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(Peter Jackson 2001-2013)








“I will take the Ring to Mordor! Though... I do not know the way."



Before it fell to Peter Jackson, a fairly unknown New Zealand director, to make what is, unquestionably, the greatest epic in the history of the cinema, four British men from Liverpool were keen on adapting the same books.

There were more usually referred to as the boys.  Or... The Beatles!

“We talked about it for awhile,” said Sir Paul McCartney, 35 years later. They were so keen on JRR Tolkien's  Middle Earth classic, they took copies of it on their Indian trip to guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967. The books had been a gift from producer Denis O’Dell.

And the film, Denis said, “was a serious idea aimed at David Lean or Stanley Kubrick.”   Lean, a surprise fan of A Hard Day’s Night, was committed to “a little romantic film in Ireland”(Ryan's Daughter). Kubrick was more defeatist - Tolkien was unfilmable.


Paul being Paul smelled “a bit of a carve-up”

when John wanted the lead. Not Gandalf (reserved for George),

nor Frodo and Sam (Paul and Ringo;Donovan was keen on Merry)

but  Gollum!


This news would hardly surprise the forunate  few (like me) receiving  John's  squiggley drawn Christmas cards in the 60s, where his Xmas partying humans, undressed, unsexed, looked like aliens... or, indeed, precious Golums.  

“It was a shame,” said O'Dell  about the project.  “John even thought there could have been an album of music based around the film.”

Having heard the rumours. Peter Jackson quized Paul McCartney about it. He confirmed the idea was that it was going to be their next film after Help.  “Paul was very gracious.  He said, ‘It was a good job we never made ours because then you wouldn’t have made yours and it was great to see yours.’ I said, ‘It’s the songs I feel badly about. You guys would have banged out a few good tunes for this. You were The Beatles, after all. It’s a shame we missed out’.”

Ian Holm, aka Bilbo Baggins,wondered why Peter Jackson, this “affable, slightly eccentric man,” had been entrusted with the Brobdingnagian task of making three films simultaneously when, if they went wrong, they would have sunk the New Line Cinema company.

“But, in fact, he was absolutely the right choice.There was no doubt he was a good director… Helooked like Stephen Poliakoff on a particularly bad day… awoolly little man with a crinkly, grow-anywhere beard and a slightly concertinaed shape. Healways wore shorts and operated a rota system with what appeared to be just two short-sleeved shirts.”


Nothing fazed Peter Jackson... not even failing to convince

Daniel Day-Lewis or Russell Crowe to be Aragorn,

and Patrick McGoohan or Sean Connery for Gandalf.


Gandalf the Grey  Sean, certainly, made a huge error. For the usual (and honest) reason. “I don’t understand the books.” Plus he (and his wife) had no wish to be stuck in New Zealand for 18 months. (With his points, he would have made $450m). McGoohan, who twice turned down James Bond,  was also the initial choice for Albus Dumbelgore in the first Harry Potter film, 2001.

Following his much praised work as the dying elven king in Dungeons and Dragons, 2000, Tom Baker  (the fourth TV Doctor Who) was a strong candidate. As were Bernard Hill (who became King Theoden in the following chapters), Anthony Hopkins, Sam Neill, Patrick Stewart.

Plus John Astin, The Judge from Jackson’s 1996 horror film, The Frighteners and Gomez, head of The Addams Family, TV, 1964-1966). John’s excitement about the Jacksons’ passion for the project, led his son to push for a role. Agreeing to gain 30 lbs, Sean (The Goonies) Astin became Samwise Gamgee. (Sean’s seven-year-old,  Alexandra Astin, played his daughter in the final chapter).

When Peter Jackson’s first Gandalf plan  - Nigel Hawthorne - proved to be  dying  of pancreatic cancer, Ian McKellan became the director’s "please-God-let-us-have-him guy."

Saruman .  There was one actor only that Peter Jackson had in  mind for The Dark Lord...  However,  given Sr Christopher Lee’s age. 79,  the director had to listen to himself as his producer (and writer) and consider such other possibilities as Tim Curry, Jeremy Irons and Malcolm McDowell.  Sir Christopher was more than an actor in this bold enterprise. .  Being the sole member of the cast to have actually met JRR Tolkien, Lee was Jackson’s touchstone, the finest possible adviser on the books. He knew them inside out having read them annually  from their publication during 1954-1956 to his 2015 death at age 93.

