In today’s cast spotlight, we focus on 3 actors with a strong theatre background, as well as prominent roles in some genre favorites. The staff of TheOneRing.net is proud to welcome them to the Middle-earth family!Continue reading “Amazon Casting: Trystan Gravelle, Thusitha Jayasundera, & Simon Merrells”
The Amazon production of its Middle-Earth stories has been ongoing, but now we are in a time when the arrival of information from them concerning this production is accelerating.
The One Ring staff has been fans of J.R.R. Tolkien for quite some time, and it has always seen its core mission to be defined by its tagline: “By and For the Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien.” This site tries to do many things in support of this mission: support and celebrate fandom and fan activities – from costuming, to open invite events, to the line parties during the films, to group re-reads of Tolkien’s works, to so much more. However, this site has been humbly privileged to not only be supported by fans of Tolkien, but to be given access to many people involved in the production of adaptations of Tolkien’s work. The One Ring takes this gift of access seriously, and wants to do what’s best by the fans to make the most of this access, and to represent the best interests of the fans to these productions, so that the best possible adaptations of Tolkien’s work are made.
A few things have become clear to the staff of The One Ring (TORn) over the twenty years of its existence – time spent discussing and dissecting 6 major films, a handful of stage productions, multiple audio recordings, collectible figurines, and so much more. TORn has learned that what matters most is this:
“The more an adaptation sticks to the spirit and the motivation behind Tolkien’s work, the more successful it becomes, in both the short and long term, in both critical reception, and financial return.”
Over the years, TORn has learned an important lesson: if we, as fans, wish to have any influence over adaptations, we need to follow two important rules: first, we try to avoid quibbling over tiny details, and second, we gladly support the assignment of production staff, both in front of and behind the camera.
So, in terms of offering any constructive critique (pro or con), The One Ring will focus on trying to influence the productions to stay fidelitous to Tolkien’s spirit. For example, those who adapt Tolkien’s work would do well to read his letter #246 in “The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien” to understand some of Tolkien’s subtle thoughts concerning the concept of ‘both intent and actions have consequences.’
As it concerns details of scripting and plot, TORn recognizes that adaptations will need to modify the story in various ways. While everyone will have their opinions on each and every detail, TORn realizes that changes need to be made, and the director and production company need to have freedom in telling the story. Without some degree of freedom, the best people will simply be uninterested in adapting a work. Therefore, while TORn will report on non-spoiling plot details that it becomes aware of, TORn commentary will be focused on, as stated above, encouraging production companies to stay true to the core spirit of Tolkien’s work. This is why, a few months ago, TORn pushed hard against even the possibility of gratuitous sexuality in adaptations.
As it concerns casting and the assignment of production staff, what TORn has seen, time and again, is that there is incredible initial fan reaction for or against newly named cast members, but that all the support or angst over an acting choice disappears once the adaptation is released. To quote a far better author than I, all of that angst is ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ Therefore, at this point, TORn almost universally celebrates the announcement of new cast and production staff, and wants to use whatever influence it has with them to encourage them to create performances that are fidelitous to the spirit of Tolkien’s work.
For some examples of this ‘unfounded sound and fury’ go back twenty years and consider how people were asking “Who is Ian McKellen? Can he play a convincing Gandalf?” “Who is Viggo Mortensen?” Can he carry 3 films as the action hero lead?” “Why is Elijah Wood – and isn’t he too young to play Frodo?” “Do we really want Rudy as Samwise Gamgee?” “Who is Miranda Otto? Can she play a convincing Eowyn?” My goodness; what time has taught us!
Again, one point is crucial so it bears repeating: TORn celebrates – universally – when staff is added to a production – both cast and crew. TORn does this because it has found that celebrating and supporting them encourages them in ways large and small to put in their best work – and to take more seriously comments TORn may make on choices that impact the core spirit of Tolkien’s work (as the staff of TORn best understands it.) TORn does this because it wants the best possible adaptations of Tolkien’s work to be released, so it focuses on what is most important.
Again, TORn has found that almost every debate about cast choice dies down once an adaptation is released, and then, it’s all about the strength of the performance of that cast, as individuals and as an ensemble. This is not just seen in casting of Tolkien-based productions, as shown in the examples above, but in every production, everywhere. For example, there was quite a bit of debate concerning the diversity of the original cast of ‘Hamilton’ – until it was released to pretty much universal acclaim.
Why does TORn focus on fidelity to the spirit of Tolkien? Why does it work to not get sidelined by other issues? To paraphrase a line from the Jackson adaptation of The Lord of the Rings…
“There was some good in the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien that motivated him to create his imaginary world in just the way he did. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Editor Note: Join TheOneRing.net as we focus on the recent cast member announcements for Amazon TV’s The Lord of the Rings inspired TV series. Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we will posting articles and cast profiles, as well as some other fun, all relating that to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien.
British-born American actress Cynthia Addai-Robinson brings a broad range, strong epic roots, and even some LotR/Hobbit connections to Amazon’s new Middle-earth series.
She’s experienced with episodic television, with a 2012-13 breakout role as Naevia, the slave turned warrior in the STARZ series Spartacus. The Naevia role brought with it some serious sword training, familiarity with New Zealand filming, and an overlap with some familiar folk to the Tolkien universe, including fan favorites Craig Parker, and especially Manu Bennett, who starred as Naevia’s lover, Crixus, in the series. Addai-Robinson’s credits stretch from drama (Marybeth Medina in the Ben Affleck vehicle “The Accountant”) to television series (appearing in all three CSI shows, and most recently in another STARZ series, Power), and geek-friendly offerings (like Aja in The Vampire Diaries and Amanda Waller in Arrow). Prior to taking up acting, she was an accomplished dancer, again with a broad repertoire from ballet to jazz. With that kind of range, an elven warrior role seems completely conceivable.
