The Cast of ‘Lord of the Rings’ – Ten Years Later (Part 1)
The Lord of the Rings has become one of the greatest peaks in the cinematic landscape. It’s rare that an undertaking of this scale is launched, and is rarer is it so successful. Peter Jackson and his army of production staff accomplished something spectacular and many of the stars became household names. Jumping ahead a decade from when the trilogy was in the middle of it’s releases and we’re returning to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit. Perfect time to look back at the original stars and where they’ve ended up.
As Frodo Baggins Elijah Wood carried much of the story on his shoulders. Over the course of the three films he must make the transition from carefree youth of the Shire to a possessed creature whose world-saving quest almost tears his mind apart. Wood portrays the very essence of bravery and resilience as he comes up against insurmountable odds which the knowledge that he very likely will never return.
In the past ten years Elijah Wood seems determined to shed any chance of being typecast as the plucky young hero. His first role following Frodo was as the manipulative and perverted Patrick in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a soccer hooligan in Green Street Hooligans and a psychotic cannibal in Sin City. He’s taken a few leading roles in arthouse fare such as Everything is Illuminated and some voice acting roles in Happy Feet and Robot Chicken. Most recently he’s redonned the britches to reprise the role of Frodo (during happier times) in The Hobbit.
SAMWISE ‘SAM’ GAMGEE
Sean Astin brought the Goonie’s ‘never say die’ attitude to his Middle-Earth adventures, playing Frodo’s stalwart companion Samwise Gamgee. It’s not obligation to a higher power that drivers Sam’s journey to Mount Doom but his loyalty to Frodo, whom he swore to protect. Although he offered little in the way of physical protection it the emotional support offered that helped lighten the burden.
Astin did not use his role in the decades biggest movies to springboard him into a bigger career, but he has been working harder than most. He’s got roles in several short films, TV movies and TV shows every year. He’s appeared in live action and voice work (recently voicing Raphael of the Ninja Turtles) and the title role in Special Agent Oso, an educational children’s show.
After Frodo Baggins the second most important role of story is undoubtedly Aragorn. The exiled king of men turned ranger was played by a different actor during the early weeks of filming, but when it didn’t work Viggo Mortensen was asked to join the cast. Having no knowledge of the material or script and with filming already well underway he flew to New Zealand (at the behest of his son) and slipped effortlessly into the character’s skin. Whether he’s a grizzled man of the wild or a noble leader of armies the character seems completely genuine.
Casting agents and directors took notice of Viggo Mortensen during LOTR. Formally a supporting cast member or love interest to a leading lady he stepped directly into spotlight with Hidalgo, A History of Violence, Good, Eastern Promises, Appaloosa and The Road. Now a highly respected and acclaimed leading man more good roles likely lie ahead.
GANDALF THE GREY/WHITE
Whether Gandalf the Grey or White this is a role that needs to tick many boxes. He needs to be warm and caring as well as dangerous and powerful. He needs to appear as a being beyond the world of men while being grounded enough to relate. As everyone knows Peter Jackson found his perfect wizard in Ian McKellen, who brings a nobility to a role that could’ve been hammy in the hands of a lesser actor. McKellen owns the screen whether drinking tea with Bilbo or running down the Nazgul on horseback.
Given that Ian McKellen took his first lead role in television’s David Copperfield in 1966 and has been as an actor of great renown ever since he didn’t need this fantasy epic to further his career. That said, this is the role he’ll be best remembered for. In the years following the LOTR he’s lent his voice to such works as Stardust, The Golden Compass and Flushed Away and appeared in various films and TV shows (including a stint on Coronation Street). His biggest role in the past decade has been Magneto in the X-Men series, which he will reprise in the upcoming sequel to First Class as well as Gandalf for The Hobbit.
