It’s been more than ten years since The Lord of the Rings trilogy ended on the big screen, yet it remains the quintessential fantasy movie trio. With over ten hours of watchable action (including the extended editions), along with the recent Hobbit trilogy, it’s an epic series of dragons, swordfights, incredible journeys and good vs evil. Tolkien’s world is so detailed and complex that it’s possible to see (and re-read!) The Lord of the Rings time and time again. Sadly, it looks like we won’t be getting any more live-action adaptations (due to the rights issues surrounding The Silmarillion), but if you are a fan of re-watching, there’s plenty to keep you from getting bored.
When you’ve had your fill of fantasy action, there’s always the behind-the-scenes special features, full of amazing little tidbits about the creation of the only Oscar-winning fantasy films ever made. If you aren’t in the mood to watch entire features, though, you may enjoy this round up of some of the BTS trivia from the films. These facts focus on the filming of the movies and the actors who starred in them, rather than the books or the fictional stories within them.
15. Peter Jackson and His Kids Had Cameos
Director Peter Jackson didn’t spend all his time behind the camera. He actually appears in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in each film. In The Fellowship of the Ring, you can catch Jackson in the town of Bree, as he strolls past the camera munching on a carrot. In this first cameo, his character even has a name: Albert Dreary. In The Two Towers, he is part of the epic Battle of Helm’s Deep, where we see him as a soldier of Rohan throwing a spear at the Uruk-hai. Finally, in The Return of the King, Jackson is a Corsair of Umbar, seen walking across deck.
Both of his children also appear briefly in the three films. Billy and Katie are seen in the first as children listening to Bilbo’s stories, hiding in the Helm’s Deep caves in the second, and as children in Minas Tirith watching the army move out to Osgiliath.
14. Other Cast Members’ Children Were Used Also Used As Extras
Throughout the trilogy, various crew members and cast members’ family were used as extras or for bit parts. Supervisors, writers, and employees of physical effects company (Weta Workshops), appear as soldiers, dwarves, elves and men throughout, and you can even spot the great-grandson of J R R Tolkien himself as a ranger at Osgiliath.
Listing every appearance of crew and family in the trilogy could fill another list all of its own, so let’s focus on two cameos that add a little extra sweetness to one of the final scenes. At the end of The Return of the King, the Hobbits return home triumphant, and we see Sam finally achieve his dream of marrying the lovely Rosie. The two halflings presumably live happily ever after, as we see them smiling together with two adorable children… who just happen to be Sean Astin’s (who plays Sam Gamgee) daughter Alexandra and Sarah McLeod’s (who plays Rosie) daughter Maisie.
13. The Fellowship Actors Got Matching Tattoos
After filming The Fellowship of the Ring, all of the actors who played a member of the fellowship got the same tattoo to commemorate the experience. Spearheaded by Viggo Mortensen (who arranged it with the tattoo artist), they all committed to a small tattoo of the number nine in Elvish- to link the nine members of the Fellowship. Shoulders and feet were popular choices for placement, although Elijah Woods (Frodo) opted to get his on his hip, while Orlando Bloom (Legolas) went for a wrist tattoo. Mortensen’s real tattoo can be seen amongst the numerous fake tattoos the actor wore as a Russian gangster in Eastern Promises.
John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) declined to get his, despite being very close to the other actors (he’s just not a tattoo man, it seems). He did, however, come up with an interesting way around the problem of ending up with eight actors sporting a tattoo of the number nine… his stunt double (Brett Beattie) got the artwork instead!
12. Sir Christopher Lee Read The Books Every Year
Sir Christopher Lee, who played the white wizard Saruman, was a huge fan of the books. He initially read the trilogy when they were first published in the mid-50s, and since then has re-read them every year. Every. Single. Year. That’s over forty years of re-reading before the film was even cast, and almost fifty years in total as a huge fan of Middle Earth.
Sir Lee was also the only cast member to have met the author himself, by chance, in a local pub. Given his life-long love of the novels, it’s no surprise that he auditioned for the live-action adaptations. Although he initially tried out for the part of Gandalf, he was absolutely perfect as Saruman.
