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Interviews in NAUTILUS magazine with Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Graham McTavish, Adam Brown, Jed Brophy, Peter Hambleton, Sylvester McCoy, Stephen Hunter, and Mark Hadlow.

[Translated from German by ArchedCory]

The Hobbit – Desolation of Smaug

After intense pick-up shoots with 2000 props, impressively choreographed fight scenes and the greenscreen scenes with Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly in the last months, the second part of the Hobbit trilogy, Desolation of Smaug, comes to cinemas in December 2013.

The whole trilogy has already cost 561 million dollars and is therefore a lot more expensive than Lord of the Rings. How come such a short book became a trilogy? The Hobbit is a children’s book. Lots of stories, connections and plots are only hinted at, lots of the characters are only vaguely outlined and complex themes have to step back in favour of the main plot. The film trilogy has a lot more time to show the backgrounds than the book. Films live off of identification figures, antagonists and breathtaking pictures. And New Zealand’s Middle-earth offers that in abundance.

In part one, An Unexpected Journey, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) started his mission as master burglar, hired by exiled dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and with the help of wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The goal: to defeat the dragon Smaug who once desolated the dwarf kingdom under the mountain and Dale, the city of men, who gathered all the treasures and since then terrorizes the surroundings. The goal might be in sight, but the vicinity of skin changer Beorn lies ahead of them. After that comes Greenwood the Great, reigned by wood elf king Thranduil (Lee Pace) whom Thorin hardly values. Also, monstrous spiders under trees poison the flora and fauna and turn Green- into Mirkwood. And at the Long Lake lies Laketown Esgaroth, governed by the despotic Master and his henchman.

Gandalf’s colleague Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) has discovered where the evil giant spiders of Mirkwood came from: from the fortress of Dol Guldur where the dark foe – so far only known as Necromancer – hides. Both Thorin and Gandalf therefore each have to fight their own personal enemy in Mirkwood: Thorin faces elf king Thranduil and Gandalf the Necromancer. And then there is still Azog the White. The orc chief is Thorin’s arch enemy.

Sir Ian McKellen called it a relief to slip back into Gandalf the Grey’s skin: “Gandalf the White is more of a boring character: He is a man on a mission who subordinates everything else. As Gandalf the Grey he is also idle, can blow smoke rings, drink or chat, he has to interact with people and convince them – that is a lot more rewarding task.”

When it comes to new actors, the second film Desolation of Smaug shines with Sweden’s Mikael Persbrandt (Beorn), UK’s Benedict Cumberbatch (as Smaug’s voice) and Luke Evans (Bard the Bowman), who revolts against the tyranny in Laketown. Also we will meet Thranduil’s son Legolas Greenleaf (Orlando Bloom) again who is actually only described in the book version of Lord of the Rings and who is accompanied by pretty elf maid Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Lilly is undecided about what was most exciting to her: “To play in a Peter Jackson film or see myself as elf on the screen.” Tauriel doesn’t appear in the book. She illustrates the life of the elves in Mirkwood and forms a female counterpart to Legolas and Thranduil, as Jackson explains. As already in part one, Peter Jackson shows Middle-earth’s spirit as shown in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The tragic homelessness and despair of the dwarves was the main theme in An Unexpected Journey. But the centre role in Desolation of Smaug will be the crossroads between loyalty and duty on one hand and the personal honour and sincerity on the other, as well as the fight against evil in the shape of dragon Smaug and the Necromancer in Dol Guldur. Legolas, Tauriel, Bard, as well as Bilbo finally have to make their personal decisions upon meeting the fire breathing dragon Smaug. Compared to the book there have been some changes in the film which introduce new characters such as Bard the Bowman distinctly better into the plot and sequences that don’t get enough room in the book are deepened – for example how elven dagger “Sting” got its name. And in this second film Bilbo Baggins may finally be how he was written in the book: A shrewd but brave hobbit with lots of self irony.

(by Alexander Huiskes)

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“One of the few Men”

Bard and Thorin (interview with Richard Armitage and Luke Evans)

In The Hobbit 2 – Desolation of Smaug Richard Armitage (RA) once again plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves who march towards the dragon Smaug. Luke Evans (LE) embodies Bard the Bowman who lives in Laketown Esgaroth and who dreams of revenge on the beast that burned down his home city Dale. NAUTILUS writer Alexander Huiskes got some gripping answers on the new Tolkien-film out of the two actors:

What was your most significant role prior to The Hobbit?

