WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Those outside of the movie making business often don’t understand what The Producer does on a film. The quickest answer is: They get the movie made. They get things done.
In the case of Zane Weiner on “The Hobbit,” it meant getting in touch with someone nobody was meant to get in touch with.
Living in Hawaii, she was a month removed from the birth of her child, email turned off, not taking calls about work and still confined to bed rest.
“So I was still in bed with the baby,” she told TheOneRing.net in full Tauriel outfit and gear during a lunch break on a full day of filming on “The Hobbit.”
This lunch tent, while perhaps not glamorous, is an essential part of Stone Street Studios and making Peter Jackson movies, designed to feed and shelter quite an enormous crowd. Breakfast was served there for anybody wanting to start the day off right. Coffee and tea were available on any sound stage but also in the tent — a first stop for many on a shoot.
Mark Hadlow nailed it when he said, “A film crew marches on its stomach.”
When lunch is called for on either the main or second unit, catering is ready. Two long self-service tables are identically lined with a few choices for the main course, including vegetarian offerings. Eaters pick up their own plates and cutlery, napkins and condiments and serve themselves. Always there is a salad and plentiful fresh vegies, a bread (often my favorite item) and variety that often had me taking small portions of everything. The procedure was the same for any actor, or grip, make-up artist, special effects or set dresser: Get in line, get food, find a table.
Unlike the well known division between orcs and elves on the LOTR lunch tables, dwarves could be found eating with goblins and generally there were no Middle-earth racial lines drawn at lunchtime.
Even for those in costumes or prosthetics it wasn’t easy to pass up the daily decadent desserts and I know I wasn’t alone in deciding, nearly always, that each day’s particularly amazing offering, with rich chocolates or fresh fruits and cream, couldn’t be skipped.
Sodas were only available on Fizzy Fridays with most opting for daily tea or coffee with a skilled barista always at the ready, willing to create. I enjoyed cold water, making several in-trip meals. One big cultural advantage New Zealand holds to the U.S. is the size of its drinks. A small American McDonalds soda is the largest beverage you are likely to find at any Kiwi eatery — a small but healthier difference.
On other film sets, high profile actors might eat from one menu while crew or extras go to another. Not so at Stone Street, where everybody from top to bottom was offered the same seriously delicious chow.
Jackson, busy with lunch meetings (and more about that in some future writing) was rarely sighted in the tent, instead meeting responsibilities as he ate in an office. Tables near the front of the tent were given, out of deference, to the leading actors — a courtesy because they often had big challenges with costumes, beards, prosthetics and hair. I was invited to these seats on a few occasions to sit with talent or, like this day, to talk with Lilly about Tauriel.
“My partner Norman actually got a text message from Zane Wiener saying: ‘Is your girl interested in being involved in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit?’ And I went: ‘Why are you getting text messages for my work?’ “
Lilly had shut down email and phone and her own agents weren’t able to reach her at the time.
At lunch, in full Tauriel garb, Lilly’s massive and intricate auburn elf wig was wrapped to keep it safe from weather and the hazards of food. Her partner was not far, nor was her baby, now old enough to get around and excel at being cute. On a Peter Jackson movie, family is, well, like family, and it wasn’t just Lilly there for the movie, the trio was.
“My intention was not to work during the first year of my baby’s life. I was going to take that year and just be with my baby but I’ve always been a diehard fan of ‘Rings,’ the books — Tolkien’s ‘Rings.’ ”
Lilly is no stranger to popular culture fandom. If any reader is somehow not aware, she was one of the central figures in the hit television series “Lost,” one of the most iconic shows in the last decade, playing female lead Kate. While she wasn’t a household name when she took the part, she was certainly a famous worldwide brand after.
Tolkienites may not be completely aware, but “Lost,” had and has deeply invested, zealous fans. Tolkien enthusiasts can certainly claim to be passionate, but fandoms are like snowflakes in that no two are alike and each can be grand in its own fashion.
So there in the lunchroom, during my second week on set, I can’t help but probe a little deeper when anybody says they are a “diehard.” It is a response some Hollywood actors are coached to give to appeal to fans — something to say from a Comic-Con podium — and there I was, representing the most active Tolkien community on the interwebs. At the risk of being rude, especially to somebody I had barely spoken with.
“Okay, let me rephrase that. Not a diehard fan, not like the Ringers, (a term previously discussed that implied readers of TORn) but really and truly they were some of my favorite books and for a time they were my favorite books; and out of all of the books when I was a kid, ‘The Hobbit’ was my favorite. It was my absolute favorite and my favorite part was the elves in Mirkwood forest.”
More exposure to Lilly taught that she doesn’t pander. She doesn’t try to say the right thing to appeal to somebody and she certainly isn’t going to try and suck up to fandom or a reporter.
She is completely unpretentious but strong, friendly — but cautious with her privacy, her work, her family. She wasn’t trying to butter up TORn and be temporary best pals, but she was interested in talking about her role. After her explanation of her Hobbit fandom, ‘diehard’ felt more than appropriate. (No group and nobody has a corner on the passion market and the Canadian born Lilly definitely projects passion in her work and even in her lunch and in her childhood reading. I believed.)
“I was in love with the elves, so when I got told that I had an opportunity to be involved in ‘The Hobbit’ and be an elf and I knew I loved Tolkien and I knew I loved The Hobbit book . . . well.”
In her imagination as a reader, the elves were more like pixies than the powerful, wise creatures that are portrayed in the films, but to play one was a big draw. But not the only draw.
“There was this other element that came into play. When ‘Lord of the Rings’ first came out in the theaters, I refused to see it because I thought they were going to massacre Tolkien’s work and I was like ‘I’m not honoring this, I’m not going to see this, I’m not paying money.’ ”
Definitely going with “diehard” now.
