Exclusive Interview with John Callen and Stephen Hunter from ‘The Hobbit’!
We sat down with John ‘Oin’ Callen and Stephen ‘Bombur’ Hunter (and Amelia, junior reporter) at Oz Comic Con to talk about incognito dwarf costumes, posing nude and killing Kyle Sandilands.
Enjoy the audio or the transcript below!
G-Funk: We’re at OzComicCon 2014 with Amelia again. Also Stephen Hunter and John Callen who were both dwarves in The Hobbit. Now do you want to tell us, Stephen, which dwarf you were?
Stephen Hunter: I’m Bombur. I play Bombur.
G: And how do you know Bombur?
SH: Rather large…the largest of all the dwarves, at least in width. And ginger. Very ginger. The predominant feature is the big ginger braided beard that we affectionately call ‘The Strangler’.
G: The Strangler?
SH: The Strangler.
G: Yeah, I can see that. John, which dwarf were you?
John Callen: Hello, I played Oin. Who’s one of the oldest and…pardon me? One of the deafest.
G: I see you have the trumpet again (the ear trumpet used by Oin in the film).
JC: Yes, we all got little souvenirs when we left. Each one of us was given our weapon and other little bits and pieces. We got the back of our directors chairs that we all had and they’re twice normal size – there’s the Bombur one on the wall. And indeed I got my hearing trumpet.
G: We just saw the more recent film to be released. There was a lot of stunt work in barrels down the rapids. You did your own stunts, Stephen?
SH: Oh, absolutely. Every frame of that is me.
G: No CGI.
SH: Not at all. C.G…what? No, I mean, put it this way: there’s a reason why one of the main representations at the Oscar’s this year was WETA digital because they just did a phenomenal job. It was a blend, we did live action on the Pelorus River but mainly towards the end we had a wet set that was like a water go-kart track and it was fuelled by these V8 engines and jet engines. They mixed that…and green screen as well, and barrels on trolleys and all sorts of things, and obviously there was a lot of CGI in that as well. In the end WETA had to blend everything that was shot and there was hours and hours of footage of that. It was pretty spectacular…I didn’t see it until the premier and had now idea what it was going to look like. Hi, Amelia (who had just returned from bothering Jewel Staite).
G: It’s been an interesting day with her here. I’ve seen a few people come up and said that you’re almost unrecognisable without outside of the wigs and the costumes. Do you feel like you’re buried under there?
JC: Well, not buried really, more changed. Obviously the designers and Peter (Jackson) and the other writers had ideas about how we would appear and the overall design concept I thought was outstanding. Yes, you’ve got your young, good looking ones and the description of what dwarves were like were in the book. We took what we were given and ran with it. In fact, you soon got used to it, didn’t you?
SH: Yeah, totally. It’s an interesting thing…everyone knows that you’re in The Hobbit because when there’s publicity or any pictures of yourself there’s always a photo of the character and a photo of yourself alongside it. It’s good that you can walk down the street sometimes and no-one would recognise you. It’s kinda good because it opens doors, being in a big movie like this, but you don’t get saddled with that fame that the young, hot ones…
JC: The ‘celebrities’.
SH: Yeah, not mentioning any names next to us.
JC: Not mentioning Dean’s name (Dean O’Gorman, who plays Fili, is seated nearby and you can read his exclusive interview here).
SH: Yeah, he’s not here, we can talk about him.
JC: One of the things I did find entertaining was meeting Billy Connolly and talking to him and then meeting a few days later again and then he turned up at a training session we were having and I said ‘Hello Billy, how you going?’ and he goes ‘Sorry, I don’t know who you are’. Because I’d had all the kit on before every time I’d spoken to him and he just didn’t recognise me.
SH: I had that with Bret McKenzie (who plays the elf Lindir). It was a premiere of a New Zealand movie and I’d met him and had several conversations with him in the trailer park half dressed as Bombur. So I’d gone up to him, and it was after he’d won the Oscar (Best Original Song for The Muppets), so I’d rocked up to him because we’d had this relatedness, we’d chatted about all sorts of things. “Hey how you going, congratulation”, and you know when you look at someone in the eyes and you know that they have no idea who you are? Nicest guy, Bret, but he obviously didn’t know who I was. Then I saw him a short time after and I said “remember I came up to you at that premiere, I don’t think you recognised me,” and he said “nah, sorry, I don’t think I did.” He had no idea.
JC: I don’t think he recognised me either. In fact, I lay claim to having discovered Bret McKenzie because cast him to play Oliver in a production I directed in the Wellington Opera House way back when he was 11 or 12 and he was extraordinary. He’d sing that wonderful song ‘Where is Love’ and he’d have the house in tears every night.
G: He was almost unrecognisable in The Hobbit as well! He didn’t have his scraggy beard or the big hair…
JC: No, he was almost good looking! Not like his real self at all!
G: What’s the dynamic like between the dwarves? You were saying you’ve got these young, good looking guys and the veteran performers…how’s it been having such a big group?