RA: My role in North and South, John Thornton, because that topic was very near to me, especially because of my family story. Also I love historical material, for example The Lion in Winter is one of my favourite films.

LE: In each role I came in contact with different people and that is exactly what I find interesting and thrilling: With what and how I play I try to open the eyes of all sorts of people to my abilities. And so depending on the film there came different offers. I am looking forward to how it will continue after The Hobbit and Dracula.

What was your first thought when Peter Jackson chose you?

RA: When my agent told me I got the role of Thorin my first thought was: “They must be completely crazy.” Afterwards I thought how wonderful it was to shoot in New Zealand, especially with Peter Jackson, and to become part of an epic tale.

LE: My first thought was: surprise. I had just been on a long car journey to the shooting of another film and just checked my mails as a matter of routine. It was already so long ago that I had auditioned that The Hobbit had already disappeared from my agenda, I saw myself as out of chance. Then I thought it was a joke and called my agent. And then – then I was just happy.

How familiar were you with the story?

RA: I read the book as a child and liked it back then, I didn’t have more than nebulous memories however. My role as a dwarf meant a lot of physical change. I enjoyed this experience and was pretty excited to finally see the film. When I prepared for Thorin, not only The Hobbit but also the appendices of The Lord of the Rings helped me, especially the scene between Gandalf and Thorin. And let’s not forget Fran and Peter (Jackson) and Philippa (Boyens) who really live for these films and who are so deeply connected to the material to have an answer to every question, or at least they know where to look it up. Those three are marvelous.

LE: That’s true. The Hobbit is a wonderful book to read, but in the end that’s just a starting point for the role. Already the first time I talked to Fran and Peter about Bard I knew: Tolkien’s characters are like parts of them. You can ask them everything but still have enough space for your personal ideas so you can really make a role your own. That is a great gift for an actor: instructions and personal responsibility.

RA: Peter Jackson completely lives for his work, he is interested in every aspect of the films, controls every detail, is in permanent contact with us actors and is a great leader – and he has this almost spooky fondness for technical stuff.

Speaking of technical things: The Hobbit wouldn’t have been possible without modern CGI. How does it feel to play epic scenes in front of green screen?

LE: Peter tells us exactly what it is all about and what we will get to see. He always finds the right comparisons and prepares us for what is going on.

RA: To play in front of green screen is still a challenge for me. I am sure The Hobbit has taught me a lot when it comes to that, especially in cooperation with such great actors as Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman.

LE: It is totally crazy to be around these people on a daily basis and see how Ian really changes into Gandalf in an instant – the Gandalf we all have seen on screen so often. And you can see how skilled he works with the green screen. That encourages and shows how it has to be done.

As future king of the Men of the north and as exiled king of the dwarves you both stand in line with Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings and who is also the heir of a fallen dynasty.

RA: The burden or the heritage of kingship connects Aragorn and Thorin. They are both driven by the awareness of their determination as well as the wish to give their lost people their home back and lead them into a better future. Ego – and with that I mainly mean their own claim and the claim as seen by others – and responsibility are the two sides to their characters. Just empathize with Thorin: He was born and raised to be king one day, he grew up with this awareness – and then the dragon shows up and everything is lost. The flashbacks to Thorin’s biography made it a lot easier for me to find myself in him – and will hopefully also make it easy for the audience to understand him.

LE: It is a great honour to be put in line with Viggo’s portrayal. Bard is similar to Aragorn in many aspects, but he begins from a different starting point, he is aware of his burden at every given moment, of his life in this gloomy, oppressive, controlling surrounding of Laketown. Bard functions as crystallization point: He is one of the few Men in the story, between dwarves, hobbits, elves and so on. He has to prove human greatness and overcome all hostilities to prevail in the Battle of Five Armies.

Do you have a favourite moment of your character?

RA: My favourite moment for Thorin in part 2 is the scene with Thranduil where he accuses the elf king of his earlier behaviour. That is a very dramatic and heavy scene.

LE: For me it is Smaug’s death although I still don’t know what the dragon will finally look like in the film. All I had were descriptions from Peter – and they were really detailed and stunning – and my own emotions: I bundled up all my anger by imagining how the dragon really killed all of my family and ancestors and I only had this one chance to kill him.

