he last of Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings films, The Return of the King, marks not only the final chapter in Jackson's adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved book, but also the end of four to seven years of work for the films' cast and crew. In that time, the cast members have developed lifelong bonds of friendship, not unlike the Fellowship of the Ring that they portrayed, and have undergone trials and tribulations rivaling those of their onscreen counterparts.
Now, at journey's end, cast members admitted mixed feelings about the finish, which for some came only months ago, when the last of the pickup shots and dubbing was completed in New Zealand and London. As each cast member wrapped, Jackson would halt production and hold a farewell celebration. Each cast member screened a gag reel of outtakes featuring his or her character and was presented with a final slate and a key prop, usually his or her signature weapon.
Cast members Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), Liv Tyler (Arwen), Dominic Monaghan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) sat down with Science Fiction Weekly recently to talk about the final Rings movie and their part in the history-making cinematic project.
Elijah Wood, can you talk about the final filming you did on this movie?
Wood: Oh, God. I mean, you know, you can imagine the emotion tied into the last sort of bit of filming. ... We really went through the sort of end of the experience with the pickups of the last film, because that's when we really had to say goodbye to the experience of the character, to the crew, to the trailer, to the whole, all-encompassing experience of working on these movies. That was in June. Different actors were sort of spanned out over a period of time. ...
I mean, me personally, I couldn't really come to terms with it. I couldn't believe it, after four years, that it was all coming to an end. My last day, I was completely drained. I had knots in my stomach all day. ... The last shot ... was too perfect, actually, because the last shot was one of the last scenes in the movie, where Frodo is in Bag End before he goes to the Gray Haven ... where he's writing the last bit of the book, and Sam comes and says, 'It's all over.' And Frodo says, 'No, there's room for a little more.' And it had this whole meaning tied into it. ... And everybody came on to see it, and I remember we did five or six takes, ... and Peter came over to me and broke down, like gave me a hug, and broke down on my shoulder. It was so, so sad. Everybody was crying.
Were you a fellowship?
Wood: You shoot a film for an average of three to four months normally. ... This was shot over 16 months, all three of them in New Zealand, and consequently every year since we've gone back. So the bonds made were much more profound than I've ever felt in my life. We all knew at the end of it that we'd made lifelong bonds. ... We may not be together all the time ... but I know that when I do see them, it will be like no time has passed.
That last day, and that last sort of couple of weeks was very difficult for all of us. And they gave us each a farewell after our last day, so every actor had a farewell party where Peter would give a speech to the crew, the whole crew, which was f--king amazing, and so emotional. The whole crew would stand around, and each actor was given the last clapper for the last take of the last shot they were in, and they were given gifts, like each was given their signature weapons. I was given Sting and the last pair of feet that I wore, and I bet they smell like s--t now. ... And then each actor is then given an opportunity to give a speech. And I was so overwhelmed and so many of the other actors had articulated their feelings so beautifully. Dom [Monaghan (Merry)] and myself and Andy [Serkis (Gollum)] actually wrapped on the same day, and Dom gave his speech before mine, and he said some beautiful things and it came to me, and I was just like, "I don't know what to say to you guys!" My heart was just so filled with emotion. But it was amazing.
Do you have a sense these films made history?
Wood: The fact that it will live on, certainly. The fact that it has broken a lot of ground, the fact that it has somehow managed to eke itself into pop culture immediately, which is unbelievable. ... In terms of where it will go in the next 10 or 20 years, one can only kind of guess and assume, but it's wild. It's kind of amazing to be a part of something that has become so massive.
Sean Astin, your character has a pivotal role in Return of the King.
Astin: Sam becomes important to the spine of the story at the end of the books, and the climax of what is the third film, because at a certain point the Ring can't go forward anymore without Sam.
The scenes between you and Elijah must have been intense to shoot.
Astin: You're only seeing like a hundredth of the emotion that we did. We filmed so many crying scenes, so many more crying scenes than ended up in the movie. ... It was like waves. ... We were filming one of those scenes, the scene on the ledge of Cirith Ungol, where Frodo sends Sam away, we filmed my close-ups of that in November of '99, and then we filmed Elijah's close-ups, the reverses of those, in August of 2000. It was a quirk of production logistics.
