Andy Serkis
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The Return of the King press round table was held at the Four Seasons Hotel. This was my first-ever press junket, and I had no idea that the whole point was to coddle us (the press) into submission. The Four Seasons is an amazing place for coddling – there are people hired simply to stand around and smile and ask you if you need anything.

Did I mention the swag? We were handed bags of promotional material to “help” us report on the movie. The bags had several movie-related books, Return of the King itself (with Viggo on the cover), little figurines, a puzzle, a PlayStation game, and more. So much swag that it instantly felt like stupid levels of bribery.

“Love us,” insisted the swag. “Write good reviews of the movie.”

So it’s a good thing that I have nothing bad to say about the junket – in fact, quite the opposite. The entire event was joyous and intense, and the actors and production people were lovelier than I could have imagined.

The format of the round table was simple: put a bunch of reporters in a room (around a literal round table). Stuff them with good food, provide more drink than they can swill, and trot the talent from room to room for a rapid-fire twenty minutes of questioning.

Howard Shore

Howard Shore was our first guest. He came in looking pale and drawn, and sat with hunched shoulders.

“How was the world premiere of your symphony?”

“It was very good. Viggo came and sang, and everything went well.”

I asked him whether he’d had any difficulty writing the score when the movie was coming to him somewhat piecemeal, and Shore shrugged.

“I knew the arc of the score. It didn’t matter which bit of the movie I received, I was able to apply the score to whichever part Peter handed me.”

I asked whether he’d known the actors were such talented singers.

He replied that all of the singing happened during principal shooting, and he was handed the songs to incorporate into the score. Shore took time to praise the vocal talent of Viggo and Billy. “Viggo’s an excellent singer,” Shore said.

Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd

Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd came into our room next, accompanied by an aide who held a tray full of food.

Dominic must not be a morning person. He looked positively huddled in his seat, and rarely looked up at us, even when answering questions. He mostly looked at his food.

One of the reporters in our room was a Japanese woman, and she stared at Dominic’s tray with amusement.

“You eat Japanese food?” she asked.

“Hai,” said Dominic. “Arigato.”

At a certain point during the interview, Dominic tried to separate two pieces of seaweed. The Japanese reporter offered to separate it for him, and he handed it to her.

She handed it back in several pieces, and Dominic bowed a little and said “Arigato!” again.

At another point during the interview, Billy Boyd lifted the cover of Dominic’s rice bowl and snitched several grains. This garnered the first fully awake reaction from Dominic.

Dominic glared at Billy.

Billy opened his eyes widely and innocently.

“That’s nice,” muttered Dominic.

I asked Dominic which of his many cut scenes he most wanted to see in the Extended DVD.

“Any of them, really,” said Dominic, chewing seaweed. “Twelve of my scenes were cut.”

I also asked about the inspiration behind the song Half-fling from the album Pandemoniumfromamerica.

“We’ve started to get questions about that? Amazing,” Dominic said to Billy. “The song is based on an invented language that Elijah and I have. We speak it when we’re tired.” Dominic gave an example, a falsetto squeek that sounded like Chipmunks gibberish.

Dominic denied that the song was an ironic send up of Hobbit life, despite the name. “Viggo named it,” Dominic said.

Dominic also wore a Carbon Neutral t-shirt, and asked that we all check it out.

Billy talked about the difference between Peter Jackson & Peter Weir, and said that with both of them, they were visionary and experimental, etc. etc. Basically, he took the opportunity to praise them both.

Billy also talked about the maturation of Pippin, and the changes he goes through in Return of the King – changes that are spoilers, really, so I won’t go into them here.

Dominic ended by grabbing Billy into a huge cuddle. “I get to spend Christmas and New Year with Billy!”

“Scotland?” I asked.

“The Lake District,” said Billy.

“Will you be hunting again?”

“Perhaps we’ll try fishing this time!”

Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom

Liv Tyler and Orlando Bloom walked in next.

They sat down. Or perhaps they didn’t sit down so much as fold themselves elegantly floor-ward, or any other phrase that might pertain to movements that fabulous people make.

Of course, they both had on expensive and silky looking casual clothes, the kind of rumpled up stuff you find at the bottom of your Givenchy-laden wardrobe and throw on for a long day of chatting with the press. Orlando also wore a tatty and meaningful looking bracelet of cloth, which I’m sure is emblematic of something or other.

Enough of that.

I asked Liv whether the constant rewrite process ever caused her to lose sight of the arc of her character’s development.

She said both yes and no – initially she wasn’t able to really feel or find her character, due to the constant training with weapons and horses, and the emphasis placed upon Arwen as a warrior woman. Liv said that after Philippa and Fran went through the process of removing Arwen from Helm’s Deep, she was much better able to find her character’s emotional center.

