Blog | 24 July 2001 | Cannes, Pickups, Merch

At the beginning of this month I was back in New Zealand for six days completing my contribution to The Fellowship of the Ring. Shock? Horror? Some observers earlier in the year over-reacted to the Grey Book's news that Peter Jackson was making minimal adjustments to the beginning of that film. They assumed that something had gone badly wrong — in part, perhaps, a cynical reaction to the unanimous approval of the "Cannes footage" where journalists and distributors raved over 20 minutes of completed film.

For a film director to adjust things between the completion of principal photography and the movie's release is, of course, commonplace, akin to a chef's last-minute seasoning or an author's spellcheck. Throughout filming, I was impressed by Peter Jackson's overall view, confirmed in Wellington this month, when he sensed after each session exactly which piece of which take should make it into the final cut. Some directors fashion their film in the editing suite, whereas Peter Jackson seems to cut it all together in his head in advance.

In June, following the success of Cannes, Robert Shaye and his close associates at New Line watched on the big screen at Peter's headquarters his preliminary version of the first film in their trilogy. Bob is not a man to mince words but what could have been a nerve-wracking confrontation between producer and director passed off in mutual enthusiasm, confirming the truth that The Fellowship of the Ring is on course and on time. Next, Howard Shore will fit his composition to the final cut, when he records the music in London next month.

It was fun to be back in pointy hat and beard, catching up with acting colleagues and other friends in Wellington. Hugo Weaving raced over from filming the Matrix sequels in Sydney; Elijah Wood , Sean Astin and Viggo Mortensen flew in from Hollywood; and Christopher Lee and John Rhys-Davies were there from London. We will all meet up again at the world premiere if, that is, it fits in with my Tuesday-Sunday Broadway schedule for Dance of Death. If the movie opens in US or in London on a Monday evening, I should be able to make it. I hope that there is also a gala opening in Wellington so the local cohorts of extras and technicians can show off their handiwork to friends and families.

Between takes, I revelled in "Tall, Dark and Gruesome", the Lee autobiography — "What's that about?" a friend asked him! Well it's pure Christopher and you can hear his voice as you read. I also treasure a slim book of Strindberg's photography, given me by Viggo, the actor/artist/photographer/poet. I am increasingly mindful of Dance of Death as rehearsals approach. This is the time that diligent actors prepare. So what do I do? Remembering a pre-Wild Honey recce to Chekov's country, I wonder whether a quick trip to Sweden wouldn't be in order? Even though I have performed my solo Acting Shakespeare in Stockholm and in Uppsala, where Strindberg was a student? It might have been best to go to Scandinavia with Helen Mirren or Sean Mathias, the director, but the one is currently preparing for the rigours of Broadway at her home in Los Angeles, the other at his in Cape Town. So I've been trundling through Michael Meyer's standard biography of Strindberg and in net searches for further info, landing up in Swedish-language-only sites, some of which have the same photos as in Viggo's book. They are modern images, informal, wild and restless and certainly convey more of the dramatist's style than his home country would, a hundred years later.

Whilst Saruman and I were facing off once more, I asked Dan Hennah (art director) if I could one day take home a couple of the fake-metal lizards which served as door handles in Orthanc. He smiled quizzically as he often does and as I left for Wellington Airport last week, Peter and Fran presented me with a hefty wooden box containing the lizards, which are now settled in at their new home in London. Among a few further precious mementoes are an Alan Lee original pencil drawing of Gandalf (another gift from the Jacksons) plus I confess hanging in my study the large keys to Bag End's round front door which, if anyone asks, I shall swear were given me by Bilbo Baggins before he left Hobbiton forever.

I also have a sizeable collection of prototypes for merchandising curiosities, which have been sent on approval. My favourite, although I don't eat meat, is Burger King's goblet with a convincing likeness of Gandalf in cameo relief on its bowl. Perhaps this should only be available for consumers of veggieburgers!

The WETA workshops who made the masks, weapons and other objects for the trilogy have produced figurines, sculpted and painted by their young staff, like this one of Gandalf leading the Fellowship into the Mines of Moria.

Photo by Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema

Peter Jackson on the set, Photo by Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema

Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Robert Shaye, in Wellington

Gandalf addresses the Council of Elrond (Hugo Weaving, second left), Photo by Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema

Helen Mirren (Alice) in Dance of Death

Sean Mathias, Director of Dance of Death

Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, Photo by Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema

Christopher Lee as Saruman, Photo by Pierre Vinet / New Line Cinema

Toy Gandalf