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LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy
(Peter Jackson 2001-2013)

 

 

 

THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy 

 

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

1.  THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

2.  THE TWO TOWERS  

3.  THE RETURN OF THE KING   

Peter Jackson  . 2001 

 

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 JRR Tolkien books.

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

 “We talked about it for awhile,” said Sir Paul McCartney, 35 years later.   They were so keen on the  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: Tolkein was unfilmable.

 

Paul being Paul smelt “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 fortunate few receiving his 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 all about it. He confirmed the idea was it it was going to be their next film after Help.  “Paul was very gracious: ‘It was a good job we never made ours because then you wouldn’t have made yours and it wasgreat 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’.’

From O’Dell, LOTRlanded at the now-Disney-owned Miramax, where the brothers Weinstein - Bob and… the other one - spent $14m developing a project for two movies for a total cost of a $180m. No way, said head Mouse, Michael Eisner. Tolkien’s classic would not ranslatet into film form - and even if it did, the audience would be minimal. Yeah!

Without their necessary financial backing (Disney imposed a limit on their budgets), the Weinsteins  allowed Peter Jackson to shop his project around. He went to New Line Cinema where his passion won over head man Robert Shaye to the tune of  $350m for three movies

Ian Holm, aka Bilbo Baggins, wondered why 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 New Line.

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

And nothing fazed Peter Jackson... Not when deciding to shoot Ian Holm and  Christopher Lee’s sequences in the UK’s Pinewood studios due to concerns about how flying in and out of down-under would affect their aged health).  And not even when facing …

 

The disappointment of failing to convince

Daniel Day-Lewis or Russell Crowe to be Aragorn,

and Patrick McGoohan or Sean Connery for Gandalf.

 

He searched everywhere for his stars. From British theatre knights  to stand-up comics, from Batman and James Bond wannbes to former Doctor Whos… and too few women. When Miranda Otto turned up for her first day as Eowyn, Liv Tyler welcomed her with  a hug: “I’m so glad there's another woman in this film.”

 

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, the Swimming With Sharksdirector   George Huang. Apart from his (official) audition, the closest Dominic Monaghan came 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.  Elijah Wood became Frodo - the first  actor to be cast - on July 7, 1999.

Bilbo Baggins  .  Ian Holm reigned supreme!  As he had done (as Frodo) in the 1981  BBC radio version..  The film, he said, was a fabulous distraction. Adam Brown, from Berkshire, auditioned  (and was given the dwarf Ori in Jackson’s following Tolkien trilogy, The Hobbit,2011. Jackson was such a Doctor Whofan, he probably would  have dropped his Ringscycle 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 Hobbit’s  wizard Radagast for McCoy. Jackson’s pal, Steven Spielberg, was another Whovian and wanted McCoy as Governor Weatherby Swann when Spielberg was planning to skipper The Pirates of the Caribbeanin the early 90s).

Gandalf the Grey .  Sir 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, Christophert Plummer and Patrick Stewart.

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

When the director’s first Gandalf - Nigel Hawthorne - was dying of pancreatic cancer, Ian McKellan became Jackson’s"please-God-let-us-have-him guy." But he had X-Men commitments,. For a while.  n McKellan borrowed JRR Tolkien’s accent for the rôle.

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 known JRR Tolkien, Lee was Jackson’s touchstone, the finest possibler 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.

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 Brits from the Babylon 5series, Jason Carter and Robin Atkin Downes.  They both went on to voice video-games.  In fact, Downes’ stage and screen  career is overhadowed  by his impressive  total of  video-game voices  - from Star Warsto Pirates of the Caribbean. Nic iolas Cage passed due to family obligatiopns.  (The length of the shoot - 16 months – had many  an actor, and indeed a star, refusing Jackson’s entreaties).

Finally,  Stuart Townsend, 26, was chosen  but  let go after the six weeks of training and rehearsal and four day’s filming as Peter Jackson realised Aragorn needed to be 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,  Peter Jackson).

Galadriel  . First choices  Nicole Kidman and Kiwi star Lucy Lawless - Zena: Warrior Princess, herself! - and Uma Thurman all proved pregnant.  Liv Tyler was not. And for just one of the 16 months…

 

Aussie Cate Blancett took over.