11. Sean Bean Refused To Fly To Remote Sets
Sean Bean (Boromir) is deathly afraid of flying, yet many of the film sets were in remote locations where access was primarily by helicopter. At first, he attempted to make the flights with the other cast members, but after a particularly rough flight, he put his foot down. From then on, rather than be flown in with the rest of the actors, Bean would get up hours earlier to make his way there on foot. He took ski-lifts partway up the mountain, before hiking the rest of the way to the set by himself. Of course, there were no makeup and costuming tents on the set itself (only artists for touch-ups), so he would have to get into his full costume for the trek each time.
According to set legend, all of this was courtesy of Billy Boyd (Pippin) and Dominic Monaghan (Merry), who were responsible for that rough flight. Allegedly, the two actors knew about Bean’s fear, and played a prank on him by asking the pilot to demonstrate extreme maneuvers during the flight! Not the nicest prank to play, but certainly one that’s in character…
10. Sir Ian McKellen Stole Some “Souvenirs” From The Sets of Lord of the Rings (and The Hobbit)
Sir Ian McKellan (Gandalf) has admitted in several interviews and an AMA that he may have pilfered an item or two during filming as a souvenir. (Wouldn’t you?) He proudly displays Gandalf’s staff at his pub “The Grapes,” as well as keeping the wizard’s trademark pointy hat and the sword Glamdring.
However, these items were gifted to the actor by director Peter Jackson after filming on The Hobbit trilogy wrapped up. Sir McKellan also picked up a few items that weren’t given quite so openly, including some knives and forks from Bag End, some gold coins from Smaug’s lair, and even the keys to Bag End (which now hang in his London study)! The star has been quite cheeky about these little thefts, admitting that Jackson was looking for the keys after he had spirited them away, and jokingly asking us “not to tell” that he snuck a few of the gold coins off the set.
9. New Zealand Embraced The Film With Name Changes and Commemorative Stamps
When Peter Jackson decided to film his epic trilogy in New Zealand, the island country was understandably thrilled. In terms of a PR move, having one of the most popular fantasy trilogies ever written turned into a movie in your area is up there in the top ten ways to attract tourists. In December 2001, ahead of the release of The Fellowship of the Rings, New Zealand postal service released a set of six commemorative stamps featuring Gandalf, Galadriel, Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, Boromir and Saruman.
In November 2012, New Zealand geared up again to mark the premiere of The Hobbit (also filmed there). The City of Wellington was host to a huge celebration, including being re-named Middle Earth. Obviously, this was only for one day, and Wellington became Wellington again on the 13th.
8. Many of the Stars Were Injured During Filming
It’s not too surprising when filming such a battle-and-action packed trilogy, but many of the stars of the films were injured on set.
Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) was knocked unconscious by a heavy wooden loom on the set of Rivendell, and later, while filming a scene where he rushes into the water after Frodo, he stepped on a piece of broken glass. Despite needing twenty stitches in his foot, he was back on set in 24 hours. Orlando Bloom (Legolas) was thrown from a horse filming The Two Towers and broke his ribs, but he was also back to work the next day (although there are plenty of videos of the rest of the cast making fun of him for complaining about the pain!). Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) however, managed to rack up more than one injury!
While filming a scene where he kicks an Orc helmet, he broke two toes (and didn’t say anything about it until after the shot was done), and in another scene he knocked out a tooth, but asked for it to be superglued back in place so he could finish the scene. What a trooper! Even Sir Ian McKellen managed to bang his head on the ceiling of the Bag-End set, although he stayed in character during the accident, and it actually remains in the final cut.
7. The Sound Crew Got Creative
Middle Earth is populated with a whole range of fantastic monsters, and finding the right sounds for their “voices” isn’t always easy. Luckily, the effects people were happy to get a little creative when it came to mixing just the right noises for certain scenes. In The Fellowship of the Ring, the members of the fellowship head to Moria, only to encounter the horrifying Kraken-esque Watcher in the Water. While they escape the monster, we hear it’s terrifying groans… which are actually the sounds of a walrus!
It seems that the crew were rather fond of walrus-sounds for their various mythical creatures, as in the next scenes this sound is combined with the sound of a horse and used for the screams of the cave troll. One of the more amusingly creative sound choices, however, comes in The Two Towers at the battle of Helm’s Deep. Here, the shouts and war cries of the Uruk-hai advancing on the walls to do battle… is actually the sound of fans at a cricket match.