“The great thing about really heightened historical dramas is that they can convey much larger themes.”Cynthia Addai-Robinson
In reflecting on her acting opportunities, Addai-Robinson was quoted, “The great thing about really heightened historical dramas is that they can convey much larger themes.” That sounds like someone ready to take on Tolkien!
Editor Note: Join TheOneRing.net as we focus on the recent cast member announcements for Amazon TV’s The Lord of the Rings inspired TV series. Throughout the month, and as part of our Tolkien Advent Calendar celebration, we will be taking a deep-dive into their previous work, relating that to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien.
‘Look Mr Frodo! Some news at last!’ – as Samwise might have said, were he eagerly awaiting, as we are, Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings TV production. An early holiday gift has dropped into our laps: here at TheOneRing.net we were delighted to be recently contacted by Amazon, who wanted to share the latest with us. And now we get to share that with you!
Twenty new cast members have been announced. It’s a fascinating group of amazing ability; food for thought, as we try to sleuth out who these talented folks might be portraying in Tolkien’s world. In the coming days, TORn will be bringing you a closer look at the various actors featured in this list: what do we know about them, and what kind of role might they assume? We’ll also have live streams, so you can join us as we chew over all the treasures which may be in store for us. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on Amazon’s press release, below. Can you tell that we’re excited? *sings* ‘It’s beginning to look a lot like the Second Age…’
AMAZON STUDIOS ANNOUNCES ADDITIONAL CAST MEMBERS FOR THE LORD OF THE RINGS TELEVISION SERIES
Hailing From Five Different Countries, Emerging and Established International Talent Join the Ensemble Cast Currently In Production in New Zealand
(CULVER CITY, Calif. – December 3, 2020) – Amazon Studios today announces twenty additional cast members joining the ensemble cast of the Amazon Original series based on the iconic The Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. The newly revealed cast members will join the previously announced global cast and crew, currently filming in New Zealand.
The new cast members include Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Maxim Baldry, Ian Blackburn, Kip Chapman, Anthony Crum, Maxine Cunliffe, Trystan Gravelle, Sir Lenny Henry, Thusitha Jayasundera, Fabian McCallum, Simon Merrells, Geoff Morrell, Peter Mullan, Lloyd Owen, Augustus Prew, Peter Tait, Alex Tarrant, Leon Wadham, Benjamin Walker and Sara Zwangobani.
Blackburn, Chapman, Crum, Cunliffe, Tait, Tarrant and Wadham all hail from New Zealand, with the remaining international ensemble cast originating from Australia, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay said: “The world that J.R.R. Tolkien created is epic, diverse, and filled with heart. These extraordinarily talented performers, hailing from across the globe, represent the culmination of a multi-year search to find brilliant and unique artists to bring that world to life anew. The international cast of Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series is more than just an ensemble. It is a family. We are thrilled to welcome each of them to Middle-earth.”
As previously announced, the series is led by showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay; they are joined by filmmaker J.A. Bayona, who is directing the first two episodes and serving as executive producer, alongside his creative partner Belén Atienza; with executive producers Lindsey Weber, Bruce Richmond, Callum Greene, Gennifer Hutchison, Jason Cahill, Justin Doble and Sharon Tal Yguado.
The new cast members join Robert Aramayo, Owain Arthur, Nazanin Boniadi, Tom Budge, Morfydd Clark, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Ema Horvath, Markella Kavenagh, Joseph Mawle, Tyroe Muhafidin, Sophia Nomvete, Megan Richards, Dylan Smith, Charlie Vickers, and Daniel Weyman as announced earlier this year.
Set in Middle-earth, the television adaptation will explore new storylines preceding J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. A world-renowned literary work, and winner of the International Fantasy Award and Prometheus Hall of Fame Award, The Lord of the Rings was named Amazon customers’ favorite book of the millennium in 1999 and Britain’s best-loved novel of all time in BBC’s The Big Read in 2003. The Lord of the Rings has been translated into around 40 languages and has sold more than 150 million copies. Its theatrical adaptations from New Line Cinema and director Peter Jackson, earned a combined gross of nearly $6 billion worldwide and garnered 17 Academy Awards®, including Best Picture.
Biographies and headshots for the newly announced cast of the upcoming series are featured below:
CYNTHIA ADDAI-ROBINSON most recently was a series regular on the STARZ series Power. Cynthia previously co-starred alongside Ben Affleck, JK Simmons and Anna Kendrick on the big screen in Gavin O’Connor’s The Accountant (Warner Bros) as ‘Marybeth Medina,’ one of the lead roles. Cynthia also can be seen starring alongside Ryan Phillipe in the USA series Shooter. Known for her breakout role as ‘Naevia’ in Spartacus: War of the Damned, Cynthia has since had many notable roles including: the major recurring role of ‘Dr. Vicki Glass’ in Chicago Med, ‘Amanda Waller’ in the CW hit show Arrow; the female lead of ‘Dr. Emily West’ in the History Channel miniseries Texas Rising alongside Bill Paxton and Ray Liotta. Her guest star credits include Law & Order: CI; CSI: Miami; Numb3rs, Flash Forward, and The Vampire Diaries, to name a few.