“Movie Legolas and book Legolas are different creatures,” I said to Orlando, “What do you think movie Legolas does after the action of Return of the King ends?”

“Leggy [Orlando’s nickname for his character] takes off in a big silver space ship, of course,” the man said promptly. Orlando then went on to explain his own vision of elven behavior, which involved a lot of graceful physicality. He mentioned the signature Legolas shots, and said that Return of the King has the best one yet.

Andy Serkis

Andy hacked, Andy coughed, and up came a hairball that sounded like
“gollum, gollum.”

To be honest, I don’t have much to say about Andy that hasn’t already
been said in countless books, DVD extras, and interviews. Everyone
asked the obligatory question about how Gollum was created. Andy
demonstrated motion capture, Andy discussed rotoscoping, Andy talked
about the infamous blue suit.

“My children got a bit confused about it,” he said. “They’re 3 and
5. They see Gollum on a bus, and say, ‘Look dad! It’s you!’ But they
don’t know quite how their dad in the blue suit became Gollum.”

DarkHorizons guy asked if his children had seen the movie.

“Not yet. I want to wait until they’re older so that they can
appreciate it more.”

Andy said that there were several scenes between himself and Sean Astin
that he wants to see in the extended DVD.

And Andy asked that we all buy his new book, all about being Gollum.

Bernard Hill

Bernard Hill sat and looked around the table, and instantly started in on telling us a story. He actually stopped us from asking questions once or twice, simply because he wanted to complete his thought.

Apparently the scriptwriting process for Theoden was quite collaborative. At the very beginning of the filming process, Bernard suggested to Philippa and Fran that he ride in front of the line of Rohirrim before the Battle of Pelennor Field and touch his sword to all of their spears.

“I was inspired by seeing the great weapons at Weta Workshop. But Phil and Fran said ‘Bernard! We aren’t filming that for nine months!’ And so I went away, but kept trying to come back to the idea.” Suddenly it was a few days before shooting, and Bernard finally got the writers’ attention for long enough to add the scene to the script. And the next day, they were shooting it with Peter.

“But did Peter say, ‘nice scene, Bernard, well written’? No! The bastard.” Bernard added that it was tough controlling a horse one-handed while wielding a sword, and that his horse (nicknamed “Snow-worries”) had to be swapped out for a different horse, simply because the horse wasn’t having any of his off-handed reigning.

And after filming the sequence, Peter mentioned casually that the shot would be mirror imaged. But Bernard pointed out an error.

Theoden is left-handed, you see. And you’ll notice in that shot that Theoden is clearly holding his sword in his right hand, which un-reversed is my left.”

Apparently this didn’t really bother Peter much, because the shot made it to Return of the King.

Richard Taylor and Barrie Osborne

Richard Taylor and Barrie Osborne came in together, and sat smiling side by side at us like (okay, I’m sorry) Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They had the exact same expression on their faces: lines of worry smoothed into relief, and under it all a great sense of joy. They seemed better able than the younger actors to handle reporters; I’m guessing it’s because they routinely have meetings of just such intensity and length, and more.

We talked first about Christopher Lee’s excision from Return of the King. Nothing new was said, simply that Barrie and Richard both had long conversations with Christopher, and both felt the movie’s pacing was improved by Peter’s decision to remove the scene. [Small spoiler: There is no continuity problem in Return of the King. We see the beginning of the scene, including a certain chapter from The Two Towers that many have wanted to see for a while, and we go on to a conversation with Treebeard in which Saruman is dispatched of as being in Treebeard’s hands. And then Pippin finds… but I digress.]

They are both looking forward to seeing Saruman in the extended DVD.

The Japanese reporter asked if they’d see more of their wives now that the movies were getting done. Barrie and Richard both laughed.

“My wife works in the office with me,” Richard said. “Sits right behind me. And Barrie’s wife works for the production too.”

I asked whether the Tolkien estate had agreed yet to a permanent Lord of the Rings exhibit in Wellington.

Richard looked sad and said it was no go, but that the traveling exhibit was still in England.

I asked whether Richard and Barrie would be attending TORn’s Oscar Party, and: they said yes.

At the very end of their session, they handed out even more swag! This time, a pin in the shape of Sauron’s red eye, the symbol of WETA.

Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens

Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens entered then, both wearing black and looking positively lovely. Fran is a petite woman with an amazing grin, especially when she’s talking about work that she’s passionate about, namely, anything to do with Lord of the Rings. And currently, King Kong. Philippa also has an amazing smile, and was the more outgoing of the two women.

In my opinion, they were the most interesting people (aside from Peter) to talk to, simply because the entire structure of the movie was ultimately their creation, from characterizations to plot to motives to … well, everything.