“But my whole family made a night of it and they went out together and I caved and I went with them. I couldn’t believe that what I was seeing on the screen was exactly what I had imagined in my mind when I read the book. So I was also, at that point, a huge fan of Peter and his work with ‘Rings.’ ”
So she called Team Jackson, which included co-screenwriters, partner Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, to talk about the part. Peter wasn’t available that particular day.
“I was actually nursing while I had this conversation with them about what this role was and what the commitment would be. The scary thing was I’d have to start work three-and-a-half months out from having had my baby.
“And elves are supposed to be lithe and thin and delicate and graceful and at that point I was feeling anything but, but I couldn’t say no because it was one of those rare opportunities to do something that actually I really, really wanted to do. I thought it was really cool. So I did it. So I said ‘yeah.’ ”
She couldn’t say no but was there any wrestling with the decision?
“The only wrestle that was left at that point were two elements: Okay, am I making a stupid decision for my family? Because that wasn’t in our plan. And I talked that over with Norman and everything was agreed and he was totally enthusiastic about it. And then the other thing was, Tauriel is not in the books. So do I want to be, potentially, the big black spot on ‘The Hobbit?’ You know, the thing that everyone, the Ringers, all go ‘No we’re not having it, we’re not accepting her.’ ”
Lilly might have a point there. As written by Tolkien, the source material doesn’t have a single female character in its pages. It isn’t news around here that some fans will not accept a created character no matter what, male, female or monster. Others, including, my dear friends and fellow TORn staffers Alex and Kelly, The Happy Hobbits, are famously thrilled with Tauriel and yet haven’t seen more than a few seconds of her in a trailer. Lilly seemed pretty pleased with Kelly and Alex in the reaction to the reaction video that Jackson launched into a viral orbit around the globe.
Back in the day, there was quite a fan uproar when rumors placed Liv Tyler’s Arwen in battle at Helm’s Deep. So are Tolkien enthusiasts now more willing to accept new material? With absolutely nothing more than anecdotal evidence, my own personal litmus test of fandom, it seems so. At the time of the interview, there was much less general public awareness of Lilly’s role.
“I want to be an elf. In ‘The Hobbit’ technically the only elves you’re introduced to is one elf, he’s a king and he’s a man. So, I was either going to be a (created) character or none. There was not going to be one that existed and I decided that I think, still think, Pete Jackson has earned the right to embellish. I think he has shown that he has a handle on Tolkien’s world in a thorough and invested enough way to embellish the story.”
She may have a point there too. Movies and books are drastically different story-telling mediums and Jackson may have earned it when he took the previously “un film able” “Lord of the Rings,” and succeeded commercially and critically beyond all expectations, saving from it from becoming a one-film adaptation. Many readers will not remember, but one of the mainstream media story approaches to the trilogy, from all corners, before “Fellowship of the Ring,” was released, was about how the failure of the trilogy might be the complete ruin of New Line Cinema. Nobody is talking about financial failure now of course, even if a slightly risky character breaks the mold.
Lilly is also comforted with the feeling that the writers tried to draw pieces of her character from Tolkien’s world. But despite accepting the job, was there still room for Lilly to worry?
“I do and I don’t. The more I see of the film — because I go and watch playbacks — the more I think people have to like her because she is so cool. Tauriel is this kick-ass elf and she’s female and we haven’t seen that yet.”
(On a top-secret and short set visit a year later, Lilly then seemed to be beyond the point of worry, another story.)
“We’ve seen a powerful elven queen and we’ve seen a beautiful and angelic female elven princess, but we haven’t seen your sort of working class, gritty, tough female elf.”
She resisted that at the beginning because playing a tough female character on “Lost” initially left her desiring to portray a feminine elven character.
“I don’t want to be the butch elf,” she laughed.
“What’s cool about playing this role is that she’s incredibly feminine but she can still slice an orc’s head off and it’s part of her nature, it’s just part of who she is.”
On set, there was no shortage of evidence of Tauriel, and Lilly, being tough. The stunt work, sequences that elven companion Orlando Bloom has spent a decade doing for films, were demanding — not just to be physical but to engage in the weapon-dance with stuntees and co-stars. They required strict memorization, fluid movement, complex precision, stamina, teamwork and lots of takes. Oh and the nightmare of dealing with all that hair in action sequences.
Before shooting, Lilly and her fellow performers, often in prosthetics and heavy costumes, choreographed action sequences, but once on set in sometimes limited space with lights, props, cameras and actors, alterations would be made.
Lilly, no stranger to filming action, also had a stunt double (Ingrid Kleinig from Australia often assumed to be Lilly in production videos) and the pair worked on scenes together so that movements would match. Whenever possible, Lilly was in front of the camera.
“They (elves) have to be lethal and they have to be powerful and the women have to be, you know, graceful and they had to be sort of that terrible — the word terrible — I love the way Cate Blanchett uses that word — (as Galadriel in LOTR) and you really understand all of the sudden the meaning of that word and she (Tauriel) has to be all those things. She has to kind of put them all together. It’s a challenge. Hopefully I’ve done it, knock on wood.”
Part 2 continues tomorrow when Lilly will explain what she wants fans to know about Tauriel before they head to theaters and the two experts who helped her craft Tauriel.
Larry D. Curtis is part of the Senior Staff at the all-volunteer TheOneRing.net where he serves as a writer, editor, photographer, consultant and helps with social media and live events. His TORn pen name is MrCere. He is a freelance writer and creative, always looking for new endeavors. He is a filmmaker, a student and a fan of fans.
Email his at: MrCere@TheOneRing.net
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Note: Special thanks to @Saoirse_Lochlan from Twitter who helped transcribe for this report.