You and Elijah go through an incredible bonding through this film that grewin real life did you really become great friends?
Astin: When I was in New York, he let me stay in his apartment. When he was in the hospital, I called and checked on him. On Sept. 11, after I called my immediate family, I wanted to find out what happened with him, and he was on a plane that had left just before the four planes out of the same airport, an American Airlines flight, from Newark to L.A., and his plane got diverted to Tennessee or something like that. ...
It's funny, because it's not like we need to see each other all the time. He has his own life, and I have my wife and kids and everything else. But there's this sense that we're family, and we think about each other, and we check in on each other, and we hope each other is doing well. And we see each other every 10 minutes doing Lord of the Rings stuff anyway.
What was your very last shot of the film?
Astin: It was ... [on the] plains and in slow motion, and Elijah's got to fall down, and so there was a lot of falling and getting up and falling and getting up ... and slow-motion turning and looking at the wind. And when it was over, [co-writer and second unit director] Fran [Walsh] didn't want it to be over. She wanted us to run over to the sound mixer and record this four-page speech of poetry that they could use, and she didn't really need to do it then, but I think she didn't want to let go of that moment. So we did that, and then we went into the Hobbiton set, which had been rebuilt for the scene for when the four Hobbits are back in the pub, and they're changed. So we went in there, and Peter said some really nice things about me and about my family, and everybody was there. And they gave me Sam's backpack, which I really wanted, and a sword and a pair of feet. And they gave my daughter the dress that she wore at the end of the movie [Astin's real-life daughter Alexandra plays Sam's young daughter]. And it was so funny, she held it up to her ... and it was so small compared to her body now.
Andy Serkis, you get to show your real face in the flashback scenes about Smeagol.
Serkis: This is the point where he becomes evil, and he's unredeemable. I think it's great writing and was great to play. ... It was in a way no different than acting any of the rest of the role. It was just him before the Ring. So I never thought, "Oh my God, I'm actually going to be [seen]," because it seemed perfect and right that that should be the case. ... Fran Walsh directed a lot of ... the transformation scenes. ... It was really enjoyable to shoot ... although ... those days were like 3:30 in the morning makeup calls and 19 hours in prosthetics. ... And I had contact lenses [through which] you couldn't see.
You must have a special pride in the creation of Gollum.
Serkis: Yeah, looking back on it now, I think ... people thought, "Oh, poor Andy has put all this effort into this part, and nobody's ever going to know he's played it." And I think Peter genuinely wanted to let the world know ... how much I've put into it. And I do thank him for that, because he's really gone out of his way to, on the DVDs and all, and he's really been very generous in explaining to people how much the actor's input into the role has been.
What was your last scene?
Serkis: My last day on set was actually completing a scene, ironically, which ... we'd started shooting ... [on] my first day on the set, which was four years before. [That] was scene 558 on top of Mount [Doom], which was in Mordor. The Cracks of Doom. ... I have a shot with the fight sequence ... between Sam and Gollum and Frodo, and that was my first day on set. And the last day was 558B, which was the end of the scene, four years later, which is the tussle with Frodo and Gollum before they go over the edge. And that was the very, very last scene I shot on set.
But my real last scene, and this is how Pete works, was about three weeks ago. ... He was finally editing, he was in London, he was doing the music with Howard Shore, he was doing the final, final edit. And they just went, "We need a beat in this scene. There's a scene missing." And it's the beat where ... Frodo comes out of Shelob's tunnel, and he's just escaped a spider. And then Gollum jumps on top of him, and there's a fight, and there's a connected moment where Frodo says, "I'm going to destroy the Ring for both our sakes." And there's just a look, and there's a moment where Smeagol is looking and almost contemplating life without the Ring. ... And then he turns back into Gollum, and then he jumps on top of him. And Peter [said], "We need to shoot that moment." This was like 9 o'clock in the morning, and I had come in to do some looping. And it was like, "You want to shoot a scene?" So he's like, "Get down on the carpet." So I got down on the carpet, and Pete gets his video camera out, and he goes, "OK, and just, get yourself into it." ... And we shoot the scene, and we then shoot it a few times. And we get the moment, and he goes, "Right." And he goes to the computer, and he cuts into the picture ... [then] e-mails it to New Zealand [so] the animators [can] start working on it!
