I can now offer up my latest chapter of 'A Journey With Frodo'. This one concentrates on a press con which took place in Los Angeles during the run up to 'Return of the King'. Obviously there were lots of interviews during this but I've decided to concentrate on one particular round-table interview with several journalists as it's very in-depth - I've also included their interview with Sean because I love the interaction between him and Elijah at the end! Also, it includes what is probably my favourite of Elijah's quotes about the films in reply to "How will you surpass this?" Whenever people ask if Elijah gets fed up of constantly being questioned about LOTR, I always remember his words.
In Frodo's Journey, Frodo, Sam and Gollum reach The Black Gate.
For anyone unfamiliar with my pet project, 'A Journey With Frodo' (a work in progress) is the story of Elijah Wood's experience in becoming Frodo, from back in 1998 when the LOTR movies were just a whisper up to the triumphant Oscars of Feb 2004. In reliving Elijah's journey, and mine, I am using everything I can lay my hands on - behind-the-scenes material from the various dvd's, magazine articles, books, internet sites, tv coverage, word-of-mouth info, etc. Previous chapters can be found here "A JOURNEY WITH FRODO" You'll need to scroll back to get to Chapter 1:)
Hope you enjoy this new chapter:
5th December, 2003 - ROTK Press Conference, Los Angeles:
Wadsworth Theatre, Westwood, Los Angeles
On Wednesday, Dec. 5th, Jeffrey Overstreet joined several other privileged film critics, including Steven D. Greydanus (Decent Films), Andrew Coffin (World), Steve Beard (Thunderstruck), Jeremy Landes (Christian Spotlight), and Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) to talk with members of the cast and crew for the year's most ambitious, exhausting, and gloriously realized film:
Round Table Interview with Elijah Wood:
Jeffrey: "Do the movies look different to you three years later? Are you seeing things in them you didn’t see early on?"
Wood: "It doesn’t feel like there is that much distance between working on the movies and the movies coming out, because every year we’ve gone back to do pickups. Every year that we come and talk about these films and every year that we see these movies it feels pretty recent in our history. I think if I were to go back now and watch Fellowship and watch Two Towers, I think I might have a slightly different review on them and see them from a slightly more open perspective, but I think pretty objective about them anyway just because there is so much of these films that a) we don’t know what it’s finally going to look like when we see it, and b) certainly for films 2 and 3, the stories are so separated that there’s a good two-thirds of each film that I had no concept of what was happening to the other characters because I was so focused on my own journeys. For the first time I saw Two Towers and the first time I saw Return of the King it was sort of like watching a movie that you weren’t a part of because there is so much new coming at you."
Jeffrey: "You spent so much time in Tolkien’s world and seeing through his eyes, has his view of the world, his views on spirituality, his views on right and wrong influenced your own thinking? Do you find his view of the world appealing or discomforting?"
Wood: "I certainly agree with him. I think in playing a hobbit, I was at the very center of his ideology, his perspective of what was good and what was wrong with the world. He wrote hobbits and certainly the Shire as all that is good and pure in the world. I sort of agree with his perspective on the fact that there all these wonderfully good and pure things that are being threatened by Mordor which is in my estimation the modern world threatening all that is good and pure.
Those themes that are very important in the story to Tolkien became very important to me. I think I agreed with them before, but especially after working in New Zealand. I think those things resonated even clearer. Working in a country that is so lightly populated and is so pure in terms of its ecosystem and its nature. There are bits of New Zealand where there are no people at all, and it is just sheep and landscape. I think we all learned—if we hadn’t already—I think we all had a relatively good perspective of the earth and the fact that it’s being threatened. But after living in New Zealand and working in New Zealand I think we all have a better perspective of the state of the world and that it needs to be saved and preserved."