“I’ve always wanted pointy ears.”

 

Arwen  .  Helena Bonham Carter had beern keen. Uma Thurman was still pregnant. This time, Miranda Otto was notto.

Gimli  .  Obviously, the first time that Warwick Davis (the 2ft 1in Willow  and Star Wars’Ewok, Wicket Wysrti Warrick), lost the small person  role to… the 6ft 1ns  John Rhys-Davies,   tallest of the actors playing members of the Fellowship.  Also seen for the dwarf warrior were British comic  Bill Bailey,  Timothy Spall and Robert Trebor (his name is a palindrome).  Oh and another stand-up, the Scottish Billy Connolly  (Sir Billy sin ce 2017.,  Jackson called him back to be Dáin II Ironfoot in The Hobbit: The Battle oif the Five Armies.Rhys-Davies (who also voiced Treebeard)  is the sole thespian to star in the Indiana Jones. 007 and LOTRfranchises.

Samwise 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  admitted 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?

Denethor  .  Peter Jackson first saw John Rhys-Davies  for the role that appeared  only in the final chapter. That was before Peter worked out a way to make the tallest, 6ft. 1in,  actor into the dwarf Gimli. Having tried, tested and accomplished that effect (not always satisfactorily), Jackson gave Denethor to the renowned Australian stage actor  and teacher John Noble, starting a whiole new TV career for him:  Pirate Islands, 24, Fringe, Sleepy Hollowand Sherlock Holmes’ father in Elementary.

King Theoden of Rohan  .   Kevin Conway was selected  for his majesty but prefered to repeat his 1993 Gettysburg TV role of Buster Kilrain in Gods and Generals, 2003. Jackson passed the king to one of his possible Gandalfs, Bernard Hill. 

Grima Wormtongue  .  Richard O’Brien passed and Brad Dourif became Tolkien’s "wizened figure of a man… with a long pale tongue," an archetypal sycophant (a la Beowulf’s Unferth), advising King Theoden and Saruman fin the last two chapters.

Eowyn  .  In December 1999, Peter Jackson first  offered the White Lady of Rohan,to Irish actress Alison Doody, Steven Spielberg’s Irish heroine in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, 1988. Which is also where John Rhys-Davies came from to  be dwarfed as Glimi. Doody passed having only lately given birth to her second daughter.

 

Uma Thurman also passed (again).

Kate Winslet  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.   

Boromir  .   Liam Neeson passed and Bruce Willis -  a surprise fan of the books, it says here  -   “expressed interest” in what became Sean Bean’s roleof Denethor's son.

Faramir  .   Orlando Bloom auditioned - and received his career-making Legolas Greenleaf just two days before finishing drama school. While 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.

 

There remains just the two rumours

burning up the Internet 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 ( !) was keen on Boromir). 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!”

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-site 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. “It was for Elrond, yeah,”  writer-producer Fran Walsh agreed.

Either way, Bowie was way too busy for 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 felt, “is slightly uncomfortable."

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

 

Jackson juggled 114 speaking roles;

30 with fictional dialects and lingoes

(tri-lingual  Viggo Mortensen) spoke some Elvish);

20,602 background actors; 100 Kiwi locations;

48,000 swords, axes, shields, makeup prosthetics;

19,000 costumes; 1,600 pairs of prosthetic hobbit feet

 

Plus a 10,000-strong  crowd  making army grunts at a New Zealand interntaional cricket match; a crew of 2,400; 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…shooting from October 11, 1999, to December 22, 2000…for   more than six million feet of film being edited, more or less simultaneously,  by three teams. John Gilbert was editing the first film (into 178 minutes, including 540 CGI effects) while Michael Horton was cutting the second (179 minutes, 799 sfx) and longtime Jackson associate Jamie Selkirk was perfecting the finale (144 minutes, 1,488 sfx).

Surprised  there are no statistics from the LOTR medics about the injuries sustained during the shoot. Viggo Mortensen broke a toe and a tooth, Bernard Hill cracked his sternum, Orlando Bloom busted a rib, etc, etc, etc.

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

Therefore, this the second film featuring Bernard Hill to  score eleven; the first being  Titanic, 1997, but  from 14 nods). In February 2004, LOTR 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...