Are you prepared for the reactions of fans and cinema audience? The power of fanbases grows ever stronger as can be seen with the Twilight or City of Bones films.

RA: The opinion of the fans is extremely important, after all it’s them who carry a film. So far however I have always been treated well and fair.

LE: Exactly – from whom can we expect more honest answers than from those who really carry the material in their hearts? I hope I can meet their expectations.

What are your next projects?

LE: Right now I am working on a Dracula adaptation with Universal. The role of Dracula is a challenge – we approach the myth from its historical core, so by Vlad Tepes Dracul. We try to bring forth the man behind the legend. The approach is actually quite similar to Bard the Bowman. Those 700 years that lie between Dracul and us make the material just as fictional-speculative to us as Middle-earth, however in a different way.

RA: I have just started with Into the Storm, a film on tornadoes which will come to cinemas in the middle of 2014.

Do you have career goals?

RA: I wish to always have work, fulfilling and enjoyable roles and finally to work with great actor colleagues and directors, for example Alexander Payne, P.T. Anderson, Zack Snyder or J.J. Abrams.

LE: I couldn’t have said it better.

Thank you very much.

(interview by Alexander Huiskes)

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A Timelord in Middle-earth

Radagast (interview with Sylvester McCoy)

Actor Sylvester McCoy is a TV veteran, he played the seventh incarnation of Doctor Who between 1987 and 1989. In the Hobbit trilogy McCoy plays the animal and plant loving wizard Radagast the Brown. NAUTILUS writer Robert Vogel could ask McCoy some questions about his career and his role as the eccentric ally of Gandalf on this year’s HobbitCon:

You perfectly play eccentric wacky characters. Was that the reason you got the role of Radagast?

I would think so. Maybe it also helped that Peter Jackson is a big Doctor Who fan and bought my original costume at an auction. The audition looked like that, that Peter, Fran and Philippa told me that the scenes with Radagast would involve a lot of shit and that it’s generally a rather shitty role and asked me whether I had problems with that. Well, somebody has to do that job, so I accepted. Another thing that helped me is my ability to twitter like a bird, that spared us a lot of voice-overs after the filming when Radagast talks to the birds. (thinks). Your name is Vogel (bird) – I twitter the answer to your next question.

Is it true you almost played in the Lord of the Rings films?

(twitters for about ten seconds in a very credible way)

Unfortunately I did not understand this. Was that a bird from England, New Zealand or Middle-earth?

(laughs) The emphasis is on the word “almost”. I auditioned for the role of Bilbo and the auditioning process went over a few months. At the end there was only one actor left next to me, and that one got the role. At first I didn’t even know who that was. For me of course it was a disappointment but when I heard that Ian Holm plays Bilbo I was of course glad to be dealt in the same league as him. That probably helped me to get the role of Radagast since Peter kept me in his memory.

How would you describe Radagast?

He is something like a hippie – and I myself was one in my youth – who doesn’t seek the company of humans or other inhabitants of Middle-earth and who therefore lives in the nature among birds and other animals and likes to smoke mushrooms, which really annoys his wizard boss Saruman. He is very wacky but funny and many underestimate him. He is something like an eco-warrior and definitely a power one has to reckon with. Gandalf is actually his only friend.

Did you know Ian McKellen already?

Yes. Amongst others we have been on tour with the Royal Shakespeare Company for King Lear for one and a half years together. Ian was the king and I was his jester. It is nice to see when actors have a connection and can work relaxed with each other, that gives a special value to these scenes.

Radagast is one of the lighter characters in the film.

In general the film version of The Hobbit is lighter than that of The Lord of the Rings. The book itself is clearly directed at a younger audience. Of course the Tolkien films should appear as one piece but I think that especially Radagast is supposed to please a younger audience.

Can you tell us anything interesting from set?

Many of my scenes were filmed in front of a green wall, so that wasn’t very exciting, but as a balance the few built sets were incredibly large. The forest, in which my house is located, was built into a huge plane hangar and didn’t seem to have an end. You could actually get lost in there. I found it very striking how relaxed and laid-back the filming took place. The main reason for this was Peter Jackson but spread among the whole production crew. It is hard to find something like that in the film industry.

Thank you for the conversation.