The fellow from Aintitcoolnews is going to scream when he sees that I’ve included one of his questions in this report, but frankly it’s too good not to discuss. Plus, he owes me one for filling him in on all the Lord of the Rings news that he didn’t know.

[Spoilery discussion follows about the movie’s ending. Skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to read about it.]

The Aintitcoolnews guy asked why there was a series of five or six endings to Return of the King. He said that he felt the movie ended with the destruction of the ring, and felt that the extended whited-out screens leading to denouement after denouement didn’t work in a cinematic sense.

Philippa handled this question. She said that the movie wasn’t actually about the destruction of the ring, it was about Frodo. And that the denouement (returning to the Shire, the Grey Havens) wasn’t a denouement, it ended Frodo’s story.

“As fans of the book, we couldn’t consider leaving it out,” said Philippa.

[End spoiler.]

Fran and Philippa said that they were deep into work on King Kong, and that they’ve scrapped the script they’d developed years earlier and were working on a totally new one. “We’re going to try to tell it like we told Lord of the Rings,” said Fran. “Like a history.”

Philippa mentioned that her children are already clamoring to be extras.

At this point, everyone took a lunch break. Lunch Four Seasons style including even more free stuff, and the kind of food served at five-star hotels. I admit it, I was too excited to do more than stare at the notes I’d taken and cackle.

David Wenham and John Noble

We ended lunch with the abrupt appearance of a father-and-son act. David Wenham and John Noble came in together. John has the subtlety and poise of an old-fashioned stage actor, and he knew Denethor better than I did, to my lasting shame.

“You’ve mentioned in an interview that the death of Denethor’s wife – Fimbrethil? – is part of the motivation for his character’s actions,” I said. “Care to elaborate?”

“Yes,” he said softly, his accent impeccable, “His continued grief at his wife’s death – Finduilas, actually…” He shot me a look that might have held some mischief, “and the weight of the long years of struggle to maintain Minas Tirith in the absense of a king…” All of these things added to Denethor’s final dementia.

I asked David Wenham whether there were any parts that he’d particularly look forward to in the extended DVD.

“Why yes, finishing Faramir’s story, and the bits with Eowyn,” he said promptly.

The Aussie fellow from DarkHorizons asked if he minded that those bits didn’t make it to the theatrical release.

David shook his head. “No – no. The movie’s great, I’ve got no complaints at all. And the extra parts are in the DVD for posterity.”

David talked for a bit about how much he enjoyed working with Peter Jackson, and about how he’d long been a fan of Jackson’s movies.

“What’s your favorite of Peter Jackson’s movies, then?” I asked him, wondering which of the blood-and-gore bunch he’d pick.

“Oh, they’re all so good. There’s Braindead… Meet the Feebles…”

John Noble shot me another sideways glance. “Heavenly Creatures,” he said softly.

The Japanese reporter asked how it felt to shoot a certain very important scene with Denethor and Faramir.

“There was a wax double made of me,” said David. “Really quite eerie, actually.”

Let it be noted, therefore, that if you want amazingly lifelike waxen (and rather sickly looking) models of the two brothers of Minas Tirith, there’s now a complete set! Just ask Richard Taylor for details… [Before you go calling him, this is a joke.]

John Rhys-Davies

John Rhys-Davies is not a tall man. Or not as tall as he appears in the DVD extras, when he’s standing next to such petite fellows as the hobbits or Peter Jackson. In fact, JRD is also a trim fellow, not much extra bulk on him at all.

He was wearing a bright green shirt and an even brighter green tie with pictures of fruit on it. You can guess which.

JRD was obviously an old hand at press functions, and sat and chatted and told stories with us like we were all the oldest of friends. Such was his charm!

He made us all pronounce the phrase “Ish ka kwee”.

We could, and he said, “you’re all smarter than I was, let me tell you.” He told the story of his last day in Wellington, upon which Peter Jackson presented him with an axe. “That damned phrase made it into the blooper reel. It was about ten utterly embarrassing minutes of nothing but me muttering ‘Ish Koo – o damn. Can I have that again?’”

JRD informed us that he’d actually broken his back in last year’s on-set mishap, and said that his insurance company refused to pay for an “act of God”.

“Such as an entire wall toppling over and falling on me!” he spluttered. “Act of God indeed.”

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson came in clutching a cup of coffee. He leaned on the table and stared down at the array of recording devices in front of him. His eyes, trapped behind a wild flop of hair and thick pair of glasses, were rather like a bear’s. This, coupled with his rounded appearance, gave the deceptive impression of harmlessness.

“So,” said the DarkHorizons guy, “You’re wearing shoes.”

“Yes,” Peter said in a somewhat short tone, “I am wearing shoes.”

The number of interviews in Peter is questioned about his barefooted tendencies have to be countless, and I instantly warmed to the man for allowing his irritation to show. Good for him.