What was your final gift? The One Ring?
Serkis: There were a number of rings that were made for this film. ... There are a number of key ... hero props. And Elijah was given one during the Fellowship, and I was given the one used predominantly on The Two Towers, which was a great, beautiful gift and a great thank-you from Peter and Fran.
Ian McKellen, are you allowing yourself a sense of completion with Lord of the Rings?
McKellen: I did the last Gandalf grunt for battle scenes in Return of the King three weeks ago in London down the line with Peter. He kept saying, "More, more, more!" ... [Afterwards] he said ... "With the extended DVD, we really want you back." So, who knows? But it's been a gradual disengagement, and, you know, since then I've had two movies and done a play on Broadway and [a play in] the West End of London, so I'm not still totally absorbed with Gandalf, but he's with me all the time, because I keep seeing him. ...
I never want it to end. Last Monday, when 3 percent of the entire population of [New Zealand] lined the street [for Return's world premiere], nearly half the population of the city [of Wellington] was just stopped to welcome us back. And it was like being the conquering football team that had come home. ... And our relatives were watching, and people were watching on television, and the prime minister introduced us, [and] the merry welcome that we got at the Parliament building. ... It was a country celebrating, a nation, so that we as visitors were sort of the focus of their nationalism.
What was your last day like?
McKellen: The last shot this time around was quite recently in July, and I had done some generic fighting as Gandalf, which you see in the film. Swinging the white staff ... knocking orcs out of the way. And then little bits of that will be cut out. There was no big deal. And then Peter said, "That's the end of principal photography." But this time, when we finished, at the end of the day, the crew and anyone working on the film was invited to the reception that, in my case, took place after dark on the [terrace set], lit by flares of flames. ... And Pete said, Billy Boyd [Pippin] and I were leaving and, for both of us, he said how we'd got the part, and then we were both presented with swords.
And you know you've made it when you're an action figure.
McKellen: Forget it! I'm on the stamps in New Zealand. I'm on a coin of the realm in New Zealand. The queen on one side, and Elizabeth II on the other [laughs]. Well, they're commemorative, but you can spend them. One dollar. And ... my stamp this year ... is $1.50, which is the price of an overseas letter. So I send all my Christmas cards, they've all got Gandalf on the other side.
Viggo Mortensen, can you talk about the very last scene you shot?
Mortensen: The very last thing where I wore my costume ... as with many scenes, I was running. It was a scene that will probably be in the extended version, ... an extension of the Paths of the Dead, where I'm speaking to the ghosts, and then all hell breaks loose. In the movie as you see it, there's a cut, and then you don't know what happens. And then you see that we succeeded in getting the army to come with us. But there's a bunch of other things that happen. In one of these sequences, I don't want to give it away for when you see it, but there's a big commotion, and Legolas, Gimli and Aragorn are running for their lives. ... In reality we were on this raised platform that was about this wide [indicates only a few feet] and we were sprinting and pretending to jump over all these obstacles, and then there was just the green screen everywhere. And when you see that scene, there will be all these hordes of armies of the dead and other things that I'm not going to tell you about that we're evading and dealing with.
And what did you get? I know they did a big ceremony every time somebody finished.
Mortensen: I was given the ranger sword, not the re-forged sword, but the one that I used on my first day of shooting in October of '99 that was really well worn and that I kind of took care of and used throughout. But the best thing I got was what we were talking about before, is this friendship with these people ... the memory of being in New Zealand and retelling the story with Peter. That's the thing I have that I'll remember most. I mean, if somebody steals the sword or it gets lost, you know what I mean? It's just a thing.
I think that what everyone did on this job, starting with Peter, but also the people that he selected, was that it was such a long run, that even if you started out just out of nerves or just because that was tendency to just look after yourself, you ended up taking care of others around you. And everybody did the same thing in whatever way they could. Because that was not only the best way, but the only way to get through it. You could never really see the light at the end of the tunnel until the very end, there was so much to do. ... It's been all-consuming, unfortunately. ... [But] it was very much a team effort, and I think Pete counted on people taking care of themselves and taking care of each other when he was there and when he wasn't there, because it was too big a job for one person. You know when Aragorn says at the coronation, "This day is not for one man, but for all"? The experience was that way. It was the only way it could be done.