(interview by Robert Vogel)

Dwarves into the spotlight

Bombur and Dori (Interview with Stephen Hunter and Mark Hadlow)

TV actor Stephen Hunter from New Zealand is especially fond of funny roles and therefore plays the overweight dwarf Bombur. Mark Hadlow – also a kiwi – has already worked as entertainer, script writer and director and embodies Dori. Thanks to the friendly support of Brigitte Scherr from HobbitCon NAUTILUS writer Robert Vogel could do an interview with Stephen Hunter (SH) and Mark Hadlow (MH).

Actors and crew of the three The Lord of the Rings films have grown into a large family during the long filming process. How did you experience this with The Hobbit?

SH: This familiar feeling is very important during filming especially when it takes a few years as in our case. You spend most of your time with colleagues and crew, far away from your real family. Then it’s good to get along. Imagine a few people not liking each other – even with all the professional behaviour it would be the worst that could happen to such a production. An important contribution to the team building was the dwarf bootcamp with all its hardship. We came to New Zealand in the middle of January and only started filming two months later. When the audience witnesses the gathering of dwarves at Bilbo’s in Bag End they will notice that some of the dwarves have already known each other for a longer time and others haven’t, but they all prepare this adventure together now. It felt the same to us actors: It didn’t take long until we were like a group of rascals in school with all the consequences. I know that in the film industry “We are a big family” sounds like a phrase for journalists, but it really was like that in our case.

I guess you have seen the The Lord of the Rings films and noticed what a big fuss there was around them at the premieres. Did you expect the same happening to you?

MH: Beforehand I didn’t deal too much with this because that is not even me underneath that beard and all the prosthetics. I did expect the premiere to be a special experience but not exactly how. (laughs)

SH: I already assumed that we would be in the spotlight. You do understand that in your mind, but when I attended the premiere it was a bit of a shock. (tries to act the chaos during the press reception): “Where is Bombur? No, not you. Right, right, please look here! Get out of the way, where is Martin Freeman? Where is Cate Blanchett? Excuse me, I have to get through to Peter Jackson.” It is impossible to imagine this without being part of it. Seven years ago I was jobbing in London and when I walked across Leicester Square with my wife I mentioned: “Oh, that’s the place where they have those big film premieres.” And now I walked the red carpet myself surrounded by a huge crowd of people who all cheered. For me that was an incredible experience.

MH: In these moments I was very incredibly proud of us because after two years we have created something that excites so many people.

In interviews with your colleagues I have already heard that in the auditions the actors were chosen so that they had similar traits to their characters. Could you bring in suggestions?

SH: When it helped the story, yes. Most of the dwarves don’t have any background in the book. So it usually went like this: “I think my dwarf would like to…” and Peter said: “Ok, then do that.”

As long as he didn’t say anything we assumed that would be ok. That also shows a certain spontaneity from his side, so that the characters come to life to the actors as well.

MH: To us it was ideal. But there are also actors that don’t like this kind of freedom. They need to hear exactly from the director what he wants and they will do just that. That is not disparagement, just a different approach. We are all individualists, but have no problem working in a team. That makes us strong and the total achievement bigger than the sum of single pieces. A small, but important thing was, that we could freely choose our accent. That alone gives a certain individuality to each dwarf.

SH: With all the freedom however I am certain Peter knew at every point of the shooting exactly what he wanted and where he was. He already had every second of the film completed in his head – my brain would explode. He knew exactly what he wanted from the characters, but left it to us to fill the details. Of course every one of us had questions and suggestions, so there were thirteen of us constantly annoying Peter. It would have driven me crazy, but that’s nothing for Peter. There you can see what an exceptionally talented person he is.

MH: Of course we noticed this and chose the right moments to ask questions that were important to us.

Have there been personal moments during the filming?

To me the was the first day of shooting in Bag End and with Gandalf. That was a place we knew from the The Lord of the Rings films. So when Ian McKellen appeared as Gandalf I knew that I was really in these films myself. Then there was a scene where Martin (Freeman) had to do something with his sword and broke it on the first take. He was very embarrassed and of course he immediately got a lot of comments from the dwarves. (laughs) But that really matched his character, you know, hobbits and their experience with weapons.

And then there was this scene when we were in the barrels… Wait a second, am I allowed to say this yet?

MH: No, not yet, that was in the second film.

SH: Right, I may only tell this story after the film start. Sorry.

Isn’t that quite bizarre? Did you get a training in selective memory when talking to journalists?