6. Only Two Fellowship Members Didn’t Wear Prosthetics
Almost everyone on set wore prosthetics to create the look of their various fantasy races. From hairy hobbit feet to big beards to a little extra on the nose, hours were spent every day on adding to the features of the cast. However, two members of the nine in the fellowship managed to get off prosthetic-free.
Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) and Sean Bean (Boromir) didn’t have any latex additions for their characters. (Because they were playing human characters to begin with!) Lucky for them… but less so for John Rhys-Davies (Gimli), who had severe allergic reactions to the heavy makeup used; so bad, in fact, that his eyes swelled shut several times.
5. Cate Blanchett Bronzed Her Elf Ears, But Liv Tyler’s Melted
Among the many prosthetics used in the films were the pointed elf-ears that were worn by both Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) and Liv Tyler (Arwen). Blanchette absolutely loved her ears, even famously saying that she wanted the part solely for the costume! Her husband (Andrew Upton) also approved of the little pointy additions, and when someone in the crew learned how he felt, the prosthetics were gifted to the couple. She kept the gift, and even had them bronzed.
Liv Tyler, on the other hand, wasn’t quite so careful with hers. She reportedly intended to keep them after filming, but left them on the dashboard of her car. The little gelatin caps aren’t made to stand that kind of heat, and within a few days they had melted.
4. An Olympic Fencer Was Hired to Teach Swordplay, But Not Everybody Needed Him
Unsurprisingly for a trilogy with swordfights at every turn, a swordfighting coach was there to train the cast on how to properly use their blades. Olympic fencer Bob Anderson was the lucky swordsman in question, and he spent weeks training the cast before filming even started. Anderson (who sadly passed away in 2012) was famous for his swordsmanship and cinematic choreography. He worked on the lightsaber battles for the original Star Wars trilogy, The Princess Bride, The Mask of Zorro, and more than one Bond film before coming to Lord of the Rings (and later went on to work on Pirates of the Caribbean).
Amazingly, Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) barely needed coaching, and was the only actor to appear in fight scenes without weeks of training. Anderson later said that Mortensen was the best swordsman he ever trained, which is incredibly high praise coming from someone of his caliber.
3. Mortensen Was Good At Much More Than Just Swordplay…
Stories about Viggo Mortensen on the set of The Lord of the Rings are legendary. It seems that the Danish actor (and painter, and poet, and musician) isn’t just a talented swordsman, but incredible at just about everything. He learned to speak Elvish for the films, making it his sixth language- he also speaks English, Danish, French, Italian and Spanish (he also has a smattering of Norwegian and Swedish, and recently learned some Arabic, just in case you weren’t feeling inadequate enough).
He also took on the care of his own costume during filming – washing it and making repairs – despite the fact that the wardrobe department would have done it for him. He’s also passionate about animals, and formed a strong connection to the horses that he was working with in the trilogy. By the end of filming, he had bought two of the horses; the first, because it was the horse he rode in the films and they had become attached… and the second because he felt that the first needed a friend.
2. …But He Very Nearly Wasn’t Cast
Originally, the role of Aragorn was going to be played by Stuart Townsend (Queen of the Damned, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). However, just days before filming started, Townsend was cut from the cast. While noone involved ever went into much detail about the change, the official reason was “director-actor creative chemistry” issues between Townsend and Peter Jackson.
Luckily for us, Viggo Mortensen’s son (Henry) is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings, and convinced his father to take the part (although he was initially going to turn it down). Henry’s persuasion also turned out well for him, like many other family members of the cast, he appeared as an extra in the trilogy (he was an Orc).
1. The Trilogy Broke Oscar Records
Each film in the trilogy scooped multiple Academy Awards, and the trilogy as a whole still holds several award records. The installment with the fewest Oscar wins was The Two Towers which (fittingly) won two statuettes, The Fellowship of the Ring scooped four, but it was The Return of the King that did best with a whopping eleven Oscars.
In fact, The Return of the King broke multiple Academy records with those wins; winning every award for which it was nominated, becoming only the second sequel to win an Oscar (along with Godfather II), and the only third installment to do so. The film also holds the record for most Oscar wins alongside Ben Hur and Titanic. Finally, The Return of the King was also the first (and only) fantasy film to win an Oscar for Best Picture.
Is there anything else that a casual fan of The Lord of the Rings should know? Mention it in the comments!