The Lord of the Rings is one of the most intricate, ambitious, and beloved series of movies ever made. Peter Jackson’s world building was universally praised at the time of the trilogy’s release and resulted in 17 total Oscars and almost $3 billion between all three films.
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh began working on the series in 1995 after the new developments in CGI after Jurassic Park made their vision possible. The movie remained in pre-production for over four years, with a lot of drama behind the scenes, before filming finally began on October 11th, 1999.
Production lasted a total of 438 days between October of 1999 and December of 2000. In total, 150 different locations were used in addition to several soundstages in Wellington and Queenstown, New Zealand. Because of the rigorous shooting schedule, Peter Jackson only managed to get an average of four hours of sleep every night during this period.
Because of the size of the production and the number of people who were involved in making the film a reality, a lot of stories were made in the process. Accidents happened, people were hurt, and things had to be left out of the film.
Here are 15 Secrets You Didn’t Know Behind The Making Of Lord Of The Rings.
15 The Cave Troll Aragorn Fights At The Black Gate Was Supposed To Be Sauron
In the climactic final battle at The Black Gate, Aragorn fights a cave troll who pins him to the ground before eventually fleeing at the end of the battle. This was supposed to be a much more dramatic fight.
“We felt that we really had to do something more than just have Sauron staying in his tower as this flaming eye. That we had to have him make an appearance outside the Black Gate. We had to somehow have this personal duel between Aragorn and Sauron that’s not in the book,” Peter Jackson said in the movie’s bonus features. “We realized it was actually totally demeaning to what Aragorn was doing... Aragorn’s heroism is not a one-on-one duel with a big villain. His heroism is his attempt to put his own life on the line in the vague hope that it somehow may give Frodo and Sam that little opportunity.”
14 Sean Bean Climbed Up A Cliff Every Day Because He Was Afraid Of Flying
Sean Bean used to be terrified of flying. When filming The Fellowship of The Rings he would often choose to climb up a mountain in Boromir’s armor rather than get into a helicopter.
“I used to be a bit terrified of flying,” he UndergroundOnline in 2007. “I had to walk the whole way, really. I was two hours behind everybody else on top of this mountain because I just didn’t want to get into any helicopters.”
Despite his fear, Sean Bean did have to fly at least once. The snowy scene where Boromir picks up the ring was shot on a remote mountaintop that could only be accessed by helicopter.
“The other guys were filming it,” Bean said in the DVD extras. “I was just sort of gripping the seat thinking, ‘when are we going to get there’?”
13 Women in Beards Were Used As Extras
Find extras was a challenge when shooting The Lord of The Rings. That challenge got even harder when trying to find extras who knew how to ride a horse. In order to properly fill out the ranks of Rohan’s army, the filmmakers hired female extras and put them in fake beards to play male riders.
“There are some very good women riders in New Zealand, and it’d be silly not to take advantage of them,” recalled Viggo Mortensen in The Two Towers Extended Edition extras. “I mean, some of the women rode as well or better than the men, but it could be confusing at times.”
“Viggo [became] quite fond of a Rohan man who turned out to be a woman,” Dominic Monaghan went on to say. “I always knew Viggo had good taste.”
12 A Scene Was Cut Because The Set Was Destroyed By A Flood
Given the intense shooting schedule and the number of scenes that were filmed either outdoor and on location, it’s surprising that the making of The Lord of The Rings wasn’t affected more by weather. However, there was at least one scene that was severely impacted by weather.
Toward the end of The Fellowship of The Ring, the fellowship was supposed to be ambushed by a group of orcs. Peter Jackson had an elaborate action scene planned that had to be cut after a flood destroyed most of the scene’s set.
“We had all kinds of action planned with boats flipping over … and Legolas’ boat afloat as it bucks and tosses, while the Elf—standing with a foot on each of the gunwales—would be firing arrows at the attackers,” Peter Jackson said.
11 Sean Bean Was Reading From A Script During The Council Of Elrond
The script for The Lord of the Rings was constantly being revised, even on set. This led to actors having to learn their lines on the fly and improvise.
