Peter Jackson and his cast and crew talk exclusively to Total Film about the one film to rule 2012…
Bilbo Baggins. Fantasy icon. Quintessential reluctant hero. And, according to Martin Freeman, probably not a virgin.
“I think he’s had sex, I’m not sure,” the star deadpans. “I’m trying to convince Pete to write that scene in…”
For a man playing the title character in 2012’s hottest ticket, Freeman seems uncannily relaxed. Or maybe he’s just knackered after another epic day of tussling with dwarves, elves and other fruit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s cavernous imagination.
Either way, given Freeman’s habitual humility, there’s no whiff of BS when he says he’s not buckling under the burden. “I honestly don’t feel that pressure, no,” the actor tells TF in windy Wellington, the New Zealand city home to the Rings . “I really, really don’t. Of course, it is Bilbo’s journey, but I didn’t write it, I’m not directing it... It’s not my film. It’s Peter’s film.”
An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson. The lord of The Lord Of The Rings . And on The Hobbit , co-producer, co-writer and, finally, director. Jackson’s route to the director’s chair was an unexpected journey in itself, taking in legal skirmishes, financial struggles and a jolly giant named Guillermo.
“MGM and Warner Bros each had certain rights to The Hobbit , but the future of MGM was up in the air for a while,” recalls Jackson, “which left The Hobbit up in the air. It didn’t seem like there was any end in sight, and Guillermo [ del Toro ] had other projects lined up, so he eventually left, and it wasn’t until five or six months later that we finally got the green light.”
It was during that limbo period that Jackson “really started to fall in love” with the idea of directing the two-part opus himself, shifting from backseat to driver’s wheel.
Finding The Tone
Initially, Jackson was wary of taking his megaphone back to Middle-earth because of the different tone required.
“ The Hobbit is very much a children’s book and The Lord Of The Rings is something else; it’s not really aimed at children at all,” he explains.
Jackson fretted that after three tours of LOTR duty (six, if you count the extended editions) he wouldn’t have a fresh slant on Tolkien’s world. But then he found his muse. Or muses.
“I realised the characters of the dwarves are the difference. Their energy and disdain of anything politically correct brings a new kind of spirit to it. And that’s why I thought, OK, this could be fun!”
Distinguishing The Dwarves
Dwalin. Balin. Kili. Fili. Dori. Nori. Oin. Gloin. Bifur. Bofur. Bombur. Ori. And leader of the pack Thorin Oakenshield.
In short (ahem), the Company of Dwarves - the baker’s dozen of beardy adventurers who, via wizard Gandalf, enlist Bilbo in their great quest to raid the treasure vaults of a thieving dragon.
Don’t worry if you can’t remember all the names; Jackson’s making it his mission to mould them into distinctive individuals on screen.
“That was something I worried about,” he confesses. “I imagined 13 guys with long hair and beards and I thought, ‘How are we ever going to know which dwarf is which?’”
Continuity Is Key
The solution started in the Weta workshop, Jackson and his team “creating iconic silhouettes” for each dwarf – different hairstyles and weapons (“Dwalin has axes crossed on his back, as if they’re sticking out of the side of his head”).
Costumes and instruments of pain sorted, it’s now down to the actors to work up their characters’ quirks to distinguish themselves within the group. “It’s an ensemble from hell really,” Jackson chuckles.
“I thought nine members of the Fellowship was a problem; but here, with Gandalf and Bilbo, we’ve got 15. It’s working out fine though. The dwarves give it a kind of childish, comedic quality that gives us a very different tone from The Lord Of The Rings .”
Still, continuity is key. “I want it to seem like we’ve gone back on location into Middle-earth; that these two movies feel like they belong at the beginning of the other three. We’re the same filmmakers going into the same world.”
And in that same world are several familiar faces – not least Gollum, who’s both in front and behind the camera this time, with actor Andy Serkis doubling up as second-unit director. (“Pete can tell me if he’s not happy with something,” he says. “I’m on a big learning curve!”).
