He’s a Tolkien fan with a talent for comedy – so what better Hobbit role could there be for Stephen Hunter than food-loving, clumsy and loveable Bombur? I recently had the good fortune of catching a few minutes of Stephen’s time to ask him about his first reactions to being cast in a major role in the upcoming, two-film adaptation of “The Hobbit.”
“The Hobbit is my first job in fantasy – in fact this is my first big-budget film,” he says. “In most of the TV commercials I’ve done I’ve been the comedic relief. I’m only assuming that with Bombur there may be some comedy. Being cast in The Hobbit is really exciting and really an honour. I auditioned for the original Lord of the Rings way back when I signed with my agent in New Zealand. When I saw the films I thought, ‘Man, I so want to do The Hobbit’. “I’m just going to throw everything I’ve got into it. If I don’t come out the other end absolutely exhausted then I haven’t done my job.”
Stephen is a Kiwi who had a career in radio on both sides of the microphone before opting for acting, where he has worked in commercials and voice-overs and on New Zealand and Australian TV shows. He first read The Hobbit as a kid, then cracked open The Lord of the Rings in his late 20s – it took him a year to read it but he fell in love with Tolkien’s world.
“I just love how real it is – it’s got its own history. I did history in New Zealand as a kid – the Manchurian wars, the US social welfare system – but we should have done Tolkien! It would have been just as relevant because there are some great themes to his writings, drawn from his life experiences and his thoughts on war. It’s amazing how he came up with his own world.”
When Stephen steps into that world he will join 12 others who will be working under Dwarven facial prosthetics which, as John Rhys Davies (Gimli) can attest, can prove difficult.
“Obviously, working through prosthetics will be a challenge but looking at some of the other guys that are cast as well, they’re looking for a bit of depth in the actors – they still want to be able to get as much out of us as possible. That’s going to be interesting. For any role, even a Dwarf and especially a character role, the way that I approach it is to work out ways of personalising it so that on camera it looks real and not acted – trying to find the truthful performance.”
“Personally I see Gimli as a really good term of reference, but I’ll have to work out my own story and what I’m doing with Bombur and the challenges he has. I want to do my own thing. Bombur’s not a small Dwarf – but I’ve never been a small man myself! – so there’s the physical challenges that come with the role. I did ask, ‘Does this mean I can start eating pies now?’ I love a good pie! I’m about to go to the gym now actually, but you’ve got to have balance.”
Stephen is particularly looking forward to working with such a large ensemble cast for a long period of time.
“I really like being part of a team; as a voice artist you’re on your own a bit whereas I can see this is very collaborative. Watching the behind the scenes stuff from the Rings DVDs, the vibe was really good. That’s what attracted me to really chase this role – I wanted to be part of that family. It’s going to be pretty surreal, working with these incredibly talented and well known actors. It’s going to be great, but daunting, stepping up there with people who are so accomplished in what they do. But, I’m really looking forward to doing what I love to do at a very high level.”
Also joining Stephen on the journey to The Lonely Mountain are fellow Kiwis Mark Hadlow (Dori), Peter Hableton (Gloin) and John Callen (Oin). “I’m excited to get to work with them,” says Stephen. “Mark Hadlow is incredible. I’m familiar with Peter Hambleton, and Kiwis would know John Callen’s voice anywhere because he’s the god of the voiceover world.”
It’s been nine years since The Fellowship of the Ring hit cinema screens around the world, kicking off a trilogy of films that earned billions of dollars, won several Oscars and Baftas (and numerous other awards), and turned actors such as Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan and Miranda Otto into household names.
Is Stephen ready for the immense attention that’s coming his way?
“I guess I’m still living in the realm of being a voice artist and TV actor, and we’re just about to have a family shortly – within a week – so there’s a lot happening which is going to be a nice grounding experience to go with all the madness,” he says. “Just stepping into that unknown, I’ll just be me and try to be humble and really enjoy the experience. I’m really excited though – I’ve been like a kid at Christmas time, and that feeling will probably continue. It’s going to be hard work but I’m totally up for it!”