MH: (laughs) We really have to pay attention what we say. But I have another story for you. When we ran away from the goblins in the first film this was shot on green screen, so in front of a green wall. But there were no goblins, they were later generated by the computer. So we run around and fight against non existing goblins who appear every few seconds from out of nowhere. And we did that about twelve times in full body costume, in boots and all the prosthetics, make-up and all this stuff. We were so exhausted that we just fell to the ground. I ran behind Peter Hambleton (Gloin) and John Callen (Oin) and could keep up with them. So in this setting Peter got the idea to replace those two with their stunt doubles. When we started running then the difference in speed was very very apparent because I wasn’t replaced. And at the end of the take the voice of God, meaning Peter said: “Guys, that was great, let’s do it again!” My excitement couldn’t even be put into words. So I got up with a lot of effort and staggered back. At the end of the day we were so dead, that we could have played in a zombie film. But it also made a lot of fun.

That sounds as if by idealization of the pains you could keep an exhausting day of work as a positive memory.

SH: That man totally understands our true nature. Now that I come to think of it…

MH: Are you also a psychologist? (both laugh)

In the The Lord of the Rings films John Rhys-Davies had to represent the dwarves. He was a strong warrior but often seemed like Legolas’ sidekick. In the Hobbit films we start to realize what dwarves really are capable of.

MH: The dwarves really deserved this appreciation. But poor John was only one, we are thirteen.

SH: After all this elf-hype we bring the dwarves from the shadow into the light. Be aware, nothing can hold us back. (starts to sing the title song of the US comedy series The Monkees): Here we come, walking down the street…

MH: (joins him): Hey, hey, we are the dwarves… (both laugh). Peter once asked us if we would like to shoot with old weapons. I have to mention that Peter is a big collector of artefacts of World War I. Actually this is not my kind of hobby, but I thought: That could be something new. So we drove to his personal plane hangar where he had all this stored and then we just started shooting – interrupted only by a couple of pizzas. We were like big small boys again. But the highlight of the evening came when Peter disappeared in another corner of the hangar and soon after came driving back with the original flying car of musical film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and asked us to hop in. And then – accompanied by music from this film – we made a night tour through Wellington in this car. I haven’t experienced something that crazy before.

I thank you very much for this interesting interview.

SH: No problem, Robert.

MH: You are welcome.

(interview by Robert Vogel)

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“You reached right through Gandalf”

Ori (Interview with Adam Brown)

For English actor Adam Brown the role of dwarf Ori is the first big role in a Hollywood production. At HobbitCon the 33-year-old talked to NAUTILUS writer Robert Vogel about Ori’s naivety among hardened veterans.

What relationship does Ori have to the other dwarves?

In the group of dwarves Ori is the youngest of three brothers, his older siblings are Nori and Dori. He worships Nori who is some kind of a rebel in the family. Dori however is the conservative brother who would like to drag Ori back home because he is so young and inexperienced and really shouldn’t be on this adventure.

How can we spot Ori in this group of dwarves?

Finding Ori is easy. In this group of machos he already stands out by his naïve, innocent look and his uncertainty. You notice quite fast that he tries to impress his brothers and seeks their recognition. During a fight this becomes especially obvious: While others are bristled with weapons he uses a slingshot.

Peter and Fran emphasized a lot on every dwarf being unique. They developed a background for Ori, but as I heard they shaped some details after my own personality after watching my audition video. I found that very nice. Ori is also on a personal journey, in films two and three he learns a lot through experience and finds his way as a warrior.

How did you get the role?

I am co-founder of English theatre group Plested and Brown and already went on tour with them for about ten years. I also write for them. My agent called me and said I have an audition for The Hobbit. At first I thought he meant another tour and reacted restrained because I was in the middle of a production myself. But then he became more specific: “Adam, I am talking of the film version of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. This is a huge opportunity for you!” And then I understood. Interesting enough I auditioned for Martin Freeman’s character Bilbo because at this moment Martin was still under contract in Sherlock. It went quite well, but I didn’t really believe in it. Later I heard that I was suitable as one of the dwarves.

Then when the call came I couldn’t believe it at first. That turned my world upside down. I immediately went to the next pub and had a few whiskeys before informing my family and friends. And I usually never drink whiskey. Later I heard that I’d get my own house and car in Wellington and who will be my colleagues.

To you as a theatre actor what is the difference in such an expensive film production?