Other returnees include Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), the last two absent from the original novel but eminently eligible for face time, as Jackson explains: “We’re not just adapting The Hobbit ; we’re adapting a lot of the additional material that Tolkien added to the appendices of The Lord Of The Rings .
“So we’re able to get a lot more into what was going on in the world outside of Bilbo and the dwarves – which is really why it’s ended up being two movies.”
History’s proven that Jackson’s a dab hand at shooting back-to-back. But how about the new challenge of 3D?
“3D is easy,” breezes the director. “I’ve always tried to move the camera around a lot because it gives you a 3D effect in a 2D movie. So I’m not doing anything different, I’m shooting the movie as I normally would.”
Turning Tolkien’s vision into cinema has only become easier since the original trilogy, says Jackson. “The technology gets better. Everything that we were pioneering on LOTR has now become a well-organised pipeline.”
For one thing, digital acting – synthesping – has stepped up a gear. “We showed people Martin’s CGI double and they thought they were looking at the actual Martin,” smiles Jackson. “I think he was bit freaked out by it…”
In The Thick Of It
There’s no substitute, of course, for the real thing – and the filmmakers were so intent on bagging Freeman that production went on hiatus to allow the actor to shoot the second series of the BBC’s Sherlock .
For his part, Freeman was thrilled, after believing he was out of the race. “I was sad but I thought, ‘I’ll just hate whoever plays Bilbo’,” says the actor with a wry smile.
Happily, he’s now in the thick of it – often literally. “The hardest thing is staying ‘up’ and peppy when you’re covered in snot or mud, day after day… I’m sure there’s more to come.”
But he’s eager to dive in, figuratively at least. “So far, what we’ve filmed has been more comic than heavy. I keep asking Pete, ‘When are we going heavy?’ He assures me it’s coming!”
There And Back Again
But maybe not until part two, There And Back Again (due Christmas 2013), where war, madness and dragon rage will enter the picture.
“We always saw The Hobbit more in the golden light of fairytale,” says co-writer/ LOTR alumna/Jackson’s wife Fran Walsh.
“It’s more playful. But by the time you get to the end, Tolkien is writing himself into that place where he can begin that epic journey of writing LOTR , which took, as he put it, his life’s blood. All those heavier, darker themes which are so prevalent in the later trilogy start to come into play.”
While it will be the job of part two to come full circle with LOTR , part one promises all the hallmarks of the work that swept Jackson onto the A-list. “When I took over from Guillermo, I had to make the movie I was imagining,” Jackson states.
“His DNA is in there, but I’m not trying to impersonate the way he would have directed it. I’m shooting it my style. I thought it was important I was the same filmmaker as I was 10 years ago; I wanted that unity.”
He’s grinning. “I’m back in my LOTR mode.”
Step By Step
The essentials for an unexpected journey
The Hobbit was first published in 1937; a revised edition (tying it closer to The Lord Of The Rings ) was released in 1951, but a third re-edit – begun in 1960 – was left unfinished. An Unexpected Journey is set 60 years before the original LOTR trilogy.
In Tolkien’s world, elves are immortals, so expect returnee Legolas (Orlando Bloom) to look much the same. “Sixty years is nothing in the life of an elf,” says Legolas.
The filmmakers have attempted to counter the book’s gender imbalance by including some ladies – including LOTR ’s Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and brand-new character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a Mirkwood elf.
Alongside Blanchett and Bloom, The Hobbit will also see the return of Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Hugo Weaving (Elrond) and Ian Holm as the older version of Bilbo. “I haven’t met Ian,” says Martin Freeman. “But I think he’s fucking brilliant.”
Richard Armitage, who plays dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, is 6ft 2in tall. And he’s not even the biggest in the Company. “Graham [ McTavish, as Dwalin ] is slightly taller. They’ve given me lifts in my shoes because they wanted me to be bigger than him!”
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Opens on 14 December 2012.
This feature originally appeared in Total Film magazine – Issue 189.
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