Steven D. Greydanus: "You play a hero in this film who sacrifices all that he has in him but ultimately fails. He succumbs to the addiction of the Ring. And he is saved from the fate of Gollum and Isildur by chance or fate or providence or whatever you want to call it…"
Wood: "It’s mercy. It’s in the book: It’s Frodo’s mercy for Gollum that destroys the Ring. Had Frodo killed Gollum, he would have possibly gotten to Mount Doom and he would have kept the Ring for himself and the world would have been doomed. [It was because] he saw a kinship in Gollum and had an understanding and an empathy with Gollum that Gollum stayed alive and ultimately impeded upon Frodo’s own destruction, which destroys the Ring"
SDG: "There is also the theme running all the way to the first film where Gandalf says to Frodo, “There is another will at work… in the finding of the Ring, that it came to your uncle that you were meant to have it … and that is an encouraging thought.” Given the way that the ring was represented almost as an addiction, and that is certainly how Andy Serkis played him… as an addict… I wonder if you have any thoughts about the Ring as a metaphor for addiction, particularly in regards to the common idea among addicts of a need to acknowledge a higher power to overcome the addiction. Is faith in a higher power necessary for overcoming addiction?"
Wood: "Whoah! That was well done, by the way! I’m very proud of myself for being able to hold that all in !I certainly give credence to that in life. I’m not sure it pertains to Frodo’s particular journey. The way that Frodo gets through is ultimately in his will and his courage and his own inner strength and belief that gets him through. It’s also Sam as well, belief in Sam, his love of Sam. It’s the love in his heart and the good in his heart that holds the evil at bay for as long as it does. I don’t think there is anything else that he looks to to free him of this addiction."
Jeremy Landes: "What about calling on the name of Elbereth?"
Wood: "Well, yeah… calling on the light of Elendil. But I don’t know that there is any higher power that he believes in to help him get through. I think it really is about, if anything, Sam."
Press: "Frodo is unable to go back to the Shire. But Sam carried [the ring] for a while and he was able to go back and live his life…"
Wood: "Sam did for a brief moment carry the Ring, but he didn’t carry the Ring. It is that experience of having been burdened by that evil for that period of time that has permanently etched away at Frodo’s soul. That is something that he can never get back. There is something sacrificed in the destruction of that ring, a piece of Frodo. It is almost like a loss of innocence. He’s gone back home war-torn, like someone who has seen the atrocities of war and then come home and their home doesn’t look the same to them anymore and they can’t find the same pleasures that they used to because they’ve experienced something so horrid. Although Sam was there with Frodo and certainly experienced his fair share of the atrocities of the journey, he doesn’t know that, what that Ring did to Frodo. He never experienced the true weight and the profundity of that."
Press: "I noticed the marks on your neck as you got closer to Mount Doom, almost like a stigmata…
Wood: "It’s because the Ring gets heavier, and keeps getting heavier and starts to tear at Frodo’s neck. With Sam being able to go home at the end, he never lost a bit of his soul. He never lost what makes him Sam. He never lost his purity. Frodo did."
Jeremy Landes: "Do you have a “Sam” in your life that helps keep you centered and accepts you unconditionally."
Wood: "I’ve got a few people in my life that keep me centered. All of my friends … and my family. In a lot of ways, Sean is Sam to me. We may not see each other every day and I may live in a different state now. But there is a real truth to the relationship that we had in comparison to Frodo and Sam. Not as intense as that, but we became brothers. We love each other very much despite differences."
Jeffrey: "What about role models? You have a lot of acting ahead of you, we hope. You’ll be recognized as Frodo everywhere you go, I’m sure. Is there any actor who has gone before and been through similar levels and success and familiarity who you would like to follow their career arc for yourself?"
Wood: "I really admire Johnny Depp’s career. It’s never been about celebrity or fame. He’s definitely had a certain amount of fame, but he does what he wants to do, and he tends to only work on projects that he’s really passionate about, which has always been my philosophy. He’s done that really well. It doesn’t matter how big or small the project is. It’s always just about the role and the quality of the project. He leads a very good example in Hollywood today for the right way to go about one’s career. There are a few actors that I think embody the same [thing], that never really let me down … I think they always choose things that they really believe in and only do it for the work and have their private lives. He’s also brilliantly mixed his own life privately with the work that he does. You never really see stories about him, these days anyway. You don’t see him in the public eye too often. He works very hard at keeping his private life separate. I think he’s a good inspiration.