 

That, helas, is not all.    

Due to the earlier mention of a certain family name,   there needs must  be added to this casting history…  

 A repugnant footnote

In October  2017, Ashley Judd and Miora Sorvino were among the first group of women publicly accusing producer  Harvey Weinstein of past sexual harassment – plus, in their case, of being nixed for LOTR for being “a nightmare” to work with. Weinstein denied everything

“Aspects of Harvey’s denial are insincere,” said a statement issued by Peter Jackson. “He is basically saying that this blacklisting couldn’t be true because New Line cast the movie. That’s a deflection from the truth.  In the 18 months we developed the Lord of the Ringsat Miramax, we had many casting conversations with Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein and their executives… Amongst the many names raised, Fran [Walsh, Mrs Jackson and LOTR co-writer-producer]  and I expressed our enthusiasm Ashley Judd and Miora Sorvino. In fact,  we met with Ashley and discussed two possible roles with her. After this meeting, we were told by Miramax to steer clear of both Ashley and Mira, because they claimed to have had “bad experiences” with these particular actresses in the past. Fran Walsh was in the same meeting, and remembers these negative comments about Ashley and Mira as clearly as I do. We have no reason to make it up. This type of comment is not unusual - it can happen with any studio on any film, when different actor’s names come up in conversation - but once you hear negative feedback about somebody, you don’t forget it…

“The movies changed hands from Miramax to New Line before casting actually got underway - but because we had been warned off Ashley and Mira by Miramax, and we were naive enough to assume we’d been told the truth, Fran and I did not raise their names in New Line casting conversations.

“Nearly 20 years later, we read about the sexual misconduct allegations being made against Harvey Weinstein and we saw comments by both Mira and Ashley, who felt they had been blacklisted by Miramax after rejecting Harvey’s sexual advances. Fran and I immediately remembered Miramax’s negative reaction when we put their names forward, and we wondered if we had unwittingly been part of the alleged damage to their careers, at the hands of Miramax. We have no direct evidence linking Ashley and Mira’s allegations to our Lord of the Ringscasting conversations of 20 years ago – but we stand by what we were told by Miramax when we raised both of their names, and we are recounting it accurately. If we were unwitting accomplices in harming their careers, Fran and I unreservedly apologise to both Ashley and Mira.”

According to a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, suing Harvey Weinstein for defamation, sexual harassment, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage and unfair competition. Ashley Judd said she felt something "unseen" had been holding her career back, but she didn't realise until December [2017] that it was Weinstein. “Peter & Fran had me in - showed me all the creative, the boards, costumes, everything. They asked which if the two roles I prefered, and then I abruptly never heard from hem again. I appreciate the truth coming out. Thank you, Peter.”

Mia Sorvino added: ”Just seeing this after I awoke, I burst out crying. There it is, confirmation that Harvey Weinstein derailed my career, something I suspected but was unsure. Thank you Peter Jackson for being honest. I’m just heartsick.”

Said attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr:  “The pathetic reality… was that Weinstein was retaliating against Ms Judd for rejecting his sexual demands approximately one year earlier, when he cornered her in a hotel room under the guise of discussing business…A self-described benevolent dictatorwho has bragged that 'I can be scary,' Weinstein used his power in the entertainment industry to damage Ms. Judd’s reputation and limit her ability to find work."

The lawsuit also details allegations made by other actresses, including Salma Hayek and Uma Thurman, who say the mogul threatened their careers after they rejected him sexually. It also alleges that Mira Sorvino was also up for a Lord of the Rings role and was passed over for the same reason as Judd.

A Weinstein representative responded: “The most basic investigation of the facts will reveal that Mr Weinstein neither defamed Ms Judd nor ever interfered with Ms. Judd’s career, and instead not only championed her work but also repeatedly approved her casting for two of his movies over the next decade. The actual facts will show that Mr. Weinstein was widely known for having fought for Ms Judd as his first choice for the lead role in Good Will Hunting and, in fact, arranged for Ms. Judd to fly to New York to be considered for the role. Thereafter, Ms. Judd was hired for not one, but two of Mr. Weinstein’s movies, Frida in 2002 and Crossing Over with Harrison Ford in 2009. We look forward to a vigorous defense of these claims.”

 





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