There is actually not such a big difference. Of course we filmed a lot on location but a big part happened in front of green walls and that is very close to a theatre production, setting aside the big budget for sets, props, costumes and such. Since I have a vivid imagination and have no problem imagining a troll or a flying giant eagle it was easy for me to learn this kind of acting. I noticed another similarity during the filming: When you notice during rehearsals that something doesn’t work as planned, then you often have to make decisions in the very last minute. That also applied to The Hobbit, on a much larger scale of course. What I especially admire in Peter Jackson is his talent and his courage to find creative solutions fast.

As a dwarf you had to go through a special training camp…

That started immediately when we came to New Zealand and took two months. That included riding, walking, handling of weapons, accent, singing and of course the fitness centre. I had never been in a fitness centre before. I liked it. It was very exhausting, but a lot of fun and it tied us thirteen actors together as a group. We could discover the dwarf in us. I am sure Peter Jackson planned it exactly like this, very clever.

So, team building through experience of the same pains…

Yes, something like that. (laughs)

In your role you wear prosthetics, make-up, heavy body suits and armour. Was that hard?

In the beginning it was quite arduous. We sweated to death, especially when we had to run. But that helps a lot with the acting. To me, Ori became alive when I first put on his shoes.

The daily routine of putting on prosthetics and make-up took quite a while. What were you doing during that time?

I slept a lot and otherwise listened to Graham McTavish’ stories. Man, he knows some wild stories!

And how did you get along with all the computer effects?

I had quite an interesting experience with this right at the beginning in Bag End. There was a very long scene with the dwarves and Gandalf. But we weren’t in the same place. Ian McKellen was in a neighbouring studio in a completely green box and we were on set in Bag End. Peter had developed a new method there which synchronizes both cameras. So for example when I put a plate on the table, Ian can see this on a screen and react to that. It was of course very hard work to coordinate all the movements so that everything fits together. But it is a very interesting filming technique. Of course I heard very often: “Cut! You have just reached right through Gandalf.” That was hard. It’s easiest for an actor when he can react to something he can for example see in the eyes of another actor. But when it’s just a green golf ball that later becomes a troll, that makes everything a lot harder.

During the filming were you in contact with the outside world or were you isolated?

The people of Wellington and the city welcomed us with open arms. Peter Hambleton is a big theatre fan and took us to a lot of productions in our free time. I got to know a lot of nice people through that and in the meantime a lot of deep friendships to crew members have developed. That doesn’t happen every day. I fell in love with the country and the people and I promised myself to come back to Wellington at least once a year to visit my friends there after the filming of The Hobbit is done. What we didn’t quite realize during the filming was that the whole world waited for the release of this movie. We only noticed that on the premieres in the different countries – incredible, something like that stays in your memory for your whole life. I sometimes ask myself if I need a reality check. (laughs)

Thank you for the interview and lots of success for the future.

(interview by Robert Vogel)

“Dwarves have more beautiful beards”

Gloin (Interview with Peter Hambleton)

New Zealand actor Peter Hambleton not only plays Gloin, Gimli’s father in The Hobbit, he also lends his voice to hungry and dumb troll Bill in the first film An Unexpected Journey. Utz Anhalt talked with 43-year-old Hambleton at HobbitCon 2013 in Bonn:

How did you come to The Hobbit?

I am a theatre actor in New Zealand. There I have already played Charles Darwin and Walter Buller. I have also already directed plays in Wellington. Also I played some roles on TV, for example in 1993 on the attack on the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior and 1998 in the TV film Tiger Country.

Who is Walter Buller?

Buller was a famous ornithologist in New Zealand.

In New Zealand birds have occupied the niches of mammals: Eagles with talons like tiger claws, the flightless giant moas, but also kiwis that race across the surface like mice. To us this fauna is as foreign as that of Middle-earth.

Yes, and I love the nature of New Zealand.

New Zealand’s nature is a stroke of luck for The Hobbit because Tolkien’s Middle-earth is fashioned after our own world, but still different. There are trees and mountains, but estranged like in a fairy tale. To the eyes of Americans and Europeans New Zealand’s nature looks just like that. The same goes for the peoples: What is the difference between dwarves and men?

Dwarves have more beautiful beards, especially dwarf women. They think of men as volatile and oversensitive.

You play Gloin. Gloin is the son of Groin, brother of Oin and father of Gimli. Together with eleven other dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield and Bilbo Baggins he goes on a quest to steal back the treasure that was first robbed by dragon Smaug. What kind of dwarf is Gloin?

