Dwarves, elves, hobbits, wizards and the odd orc and goblin thrown in – that’s pretty much the summary of my few days in New Zealand covering the premiere of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.
The trip started with a flight into Wellington, now apparently known as “The Middle of Middle Earth”, with an enormous statue of Gollum greeting us at the airport. It became very clear that the entire city was caught up in Hobbit fever- any way you turned shops, cafes and office blocks all were decked out in Tolkien themed paraphernalia.
The posse of 100 journalists from around the world (a massive operation!) then saw the film at Park Road Post, where all the film’s post-production work was carried out. Impressive facilities, great people. And I wish I could tell you what I thought of the film, including seeing it in 3D and at 48 frames per second but legally that has to wait until next week!
Then finally came the big day- major media conferences with all the stars, and then the world premiere in front of an anticipated crowd of up to 100,000 people. Yep, a quarter of Wellington turned up to cheer the stars on.
And cheer they did! Here is a photo summary of the afternoon, including my chats on the red carpet with some of the film’s stars.
So take me through the dwarf boot camp!
Getting to know some very hairy sweaty people was one interesting aspect of it, but it was great. It was a real bonding experience for us. We all went through, well I wouldnt say a hellish experience but it was challenging. We did that for three months and it was amazing.
We heard you were the leader of taking the piss out of all the others…
Who said that?!
You in the press conference!
What an idiot! Nah, it was me, I do take the responsibility for that. The important thing about this, and Peter Jackson is the lead on this, is to not take it too seriously and inject humour into it. To keep it real, not jus for yourself but the people watching it. I mean, when you start getting too reverential then you lose the spontaneity.
And the brotherhood that its all about.
Yes, and its true, all these guys are now my extended family now!
If the dwarves were to take on the guys from Game of Thrones, who would win?
We’d crush them! We’d crush them! I don’t even know why they’d bother to turn up.
And what’s Peter like as a director, is he a perfectionist?
He is fantastic because he directs as a fan. And that’s how he keeps it honest and truthful and realistic to the books.
What was the hardest part of the dwarf boot camp?
The toughest part of boot camp was to learn to run like a fat guy. I mean, dwarves are meant to roll and be grounded. We’re at home with the earth.
What about the green screen, did you want to pull your hair out a little bit?
Nah, I think more and more were getting used to working with that. And you do auditions and a lot of work when you have to imagine a lot, and it was just like that but on a bigger scale.
Which is worse, the prosthetics or the green screen?
The green screen is a bit more comfortable than the prosthetics. I mean, I had quite a bit on but you get used to it.
Who are you most tight with?
Well me and James Nesbitt saw a lot of the rugby World Cup together here and we both like horses and sports and wine. And Graham, I went to stay with him in LA just recently, so we’re all like a big family now.
What was the best part of the shoot?
I think getting to know all the people and bonding with everyone. And I mean being a Kiwi who’s been living in Australia for the last 10 years, it was great to see a lot of the South Island of NZ. One of the coolest parts was being on location.
Ah, the uncouth Australians! Well, that’s what the New Zealanders say about you…
Now we understand that principal photography has finished?
Philippa said today they were still working on the scrips for the next couple of films, how much more do you see The Hobbit being in your life?
Well I think it’ll probably be there for the rest of my life, really,. I mean it gets passed on from generation to generation and I love that. I love this character and its going to live beyond me and my imagination, and I hope it sparks people to read the book too.
A big part of your character is the Sparta-like shots, how did you enjoy playing the hero?
I never know what Peter was doing, he just kind of put the camera on and set fire to the sound stage! He just lit up the trees. Insane.
Is it just like riding a bike to come back and be Gollum?
It’s never like riding a bike because he’s so complicated! And the great thing about the way he was written ie that we were trying to experiment this time around. You know, the relationship that Bilbo has to him is so important. And everything in this film is 60 years before The Lord of the Rings films so I had to forge everything that had happened and plug into a younger Gollum who actually had possession of the ring and you see him lose it. And of course you see that Bilbo chooses not to kill him, and by not doing that he saves the world. So these are very seminal moments in Gollum’s life.
You also did some directing as well, which was tougher?
Well I reprised Gollum fr about two weeks, but I was second Unit director for 200 days! So it was a very big part of the job, and a wonderful opportunity and huge commitment. I’ve been directing off and on for awhile now, but nothing on this scale. So I was shooting battle sequences and aerials. Most of the aerials were me! And a lot of the drama scenes and everything too, it was great.