MAXIM BALDRY starred as ‘Viktor’ in Russell T Davies’ critically acclaimed BBC and HBO drama Years and Years. Maxim’s interest in acting developed from a very young age, taking part in several stage productions and being part of the National Youth Theatre. His first breakthrough came from his role as ‘Stepan’ in Mr. Bean’s Holiday, starring opposite Rowan Atkinson, which earned him a nomination at the Young Artists Awards for Best Performance in a Feature Film. His further credits include Universal’s Last Christmas; the latest installment of BBC’s Doctor Who; a guest lead in the final series of Sky One and Cinemax’s action-adventure series Strike Back; Lake Placid: Legacy; Channel 4 cult series Skins: Pure; BBC’s Sadie J and HBO’s Rome. Aside from acting, Maxim is heavily involved in music and photography and has written an experimental musical film which is now in development.
IAN BLACKBURN is an 18 year old actor, born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand. Whilst at school, Ian performed in multiple plays including Wellington High School’s annual Shakespeare Society production of The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, and a 2020 production of The Tempest in which he played ‘Prospero’. He appeared in the 2016 short film Unbreakable Beau. He also participated in the Roxy 5 short film competition and took part in the remake of the winning film Shelter, in 2017. He also played a leading role in the 2018 short film Behold the Ghost, playing a boy who, along with his two siblings, battles with grief for his abusive father.
KIP CHAPMAN is a recipient of New Zealand’s highest Arts honor, an Arts Foundation Laureate, receiving a New Generation Award in 2013. Kip trained as an actor at UNITEC’s School of Performing and Screen Arts in Auckland, New Zealand graduating in 2002. He was a core cast member of the Emmy Award winning drama Top of the Lakedirected by Jane Campion and in the films 6 Days and Fantail. He has performed at every major theatre company in New Zealand. In 2017, he was the Creative Director of the World of Wearable Arts. He was the co-creator/writer/director of Hudson & Halls, which won Best Theatre Production at both the Auckland and Wellington Theatre Awards and Best Director in Wellington. He was the co-creator/writer/director of the interactive theatre show APOLLO 13: Mission Control, and the director of the World Premiere production of That Bloody Woman.
ANTHONY CRUM hails from Whangarei, and is an actor and standup comedian based in Auckland, New Zealand. Anthony starred as ‘Griffin’ in the short film Foam and as ‘Rat-Tail’ in the 2020 TV series The Wilds. On stage he’s tread the boards as ‘The Beauxhomme’ in Once on this Island, ‘The Bürgermeister’ in The Visit, and ‘Caliban’ in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Anthony began acting when he was 15 playing The Third Witch in a comedic rewrite of Shakespeare’s Macbeth by Robert Pollock. He went on to train at The John Bolton Theatre School in 2014 where he developed skills in Clown and Melo-drama. In 2018, Anthony graduated Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School with a Bachelor of Performing Arts and in his final year starred as ‘Isaac’ in the short film Hush which featured in the 2019 Berlin Film Festival.
MAXINE CUNLIFFE is a versatile London-born actor and musician from a Sierra Leonean and Caribbean heritage who has lived in New Zealand since the early 2000s. Maxine is best known on screen for Power Rangers Megaforce (2013), and short films Divinity (2015) Reset (2016) and Fract (2016). In 2016, Maxine also appeared as a presenter in TV ONE’s Neighbourhood. Her stage appearances include playing chorus and cello in a successful all- female cast performance of Henry V, and ‘Hippolyata’ in an AUSA Outdoor Summer Theatre production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. She was also featured playing the cello in the TV series The Wilds.
TRYSTAN GRAVELLE’s numerous TV credits include a series regular role in AMC’s The Terror, National Treasure(BBC One) A Discovery of Witches (SKY 1), Baptiste (BBC One), Trying (Apple TV) and James Graham’s Quiz for ITV, amongst others. He recently featured alongside Jessie Buckley and Johnny Flynn in the BAFTA award winning feature film Beast. Trystan’s prolific theatre credits include King Lear (The Globe), The Changeling (The Globe), Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (The National) An Oak Tree (The National) The Norman Conquests (Chichester Festival Theatre).
SIR LENNY HENRY is one of Britain’s best known comedians, as well as a writer, philanthropist and award-winning actor. Sir Lenny starred in The Comedy of Errors at The National, Fences at the Duchess Theatre, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at The Donmar and most recently August Wilson’s King Hedley II at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2019. Sir Lenny’s Television credits include Broadchurch, The Syndicate, The Long Song and his biographic Danny and The Human Zoo. Sir Lenny’s Production Company, Douglas Road, has achieved success in partnership with Burning Bright on the recently acclaimed The Commonwealth Kid documentary. Sir Lenny is a co-founder of Comic Relief and recently released his memoir Who Am I Again? in October 2019. He has been a Trustee of the National Theatre since February 2016.
THUSITHA JAYASUNDERA’s theater credits include Donmar, Our Town (Regent’s Park Theatre), Stories, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Crime and Punishment, War Horse, The Caucasian Chalk Circle (National Theatre), The Divide (Old Vic/King’s Theatre Edinburgh), My Eyes Went Dark (Finborough/Traverse), The Vertical Hour (Park Theatre), The Nine O’Clock Slot (iceandfire), Tiger Country (Hampstead Theatre), Much Ado About Nothing(Chester Performs), Marine Parade (The Old Market Theatre, Brighton), A Day at the Racists (Finborough), Dreams of Violence (Out of Joint/Soho Theatre & Tour), Much Ado About Nothing (Actors for the London Stage), International Writers Festival Summer 2006 (Royal Court), Grimm Tales (International Tour), Twelfth Night, As I Lay Dying (Young Vic), The Comedy of Errors, Cain, Peer Gynt, Pentecost (RSC). Her TV and film credits include: Midsomer Murders, Doctor Foster, Humans, The Foreigner, Broadchurch, The C Word, Lewis, Diana, Doctors, Silent Witness, Young Dracula, The Jury, Above Suspicion, The Bill, Goodnight Sweetheart, Signal to Noise, Holby City, House Across the Street, The Tempest.