On the inside Gloin is a nice guy, but he is also a hedgehog: When you touch him, you hurt yourself on the spines. Gloin can get very furious, but he is loyal to his family. He carries a picture of his wife and his son with him.

Hard on the outside, soft on the inside?

No, because Gloin doesn’t wear a mask to cover his sensitivity. He is a tough guy, but he doesn’t hide anything.

What does Gloin think of hobbits?

Nothing in the beginning. He thinks they are cowardly hillbillies. He distrusts Bilbo and thinks he is a farmer that likes to hide in his cave. Later however he discovers the master burglar in the hobbit and starts to respect him.

Gloin speaks English in a different accent than you do in real life.

Of course he speaks dwarvish (laughs). No, the dwarves all belong to Thorin’s clan. In a medieval fantasy world they were supposed to sound as if they all had the same accent. So the dwarves have a Scottish accent; Scots are seen as very earthy and so are dwarves.

You don’t only play Gloin?

No, I am also the troll Bill. The procedure is similar. First my movements are filmed with a face mask, later this is animated into the character.

Do you appear in all three Hobbit films?

Yes, if I don’t break my neck.

Why should you?

The mountains are very high for little dwarves.

Thank you very much.

(interview by Utz Anhalt)

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“Like boys in kindergarten”

Nori (Interview with Jed Brophy)

Actor Jed Brophy comes from New Zealand, just like Peter Jackson and he has already played in a lot of films of the director, for example Braindead and Heavenly Creatures and minor roles in all three Lord of the Rings films. Utz Anhalt talked to Jed Brophy on HobbitCon 2013 in Bonn:

Jed, in The Hobbit you play dwarf Nori. In the book there is not much information on him: He wears a purple hood, plays the flute and just like Dori loves rich meals on a regular basis. What kind of character is Nori?

Nori is a cunning fellow and a mixed character. Nobody knows what he is really up to. He is some kind of a bandit.

Do you like characters that aren’t angels? In Braindead you played the zombierocker Void, in the second part of Lord of the Rings the warg rider Sharku and orc Snaga, and in part three again an orc.

I have known Peter Jackson for a long long time and Peter loves wacky characters. Of course he develops the plot and the characters but he gives the actors a lot of freedom. He checks precisely if the actors fit and what they are capable of, and then he trusts them. So for example when I say in a fighting or riding scene “I could do it like that”, then Peter says “Then do it!” That’s what makes his films look so lifelike.

So it is great joy working with him. Originally I was a farmer and grew up on a cattle farm in New Zealand. Already as a child I learned to ride a horse. Peter doesn’t look for a star and puts him on a horse and because he is a star, people come to the cinema. No, he says “Jed, you can ride, get on the horse.” He always focuses on the main plot, but because of that he gives the actors a lot of freedom.

Some Tolkien experts think the freedoms go too far. Jackson stays a lot less true to the book than he did with Lord of the Rings. Radagast for example is only mentioned in the book, in the film he rides a rabbit sleigh. The orc Azog is killed in the battle of Moria in the book, while in the film Thorin only cuts of his arm.

A film is not the same as a book and a Peter Jackson film is always unmistakably a Peter Jackson film. Many dialogues in The Hobbit were not in the script but emerged spontaneously.

You already know Peter Jackson since Braindead. This zombie persiflage is a cult film in horror scene: A zoologist brings a rat-monkey from Skull Island to Wellington Zoo in New Zealand. He bites around and all the bitten people become zombies. The main character in the end kills his own monster mother with a lawn mower. In Germany Braindead could only be screened in a cut version. From the outside it looks as if Jackson turned from a horror freak to a star director, but when you look closely he stayed true to himself. The Uruk-Hai in Lord of the Rings show clearly his handwriting as horror-director. In The Hobbit the head of the goblin king [?] flies through the air like body parts in the lawn mower of Braindead. How do you see that?

The Uruk-Hai were modelled after the Maori of New Zealand. Skull Island of the rat-monkey became the home of the giant apes in King Kong and on the ship there is a crate with the writing “Sumatran rat-monkey” on it. Peter keeps his humour. Braindead was not only a splatter film, but a parody on splatter films. In the end mamma’s boy Lionel faces his zombie mother. Next to other people dwarves can be seen as a grim warriors – but when they are among themselves they fool around like boys in kindergarten.