How much more do you have to go on these films?
Well, never say never. Gollum is not scheduled to come back for the second and third movies, but you never know. And in terms of directing, we’ve shot so much material that I don’t think there’ll be a second unit on the next two. So we will have to see.
You’d come back if you were asked?
Oh, of course! But you know I’m doing a few other things as well, directing “Animal Farm”, so I’ll be busy!
How different did you finds this whole filming experience?
Oh very different.p from anything I’ve done, I was aware I was in the most technically advanced film ever made and I was working with an extraordinary genius. We in Australia are very slow to recognize the presence of a genius in our midst, but anyone who can turn a suburb of Wellington into the cultural capital of the Southern Hemisphere must be doing something right.
And this nude scene?
I would never have done it but he made me! I was n a closed set and reluctantly took off my clothes, and my corset, and bared my body to the camera. And only Peter Jackson would make me do that.
You must miss everyone in New Zealand now it’s all wrapped up.
You do, you really do. It was so intense and were together for so long and working so hard that you do. But we did have breaks in between so there were some chances to rest. And we are coming back next year to do some more!
Have you seen the final film on 48 frames per second?
When I first saw it, I was like wow, that’s astounding. But seeing it again, after the first five minutes you don’t notice it anymore. And I think it’s exactly the same as CDs vs records, it’s going to catch on fr sure and people are going to get used to it. and my other point is Peter Jackson is a devoted filmmak and has been all his life. and if he thinks its good, were prepared to give it a go. And Jmes Cameron as well. It’s like a step up. It’s an immersive experience. It’s like the 3D, it’s not used as an effect, it’s part of the quality of the film.
Is this the first time you’re going to see it?
Yes, it is!
I saw it last night and want to know- what’s your take on the 48 frames per second?
I think 3D is the future and the high frame rate helps it out. Because 3D makes everything seem more real but we have this jutter effect that’s been with us the whole time. And the high frame rate gets rid of that. And I think it’s an incredibly bold step that’d Peter has done it for such a high profile film. But that’s what it takes! Avatar was a high profile film to help people account 3D, and it’s great that he’s making it for this film.
Are you going to make an appearance in the second and third films as well?
To be honest, I don’t know! I really don’t. I mean as far as I know I’m in this one and then well see.
Will it feel strange when this lot of films are all over?
Well the funny thing is I’ve already said goodbye once before. So I have a feeling it might be a little easier this time around. And my part in comparison to the rest of them, I mean they were working for 18 months comped to just a few days for me. So I imagine it will be incredibly difficult for them to deal with but it won’t be hard for me. I just feel like I’m dipping in and revisiting something, and it’s beautiful, you know?
Is everything cooler in 48 frames per second?
Cooler? I don’t know. It’s definitely clearer! It removes all the motion blur almost entirely, and sort of pops in a way that we’re not used to seeing, and it’s going to be interesting to see what people think of it. But it’s definitely arresting.
Was it strange to come back to this?
It never left in a way, it was just like coming home!
Was it much different this time around making Gollum?
Everything was different, starting with the 48 frames stereo. Just the kind of detail we had to put into it and the amount of work!
How do you go about the creative process?
First principles- sketches, artwork and story. And there’s also a lot of maths and science that goes into it as well.
And what is Andy Serkis like to work with?
Oh Andy is great. He’s the consummate performer, he was great as a second unit director and he is a wonderful collaborator. He’s just fantastic.
What is it like returning?
I don’t think I ever leave Middle Earth. I think I am forever doomed to return to this beautiful nation.
How has Peter changed as a director since the first Lord of the Rings film?
I think the success of the films has deepened his sense of who he is, he’s more Pete than he used to be, and that’s a good thing. Even though they’re embracing the new technologies and things are getting even bigger, he’s getting even more comfortable in his own skin. He’s always creatively exploring new territory and is always making something different. And I think this is a step up from The Lord of the Rings films too. There’s a different depth and it’s more soulful.
And what did you make of the 48 frames per second?
I think it’s what made me be drawn into the screen a bit more, but it’s hard to say. Because the film draws you in all by itself too!
MASSIVE thanks go to Warner Bros Pictures, Roadshow Films and Tourism New Zealand for organizing the trip, it’s been great