With the recent casting announcements from Amazon Studios’ The Lord of the Rings including some highly respected actors of color, we reached out to friend and creator Sebastian A. Jones to join us for tonight’s episode of TORn Tuesday ( Watch 8pm PT / 5pm ET LIVE on YouTube or Facebook)
Sebastian A. Jones is the founder of Stranger Comics, whose Asunda graphic novel universe is being optioned as HBO’s next big fantasy franchise show. He was kind enough to send us his thoughts, which encapsulate his hope that inclusive casting is part of a journey to a brighter future. Read what he had to say, below and join the conversation tonight.
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.”
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!
“The Hobbit,” has to be cast but that just leaves more time for fans to speculate, guess and suggest regarding the casting of the two-films planned by producer Peter Jackson and director Guillermo del Toro.
There are a few givens. According to the decision makers, as many of the main characters that appear in both Jackson’s LOTR trilogy and GDT’s Hobbit films will be cast using existing actors from those roles as possible. And while media outlets trying to create news about the film have asked any actor they can find if they will appear, the list of sure crossovers are relatively small.
Ian Holm, approaching 80 years old, has stated that he is too old to play Bilbo because of the physical demands of the role and the required relocation to New Zealand. So the search for the main character is on. Most readers will be familiar with characters like Gandalf that belong to actors such as Ian McKellen so they will not be rehashed here because there is no debate about who will fill the role.