As Impact continues its coverage of "Fellowship of the Ring," we talk more to director Peter Jackson, the cast and, in particular, Sean Bean, about the tough days making this ultimate sword and sorcery epic.
"Myth Conceptions" by John Mosby
"The Fellowship of the Ring" is now a guranteed bona fide phenomenom, but years of work went into making the film that millions have been flocking to for the last month. Peter Jackson had been prepping the film for three years, but had almost spent as much time again thinking of ways it could be made. Most of the actors themselves spent over a year in New Zealand, filming scenes from all three chapters of the story. All were determined that this was a story that should be character-driven. Though CGI effects would have to play an important part, the story had to take centre stage.
"The most important thing about the effects on 'Lord of the Rings' is that at no time should they begin to grandstand and get in front of this incredible story that we've come to love. It was imperative that they take on a cohesive and tight world that creates a tapestry and backdrop for the story and characters. The subtlety, this incredible level of reality was needed to give the feeling the story needed. The effects had to look real. That was the challenge to live up to," costume designer Richard Taylor explains.
Sean Bean may have proven himself both here and abroad, but at heart he's still a 'Northern lad' just as much at home in his native Sheffield as he is in New Zealand or Middle Earth. However the scope of the movie and the amount of emotional input amazed even him...especially when he finally got to see the finished film.
"I was impressed. I've just seen the finished film in New York and it was the first time I'd had the chance to see it in full. I was quite daunted on seeing something that I'd been imvolved with for such a long length of time. I guess we all have memories and high points. Just to see the complete picture was overwhelming. There had been moments when we were fighting thin air and imaginary tentacled beasts. To see that come alive, in such a seamless way, was very satisfying," he explains.
"I just think the battle scenes were great, the effects were great...but what I found most moving were the times between those scenes," he continues. "There are moments of intimacy and stillness, where you can see into their souls and discover the kind of people they are. You see their weaknesses and strengths. Certainly it's not very often that you work on a film of this magnitude and still get the time and space to make such well developed characters. We befriended each other as actors and that was mirrored in the film. I think it's unusual to do something on such an epic scale, but we intended that should always be first and foremost in our minds."
Though many of the cast were British or European, the central role of Frodo went to US star Elijah Wood. The story of him sending in his own audition tape is now widely circulated, but is it true?
"Yeah and it's becoming something of a frickin' legend now!" Wood laughs. "They were looking for an English actor, so it was hardly all on my side at that point. So I thought I'd make my own tape . I'd get my own Hobbit outfit and go off into the woods and really give it to 'em. Peter saw the tape and called me at home. I didn't give a second thought to it when I was offered the role. I took it immediately, it was the opportunity of a lifetime."
"It wasn't something I gave a second thought to, either," Sean agrees. "I thought 'If I'm not doing this, what else would I be doing? What could live up to this?' We all knew that this was something special. I was just flattered to be asked to be part of it. It's been a life-changing experience for me. New Zealand is just amazing. In many ways it is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. It was a very warm and supportive place to work. Everyone was so passionate and you were totally immersed in it."
Almost all the cast now have a personal reminder of their times together. Sean admits that he's made a host of new friends and they marked that in a symbolic way...
"I was there about a year, thrown together as individuals. I hadn't met any of the other cast before and I don't think any of us came to the film with any pre-conceived ideas. There were no tantrums or egos. It was all democratic and fair and everybody was made to feel very welcome. We've all got tattoos now. It was late one night after everyone had had a few drinks and it seemed like a good idea (laughs). Elijah and a few of the guys had them done in New Zealand, but I'd left by that point. I was the last one to get mine done. I was dragged by Orlando Bloom and Elijah to a steamy little tattoo parlour in New York where I got my shirt off and had it done. But it was done as a permanent reminder of our own fellowship which says a lot about the experience."
The only significant controversy about the casting occured when Stuart Townsend left the production shortly after shooting began (being replaced by Viggo Mortensen). There have been many rumors that Townsend did not fit in well. However, Jackson says that some of the blame must be laid at the casting door itself.
"We take responsibility. Stuart is a fantistic actor and I wanted to work with him. We tried to cast the film in a way that felt authentic to the book. Stuart himself auditioned for Frodo and we liked him as an actor. We didn't think he was right for Frodo, but we thought he would make an interesting Aragorn. We came to realise that it was a classic situation where we miscast the role. He was too young. It was a difficult and emotional situation to come to a parting of the way," Jackson explains. "I do believe in fate and that it's been there in the six or so years that I've spent connected to this film, that it's smiled on us. I think the day that Viggo Mortensen joined the film, fate dealt us a beautiful hand."
All the actors agree that the training was hard. To be convincing in a sword-fight, it takes time and patience and a lot of skill. Luckily, the film had the services of legendary choreographer Bob Anderson. Bean speaks highly of Anderson and the whole stunt team.
"We spent nearly six weeks rehearsing with Bob and his team. That was the great thing...the fact that we had the time to do that. The people were all fantastic and committed. I think you can do a certain amount of swordplay, but it's better when you have the time to approach it from the character's point of view - to see HOW someone would approach it, their style. Viggo/Aragorn has a gritty wild quality. Legolas is more graceful. Most of the stuff you'll see on screen is the real thing. There was a wild dirty quality about the fighting that really got me going."
"You got to recognise the stunt-people even in their full make-up. You'd notice the limp or their body-language. 'Oh, he's coming at me from my left, it must be Andy. I better watch out, he's good!' It helped to have that kind of shorthand, to be able to improvise when there wasn't much time," Viggo agrees.
The film is now an instant classic, but with two further chapters still to be seen (at yearly intervals) it's sometimes hard to realise that the films were actually shot back-to-back and that the actors have now moved on to other films. Sean admits that though there are a few projects that might be coming up next year, but nothing solid as yet. But, he acknowledges as he leaves, that he had some great scenes in "Fellowship of the Ring" and it's bound to raise his profile even further. With yet another villainous role in the current thriller "Don't Say a Word" and a CV that now includes entries with Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Lady Chatterly and a bunch of Hobbits, few other actors can boast quite as broad a canvas of experience.