FABIAN MCCALLUM made his international screen debut alongside Megan Mullally, Rob Lowe and Jenna Fischer in British series You, Me & The Apocalypse. Prior to that, he guest starred in German/Australian co-production In Your Dreams and in short films including Meryl Tankard’s Moth alongside Sophie Lowe. A graduate of NIDA, Fabian has also studied with the National Youth Theatre in London.
SIMON MERRELLS recently played Templar Knight ‘Tancrede’ on History’s drama series Knightfall. He began his career in theatre, performing in works from The Royal National Theatre and The Royal Shakespeare Company. He garnered attention for his work with Steven Berkoff, namely the title role in Oedipus and as washed up boxer ‘Terry Malloy’ in On the Waterfront both for which he received a nomination for Acting Excellence from the Stage Awards. Recently, he won Best Actor for his role in Stephen King’s I Am the Doorway from the Las Vegas Movie Awards. He also worked in films such as The Wolfman with Benicio del Toro, IndeX Zero, Take Down, ‘Lorenzo di Medici’ in Florence and the Uffizi Gallery for Sky Arts 3D, and recently played a recurring role in Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens. His other television roles include guesting on Syfy’s 12 Monkeys, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, BBC’s The Musketeers, as well as recurring roles on SyFy’s Dominion, The CW’s Tomorrow People, and most notably, playing ‘Marcus Crassus’ on Starz’ Spartacus.
GEOFF MORRELL has been nominated five times in the leading actor category at the AACTA awards for the series’ Changi, Marking Time, Fallen Angels and twice for Grassroots, for which he won in 2001. He has also been nominated for four Silver Logies. Most recently, he has appeared in Top Of The Lake: China Girl (Foxtel), Rake(ABCTV), Cloudstreet (Foxtel), Please Like Me (ABCTV), Harrow (ABCTV), The Code (ABCTV). Other credits include Blue Murder (ABCTV), Murder Call (CH 9), Blue Heelers (CH 7), 8MMM Aboriginal Radio (ABCTV), Home and Away (CH 7), The Bill (Thames TV), Monocled Mutineer (BBC), Lady Windermere’s Fan (BBC), and Farscape. Film roles include Oranges and Sunshine, The Mule, Ned Kelly, Oscar and Lucinda, 10 Empty, Rogue, No Worriesand View From Greenhaven Drive. Geoff was most recently seen in the national tour of Nakhia Lui’s award winning hit Black Is The New White for the Sydney Theatre Company.
PETER MULLAN is a veteran Scottish actor and filmmaker. He won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for My Name is Joe. The Sundance Film Festival awarded Peter a World Dramatic Special Jury Prize for Breakout Performances for his role in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur. His feature film work includes roles in Riff-Raff, Braveheart, Trainspotting, Miss Julie, Young Adam, Children of Men, The Red Riding Trilogy, War Horse, the Harry Potter film series and The Vanishing. Also a director, he received a Golden Lion at Venice International Film Festival for The Magdalene Sisters. His feature film Neds won Best Picture at the San Sebastian Film Festival and Best Director and Best Writer at the BAFTA Awards. He has recently appeared in Netflix’s Ozark, HBO’s Westworld, Netflix’s Cursed, ITV’s The Fixer, and BBC’s Mum, for which he was nominated for a BAFTA. He was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for his portrayal of ‘Matt Micham’ in Gerard Lee and Jane Campion’s acclaimed miniseries Top of the Lake.
LLOYD OWEN trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and later joined the Royal Shakespeare Company. Notable performances include the title roles in The York Realist at the Royal Court/Strand Theatre, Blood & Gifts at The Lyttelton, The Bodyguard at The Adelphi, and with Dame Diana Rigg and David Suchet in the award-winning production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He starred alongside Mathew Perry in The End of Longing at The Playhouse, and with Imelda Staunton in the critically acclaimed Good People at the Noel Coward. His extensive film credits include the recent Bollywood blockbuster Thugs of Hindostan, Miss Potter, and Wonderwell, as well as playing the leading role in Apollo 18 for Dimension Films. On television, he is best known for the UK series Monarch of the Glen, and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, the lead in Viva Laughlin for CBS as well as the NBC/Sky production You, Me and the Apocalypse. He recently completed a sold-out run of Noises Off at The Garrick theatre.
AUGUSTUS PREW can next be seen as the lead role of ‘Cameron’ in the Blumhouse Hulu Anthology series Into The Dark: Midnight Kiss and Mike Doyle’s film, Sell By. He can currently be seen on Netflix’s Special and Apple’s Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell. Augustus’ television credits include the series lead in CBS’s Pure Genius, the recurring guest star role of ‘Whip’ in FOX’s Prison Break, the title role in Mike White’s HBO pilot Mamma Dallas, and The Borgias for Showtime. Most recently, he appeared in the role of ‘Miles’ in the Netflix film Ibiza. Previously, Augustus was the lead in The Wallis production of The Pride in the principal role of ‘Oliver’. Additional credits include the independent film High-Rise opposite Tom Hiddleston and Sienna Miller, Klondike with Richard Madden, Kick-Ass 2 opposite Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Charlie St. Cloud opposite Zac Efron.