I’m also really inspired by Viggo, in terms of personally someone I know, his work ethic. On the set, he was a constant inspiration to all of us. The man gave 110 percent every single day. He’s also such a giving individual and a kind-hearted man, and a brilliantly talented actor, painter, photographer…"
Steve Beard: "At the end of the filming process, did you feel in leaving New Zealand––"
Wood: "Did I feel like I was leaving for the Gray Havens?"
Steve Beard: "Yes! Was there any kind of a similarity?"
Andrew Coffin: "And can I add to that … what will you take with you [now that the project is over]?"
Wood: "We’ve wrapped like five or six times! [laughs] But I’ll speak of two of them because two of them are very significant."
"The first time we finished the films [laughs again], we wrapped up principal photography. At that point we did not know that we would be coming back for pick-up shots. As far as we knew, the films were over. I don’t know that when I left I felt like Frodo felt because I think Frodo felt… shed of all that burden and he is at peace. And to me, there was a real sense of mixed emotions. I was leaving my family and people I’d become really close to, and a country that I loved, and a way of life that I’d gotten so used to. And I didn’t know what my life meant anymore at home, in my own daily life. So it was difficult. Great in that I could finally get home and relax and feel that peace, but that peace didn’t come without its consequence."
"Then we wrapped again on the pick-ups of the third film, which is another significant thing for us because it was literally the last time we were in New Zealand for filming ever. That was really hard. In some ways that was more emotional because we’d already gone through the difficulty of wrapping the first time and then we got lulled into this sense of security that we’d have to come back every year. And that was great! We got so used to saying, “See you next year!”"
"And then suddenly, we were on the brink of the end, and I didn’t know what to do. I got there and it was this reunion and it felt like I never left and suddenly I saw actors leaving. Each actor was given their own farewell. I would go to each of them. I would watch them and all of them would cry and the whole crew would be present. And I thought, ‘I don’t want this to happen to me. I don’t want to have to go through this. I don’t want to go through the process of having to say goodbye to everyone in this way. As beautiful as it is, it breaks my heart and I don’t know if I’m ready for it.’ It came time to do it and I had to make a speech in front of the crew and I couldn’t articulate what I wanted to say, I was so overwhelmed with emotion. Leaving that was very emotional and very sad and moreover difficult to comprehend, as much as it was sinking in, I couldn’t get my head around it. And now we’re at the brink of the end again as we say goodbye to these movies in terms of their release."
"Throughout all of these years and various ends and saying goodbye that we’ve done, the thing that rings true, and now I’ll come around to your question, brilliantly! [laughter all around] is that the thing to take with us at the end of all this is the friendships made. It is the thing that will endure for years and years when these movies are in the film history books. The Fellowship will carry on. There’s something really hopeful and beautiful about that. We can certainly rely on that. It is the thing that I personally am most proud [of] and feel most blessed to be able to take away from the last four years—that sense of family and closeness with the actors and the crew. I’ve never felt anything like that."
Andrew Coffin: "Did that have to do with the intensity of the process or from the story itself?"
Wood: "Both, in a way! The story called us to have these relationships for the characters, but the two months we had before the filming really secured the friendships, and then the process of making these movies… we were there for sixteen months, and spent all of our time together, and consequently all of our free time as well."
Press: "The majority of this group would call this the greatest trilogy ever made. Do you have any sense of “How will I surpass this?”"
Wood: "I don’t really want to surpass it. It was its own experience. I would hate to surpass it, to try to do something better than that. I think that means I wouldn’t have appreciated it enough. It will endure in my mind and my heart for the rest of my life."
Jeremy Landes: "What were you thinking about with that last smile?"
Wood: "You know what they cut out though? It’s not there… [he then grins and gives us all two thumbs’ up.] They cut out the thumbs!"
[This gets laughter for a long time.]
[getting serious] "That smile had to encompass a lot. It’s essentially supposed to be peace. Frodo finally has [found] the Frodo we remember from the Shire, shed of that loss of innocence that he had. The innocence has returned. It’s all of those things. That’s all I was thinking of, trying to be as pure and peaceful as possible."