PEREGRIN ‘PIPPIN’ TOOK
Pippin is, right of the bat, the comic relief of the trilogy. He’s even the goofier of the two comic relief characters (the other being his companion Merry). Even after all the ale and pipeweed has run out it takes him the longest to appreciate the enormity of the situation that they’re in. It’s not until he stands with Gandalf in Gondor and sees the growing darkness of Mordor does he begin to grow as a character. In many ways it’s when Pippin begins to lose hope that has the greatest impact on the audience, seeing the happy-go-lucky hobbit grieving for Faramir is as tough as it gets.
Billy Boyd has portrayed a number of different roles in the intervening years but has never broken in the big leagues. Steady work in TV and films, including an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, has filled out his filmography and he recently reunited with hobbit Sean Astin in Dorothy and the Witches of Oz.
MERIADOC ‘MERRY’ BRANDYBUCK
Rarely seen apart from his lifelong friend Pippin, Merry is just as attracted to trouble, ale and pipeweed as his companion. Merry is the more sensible of the pair and he grasps the enormity of the situation they’ve found themselves in very early one. He makes a snap decision to join Frodo and Sam as soon as he saw them in trouble without any thought to the consequences, proving his alliance to the cause from the outset. His responsible side does leak out a few times such as when he tries to convince the Ents to join the battle. Merry does state during the adventure that he often leads Pippin into trouble but also gets him out of it, and one of the most emotional moments comes when they get separated.
Monaghan stood out from the group of hobbits as he wore the responsible character carrying a burden at the same time as the goofy hobbit routine. He picked up a regular job not long after playing drug-addicted fading rock star Charlie in Lost and proved to be one of the more interesting of the cast. He went mutant for the failure that is X-Men Origins: Wolverine, missing out on the opportunity to be part of a larger franchise. He’s kept himself busy on TV since with Flashforward, Goodnight Burbank and The Unknown.
Whilst most members of the Fellowship of the Ring joined out of a desire to rid the world of evil Boromir had different intentions. His father, the Steward of Gondor, protected the border between Mordor and rest of Middle Earth. Having seen his people give their lives to hold back the hordes his entire life Boromir saw the one ring as a chance fortify their position and launch an offensive. Because of this Boromir was easily corrupted by the power of the ring and was the first to fall in battle. Who better for the part than Sean Bean? That last sentence describes pretty much every role he’s ever played!
Sean Bean kept on Sean Beaning in a regular assortment of roles (and we love him for it), being the guy who betrays the hero and dies in Equilibrium, National Treasure, The Island and breaking the mold to play token male character in Silent Hill. He’s become better known as the star of the ‘One Does Not Simply…’ meme than anything else, up until the debut of television’s Game of Thrones in which he played Eddard Stark (spoiler: he gets betrayed and dies). That role also result in the popular ‘Winter is Coming’ meme. Sean Bean, don’t ever change.
GIMLI & TREEBEARD
It’s difficult to imagine anyone other than John Rhys-Davies playing the gruff and stubborn dwarf Gimli, even though most reports suggest he’s quite the gentleman in real life. Buried under prosthetic and fake hair he speaks volumes with his eyes and demeanor. Gimli (so of Gloin) does not go through much of a character arc over the course of the series, but his odd-couple dynamic with Legolas is endlessly entertaining and provides some much-needed light-hearted humor amid Aragorn’s more dramatic story line. He also voices the Ent Treebeard, putting in another fine performance.
Between his work in both The Lord of the Rings and the Indiana Jones movies Rhys-Davies has slotted himself into a useful typecast. He’s still been finding familiar roles in everything from Legend of the Seeker to Tom and Jerry Meet Sherlock Holmes, in which he voices Dr. Watson.
Legolas stands out from the rest of the Fellowship – his elvish appearance and demeanor separates him out from the scruffy rangers, cursing dwarves and burly warriors. He finds himself having trouble fitting in with his companions as the elves have existed on a highly plane of thought and have a different connection to the world and nature. For such a young performer Bloom successfully captures this tone, even he he comes across as a bit of a nonce from time to time. Because he has a sense of humor about it – especially when paired with Gimli – the character is more fun than expected, pulling out the cool moves during battle and playing straight man to John Ryhs-Davies.