John Rhys-Davies, do you feel a sense of completion on these films?
Rhys-Davies: They're monumental films. They are ... Oscar-worthy basically because they've changed the possibility of the craft for a lot of filmmakers. I don't think I will ever work on anything again that would be such a monumental and profound experience. ... You can make big television series, but to make three films like this with this sort of depth, and everything is different.
Gimli turned out to be the comic relief. Did you know when you first read thatthat I'm going to be the funny one?
Rhys-Davies: If you look at [the story], things are OK, and then something unpleasant happens, and then there's a fight, and then things look worse, and then something bad happens, and then there's a bigger fight, and then things look really very bad, and then there's a battle, and things are really, really bad. And so on and so on. ... So we had to find a way of reducing the tension, of grounding the tension. And it seemed to us to be reasonable to do it by Gimli, who has, I mean, basically the ferocity and the size and the heroic scale, but there is something innately comic in the fact that ... I don't think he really realizes he's small. And we very deliberately took him in that direction.
What was your last day like?
Rhys-Davies: It's very peculiar ... because most of my stuff was always done without anybody else around. ... The penultimate day, my worst day, I was having such a problem with the actual prosthetic [makeup] that I don't know how I actually managed to get through the day without ripping it off. And I was really despondent about the prospect of one more day. ... It was completely unbearable. So I went to the doctor and I got some Valium, and I took eight aspirin and I took about eight Excedrins and some antihistamines and I floated through. The itch didn't seem to matter too much at all. But come the evening when we all get together for a drink and had to say goodbye to Gimli, I was suddenly moved to tears. ... Thinking, "Gosh, this is probably the last time I'm going to be here. It's a long way to go." And it's not often that you spend three years in one place on one project. And the New Zealanders are such lovely people. ...
What was the present you got to take home?
Rhys-Davies: I got my ax.
Did you get the tattoo that the other actors in the Fellowship got?
Rhys-Davies: Those drunken little hobbits. ... The little bastards got drunk and came to me and said, "We're all going to have a tattoo of the Elvish word for nine. Nine in the Fellowship, and we're all going to have this tattoo." So I did what any self-respecting actor would do when faced with a stunt that might very well imperil his life. I sent my stunt double to have it. Seems fair to me, doesn't it? I'm not going to be tattooed by some drunken Maori. ... Not me. I'm a coward.
Orlando Bloom, your character takes a run up the side of a giant elephant in Return of the King.
Bloom: Yeah, it was really a bunch of sandbags. They built, like, about double the height of this room and about the width of this room a mound of sandbags that was shaped like the back end of that elephant, and they had ... the arrows in it. So I actually climbed up the arrows, did that sequence, and then they had wires and ropes to swing along the side of it, and then, you know, I slashed the thing, ... and then there was like ... a winch with a rope to pull me up, up, and then I fall on top of the sandbags with all the guys. So they put in the elephant [with computer graphics] afterwards, basically.
What was on your gag reel at your wrap party?
Bloom: Mine's got [the '80s song] "Hungry Eyes." And I'm pulling out my sword. ... Aragorn pulls out his sword, and Legolas is turning [looks sexy], and then he pulls out his sword, and then I'm throwing the bow: [sings] "Hungry eyes ..."
Did you get your bow?
Bloom: I got my bow and arrows and quiver. ... [My bow] actually broke two takes before my last take in the entire movie! The bow that I'd been using for the whole movie, which is like, it's like a steel rod with like a rubber sort of effect as wood. And this thing is like, I mean, it's been 18 months. Two takes before last. It's like, "Oooeee. It's coming to an end."
I was the first person [to wrap] on my own. ... I was finished, ... and then Pete sort of ... shushed everyone up, and the stunt guys did a [Maori] hakka [chant], which was like amazing. And I completely forgot what I had to do, and I wasn't sure if I had to join in. So I was standing there, ... and I was like thinking, "Do I join in?"
Liv Tyler, what was your final day?
Tyler: My final day was the last scene where I'm kissing the King. ... I got a beautiful dress. I got the dress from this movie that's kind of red and blue ... [from] when I'm laying there dying. ... And I got my sword.