As an actor, is it a teenage dream to play for Peter Jackson?

That’s it. Most boys stop playing at one point. Peter grew up and leads boys into dream worlds.

Thank you for the conversation.

(interview by Utz Anhalt)

“The scary biker”

Dwalin (Interview with Graham McTavish)

When it comes to Graham McTavish, the actor of dwarf Dwalin, his colleagues mainly praise his ability as a storyteller and his rich collection of funny stories. NAUTILUS writer Rober Vogel talked to the Scottish film and TV actor at HobbitCon:

How did you get your role?

The first audition was arranged by agents and managers. I auditioned for Thorin, like all of us. I guess that was a test. It went well and I was soon called back to audition for Dwalin this time. I was lucky that the speaker I worked with was really great because that immediately also makes you yourself better. I was even allowed to do it again and think I improved myself yet another time. So I left with a good feeling – and then the long silence followed. As an actor you totally hate this uncertainty. During this time I was a nervous wreck because I really wanted to play this role.

The third meeting was with Fran and Philippa and I was really nervous there. We played the scene a few times, talked a lot and did everything possible to make the situation easier for me. That was more like a meeting among friends. And then came the relief. I was the happiest person in the world because I am a fan of Peter Jackson’s work and a fan of New Zealand – my wife originates from there. This role just means a lot to me.

In the book some of the dwarves are just minor characters. How was this problem solved in the film?

That is a mutual triumph of both the script writers when it comes to characterization and Weta Workshop when it comes to looks and costumes. They really accomplished a masterpiece because otherwise these films wouldn’t have worked. We actors were also allowed to bring in suggestions for example about the weapons. In my case that was the warhammer. Into my character I put a lot of typical traits of my father and of Scots in general. Dwalin views a lot of things in black and white and I have already met a lot of Dwalins in my life.

Dwalin stands out as a very tough guy.

As Thorin’s right hand he has to be because he would follow Thorin even to hell. I am the scary biker of the group. I made a joke and asked if I may call my pony “Harley” (laughs). One of my favourite characters is Charles Bronson, maybe that explains a lot. Dwalin is a very experienced warrior and has a huge hammer.

Did you receive special fight training for that?

Like the others I also did the dwarf bootcamp after the arrival in New Zealand, but before that I already had three months of strict physical training in LA with my personal trainer, a good friend of mine. That was pure terror, but it made me fit. Endurance was the main goal. On a personal level this was also very important, one should already notice after the first glance that Dwalin isn’t a dwarf you want to mess with.

So you could now go into any medieval battle?

Yes, I’ll show you. But I really still keep myself back here a lot (laughs). In the films even people new to Tolkien should immediately notice that these aren’t Snow White’s dwarves but more of a fighting special force who clear everything in their path. Credibility is very important there.

The Hobbit films are very technical. Was it hard for you to cope with that kind of work?

That is not a problem. I personally reduce it to standing in front of the camera with other actors and tell a story in the best possible way. It is not important whether the background is added digitally or we stand in a real set, it’s the result that counts.

Can you tell our readers a funny story from set?

One of the highlights was the food fight in Bag End. In one of the scenes I was supposed to feed Stephen Hunter’s Bombur with a small cherry tomato. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite make out where his mouth was, so I accidentally shoved the tomato into his nose. For a moment of course I was surprised his mouth was so tight, but he didn’t even complain. So for the rest of the day he ran around with a cherry tomato stuck in his nose.

And what was the greatest physical challenge?

I guess each and every one of the thirteen dwarf actors will agree that it was the filming of scene 88 in the first film. In this scene we were chased by wargs. We ran and ran day after day – with about 40kg of extra weight of the full body suits. First we ran, then our stunt doubles ran and then even our scale doubles ran. Later we even printed T-shirts to remind ourselves of the suffering of that time. But we didn’t complain, we were happy to be part of this project.

And how much weight did you lose?

I didn’t even want that because I had my ideal weight and didn’t want to lose muscle mass, so I just ate a lot. The food was really good.

Do the tattoos on Dwalin’s head have a special meaning?

I asked for all kinds of different tattoos. For Dwalin they are some kind of a pictorial curriculum vitae, but one of them basically means “If you can read this, I need to punch you in the face”. (laughs)

Thank you very much.

(interview by Robert Vogel)

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