Sean Astin (Sam), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Dominic Monaghan (Merry) and Billy Boyd (Pippin) '

If you thought the fanfare over Harry Potter was excessive, just wait for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, already dubbed the most ambitious project in

cinema history. Words: Mike Bellicec

hy would a Hollywood studio entrust $270m

of its cash to a New Zealand director best

known for shooting zombie movies'.’ Why

would it give him the green light for a crackpot

scheme to shoot not one but three films based

on J.R.R. Tolkien's epic fantasy novel The [on] ()f The Rings'.’

And why would it let him film all three before the first. 'l'lre fellows/tip ()f'l'lte Ring. was even screened to the public'.’

Well. consider the tnan. Peter Jackson is a short. bearded and

bespectacled 40 year old. a modest wizard of the cinema. whose

quiet authority inspires admiration. respect and a great deal of

affection. ‘We're all in thrall to Peter Jackson.‘ says Sir Ian McKellen. who plays the good wizard (iandalf the Grey in the most hotly anticipated movie of the year. ‘He doesn‘t look like a director does he‘.’ He doesn‘t look like the man who masterminded all this. but he has done. and we were privileged to be allowed to enter his world.'

Jackson's track record might not make him sound like the obvious choice for a Middle liarth adventure. His first feature. the aptly named micro-budget l987 comedy. Bail 'lirste. was filmed on a shoestring over four years of snatched weekends. It was so gory it was seized by customs on its arrival into Britain. He followed it up with the blood-spattered zombie movie. Briton/earl. and didn‘t go mainstream until the emotionally devastating Heavenly Creatures with Kate Winslet. But the testimonies of cast and crew show him in a different light. ‘Peter’s as cool as an elf says Orlando Bloom. cast as the elven prince l.egolas two days before finishing drama school. ‘lle’s got the heart of a hobbit and he‘s as mad as a wizard. lle encapsulates the whole project.’

Mad as a wizard‘.’ Yes indeed. Jackson it was who. in 1995. captivated the population of New Zealand with forgotten .S'i/ver. a black and white TV documentary about (‘olin McKenzie. an unsung inventor who'd managed to fly a plane nine months before the Wright brothers and to devise sound film in advance of the talkies. After the broadcast. the mischievous director. who cites his influences as Monty Python. King Kong and Buster Keaton. admitted the film was a hoax.

Mark ()rdesky. executive with mini~major studio New Line. says the decision to sign up Jackson was boldly but confidently made. '11 was surprisingly easy.‘ he says. ‘because you know when certain filmmakers are suited to something. And you just knew that The Lord ()f The Rings was something that was a fusion of all Peter‘s gifts. in terms of his writing. his touch with the actors. the sheer scale of the epic and the historical. thematic stuff. There was never a doubt.’

'I‘hat’s not to say Jackson himself had such confidence. Why did they back him'.’ ‘lt‘s a question I asked myself on set every day.‘ says Jackson who developed the project from scratch with his partner liran Walsh. If he's telling the truth. then it‘s a

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question he asked 27sl times. In the end. though. he repaid the confidence in him. Shooting began in his native New Xealand on If October 199‘) and finished bang on time - on 23 December 2()()(). Jackson says the last day was a bit of a scramble. but he‘d told the company it would all be over by (‘hristmas and it was. l’or tnost of the shoot. Jackson appeared on set wearing shorts. l—shirt and walking boots. \Vithout ever once losing his focus or cool. he would act out scenes to show the actors what he wanted. monitor a bank of video screens. making adjustments where necessary and direct panoramic battle scenes involving as many as 3.()()() extras in full armour and prosthetic make-up. As well as his meticulous preparation and calm demeanour. there was something else that made Jackson the perfect man for the job: an ability to blend shrewdly observed scenes ofeveryday reality with imaginative flights of fantasy. Bttt finding the right actors to play some of the best—known and best-loved characters in liuglish literature was always going to be a nightmare. "l‘he casting] says Jackson. 'was one of the most crucial things. liverybody has a very strong idea of what these characters look like. what they sound like. and obviously we feel the same. Among the large cast are Scotland‘s Billy Boyd (recently seen at lidinburgh‘s 'l‘raverse 'l'heatre in The Bul/ur/ ()f ('mqv Poo/u). Liv Tyler. (‘ate Blanchett. Sean Bean. Viggo Mortensen. ('hristopher Lee and Ian llolm. ()ne of the first actors to be cast was lilijah Wood. who plays lirodo Baggins. Yet he almost didn’t get cast at all. The 20—year-old actor 7' best known as the teenage boy caught fooling around with Kevin Kline‘s daughter (‘hristine Ricci in The Ice Storm showed considerable initiative to secure the role of the hobbit. ‘lirodo Baggins is a very difficult character to imagine] says Jackson. ‘lles a sort of liveryman Hobbit. You relate to l-‘rodo on this journey. So it was a hard role to east. We thought that the hobbits should be from Britain. so we had auditioned ruany l‘rodos in lingland before lilijah actually sent us a video tape on which he auditioned himself. He had taken a couple of actual scenes from the book. and he’d a got a friend to videotape it for him. He was in a little forest. somewhere near his house. I think. And it was l-rodo. It was remarkable. l‘rodo kind of arrived in a package in the mail.’ P

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