PETER TAIT has been working in the industry since the early 1980s, creating his own work as well as appearing in NZ projects and international TV and film. As evident in his own work, Peter has a penchant for offbeat comedy, however roles in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and Desperate Remedies have given him the ability to show another side to his talents on the big screen. Peter has most recently been making his mark in NZ television, with roles in many local shows including Super City, Terry Teo, Underbelly NZ, and two seasons of The Brokenwood Mysteries and Westside. He’s also had the chance to show how multi-talented he really is, singing and playing guitar in award winning musical Once.
ALEX TARRANT hails from Auckland, New Zealand and is of Māori, Samoan and Niuean descent. He is a 2012 graduate of New Zealand’s prestigious drama school Te Kura Toi Whakaari o Aoteraroa. Following study, he played leading roles in the WW1 miniseries When We Go To War, the BBC co-production Tatau, and 3 seasons of the Australian hit 800 Words. He then joined the core cast of the award-winning racy drama Filthy Rich, which streamed on Hulu. In 2019, Alex again joined the core cast of the much anticipated sequel to the Australian cult series Seachange. 2019 also marked his international feature film debut, with the release of The Other Side of Heaven 2: Fire of Faith. His second feature, sci-fi thriller Night Riders was shot recently in Canada, and he returned to NZ screens in the comedy Mean Mums.
LEON WADHAM is a graduate of Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School. He was a series lead in TV2’s Go Girls and has appeared in numerous New Zealand television projects including Bad Seed, Brokenwood Series 5,When We Go To War, Terry Teo and Pirates of the Airwaves. His film projects include Under The Mountain, Shopping and Pork Pie. His international screen credits include Power Rangers Beast Morphers, and Roman Empire (Season 2). Leon co-wrote the play Live At Six, co-created Tom Keeper Passes for Long Cloud Youth Theatre as well as both Outsider’s Guide and Milky Bits for comedy outfit The Bakery. He was a staff writer on the TV3sitcom Sunny Skies, and he co-wrote and directed the short films School Night and Moving. Leon has also directed New Zealand television series including Golden Boy Series 1 and 2, The Male Gayz, Citizen’s Handbookand Bad News (Series 1 and 2), the latter of which Leon co-created and has received Nominations at both the 2019 and 2020 NZ TV Awards.
BENJAMIN WALKER is an established American film, television, and award-nominated theatre actor. He was most recently nominated for a Tony Award for his standout performance of ‘Chris Keller’ in Arthur Miller’s Broadway play All My Sons. Ben just wrapped a lead role opposite Liam Neeson and Laurence Fishburne in the independent feature The Ice Road. Benjamin’s other film work includes In the Heart of the Sea, Flags Of Our Fathers, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, and The Choice. Ben also starred in the final season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones. His theater credits include the lead role of ‘Andrew Jackson’ in the Broadway production Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, and the role of ‘Brick’ opposite Scarlett Johansson in the Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
SARA ZWANGOBANI graduated from the prestigious Victorian College of the Arts with a BA in Acting. Her feature film credits include Disgrace (produced by Emile Sherman) and Merchant of Fairness. She has appeared in many popular Australian television shows such as Doctor Doctor, All Saints, Packed to the Rafters, Love My Way, Home and Away, Two Twisted, as well as The Starter Wife (3 Arts Entertainment) and Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the Stories of Stephen King (Coote Hayes). On stage Sara has performed in Sydney Theatre Company’s In The Next Room (Or the Vibrator Play), A Streetcar Named Desire, The Crucible, Summer of the Aliens and Antony and Cleopatra, Girl in Tan Boots for the Griffin Theatre Company, Lyrebird for the Old Fitzroy, Dirty Butterfly, Imago,and Women In Shorts at Downstairs Belvoir, The Tempest at Bondi Pavilion, and Cloud Nine at the Darlinghurst Theatre. Sara toured Australia playing ‘Mark Antony’ in the Bell Shakespeare Theatre Company’s ground-breaking production of Julius Caesar.
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Amazon Studios’ LOTR Series Heads Into Uncharted Carnal Waters with Casting Call for Nudity and an “Intimacy Coordinator”
This might be a singularly surprising or even upsetting concept to present to Tolkien fans. If I were to address this reality to Star Wars, or Harry Potter, or even Miyazaki fandom it could raise eyebrows or outright alarm. But gather ’round the campfire and hear my tremulous words:
“Prepare for a newly-sexualized version of your favorite fantasy world.”
It’s the equivalent of saying: “Get ready to watch Anakin and Padme do something onscreen that will forever alter the way you see Star Wars. Sorry about the sand. It gets everywhere.”
Is this a real lightning rod issue? Depends on your temperament. I have to be really careful about presumed gatekeeping (which is not my intention) or any semblance of that; I just want this discussion WAY out in the open. Let’s get to the heart of this, because it is a thing now.
We must clearly ask ourselves what we want and don’t want from a billion-dollar Tolkien TV adaptation, because the tracks are laid and that train is headed straight for us, via your streaming device and paid subscription.
It is needful to discuss and understand those qualities of Tolkien’s work that are most important to us. Fair to say we have a worldwide multigenerational scholarly and fan community that share some great common denominators of what “fidelity” means in an adaptation of Tolkien. Thankfully we have shared voices; and if we shout from the rooftops collectively Amazon Studios might, perchance, just listen.
Let’s tell them what we expect. We are the audience they need to win over, after all.
T/W: By necessity, our topics today include sex organs, bodily functions, sexual abuse and rape in other fantasy TV shows, and coordinating intimacy—so here’s the trigger warning ahead of time. New territory for TheOneRing.net, BUT HEY IT’S 2020! Bear with me. We may find an egalitarian way forward in this conversation.