Frodo Baggins  . Jackson said he  auditioned more than 150 actors… including Jake Gyllenhaal… who never realised his accent for the  test should have been British.  And, of course, Elijah Wood, who sent in his own homemade audition tape -  in breeches and flowing shirt  - directed by his pal, Swimming With Sharks director  George Huang.  Apart from his (official) audition, the closest Dominic Monaghan  tcame to Frodo was reading his farewell party speech (in Woods’ absence) as Jackson shot reactions  from the other hobbits.  Dom became one of them: Merry.  (In a fat suit). 

Bilbo Baggins .   Ian Holm reigned supreme! As he had done (as Frodo)in thre 1981 BBC radio version.  The film, he said, was a fabulous distraction. Jackson was such a Doctor Whofan, he probably  would have dropped his Rings  cycle if asked to helm a Whovian movie… or even an episode!  Consequently, Doc7 was second choice for Bilbo - Sylvester McCoy wasfirst non-English Doctor Who(he’s Scottish, even though his real name is Smith).   Jackson later expanded the role of the wizard Radagast for McCoy in the next JR Tolkein trilogy, The Hobbit,2012.  (Jackson’s pal, Steven Spielberg, was another Whovian and he had wanted McCoy to be Governor Weatherby Swann when Spielberg was planning to skipperThe Pirates of the Caribbeanin the early 90s).

Aragorn .  Daniel  Day-Lewis passed - three times!  Russell Crowe was excited about such a massive  picture in New Zealand, but was committed to many Hollywood  commitments  (one of which, A Beauitiful Mind, won  his  Oscar).  Jackson then saw Vin Diesel - and two  lesser known actors - two Brits from the Babylon 5 series, Jason Carter and Robin Atkin Downes. They both went on to voice TheLord of the Rings video-games.In fact, Downes’ stage and screencareer is overhadowed by his impressivetotalofvideo-game voices- from Star Warsto Pirates of the Caribbean.

Finally, Stuart Townsend, 26, was chosen - and then  let go after the six weeks of training and rehearsal and one day’s filming as Peter Jackson realised Aragorn required someone older. Viggo Mortensen, 41, joined the shooting without having met Jackson, never having read the books either - it was his son, Henry, 11, who pushed him into the role. Veteran sword master Bob Anderson called  Viggo “the best swordsman I've ever trained.”  (On April 16, 2010, Viggo was knighted by Queen Margarethe II of Denmark, making him the fifth knight  of the Rings, after Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee and, of course  Jackson).

Galadriel .   First choices  Nicole Kidman and Kiwi star Lucy Lawless - Zena: Warrior Princess, herself! – and Uma Thurman all proved pregnant.  Also in the mix: Aliison Doody, an Irish actresss with a  perfect pedigree.    Spielberg has selected her as the heroine in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,  1988.  Which is also where John Rhys-Davies came from to  play the dwarf, Glimi.


Aussie Cate Blanchett took over.

“I’ve always wanted pointy ears.”


Arwen .  Uma Thurman was also pregnant. Liv Tyler was not.

Gimli .  Obviously, the first time that Warwick Davis (the 2ft 1in Willowand Star Wars’ Ewok, Wicket Wysrti Warrick), lost the small person role to… the 6ft 1ns John Rhys-Davies, the tallest of the actors playing members of the Fellowship. Also seen for the dwarf warrior were Timothy Spall and Robert Trebor (his name is a palindrome).   Oh and another stand-up, Scots comic Billy Connolly - Jackson called him back to be Dáin II Ironfoot in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies in 2013.

Sam Gamgee .  The “only regret” thus far in the life of British stand-up Johnny Vegas was failing to wrest Sam away from Sean Astin. “I was dreadful,” Johnny confessed about his test. “I’m in front of a blue screen, they go, ‘Imagine a spider’ and there’s me going, ‘Oooh, Shelob! Shelob!'   Peter Jackson’s talking his glasses off and rubbing his eyes, saying: I flew from New Zealand for this? 


There just remains the two great rumours

burning up the Inernet for a wee while…

about David Bowie and (oh no!) Nicolas Cage.


