Peter Jackson and other luminaries from all quadrants of the Film Business celebrate the life of Sir Christopher Lee (who played Saruman in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) in a new feature-length documentary. We caught up with the director of the film, Jon Spira, to get the real story on Lee’s personal mythology.

The new documentary is completely finished, and pre-orders for the DVD and Blu-ray editions are available on Kickstarter now. With self-distribution, the documentary bonus features will include the full, unexpurgated Peter Jackson interview as well as many other goodies. See a clip here:

Director Jon Spira talks with Quickbeam

Quickbeam: When we were making Ringers: Lord of the Fans, we were just walking around and asking all kinds of people, would you like to share your reflections on the the whole Lord of the Rings fandom. Everybody from David Carradine right on down to Peter Jackson and everyone in between was very happy to say yes. The stories just profusely came out of people. Did you find that people were just really eager to talk about Sir Christopher Lee?

Jon Spira: People really wanted to talk about Christopher Lee because he left an indelible mark on everyone he met. He was loved and admired; and and I say that as two very separate things. The people who knew him truly loved him, and the people who maybe didn’t know him as closely, truly admired him. One of the things that I found really kind of heartening and fascinating to learn was that he was somebody who was completely egalitarian. He would talk to anybody, he treated everybody as his equal, and he would sit down. He loved being on film sets, and he was just as happy talking to a runner as he would be talking to the director.

Christopher Lee didn’t differentiate between people he really didn’t see differently from someone who came from genuine aristocracy. He didn’t see that divide in people. And so he he left a legacy of genuine affection. And that was something which really kind of came out in the film.

Allowing Sir Christopher to be His Own Voice

Quickbeam: I love that that you can discover new insights into your subject without knowing you’re going to arrive there. You you begin as a filmmaker, as a documentarian, you start somewhere and you always surprise yourself and ending up with new places and new information you’ve discovered that actually does recontextualize what you’re trying to present (as a filmmaker).

Jon: There’s some apocryphal stuff out there, but most of those crazy lists are completely true. Really weird stuff. Like, he met Rasputin’s killers and he witnessed the last-ever guillotined person in Paris. You know, all that strange stuff is true!

I trust the process now. I don’t always know going into it. I don’t always know what I’m making. One thing that I really knew was that I wanted Christopher Lee to narrate this film somehow. Like, I knew that he had to be the narrator of the story, because I knew that he was the unreliable narrator.

(Editor’s Note: Jon helped us clarify that Sir Christopher was indeed NOT related to Gen. Lee)

Sir Christopher’s Deep Fascination with Tolkien

Jon: He was completely obsessed with Tolkien. He read Lord of the Rings when it first came out, like, you know, chapter by chapter. And he read it every year. He would read the whole of Lord of the Rings cycle once a year. He was completely obsessed with it. When it was announced that Peter Jackson was going to make the films, he basically grabbed hold of his son-in-law, who was, to a degree, his defacto manager at the time, and basically said: “You have to get me in these films, no matter what. You have to get me in these films–so get online.” Because he personally was a very early adopter of the internet as well, and using it for his fan base, he was like, “Get online, make sure all the fans are talking about this, and make sure that these people know that I need to be in these films!”

I think one of the greatest parts of the documentary is a part that I didn’t direct. Throughout the film we use lots of animation and lots of kind of crazy stuff to tell his stories, and we got a guy called Dave McKean.

Quickbeam: (shocked) Dave McKean of The Sandman fame!!?? The Dave McKean, who does those extraordinary multi-disciplinary, multimedia covers for all of Neil Gaiman’s books and graphic novels?! The Dave McKean who got pulled into the Netflix series to do those weird and beautiful multimedia closing credits sequences?

Jon: Yes! The crazy thing is, I said to him, “You don’t need to consult with me on this.” Without much time, I was expecting kind of a series of slightly moving images like an animatic. But his animatic was really good. How is he going to do it better than this? He ended up doing a whole studio shoot. He created full masks for people. He created a set. And he composed a score for it.

The best part is, Dave Mckean chose to animate the moment where Christopher Lee met J.R.R Tolkien!

The filmmakers express gratitude to @archmodelstudio for their great assistance creating this puppet!

On the Future of Saruman

Justin: For these recreation scenes, now there’s A.I. where you can do voice duplication.

Jon: We went even better than that. Have you heard of Peter Serafinowicz?

Justin: Darth Maul?

Jon: He was our first choice. And he was absolutely amazing. He’s very famous over here as a comedian. Had his own comedy show, and he was on a lot of other kind of shows. And he actually does great work.

Justin: With new Lord of the Rings coming from Peter Jackson and Prime Video, is the technology advanced enough to digitally recreate Christopher Lee’s Saruman? Or do you think recasting Saruman in these new tales is a better path?

Jon: I think recasting. I’ve talked to a lot of people and I’ve looked at deepfakes a lot, but he has qualities that can’t be echoed. I always think back to Rogue One where they kind of tried to do Peter Cushing, and you just go: “But it’s not him!” And at the end they did Carrie Fisher and you just go: “But it’s not her.” It feels off. You can’t recreate life. Not close up. Not that kind of thing. You can’t. The human eye is something which can’t be replicated because it’s the window to the soul. Everything that’s ever happened to someone is kind of behind their eyes.

It’s great for creating creatures and it’s great for creating original things. But if you’re trying to replicate a human being, I honestly don’t think it’ll ever get there. I think there is an anarchy in organic chemistry which will never quite be replicated.

Order the Compete Documentary on Blu-ray

You can watch the entire 90-minute conversation with the director of The Life and Deaths of Christopher Lee on YouTube. Clifford “Quickbeam” and Justin dive in deep with Jon Spira about the myths and legends about Lee, his core drives in life, and how much LOTR fandom really meant to him. Order your copy of the full documentary + bonus features, including interviews with Peter Jackson and Lee’s family, on Kickstarter now.

Empire Magazine: Aragorn CoverFrom EMPIRE: Some are mad, bad and dangerous to know. Some you could safely bring to visit your granny for afternoon tea. But all of these ten characters are icons, the colossi who bestrode the last decade and gave us some of its most memorable moments. We asked you to vote; you answered in your thousands – and here are the top ten results, who will appear on ten special covers of the next issue of Empire magazine, presented in alphabetical order. Why not numerical? Well, when you’ve got characters this ace, why on Earth would you want to quibble about who’s best? We’ll be revealing the covers over the next few days, so keep an eye on this page to choose your favourite and decide who to buy.

#1 Aragorn
Inside the issue: A few of the reasons Viggo made the perfect Aragorn – by Ian Nathan

Others on the cover: James Bond, Jason Bourne, The Bride, The Joker, Maximus, Harry Potter, Shaun, Jack Sparrow, Wolverine