and moving part of the triology. I’ve never been prouder than on this part! Last but not least because I worked up my most terrible nightmares in the scenes with Shelob. She is designed after a so called tunnel web spider that had been tantalizing me in my childhood in New Zealand. Giant spiders in films are often very slow, because they are filmed in slow motion to magnify their dimensions. Not with us: Shelob is a damn fast beast and will not only make Frodo panic.

Mortensen: After the first films have been received very positively, and the giant battles this time outshine even Helm’s Deep, everyone is expecting a hit at the box offices, and I am sure ROTK will be. Still, I would not want to measure the worth of our work in Box-Office-categories, only. If I look at the snapshots of my colleagues that have been made four years ago, and compare them to pictures of today, I see a change in their eyes. These are looks of people who were put to an unbelievable test and passed it.

Wood: I have seen the final hour of the film – never in my life have I cried that hard while watching a movie. Even experts of the book will be amazed by the intensity and darkness of the story. The highest compliment I ever received as an actor was the fact that even peter had tears in his eyes when we were shooting the crucial scenes between Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom.

Jackson: The secret of our success? We’ve made the story authentic even though it operates with a lot of clichés. Good Hobbits, bad Orcs – that could easily land near Monty Python. But by taking the characters seriously, we made Tolkien’s world absolutely believable on screen, as if we were telling a true story – like the one of Alexander the Great or Napoleon.

Wood: Some people are mocking, when I tell them how sworn a community the team had been. But the other day, at a Radiohead concert, I met the actor Stuart Townsend who had been replaced by Viggo. It had been a hard decision for him, but that’s the business. However, Stuart said that he’s never felt bitter because he’s missed three world hits. But he did miss the family feeling he had already developed after months of training together. I felt that he will never experience anything like this again.

Astin: Maybe it sounds stupid: I realized that LOTR had been made for eternity when I played against Bill Clinton at a celebrity golf tournament and he actually knew who I was.

Mortensen: Call it luck, or call it fate. I for my part will always be sure that I never did anything to get the role of Aragorn. It was a present, and it has changed my life forever. For that, I am sincerely thankful.

Jackson: Viggo is known to chose his projects very carefully and basically arrived on spec. While I was already shooting, we had a very delicate talk where he asked me all kinds of questions about Aragorn’s motives that I couldn’t answer even nearly as detailed as he expected. I tried in vain to lie, until suddenly that embarrassing silence arose. I was sure at that moment that I had spoiled the talk and started to mentally go through a list of names who I could cast as Aragorn. But Viggo just looked at me and said, “O.K. so we see each other on Tuesday at work.” Gosh, I was relieved!

McKellen: It’s crazy how life can lead you onto the right tracks. Today, more
people on the street address me as Gandalf thank with my real name. Back then I had already decided to turn down the role, because the prospect of such a long production scared me and at first could not be coordinated with “X-Men”. But believe it or not: I felt that I would regret it if I turned down the role.

Monaghan: How we would have dealt with it if one of the core would have turned out to be an asshole? I don’t think that this would have been possible. The first one and a half years during the main shooting we basicly were stuck together so closely that no one could have tried to get off the hook without committing suicide or being fired. Of course, there were cliques, island trantrums and smaller conflicts – privately, we are no Hobbits. But the togetherness was never endangered, never. I guess Peter has a diploma for psychology and casted us socially acceptable.

Jackson: I don’t think much of a dictatorial style, but I prefer to be surrounded by people who on their particular field have better ideas than me.

McKellen: I cannot remember one single moment of the past years when Peter had screamed. You have to imagine the set much more like a magnified version of his garden, and there he’s off with impish joy, making the most expensive home video of all time, even though we actors needed getting used to him generally demanding an extreme variety of angles.

Jackson: Out of all characters of the saga, I identify mostly with Bilby Baggins.

Wood: Peter used to be bare-footed on set, and I must confess that it calmed me a lot that all this stress and chaos was supervised by a real, live Hobbit. And I think that eccentrics are absolutely trustworthy.

Bloom: During the shooting in New Zealand we were so isolated that there was no chance for any airs and graces. The media may pick someone from the ensemble, that’s normal. But fame is conceptional and did not make it onto the set. I personally have to be a bit more careful in public only since “Pirates of the Caribbean” – in LOTR, of course, I was perfectly disguised with the blond wig and the pointy ears.

Astin (laughing): Unbelievable that someone as ugly as Orlando makes it onto magazine covers! He must have a clever agent!