Fourteen years after the fact, Cage confirmed that he’d passed on Aragorn - and regrets, he might have had a few, but too few to mention. “There were different things going on in my life at the time,” he told Newsweek, “that precluded me from being able to travel and be away from home for three years.”

Two of the three scenarists, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh (Mrs Jackson)  said there was once a  “drive” (by the suits) for name actors to give the movie(s) to help   the box-office. (Remember Daniel Day-Lewis and Russell Crowe seen for Aragorn, Liam Neeson up for Boromir and Ethan Hawke in the Legolas quiver – and Bruce Willis ( !) had been keen on Arwen). They never met Cage,  said Boyens.  “We loved him. I remember we saw... a couple films that came out around that time. He’s an amazing actor!”er m et age,

And it was Dominic Monaghan, aka Hobbiton’s Merry, who recalled seeing Bowie entering John Hubbard’s London casting agency in 1999.  "I'm assuming he read for Gandalf. I can't think of anything else he would've read for," Dom told the Huffington Post news website   in 2016. 

"We approached him," admitted casting director Amy Hubbard. “He is an elf, don’t you think? He is. He would’ve been Elrond,” said Boyens.  And  writer-producer Fran Walsh agreed.  “It was for Elrond, yeah,” 

Either way, Bowie was way too busy (like so many others)  for an 18 month to  a three-year down under gig.  And Jackson finally voted against any Ziggy the Grey or Thin White Elrond.  "To have a famous, beloved character and a famous star colliding,” he reasoned  “is slightly uncomfortable."


“All our hopes now lie with two little hobbits, somewhere in the wilderness”

2.   THE TWO TOWERS  2002 .


As I was saying…

Eowyn .   In December 1999, Peter Jackson first offered the White Lady of Rohann to Irish actress Alison Doody – also  a Galadriel candidate for  the first chapter. She passed having only lately given birth to her second daughter.


Uma Thurman also passed (again).

Kate Winslet was too busy.


That was Jackson’s fault. He’s the director who made her a global star as one of his Heavenly Creatures in 1994.

When  Miranda Otto turned up for her first day as Eowyn, Liv Tyler welcomed her witha hug: “I’m so glad there's another woman in this film.”

Faramir .  Orlando  Bloom auditioned - and received his career-making Legolas Greenleaf in the trilogy just two days before finishing drama school.  He  trained for two months with his bow and arrows (he was fast; special effects made him faster).  David Wenham became Faramir (in the final two chapters) because he resembled his screen brother, Sean Bean.



“Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima”


3.   THE RETURN OF THE KING    2003 .


Again, as I was saying…

Denethor .  Peter Jackson first saw John Rhysd-Davies for the role that appeared only in the final chapter. That was before Peter worked out a way to make the 6ft. 1in actor into the dwarf Gimli. Having tried, tested and accomplished that effect (not always satisfactorily),Jackson gave Denethor to the renowned stage actorand teacher John Noble.

So all honours have to go - brilliantly earned - to Peter Jackson for his trilogy of the classic JRR Tolkien saga.


For which enterprise, Jackson juggled 100 Kiwi locations,

30  fictional dialects and lingos  (tri-lingual Viggo Mortensen spoke

some Elvish), 20,602 background actors,  48,000 swords, axes, shields,

makeup prosthetics, 19,000 costumes;

and... 1,600 pairs of prosthetic Hobbit feet.


Not to mention... a 10,000 crowdmaking armygrunts at a New Zealand interntaional cricket match,a crew of 2,400, some 250 horses in one scene,  180 computer special-effects artists,  50 wardrobe department tailors, cobblers, designers, etc, seven years of development and production for the three movies… adding up to more than sixmillion feet of film being edited, more or less simultaneously,by threeteams!

Never was an Oscar more richly deserved.One? The last of the films won a record eleven Oscars - from eleven nominations.A first!

So it is the second film featuring Bernard Hill to score eleven; the first being Titanic, 1997, but from 14 nods). In February 2004, it also became second film (after Titanic), to break the $1b barrier worldwide - a 1408% profit on New Line’s initial outlay.

And, naturally, Jackson - the inspired cause of it all - was soon wondering where his cut had got to...

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