The Cast of 'LOTR: The Rings of Power' Reflect on the Enduring Timeliness of Tolkien
"I know he wasn't a huge fan of allegory, but you can't help but find something in his work that resonates with what we're going through," says Nazanin Boniadi
Published Aug 31, 2022Two decades since the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, and eight years since the end of the Hobbit trilogy, fans are heading back to Middle-earth.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (out September 2 on Prime Video) is created by JD Payne and Patrick McKay, who didn't adapt an existing Tolkien book; instead, the series is set during the universe's Second Age, which is chronicled in The Lord of the Rings appendices.
The eight-episode first season is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, and unlikely heroes were tested.
The season has a massive cast with 22 series regulars, including familiar characters like Morfydd Clark's immortal elf Galadriel (played by Cate Blanchett in the films) and Robert Aramayo's Elrond (previously played by Hugo Weaving).
In the first two episodes viewed by critics, the show is epic in scale, with stunning production and cinematography, and also carefully threading together all the characters and storylines. The series ropes in longtime LOTR fans and newcomers alike; it's the timelessness of Tolkien that still stays true after all these years.
Nazanin Boniadi, who plays Bronwyn, a healer and single mother, tells Exclaim! during an interview at San Diego Comic-Con, "What I love most about what we did, and everything I studied about Tolkien throughout this time, is the timelessness of the stories. I know he wasn't a huge fan of allegory, but you can't help but find something in his work that resonates with what we're going through, what the world is going through right now, and the idea of good versus evil and overcoming obstacles."
She continues, "As a human rights activist, what resonates with me is the theme of finding home, and what home means to us, and with the refugee crisis worldwide. It's so relevant to what we're experiencing right now."
There was a high level of secrecy surrounding the project, so when the actors finally set foot on set, their biggest surprise was the jaw-dropping scale and scope of the series, which is reportedly a billion-dollar undertaking.
Lloyd Owen, who plays the warrior Elendil, says, "The initial surprise would be the scope and scale of this story … The breadth of imagination that's been involved in creating this. I mean, you have the master of imagination of Tolkien, and then JD and Patrick bring in every person in every department whom they've managed to get to do this whose work is extraordinary. So I just think the scale of it, in terms of television, will be extraordinary." He adds that he wants everyone to get as big a TV as they can, so they can see "what it's really supposed to look like and sit there and feel it."
Leon Wadham, who plays the nobleman Kemen, marvels, "The sheer level of specificity and detail is pretty staggering. So it's a new story that has some links that people may recognize, but it is its own title and there were many elements. JD and Patrick have taken care to bring the audience in easily, and without patronizing them. I never got lost, even though it was stuff I'd never experienced before."
Benjamin Walker, who plays the Elven king Gil-galad, shares that Amazon is not playing around: "If you watch the Superman movie and then you watch the Superman TV show, you can see the disparity between the executions of it. With this series, they've [JD and Patrick] really treated every episode as a film. I mean, from the infrastructure to the sets to the detail and the wardrobe — as a viewer, you can really be immersed in each world and the density of Tolkien's imagination. That was the thing: that maybe if it's on a streaming service, does that mean we're cutting corners? But it's quite the opposite, and it's entirely in a different direction."
He continues, "With their knowledge of the legendarium, there's some freedom to play, particularly in the source material that we're using, but the devotion and respect to his [Tokien's] vision has been carried on in their vision, and you can really see it on screen. As a fan, I was also wary and understand what it's like to want to know information, to want to make sure that this thing that you love and almost see as sacred, is being protected and cared for — and with JD and Patrick, they've done that in spades."
Many of the cast members all voice how collaborative the environment was, and that JD and Patrick were always open to suggestions and discussions.
Trystan Gravelle, who plays the royal Ar-Pharazôn, says he was surprised by the scope of it, but also the fact that the creators had time to work with the actors individually.
"Even minute details where we would be talking for what seemed like an eternity … but they gave you all the time in the world, because it's important," he reflects. "These are the tiny details, and then of course you see the big picture — like, wow, this is incredible, and it's all to do with just threading those details together. That's what surprised me. The amount of time that everybody gave you, even though they had so much on themselves, the generosity of spirit … That's when you know you're with two people for whom this is a labor of love."
Sophia Nomvete, who plays the Dwarven princess Disa, feels the same about her character development: "Nothing was put on that didn't fit. It was about moulding. It just felt like they were moulding us and the characters together; scripts evolved and changed around the people who they then got to know, which was us. Our input was valid. The payoff is that every single actor is so desperately immersed in those characters. I 100 percent believe that there is no one else for every single character, and there are many."
Owain Arthur, who plays Prince Durin IV of the Dwarves, shares the same sentiments. When JD and Patrick FaceTimed him to welcome him aboard, he remembers with a laugh, their passion was so prominent and the way they described his character made him think he was the lead.
For many of the cast members, this was the longest time they have ever spent filming a series. Production in New Zealand started in April 2020 and ran for 18 months, including a hiatus enforced by the coronavirus. This span of time was certainly a learning curve for the actors, who also bonded as a tight-knit community.
Morfydd Clark, who carries the majority of the series, tells Exclaim! during a one-on-one interview in Los Angeles, "I've really learned that it's not an individual pursuit. We're part of a big cast in this, and we all became very important in terms of talking about what we're doing, talking about the characters, talking about the story — but also, we were separated from our friends and family, and there was an element of secrecy, so we couldn't talk to them about it. It made me realize how much my friends and family are kind of my muses, and because we're separated, the cast became my muses, so it's the community aspect."
Boniadi offers, "I've been doing this for 16 years, and I don't ever recall spending such a long stretch of time on one season, or one thing … Usually a season of a TV show for 10 episodes is no more than six months to film. So to be on something for such a long period of time, you find out what your limitations are, your boundaries, and how far you can take yourself."
She continues, "It's a 22-person ensemble. I've also never been a part of anything that's this big in number — like the number of actors — so there are a number of firsts for many of us that require you to have sort of a discipline in the decisions that you make creatively, as well and how much you can push yourself."
Megan Richards, who plays the hobbit Poppy Proudfellow, nods in agreement, saying that she learned something new about herself as an actor: "That I can maintain a character for that long. I've also just learned that I can get to know a character so incredibly deeply. On a whole stretch of time, in order to maintain the length of the story, the journey that your character goes on. I learned so much about myself as an actor. Also, to know that finding your pace and finding your rhythm, and also understanding that it's okay and that it's different to every other actor in the world."