Amazon’s Approach: Will There Be Sex On Screen?
Fact check: We can confirm Amazon Studios has hired Jennifer Ward-Lealand, a well-known New Zealand Intimacy Coordinator, for the Lord of the Rings production.
The only Amazon show in NZ is Lord of the Rings, a production so overwhelmingly large that Auckland film unions report that over 80% of all local production crew are working on it, leaving no crew for other TV shows. It should be known that instead of clearly stating to be on LOTR, Ms. Ward-Lealand’s official site declares the acronym for “Untitled Amazon Project” / UAP is listed on her upcoming projects, first reported on Knight Edge Media and other sites. We know for sure Amazon’s UAP is the catch-all working title for LOTR. Remember how “Jamboree” and “Little Rivers” were the working titles for Peter Jackson’s LOTR and Hobbit Trilogies, respectively. But how much nudity is Amazon considering?
Will There Be Group Nudity?
Fact check: Rumor! An open casting call for background extras “comfortable with nudity” appeared. Just how many naked extras do you need for a classy, romantic love-making scene?
Caleb Williams dug deep while reflecting on some of our earlier reporting on TheOneRing.net of new casting announcements by BGT Casting; stating ‘must be comfortable with nudity’ for upcoming roles in LOTR. Put two and two together: there’s an Intimacy Coordinator who serves an important role to ensure the well-being of actors during sex scenes (or with nudity) and then we learn nudity in certain roles is openly asked for.
Will Characters Be ‘Sexified’ That Weren’t In Tolkien’s Books?
Fact Check: Unknown! The precise story they’re telling is unknown, as is the time within the 2nd Age wherein it’s all set. Don’t know what’s in the scripts, their content, nor what proper characters are associated with already-established cast members. We do know who plays a handful of the leads (Galadriel, Elrond) with best guesswork. We follow these actors on Instagram but we don’t know exactly who this ‘Tyra’ characters is because Tolkien never named one.
We surely don’t know who’s involved in scenes of nudity/sexuality. Debate is now open on where that would be necessary in a grand story of Númenor or the Elven-smiths of Eregion, or the welcoming halls of Khazad-dûm in its pre-Balrog glory.
We do know they are using water tanks. A stunt performer was injured filming scenes underwater (and she has thankfully recovered). Possible connection to Númenor being flooded and ruined in a specific catastrophe? Yes, quite possible. Underwater scenes depicting naked people swimming? We just don’t know.
How Tolkien Presented Sexualized Content
He simply didn’t. Tolkien was super-duper Catholic. In his own words to his publisher he expressed the desire for his overall Legendarium to be presented as “‘high’, purged of the gross.” That’s from his famous Letter 131. I’ll get back to it in a bit. He did not write stories in the manner of George R.R. Martin, although the inverse is often true. The word ‘rape’ does not appear in The Hobbit, and only once in LOTR: The Return of the King (even then not referencing a person but a geographical place, Gondor: as in ‘sack’ or ‘pillage’).
There are a few notable instances of non-sexual nudity mentioned in The Lord of the Rings itself: (a) the hobbits’ bath in Crickhollow, (b) the running naked through the grass to clear their hearts and minds after imprisonment by the Barrow Wights, (c) Frodo’s rescue by Sam at the Tower of Cirith Ungol. Perhaps there’s one I missed.
A few stories from The Silmarillion include incredibly dark things like incest; as with Túrin and Niënor. But that wasn’t their fault (poor things) and Amazon Studios does not have the licensing for those particular stories.
That’s not what they’re currently producing.
Tolkien vs. Other Popular Fantasy
I’m more keen to look at Tolkien’s works the way the Professor himself looked at them. He was spiritually and mentally deliberate in everything he did. With his “Sub-Creation” Tolkien meant to celebrate God’s main Creation with such language and artistry as he possessed. This Secondary World of Arda was a vessel of joy and a profound expression of faith. If anyone had a “purity” litmus test for this kind of fantasy it was John Ronald himself, as seen in a nearly 10,000-word letter to his publisher Milton Waldman, from late 1951:
Do not laugh! But once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story, the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths – which I could dedicate simply to: to England; to my country. It should possess the tone and quality that I desired, somewhat cool and clear, be redolent of our ‘air’ (the clime and soil of the North West, meaning Britain and the hither parts of Europe: not Italy or the Aegean, still less the East), and, while possessing (if I could achieve it) the fair elusive beauty that some call Celtic (though it is rarely found in genuine ancient Celtic things), it should be ‘high’, purged of the gross, and fit for the more adult mind of a land long now steeped in poetry. I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched. The cycles should be linked to a majestic whole, and yet leave scope for other minds and hands, wielding paint and music and drama. Absurd.Excerpt from Letter 131, “The Letters of J.R.R Tolkien” (1981), p. 143
Here he admits his original ambitions may have been overreaching. Generations later we find they were not; as many other minds, artists, and hands have since played within Arda. Amazon Studios is playing in that sandbox right now, as I write this. Broadly speaking, Tolkien’s popularity helped launch an entire strata of “High Romantic Fantasy” that changed publishing forever. Previous adaptations of his books to films, plays, games, comics and audio have, by and large, held true to this aesthetic.
Notice how he describes his connected Legendarium with words like “large and cosmogonic,” “splendour,” “elusive beauty,” “majestic,” “steeped in poetry,” and the most revealing of all: “‘high,’ purged of the gross.”
He never uses words like “scatological,” “salacious,” “sexually charged,” “tumescent,” “steeped in carnality,” or “debauched.” If you are even slightly attuned to Tolkien’s stories you know the tone he set. You know the point I’m driving at. I don’t even feel like being subtle anymore.
