New Zealand actor and film writer Jeff Slaven was invited in 2011 to work on Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Cast as a Lake-town extra, on one particular day at Stone Street Studios he found himself unexpectedly thrown into the role of doubling for Peter Jackson himself. Here he writes about his once-in-a-lifetime experience.
An unexpected cameo double
By Jeff Slaven
It started out as just a normal day on the set of The Hobbit. I was a Lake-town extra. Just one of many on that particular day. It was early evening and I was in between shots as Peter was doing his cameo on the Lake-town stage.
I was just sitting out back having a cigarette when one of the A.D’s came out. “Jeff, they need you inside” he said. “You might end up being Peter Jackson’s double. They need the shot from another angle, but we have to hurry. Follow me.” And so we walked at a very accelerated pace and entered K Stage where I was quickly handed off to another A.D. This A.D. liked to walk fast as well, and I soon was taken to a group of people who looked me over and studied the back of my head in particular. “He’ll do,” said one of them.
Seconds later I was on the move again following yet another A.D. She took me to a monitor beside the stage and told me to watch. She pushed some buttons and then I was looking at a large wicker basket on the monitor. Peter Jackson pops his head out of it. The basket’s lid is tied to his head with a bit of twine going around his chin. He is smoking a pipe of Hobbit Weed with his eyes darting around in a maniacal way. A few seconds later he ducks back down into the basket. “Can you do that?” she asked. Still slightly dazed at what I just saw, I assured her that I could.
We were on the move again. I was handed to a wardrobe lady. She told me to get changed into Peter’s wardrobe which was on hangers just to one side of us. Time was short. And so while dozens of people bustled about in close proximity, I concluded that modesty was a commodity that I could ill afford. I stripped down and changed.
I met Dave the A.D. at this point. He took me on set and we went up some stairs to a spot on a large balcony where the basket stood. The first thing that I realized was that up here, we were much closer to the ceiling lights and it felt like it was about forty degrees C. It was certainly very hot. Below us stood the rest of the Lake-town set in all of its grandeur and splendor. All the other extras and cast were entering at this point and getting into their positions.
I turned my attention to the basket which I discovered had a false bottom. Inside the basket was a three-sided metal frame which would allow me to rise up on my arms in order to pop my head out of the top.
Dave the A.D. helped me in to the basket. It was a tight fit and I had to fold my legs in a rather uncomfortable position. I popped my head out of the top so Dave could tie the lid to it. He then handed me Peter’s pipe of Hobbit Weed and a lighter.
Coming from somewhere down below Peter Jackson’s voice came over the loud speaker. “OK folks, let’s get ready for a rehearsal,” he said. Dave spoke to him on his R.T. and then spoke to me. “OK Jeff, when Pete calls action, you need to do the bird noise, and do it as loud as you can, because that is the action for everybody else to begin.”
“Bird noise?” I ask. “What bird noise? They only showed me video. I never heard any audio.” Dave gets back on his R.T. A few seconds later he says, “You just need to do a bird noise. You’ll be fine.”
Down below, Peter is ready for a rehearsal. And so I lower myself into the basket. My arms now free, I light the pipe and bring it to a good smolder. I hear Peter over the loud speaker. “OK rehearsing, and… action!” I rise up on my arms and pop my head out of the basket. I dart my eyes around as per what I saw on the monitor and puff away on the pipe. At the top my my lungs, I squawk like some sort of demented chicken.