Did you get to keep you ears?
Tyler: I didn't, no. They were gelatin, so ... we had a different [set] every day. I once kind of fled set in the middle of the day, I don't know why, I just wasn't working, and I went home for a couple of hours. And the sun is so strong in New Zealand even when it's cold, and I left, I pulled one of my ears off and left it on the dashboard, and it melted [laughs]. This little carcass of the tip of an ear sort of sticking up on the dashboard.
Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, you played very short hobbits. How did they handle the height thing?
Boyd: Lots of different ways. ... Like the scenes on the balcony on Minas Tirith, I was just on my knees. And [when] you saw Gandalf in the background, they had this really tall guy called Paul. And he would dress [as] Gandalf or Aragorn. ... They had costumes for all the characters, including the women. Sometimes he'd be dressed as Arwen. Really scary, but slightly arousing.
Monaghan: I did some stuff on a huge horsewhich is called the Phony Pony, which is an oversized horsewith an oversized Miranda [Otto as Eowyn], which was Tall Paul. He was dressed as Miranda. ... Very arousing. ... Do you remember his legs? Attack of the 50-foot woman.
Billy, did you have any idea that you would be singing in this?
Boyd: No, no idea. That wasn't in the script. ... I loved it. I love to sing, and it's such a big part of Tolkien's books and such a big part of the hobbits. ... [Jackson] wanted a serious song from a hobbit in this great Hall of Man, where he just wants to go home, you know? So he asked me to write something, and I wrote that melody to one of Tolkien's poems about missing your home. And I wanted it to sound old, like it's from a different generation, not from Pippin's generation, like a song that his grandfather would sing. ... I wrote this melody, and Pete and Fran and [co-writer] Philippa [Boyens] liked it, and yeah, it's in the film.
Can you guys talk about your last day of shooting?
Boyd: My very, very last shot ... was killing the orc that's about to kill Gandalf. I thought, that's a great shot to have shot. So the last shot ... was kind of looking at my sword with the blood on it, and I thought, "That's great."
Did you get all emotional at the end of that day's shoot?
Boyd: I ran around and kissed everybody. Remember that? Yeah, I was really emotional. It kind of hit me quite hard, actually, because I didn't think it would.
What was your present?
Boyd: I got my sword that I just stabbed the orc with. My last clapper board. Some feet.
Monaghan: [My last scene] was actually quite boring. Um, going through the Oliphant and slicing the [legs] with [a sword]. Which is blue screen. There was no one there. Everyone else was on Stage A, and I was on like Stage like D with Miranda. And we finished it and then I walked over to Stage A and saw Pete and Fran, and they knew that I'd wrapped. And we waited for Elijah to get wrapped. Elijah and I and Andy Serkis all wrapped on the same day. So when we finished, we went into a huge stage, and they showed gag reel footage of myself and Elijah and Andy messing up our lines, and then they gave out, I got my sword and my clapper board and my feet, just like Billy, and they gave you the opportunity to try an impossible task of summing up four years of your life in front of all these people.
Did you get emotional too?
Monaghan: Yeah, I did actually. Actually I nearly started crying when I was speaking, and then we all went out to a bar and got drunk.
During the length of the shoot, at least judging from the extended DVD, was working with the Treebeard animatronic the toughest part of the shoot?
Boyd: It was hell. My arse is still sore. It was the most uncomfortable thing in the world, wasn't it? [The seat] really crushed your knackers.
Monaghan: It was pretty dodgy, yeah.
Are you guys ever worried about being considered a matched set?
Monaghan: I was at a DVD award show last night for picking up The Two Towers best movie award. Someone came over to me with a photo of Billy and said, "Can you sign that?"
Boyd: And we still get it. A journalist came up to me in a junket this year ... a TV journalist, and said, "What was it like working with Miranda Otto?" And I was like, "I didn't have any scenes with Miranda." ... I said, "I think you think I'm Dom." Unbelievable.
Monaghan: I had someone come over to me last night again and say, "Congratulations on Master and Commander [in which Boyd plays a sailor]. I enjoyed it." I enjoyed it as well.
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Also in this issue:
The cast and crew of Peter Pan