JC: Look, it was amazing. At the boot camp we all got to know each other quite well because you can’t hide your imperfections at a time like that. What it meant was that we all knew what to expect of one another. When we actually got in to the shooting the first scenes that we shot, pretty much the first scenes in Bag End, we all like a bunch of schoolboys! And you know who the biggest schoolboy was?
G: Ahhh…I reckon I can guess this…it was your boy in the hat. Nesbitt…James Nesbitt.
JC: It was Peter Jackson himself.
G: Peter Jackson?!
JC: He loved it, didn’t he? He was like a big kid.
SH: I didn’t realise until the special features that he said, when we were shooting the goblin caves, he sent Kiran Shah, who was the scale double for Frodo (and a goblin in The Hobbit), that he’d sent him out specifically to hunt Mark Hadlow’s (the dwarf Dori) leg. I didn’t realise that he did that specifically. And you see him, just watching the playback, just absolutely loosing it. He’s a big joker and he had so much fun.
JC: The more fun we were having the more fun he was having.
G: Do you have any good stories about things that happened on set?
JC: Yeah, most of them, of course, are in the film. That’s the best story of all. There was the ‘celebrity’ nude photo session for a special calendar for Peter Jackson 50th birthday.
G: Oh! That didn’t go public?
JC: No, what happened was, I forget whose idea it was, we all posed in our fat suits without our costumes and some of us had…provocative poses you might say.
SH: I’m going to try and find mine. Words can’t describe it. Stephen begins searching his phone.
JC: I was covered…my vitals were covered…by a large piece of, well, it was a blooming great pumpkin. It wasn’t until I saw the photos that it wasn’t so much covering me as I was giving birth to it.
Stephen produces his own calendar photo. Hedgie suffers from hysterics.
G: Just looking at Stephen’s photo…he has a lot of support material on around the chest…there’s a ribbon…
SH: It’s quite a disturbing thing, isn’t it.
G: I…I…it kinda looks like the guy in Fight Club, Meatloaf in Fight Club except with…jesus.
SH: It’s something you can never unsee, isn’t it?
G: I can’t even look at you right now. Oh my goodness…
JC: Even worse than that was seeing this guy who plays Bombur here running around his trailer in nothing but his fat suit. At least, he told us he was wearing the fat suit.
SH: Well, it had to be done. Everyone loves a nudie run.
A brief muddled discussion follows as Amelia wrecks havoc.
G: Are you guys both based out of New Zealand?
SH: I live in Sydney. I’ve been in Sydney for about 11 years. My family is still over in the Coromandel Peninsula, which is close to Auckland so I get there quite a bit. Obviously we spent two years in Wellington, which is where I was born, so that was my home patch. My daughter who is three and a half, she was ten weeks old when we shifted to New Zealand. She wasn’t even born when I had my first wardrobe fitting. She really is one of the first…I think she was one of the original Hobbit babies. There were quite few over that 18-month period but she was one of the first ones. She’s grown up with it.
G: While you were based in Australia – I’d heard you’d taken the piss out of Kyle Sandilands (controversial Australian radio presenter) once?
SH: Yeah, that was an episode of Review with Myles Barlow. Talented man (Barlow), he’s been in the movies and all sorts of things, him and Trent O’Donnell. That was a lot of fun. I think it was the ‘Killing Kyle Sandilands’ episode.
G: We all want to kill Kyle Sandilands.
SH: I actually used to work with him! I used to be a copy-writer at Austereo (Australian media conglomerate).
G: Is he all that bad?
SH: He was fine with me, if you do want he wants. He’s got his imperfections like anybody I imagine. I didn’t have much to do with him, I did write a couple of live reads for him and that’s it. That was a lot of fun actually.
Suddenly the nearby crowd begins cheering and clapping.
SH: Thanks, thank you. Just note that was our applause. Nothing to do with the person next to us with the line.
G: Nothing to do with Amanda Tapping.
JC: I do live in New Zealand. I come from England but live in New Zealand. Interesting you should mention it because a few years ago…four, five, six years ago…I was in a film with Martin Clunes (from Doc Martin) who came to New Zealand to make a film and I think they cast me because I was English. Then after they shot everything and the crew had all gone back to Britain I got a phone call saying (dons a posh English accent) ‘Ah, John, frightfully sorry old bean but we need to do a little bit of ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording)’. I said ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yes, one or two words you said make us think you’ve been living in the colonies a little to long.’
SH: Martin Clunes, who was someone who’d describe himself as someone who’d had a double helping of face.
G: That’s not bad. He does have a very distinctive visage.
JC: We need to be heading off. There’s a crowd of several thousand waiting for us.
SH: Several tens of people.
G: They’re giving me dirty looks. I’m frightened. They’re waving weapons at me. And my daughter is…running after Amanda Tapping.
SH: She’s away.
JC: Ah well. She’s fabulous (Amelia, not Amanda Tapping…I presume). Hey, lovely to talk to you and thanks very much.
G: Thank you John. Thanks for coming down Stephen.
SH: No worries.
G: Great you meet you guys.