Look… this is Tolkien telling you why none of his characters masturbate or take a pee break behind the bushes. He’s telling you why his characters are never described in acts of copulation or defecation. Yes they certainly did copulate, but none of that needed to appear; violating his deliberate idiomatic approach that served his own noble purpose. Nobody ever said the word fart in Middle-earth, at least not through the voice of our omniscient narrator. Elsewhere he makes clear his reasoning: the heroic and sympathetic characters do not engage in acts causing revulsion. He leaves that to the Orcs, corrupted enemies, demonic monsters, and their poisoned physical environments; and it greatly heightens the sense of revulsion in the reader by such measured and careful use. Tolkien said that the Orcs’ language (part of their unique cultural brutalism) was far worse than he let on. SO NOTHING IS GRATUITOUS. Not one word is wasted in its application or import.
Professor Tolkien kept the toilets, orgasms, and such other bodily ephemera offstage the entire time. Invisible. Never even suggested. This is high fantasy, remember, and a special kind too. There’s one noticeable exception in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where Peter Jackson showed Bilbo and the Dwarves climbing into Bard’s house through the secret entrance of, yes, the toilet. Thus the word ‘toilet’ entered Middle-earth dialogue for the first time (Tolkien would have disapproved linguistically at the very least because it’s so damn French); but to some fans this silly, throwaway gag was a red flag that P.J. had *perhaps* missed some of the marks in his adaptation of The Hobbit (amongst other reasons, looking at you Tauriel/Kili/Legolas triangle) compared to the monumental achievement of his previous Trilogy.
Case in point: even the provocative director of the X-rated film Fritz the Cat, Ralph Bakshi, managed to keep it in his pants. His ambitious yet incomplete 1978 animated Lord of the Rings stays in the right lane, true to its high fantasy trope, even though the film is wildly psychedelic in its visual flair. Such a great contrast to his other fantasies Wizards and Fire & Ice which was R-rated “Adult Swim”-fare arriving decades early! Instinctively and thoughtfully, Bakshi knew that Tolkien’s story didn’t need all the Tits & Ass that had previously made the animator the darling of 70’s arthouse cinema. He kept that out of Middle-earth, indulging it elsewhere more suitably for his other films.
I recall my Dad taking me to the movies see John Boorman’s Excalibur when I was just 12. He knew my brother and I were really big on this sword and sorcery thing. Our love of Tolkien was so strong Dad figured the King Arthur legend would be ideal for us but he didn’t comprehend what was behind the “R” rating. I remember so clearly the opening scenes of Uther Pendragon’s sexual assault against Arthur’s mother, arranged by Merlin to conceive the future King. Shocked, my Dad leaned over to check on me—uncertain what to do: “You okay son? This might be too much for you…” I waved him off, “Yeah, I’m fine,” while my retinas were seared permanently with the first sexual act I had ever witnessed in my life. It was inscrutable and jarring to a child. Confusing. Dad wasn’t prepared to discuss the birds and bees and their biological needs, not by a mile. It didn’t overly-phase me, as my young mind was too busy trying to memorize The Charm of Making.
But it would strike me as very odd (and unnecessary) that a future predicament similar to my Father’s might befall parents innocently watching “a Tolkien fantasy show.” Imagine if suddenly you have to press pause, take the smallest children out of the room, and… “have the talk.” Well, you get it.
That was assuredly the moment for me where Tolkien differentiated himself from other fantasy storytellers. Indeed, that distinction was drawn in sharpest relief. Perhaps we are lucky that Mr. Boorman never got to direct LOTR for United Artists (that almost happened for real, but he made Excalibur instead).
If you are unfamiliar or never read Tolkien and wanted to get into the fandom, would you want to start with the adaptation that stikes furthest away from Tolkien’s literary sensibilities? One which could be deemed too much for a child to watch?
Sure, there’s more than enough room for all the “adult content” of darkness and otherworldly terrors from Tolkien’s larger span of legends, there is DEFINITELY a place for that! I’m not arguing against any adaptation desirous of that. We can go as far away from the golden-hued fairy story of Bilbo’s journey that you want and go right to the 2nd Age of Sauron-inflicted deceits, treachery, and metaphysical corruption.
But why does it need to be prurient?
The horrors brought upon Númenor end up with Satanic style Morgoth-worship and ghoulish human sacrifices. Body horror? Beheadings? Ripping living hearts from a sacrificial victim? Maybe. But there are no brothels mentioned. No Littlefinger. No orgies.
The Hobbit and LOTR stand rather apart from the most insanely disturbing stuff within The Silmarillion (especially) and Unfinished Tales, so yes, it may yet be that someday we will have a separation of what Tolkien shows/movies you watch with your little ones… and those you just don’t. And now we realize the time may be upon us sooner than we think.
I’m just a guy who knows what he’s getting when he reads Tolkien. I know what I like: the languages, the world-building, the spirit of Arda. There’s a gazillion other styles and idioms of modern fantasy where you can get your fix of anything: be they puppets (The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance) or video games (hey there Witcher).
Now The Witcher comes to mind as a counterpoint to Game of Thrones in terms of sexual portrayals. GoT portrayed so much of its sex negatively, tied to assault and dehumanizing acts (yeah, yeah there’s a wee bit of “romance” in the tub Jaime/Brienne) while in contrast The Witcher is extremely playful and wink-wink (hey, there’s a magic spell for your erectile dysfunction, how cute), and the orgy scene shows a woman completely in charge of its illusory energy. Not a victim at all compared to so many other depictions of female characters in fantasy. Yes, there’s room for all that sexy “insert tab A into slot B” in modern fantasy, as we have seen, but the end results can be widely divergent.
