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24 July 2001

"Mercy!" cried Gandalf: "if the giving of information is to be the cure of your inquisitiveness, I shall spend all the rest of my days in answering you. What do you want to know?"

From: Paul Wilson

Q: I always felt a sort of a whimsical and enchanting feeling about the whole story of "Lord of the Rings", as if one was almost picked up and taken into middle-earth, in which all seems peaceful and serene. How true are the movies going to stay to this "feel". For example the score of the movie: will it be classical kind of music like Star Wars or "star singers" with written songs for the movies?

A: From what I have seen of the finished Fellowship of the Ring, the audience will feel that everything they see onscreen was actually happening when the cameras rolled, including the monstrous and supernatural. Hobbiton may be peaceful, but only before the story starts! The music is appropriately emotional and atmospheric, using a full orchestra overlaid with solo voices, choir and single instruments — the full range. I must stress that I have seen very little of the completed movie.

From: Paul Kemp

Q: I've just noticed what seems to be a new edition of LoTR being promoted in the window of my local branch of WH Smith, with your estimable self in Gandalf guise striding through moorland grasses with the Southern Alps as a backdrop. It made me wonder whether or not you receive some financial recognition for the use of your image in such circumstances. I personally feel you ought to!

A: I have not yet seen the new edition although I have the previous Harper and Collins paperback with John Howe's painting of Gandalf pressing on through the rain of Middle-earth. The original work is no longer in existence or rather was filched by persons unknown from an exhibition in I think Tokyo some years ago! Harper and Collins told me that they thought it might be time for a new portrait and asked me to be photographed a la Howe while I was filming in New Zealand. Pierre Vinet (the brilliant unit photographer) selected a spot near Queenstown where we could re-create the painted Gandalf.

Click to enlargeAs the law stands it seems that publishing rights to a photograph are held not by the subject nor even the photographer but by whoever bought the film — in this case New Line films. They presumably provided Harper Collins with the image you have seen, for a price maybe. I recall Robin Ellis, BBC TV's Poldark, questioning the use of his photograph on a paperback of the novels. He was the first actor ever to be reimbursed, he was told — a minimal sum granted with his agreement that it would set no precedent! So I don't expect a little cheque from the publishers and anyway I am delighted to draw a bookshop visitor's attention to Tolkien's work. Other times I have been less sanguine, remembering in particular an academic book which I didn't care for having a photograph of me as Macbeth on its cover.

Q: Do you fear yourself gravitating towards more 'blockbuster' material? Will we see you in more movies like "Gods & Monsters"? Where does LoTR fit into this scheme? (Is it on a par with the BBC Radio Play version, would you say?)

A: It is the audience who decides whether a film will be successful enough to qualify as a blockbuster — I am of course crossing fingers for Lord of the Rings. I am mindful of the box-office potential of all the projects I'm involved with but nothing can be taken for granted. The best policy is to concentrate on the worth of the script and the merits of those involved rather than on hopes of box-office records.

I have still not listened to the radio version and shall now wait for its re-issue with, I gather, some additional dialogue yet to be recorded. Presumably the late Michael Hordern's Gandalf will remain intact.

From: Will Fargo

Q: Now that filming has wrapped-up do you ever find yourself impersonating Gandalf, or taking on his habits and mannerisms? I would find it difficult to "shake" a character like that after a year of portraying him.

A: It may surprise you but I seem to have left Gandalf's persona behind in New Zealand. It was easy enough to find him for the ADR sessions but perhaps I am unconsciously like a painter clearing the canvas for the next character I have to portray. I remember at university playing two old men in a row (Shallow in Henry IV part 2 followed by Holofernes in a musical from Love's Labours Lost) and finding it hard to drop the wheezes and whistles of their voices for my next part, who was unfortunately meant to be my own age of 21 at the time.

Q: I have noticed when reading the books that in Fellowship of the Ring, the story is told mostly from Frodo's point of view, whereas after Frodo and Sam split off from the rest of the group their journey into Mordor is told from Sam's point of view. I was wondering if this change will be shown in the movies?

A: This hadn't occurred to me and I shan't know until I have seen the final versions of the three films. A related puzzle is will the Hobbits and Gimli seem small to the audience or will Gandalf and the rest seem big?

From: Langford Jordan

Q: Do actors get to see a completed version of a film prior to the premiere? Also does one have to be associated with the film in some fashion to attend a premiere?

A: There is usually a cast-and-crew screening before any film's release. Such a reunion won't be practical for The Lord of the Rings as we are all scattered across the world. But it is obviously an advantage if actors who are expected to promote the film have seen what they are talking about, and I shall be asking Peter Jackson to see it as soon as possible.

I gather that there will be one main official premiere for The Fellowship of the Ring, possibly in London, hopefully on a day when I can whisk myself over from Broadway where I'll be onstage most nights in Strindberg's Dance of Death. I know that the cast, including me, think it would be also appropriate for New Zealand's massive contribution to the trilogy to be acknowledged by a second premiere in Wellington, at the partially restored Embassy Cinema, a relic from movie palace days which Peter Jackson supports. These events, if they transpire, will be a few days before the 19 December general release, when it will be shown simultaneously on 10,000 screens worldwide. Premieres are often charity events, admission limited to those who can afford the inflated ticket prices.

Q: In several pictures, Gandalf is seen wearing a pointed hat, while others show him with a rounded hat. Which one or both will we see on screen?

A: I don't know where you found the non-existent rounded hat - Gandalf doesn't wear one in the films. The bluish pointy hat is the trademark of Gandalf the Grey he loses it during the battles in the Mines of Moria before he confronts the Balrog. Gandalf the White doesn't have a hat, just tying his hair back for action sequences.

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge

From: J.W. Braun 

Q I read in a recent interview of George Lucas that he feels the use of digital technology, especially blue screens, has changed the actor's job not to a new level, but rather to an older one: stage. He feels there are remarkable similarities between the craft the actors must practice now with these modern technologies, and the methods actors have had to use before in the theatre.

A: Perhaps George Lucas meant that actors had to use their imaginations in front of a bluescreen in the way we do in the theatre where scenery is more background than the embracing reality of a conventional film set or location. I would agree.

Q: Given that I've heard New Line constantly use the word franchise, does this mean we might expect an opening for another movie at the end of  Return of the King? My personal choice would be Bilbo saying "You lost my ring. Thank god I have a spare one."

A: LOL. 

ps I hate the use of the modish use of "franchise"; although it is at least an honest acknowledgement that a film these days is more than itself, rather an image that can be used in markets other than cinema. What about "Hamlet — a tragic franchise in five acts by William Shakespeare"?

Additional E-Posts about LOTR may be found in

The Lord of the Rings

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