With only credited role prior to Legolas being a ‘rent boy’ in biopic Wilde, LOTR opened up a huge range of opportunities for him and he quickly rose to A-List status. He snapped up the lead role in Pirates of the Caribbean (narratively speaking, he was then overshadowed by Johnny Depp). Bloom followed it up with key roles in Troy, Kingdom of Heaven and Elizabethtown. Whilst he isn’t picking up the leading man roles he had been for several years he recently played villain in The Three Musketeers and will return to Middle-Earth for The Hobbit.
Bilbo Baggins is something of a catalyst for the adventure that Frodo ultimately sets out on. Whilst the One Ring is at the centre of the drama it was Bilbo’s discovery of the magic trinket, and his concealment of it and it’s power from everyone, that lead to it coming into Frodo’s possession and the attention of Gandalf. Bilbo becomes almost as much a tragic figure as Gollum as the ring tightens it’s grip on him. When he does eventually break free the magic that slowed his aging leaves his suddenly succumbing to his years in a short amount of time. Playing a bookend role in the trilogy gives him an emotional tie between Frodo and the Shire.
Ian Holm at been a regular feature on our screens for the best part of fifty years before taking up the part of Bilbo Baggins, and had already featured in films as diverse as War of the Roses, Alien, Frankenstein, A Life Less Ordinary, The Fifth Element, Oh! What a Lovely War, Hamlet and more. His kept up his range of roles since with The Day After Tomorrow, Ratatouille, The Aviator and Lord of War before reprising his role for The Hobbit.
The role of Arwen is not a large one in Tolkien’s novels, only being briefly mentioned in relation to Aragorn and then further elaborated on in the hefty appendices. This role is expanded out in the film adaptations with her relationship with Aragorn being explored with more depth as she decides whether to stay with him or leave with the other elves. She’s a much more formidable character, being the one who rescues Frodo and spirits him to Rivendell instead of Glorfindel and almost made an appearance at Helm’s Deep. Liv Tyler was perfectly cast as the elfin princess, not only looking the part by capturing the ethereal nature of the race.
Whilst Tyler was a blossoming star during the late 90s her career seems to be on the back-burner since the trilogy, possible karma for the detestable Jersey Girl. When she has taken a role it is the lead female role. Most notable has been the scientific love interest to the Hulk in The Incredible Hulk and the drug-addicted love interest to the Crimson Bolt in Super.
Elrond is a recurring feature in the LOTR films without having a key role in the story, rather he guides the other characters to their destiny. He’s the only character who appears in both the main narrative and the prologue that sets up story. He first see Elrond in the role of a warrior, leading the elven armies into battle about Mordor and later his attempts to have the ring destroyed. When he returns during the main part of the story he has removed himself from the politics of men and dwarves, instead preparing to leave Middle-Earth. He does hold council with representatives of each race to decide the fate of the one ring and has the broken sword of the king reforged for Aragorn. Weaving has a highly expressive face and voice that strangely suits the highly articulate half-elf.
For twenty years Weaving before donning the pointy ears Weaving was a mainstay on Australia screens but his roles as the iconic Agent Smith in The Matrix and Elrond has turned him into an international household name. In addition to reprising both characters in the subsequent sequels and The Hobbit he’s played Noah the Elder in Happy Feet, the titular V in V For Vendetta, Megatron in Transformers, Abberline in The Wolfman, and Red Skull in Captain America. Not that he’s gone all Hollywood – he still flexes his dramatic chops in Australian films Oranges and Sunshine, Peaches and Little Fish.
Wait, you don’t think we’re done yet do you? Keep an eye out for the second part of this retrospective coming as soon as we get around to it!
Need more? Check out this guide to the dwarves of ‘The Hobbit’.