Y’all ready for this? As I said in the Star Wars example at the top of this piece, Amazon’s series might be an adaptation that forever alters how we see Arda.
What Exactly Do We Want From Amazon’s 2nd Age Series?
That’s the big kahuna. The ever-burning question. Observe what’s happening over there in Amazonland/Auckland. They hired a ton of very talented people but let’s focus on a couple of things:
- Esteemed Tolkien scholar and author Tom Shippey was only brought on board to help with the Map of Middle-earth that launched their Twitter feed a year ago. There has not been any marketing effort since then and he is confirmed to be no longer on the project. It seemed to be only lip-service to the fans, which does NOT work. That kind of subterfuge will NOT work, Amazon. We don’t know why his name still appears on the Cast and Crew Listing over on IMDb.
- John Howe is not currently in New Zealand and does not appear to be working on the production, certainly not in the fullness of his engagement as he was with Alan Lee back in the time of the New Line LOTR Trilogy. He may have provided some work for Amazon’s show but he’s seemingly not now.
- Then there’s that one dude that has caused a wee bit of nerves. Bryan Cogman is onboard as a Consulting Producer, after his commanding story work for Benioff and Weiss on HBO’s Game of Thrones. Quite capable and mega-geek-centric, Mr. Cogman however was a focal point of some controversy on that production. Ringers have been quite vocal that the kind of “rapey” Sansa Stark storylines (attributed to Mr. Cogman) would NEVER be the kind of thing they’d want to see in Middle-earth, no matter how gritty you want to get.
Grit and realism have their place. Darkness and light are explored in their extremes. No one is shying away from the more “adult” things Tolkien had in his stories or saying they don’t exist. The real question is to what extent are they going to “sexify” this show for the sake of getting their next Game of Thrones mega-hit? Just look at this from Variety where Jeff Bezos has mandated a programming shift to get what he wants: another GoT.
AMAZON: So you’re okay with accidental incest, human sacrifice, dismemberment, and sins against Eru?
RINGER FANS: Yes! That’s what Tolkien wrote!
AMAZON: But… you’re not okay with depicting sexualized characters having intercourse?
RINGER FANS: Exactly! That’s what Tolkien wrote!
AMAZON: ……A predictable future tweet
My personal take: What fans want most from any Tolkien adaptation is verisimilitude. Something that carries the true spirit of Tolkien and has integrity in realizing it. Amazon’s showrunners can keep that integrity by staying true to the themes and characters and intent of the author. It is not impossible to guess Tolkien’s intentions when they are so plainly available to us, even though he is gone. #FidelitytoTolkien is a hashtag we have endeavored to use. Not perfect, but it’s a decent axiom to bear in mind.
Seeing anything remotely sexified between Galadriel and Annatar (oooh, a hot young shirtless Sauron in his seduction mode) or anything else like that is going to turn off fans so fast it will cause seismic waves through a very vocal fandom.
There won’t be any coming back from that. 1000’s of fans have replied and quote-tweeted this news with a variety of opinions for and against:
Does the Tolkien Estate Have “Veto Power” Over the Scripts?
Fact check: Unconfirmed! Well, we have been reporting that they do but it is unclear to what extent that power really exists. It is troubling. The Estate’s authority over the show’s content might not be sacrosanct; indeed it may be limited to keeping the structural frame of the narrative within the existing timelines we know are book-canon. They most likely don’t have final script approval (maybe there’s an infinitesimal chance they do); but it’s more like a general oversight to prevent fundamental alteration to the histories. We have a funny feeling that the two-episode combined pilot they are finishing up will be presented for the Estate’s approval. Time will tell.
But in my mind we’re better off tackling this as a fandom right now, and tell them what we want and don’t want from this Tolkien adaptation. They must listen.
Ringers—I ask you all: Do you want this LOTR to be just a Witcher meets Riverdale series with the branding of Middle-earth slapped on it? Why do I even say that? Because I’m afraid that’s what’s happening. Respected Tolkien twitter scholar The_Tolkienist shared an epic 30-tweet thread on the matter (with plenty of wink wink sarcasm).
Leave your comments on our message boards and social platforms: Twitter, FB, Instagram, knowing that Amazon Studios are definitely listening… and collecting data (!)… and calibrating their next efforts.
Much too hasty,
Clifford “Quickbeam” Broadway
Talent, locations, infrastructure and a warm Kiwi welcome. According to Pam Ford from the Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development agency in this piece from Radio NZ, those were the determining factors in Amazon Studios’ decision, confirmed on Tuesday, to film the upcoming Middle-earth-based TV series in New Zealand.
Quoted in stuff.co.nz, showrunners and executive producers J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay described New Zeland as indeed offering all of the criteria they were looking for: “As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle Earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios, and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff”.
“And we’re happy that we are now able to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series based on stories from J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Lord of the Rings. The abundant measure of Kiwi hospitality with which they have welcomed us has already made us feel right at home, and we are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come.”
No doubt the prospect of a 20% to 25% rebate for every dollar spent also contributed to the ‘welcome’ factor. The good news for New Zealand is that Amazon will be spending approximately $1.0 billion of those dollars ($1.3 NZD) and will likely provide jobs that will spill over from the film industry to affect the rest of the economy for up to a decade.
Read more about the Auckland studios where filming will take place in our article from June, and be sure to listen to the full radio story linked above as it features our own staffer Garfeimao (Cathy Udovch)!