“I heard in an interview for the New Zealand press that your first complete viewing of Return of the King was at the Wellington premiere. So. Did you like it?” I asked.

Peter hedged a bit. “Well. I’d seen all of it, of course, just not with all the sound and CG effects and music… Did I like it. To be honest, I was too busy watching other people’s reactions to really watch the movie!”

“Did you feel that another few weeks could have been worthwhile in honing the final product?”

I admit that this question was rather idiotic.

“Of course,” said Peter. “If I had an extra day, week, month it would have been much better. It can always be better.”

Which is, my friends, why we’re all waiting for the Return of the King EE DVD.

Peter confirmed that Naomi Watts is playing the lead in Kong, and that it would be his major project for 2004 (other than the ROTK EE DVD).

Ian McKellen

“So there I was on the sleeper plane from New Zealand to Los Angeles, and I woke up and looked around me, and I was surrounded by Orlando, Liv, Viggo, Elijah… So much beauty. And I thought I must be the luckiest man on earth,” Ian McKellen said, grinning around at us.

“On your website, in one of your e-posts, you mention that you preferred playing Gandalf the Grey to Gandalf the White, because Gandalf the Grey was a more dynamic character… For the third movie, how did you get into your character, now that he’s more of a warlord, less conflicted?”

“Oh dear,” said Ian, dropping his cheek to his hand, “I said that?” Ian said that from his perspective, he wasn’t aware of three movies so much as one character. “And the break came for me between the Grey and the White, of course. But the White is sent back for a reason, of course. He returns, and is driven.”

Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen carried a cup in his hand. The cup was ornate, and had something resembling a metal pipe sticking out of it. The whole effect was rather intriguing, and some of the other reporters whispered questions across the table.

“Yerba mate,” I replied promptly. “He drinks it all the time.”

And I asked: “There are hours of documentaries about you riding horses and training to sword fight … did you find that the emphasis upon the physicality of your character got in the way of Aragorn’s psychological journey?”

“No,” replied Viggo. “Action is part of who Aragorn is – his journey as a character is fundamentally about action: fighting, riding.”

Peter Jackson has mentioned that he considers Lord of the Rings more a history than a fantasy movie. What genre do you place the movie into?”

Viggo chuckled and said, “Well it’s obviously a fantasy movie.” And then Viggo went into a small rant about how Tolkien invented the genre, and about how Norse mythology informs Tolkien’s writing. Refreshing to hear from an actor.

Viggo also answered the routine questions about injuries, friendships, etc., and was obviously a little exasperated that he had to go over the answers yet again.

“So how did it feel for you to play Aragorn during the coronation?” asked the Japanese journalist. “Everyone is giving you so much respect.”

Viggo said that it was indeed strange, but that Aragorn was always aware that it was the entire fellowship that brought about his coronation, not just one man.

Sean Astin

“I am afraid that tonight’s premiere is going to be a letdown,” said Sean Astin. “After the amazing reception we had in Wellington, where it wasn’t just another movie premiere, but it was a huge moment in the history of the country – even though Los Angeles is my home, I’m afraid that it just won’t be as intense.”

Sean came into our room just as the New Line representative apologized to us that Elijah Wood was not going to be able to chat with us.

“That’s okay,” said Sean, “I know everything he has to say about any question you might ask me.”

I jumped right in. “On the extended Two Towers DVD, you mentioned that you saw the relationship between Fran and Peter, and decided that you want to have a similar working relationship with your wife. Do you have any projects planned together?”

“My wife is very involved in my business, actually. And it seemed like my company had a whole lot going on at the middle of the year, but now it’s all kind of evaporated. So I think I’m going to take some time to rethink our direction.”

DarkHorizons guy brought up a possible Oscar.

“You know, it would be nice if I had one, of course. But I’m not looking for it.” Which is almost exactly what Peter said earlier to the same question.

The Japanese journalist asked him about how he felt in the very last scene in Return of the King.

Sean answered, and then tried to give a name to a place, a certain volcano. He asked if anyone could spell it.

I spelled it out for him, and the table full of reporters laughed at me. “She’s with,” the DarkHorizons guy said.

Sean turned to look at me and said, “You guys threw an amazing party in New Zealand. I loved it. Tehanu and Cliff were great.”

“Will you be at our Oscar party?” I shilled shamelessly.

“You know – people have been asking me about the award circuit, and I’m not even there yet. Not thinking about it yet.”


And that’s all. I packed up my bags, realized that in the excitement of the interviews my deodorant had completely worn off, and realized with great sorrow that my brush with fame was over.

“But wait, what about Elijah?” you might ask.

That darned actor had gone off to a gig with some man named Jay Leno, and didn’t have time to stay to chat with us.

And then I went to see Return of the King, but that’s another story…