Round Table Interview with Sean Astin:
Press: "I heard one critic say that … [regarding Peter Jackson’s perspective on] the movie, at the end of the day there was only one guy who really understood that this really wasn’t Frodo’s story, but it was Sam’s story… and that was you. Is that right?"
Sean:[seems surprised, muses quietly:] "Um… hm… critics!"
[laughter around the table]
"I don’t agree really with that. To me, I was the advocate for Sam. I am the ambassador of Sam. In my interpretation of Sam, I wanted to be strong."
Press: "But would you say it is Sam’s story, or is it the Ring-bearer’s story?"
Sean: "The story’s the story. I think that Frodo sacrifices more than Sam … by degrees. It’s probably the hardest thing of the adaptation, really. There were tricky things technologically to accomplish, and logistically there were a lot of things that were a challenge. But … if you want the movie to connect with people, on some level they have to really care about the characters. One of the biggest challenges was dramatizing the sacrifice of Frodo and the torment of Frodo. Short of having Elijah get addicted to heroin or starving him for months on end … how does a serious committed actor communicate [that idea]? [It’s the same] with Gollum who is supposed to be the real expression of those ideas in the extreme—he has to be animated, because you want to service that gaunt, emaciated, tormented idea. In the writing, in the literature, you can go into these ideas. I think that Sam wouldn’t have wanted to be thought of as the hero of the story. Tolkien saw Sam as his surrogate [and] I think Peter does too. And Peter has a New Zealand stoicism and reserve. And Elijah … has been the lead in the movie—he’s on the posters and he’s the Ring-bearer. They thought that … if he wasn’t more proactive, it would be unsatisfying for people on some level. I don’t think it has to be one over the other. I don’t think you have to choose one sort of hero."
Press: "But Sam is the one who has to live in Middle-Earth with this knowledge. The rest of them—except for Aragorn, who becomes the king—the rest get to go away. Sam has to live in Middle Earth with the knowledge of the journey. Sam goes back to Hobbiton. He’s got the burden of knowledge."
Sean: "I kinda like what you’re saying: You say “a burden of knowledge.” If Hobbiton is a place, an ideal, worth wanting to manifest real human life, now … it can’t happen without some awareness of what’s going on in the real world. It’s maybe a little bit sad that children just can’t be children in a pure kind of world where there’s no danger and there’s no threats. But it’s the responsibility of the mature to preserve the sanctity of a world worth living in with that knowledge. I think Sam is the beneficiary of his experience and he does get to survive. Part of the punishment of longevity is having to endure loss in real life. So he has to pass through those experiences like anybody who lives."
Andrew Coffin: "What are Sam and Frodo fighting for?"
Sean: "I think a lot of times Sam is fighting for Frodo and Frodo is fighting to save the Shire. One of my favorite lines—a lot of people are talking about how “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you” is one of the great cinema lines in cinema history. But then the line that Frodo has where he says, “We set out to save the Shire, Sam, and it has been saved, but not for me…”, that’s a pretty powerful line. When Elijah said that line, I, Sean, heard it with a kind of newness and a kind of wonder. Every time he said it … even when I said it right now … there’s almost this idea that ‘I guess that’s what Sam really was doing.’ I don’t think Sam was really aware of that. I think Sam was fixed on helping Frodo. Somehow… I don’t know if a Freudian analysis is appropriate, but I think on some deep level, that wasn’t in the forefront of his mind, Sam knew he was doing his duty to be there for [Frodo.] I don’t think he had … this idea of what was really at stake. Frodo sees the vision in Galadriel’s mirror of the scouring of the Shire. Sam doesn’t see that."
Press: "How do you conceptualize Sam’s relationship with Frodo? Are there any relationships in your life that you can project [onto that]—a brother, best friend, caretaker, mentor? Who was Frodo to Sam?"
Sean: "The prism that I looked at the relationship through was what Peter said to me in my first in-person audition with him. He told me about the British army in the first world war. These officers would have assigned to them an enlisted attendant or aid, and how those “batmen,” as they were referred to, were characterized by their loyalty and their bravery and their sense of duty. On some primal level, I just understood that. I really understood that. Being deferential to ‘Mr. Frodo’ was very comfortable for me, and I sort of attribute it to working people. The idea of being polite and serving others is one that is really ennobling to the spirit. Those ideas are what I gravitated to. If I’m really honest with myself … I’ve been disappointed in myself and my own inability to be more like Sam with my friends. I don’t know if I can in order to survive, in order to be a good husband and a good father and have a career. I try, in moments, to manifest the better angel of my nature with my friends, but I’m not as good a friend to my friends as Sam. It’s a little bit hard to be the sort of emblem, to portray the character as an emblem for those things, and to know in my own life that I can’t. Or maybe, if I can, it’s going to be somewhere in my future when I’m more mature."
Press: "Sam and Frodo are buddies. Why does Sam call Frodo ‘Mr. Frodo’?"
Sean: "Basically, Sam’s father worked for Frodo’s uncle as a gardener. Have you ever had a gardener? There is an amazing kind of reciprocity and mutual respect when you don’t know how to cultivate your own soil. You want to walk out and look at a nice garden and when somebody’s doing that for you, you tend to appreciate them. But there’s something about it—Does the gardener just walk in the door? Does the gardener just walk in the house? No. There’s something about when [a person] tends the land for somebody … it’s class-based. There’s some feudal inheritance there. The lords of the land figure out the economics of it, but it’s the peasants, it’s the serfs who work the land. That working class ideal is alive in the spirit Sam. And to call [Frodo] “Mister” is a sign of respect, but it’s not something that puts him necessarily in a sort of subjugated role, because there is mutual respect. The key is mutual respect. So Mr. Frodo shows that Sam has the dignity of himself…"
[Elijah Wood has just entered the room and crept up behind Sean Astin. He interrupts:]
Wood: "You’re my manservant, and you know it!"
[laughter breaks out as Sean looks astonished]
Wood: "So stop yakkin’ off."
[Sean gets up and embraces him (in a rather subservient and humble way) as the press applaud the unexpected conclusion of the interview.]
FRODO'S JOURNEY continued : THE BLACK GATE
(All comments from dvd commentary unless otherwise stated)
Elijah: "This is new! I think, and I felt this with the extended version of the first movie, that these moments actually help to make the movie a more complete story."
Andy: "Yes, sure."
Elijah: "It includes elements of the books that were left out of the theatrical release that I completely understand why they were left out of the theatrical but as a fan of the books and just as a fan of film in general it helps to make a more complete, full-bodied story."
But for all their cunning we have one advantage. The Ring remains hidden. And that we should seek to destroy it has not yet entered their darkest dreams.
And so the weapon of the enemy is moving towards Mordor in the hands of a Hobbit. Each day brings it closer to the fires of Mount Doom. We must trust now in Frodo. Everything depends upon speed and the secrecy of his quest. Do not regret your decision to leave him. Frodo must finish this task alone.
He's not alone. Sam went with him.
Did he? Did he indeed? Good.
Elijah: "Gandalf is almost a narrative character, it pushes the narrative of the story along and as a guide for everyone else and I think that was an added challenge that we never had to come in contact with. He sort of speaks the story at certain points and that’s a challenge as an actor."
Sean: "Well, several characters do it at different times, I mean Galadriel does it in narration of the prologue which is such a stunning way to introduce the movies, and then …"
Elijah: "But he’s the one character that does it consistently through each chapter."
The Black Gate of Mordor!
Sean: "Straight from Alan Lee’s illustration of the front cover of the book."
Elijah: "I love how Alan Lee’s work is so prevalent in this film, and in the first, some of the major grand shots are literally taken from …"
Sean: "Well Peter would have a large version of the sketch, or of the illustration, brought to set and would pose us exactly like the characters were depicted from Alan Lee’s imagination."
Andy: "Like when Frodo’s holding Sting and holding Gollum’s head back and I’ve got my legs wrapped round you, that’s exactly how it was illustrated."
Oh save us!
The two hobbits gazed at the towers and the wall in despair. Even from a distance they could see in the dim light the movement of the black guards upon the wall, and the patrols before the gate.
‘Well, here we are!’ said Sam. ‘Here’s the Gate, and it looks to me as if that’s about as far as we are ever going to get.’ (The Two Towers ~ The Black Gate Is Closed)
My old gaffer would have a thing or two to say if he could see us now.
Master says to show him the way into Mordor.
So good Smeagol does, Master says so
That’s it then.
Elijah: “I also love this movie for its connection to men and to humans and really getting behind that. And I was so impressed by how much it makes you get behind that emotionally – that’s one of the movie’s greatest achievements."
We can’t get past that.
Look! The Gate.
I can see a way down.
Elijah: "Soldiers do wear eyeliner, I just wanted to point that out. They do."
Andy: "Easterlings particularly."
‘Master says: Bring us to the Gate. So good Sméagol does so. Master said so, wise master.’
‘I did’, said Frodo. His face was grim and set, but resolute. He was filthy, haggard, and pinched with weariness, but he cowered no longer, and his eyes were clear. ‘I said so, because I purpose to enter Mordor, and I know no other way. Therefore I shall go this way. I do not ask anyone to go with me.’ (The Two Towers ~ The Black Gate Is Closed)
I do not ask you to come with me, Sam.
-I know, Mr Frodo.
I doubt even these Elvish cloaks will hide us in there.
At this point on the commentary, Sean relates the now-famous wig story. Andy describes it as the “worse hissy fit I’ve ever seen in my entire life” despite Sean’s protestations to the contrary.
Elijah: "It was a difficult day, just period. It was a difficult day in terms of really hammering down the emotional intensity of the scene, I think Peter had a difficult time trying to impart that onto us, so there was a lot of miscommunication, a lot of unclear elements as to where the scene was going and then that coupled with the wig coming off . and that being a technical thing and losing the momentum of the scene – it was just a whole variety of things."
No Master! They catch you! They catch you!
Phillipa Boyens: "What was the name of that little hall where we shot the top of them?"
PJ: "The top was shot in Manapouri."
PB: "I remember turning up there and you were shooting The Black Gates of Mordor and there was a notice posted on the door “No Play Centre Today – LOTR Shooting”.
PJ: [Laughs.] "It's just a bigger play centre!!"
Don’t take it to him.
He wants the precious. Always he is looking for it.
And the precious is wanting to go back to him. But we musn’t let him have it.
No! There’s another way! More secret. A dark way.
Why haven’t you spoken of this before?
- Because master did not ask.
He’s up to something.
Are you saying there’s another way into Mordor?
Yes, there’s a path …
And some stairs.
And then …
But for this choice he could recall no counsel. Indeed Gandalf’s guidance had been taken from them too soon, too soon, while the Dark Land was still very far away. How they should enter it at the last Gandalf had not said. Perhaps he could not say. Into the stronghold of the Enemy in the North, into Dol Guldur, he had once ventured. But into Mordor, to the Mountain of Fire and to Barad-dûr, since the Dark Lord rose in power again, had he ever journeyed there? Frodo did not think so. And here he was a little halfling from the Shire, a simple hobbit of the quiet countryside, expected to find a way where the great ones could not go, or dared not go. It was an evil fate. But he had taken it on himself in his own sitting-room in the far-off spring of another year, so remote now that it was like a chapter in a story of the world’s youth, when the Trees of Silver and Gold were still in bloom. This was an evil choice. Which way should he choose? And if both led to terror and death, what good lay in choice?
(The Black Gate is Closed : The Two Towers)
He’s led us this far, Sam.
Mr Frodo, no!
He’s been true to his word.
PB: “This is another beat in the story about the relationship and the way in which the relationship between Frodo, Sam and Gollum changes and evolves and this is the moment when, instead of listening to Sam, Frodo chooses to follow Gollum or Smeagol and it’s very significant and these points and the way in which that relationship developed was very carefully plotted out by us.”
Lead the way, Smeagol.
Good Smeagol always helps.
"I don’t really want to surpass it. It was its own experience. I would hate to surpass it, to try to do something better than that. I think that means I wouldn’t have appreciated it enough. It will endure in my mind and my heart for the rest of my life."
TO BE CONTINUED
LINK TO ALL CHAPTERS:
"A JOURNEY WITH FRODO"
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