“We revised Boromir's long speech about Mordor at the last minute and only got it to Sean Bean on the day it was being shot," Peter Jackson recalled in a Facebook post. "Sean handled it very cleverly — if you look at the movie, you'll see he occasionally has his head bowed as if dealing with the emotional weight of the horrors of Mordor. In actual fact, the new script page had been taped to his knee! By the time we were done with several takes and a few different camera angles, Sean had the speech down pat, and it was mainly those takes that were used in the final cut."
10 Orlando Bloom Broke several ribs on set
Because of the rigorous shooting schedule and the number of shots that took place on location, there were quite a few injuries during the shooting of Lord of The Rings, but Orlando Bloom may have had the worst one.
“In all seriousness, everyone got hurt in this movie,” Dominic Monaghan said in the DVD extras. “Everyone was scarred. Everyone went through a little bit of physical kind of pain. [Orlando] fell off his horse and the scale double of Gimli fell on top of Orlando and broke his rib.”
“I had scored an injury,” Orlando Bloom added. “I was the first one to score an injury and I think there was a little bit of jealousy that the hobbits didn’t get the opportunity. They didn’t get the opportunity to fall off a horse and break a rib.”
9 Sean Astin Had To Be Flown To A Hospital During Shooting
Another terrible injury happened to Sean Astin. In the scene in which Sam and Frodo leave the fellowship, Astin accidentally cut his foot on a large piece of glass.
“I’m running at a dead sprint and I get in, and as my right foot lands about two feet in the water, just this huge, sharp pain,” Astin recalled on the DVD bonus features. “I grabbed on to the boat and I just looked down and just... It hurt so bad.”
“His foot had virtually been completely impaled on this shard of glass,” Peter Jackson added. “We were a good hour, hour and a half’s drive out of town. We called for a chopper. We needed to get him to a hospital very quickly. There was a lot of bleeding.”
8 John Rhys-Davies had a major allergic reaction on-set
While several actors had to endure injuries they collected on set, one actor had to endure pain and discomfort every single day. John Rys-Davies, the actor who played Gimli, consistently had to endure an allergic reaction to his facial prosthetics. The prosthetics made him break out with skin rashes every day.
The pain for the allergic reaction was so bad for John Rhys-Davies that he had to turn down any opportunities to take a role in The Hobbit prequels.
"I've already been asked and to be honest with you, I wouldn't [return to Middle Earth],” John Rhy-Davies told Empire. “I have already completely ruled it out. There's a sentimental part of me that would love to be involved again. Really I am not sure my face can take that sort of punishment anymore."
7 Viggo Mortensen Broke His Toe On Set
In the scene in which Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli come across a burning pile of orcs that they believe has the bodies of Merry and Pippen, there’s a moment where Aragorn lets out a scream of frustration and kicks a helmet across the field. As it turns out, the scream was so convincing because Viggo Mortensen actually broke his toe when he kicked the helmet.
“I thought, ‘wow this is strong. This is like Aragorn is in total grief over what just happened’,” Peter Jackson said in the DVD extras. “He did say anything to us, but we found out that Viggo had actually broken two toes. Normally an actor would say, ‘Cut, cut, I’ve hurt myself.’ Viggo turned that into the performance. He stayed in the character of Aragorn. He was letting that pain feed and drive his performance.”
6 It took an actor 16 hours to get into character
Stuntman Greg Lane played a number of different roles throughout all three Lord of the Rings movies. He was Christopher Lee’s stunt double during the “wizard fight” between Saruman and Gandalf, he stood in for Isildur as he was floating down the river with arrows in his back, and, most famously, he played the “berserker orc” who sprints towards Helm’s Deep to detonate Saruman’s mines beneath the wall.
When getting ready for his role as the “berserker orc” Lane had to endure 16 hours of makeup, prosthetics, and wardrobe. Lane would have to start the process around 2 pm in order to be on set around 2 am.
Things didn’t get any easier for Lane after he was in character. It was discovered that his torch was too heavy to carry. It also had a live flair inside it that would burn his fellow actors as he ran past.
5 Another Actor Filmed Scenes As Aragorn
Today, Viggo Mortensen is inherently tied to our vision of Aragorn. It seems now that it would be impossible for anyone else to fill the role. Mortensen’s performance almost never happened, however, because another actor was supposed to play the role.
Stuart Townsend, an Irish actor, was cast to play the pivotal role but was fired after only two days of filming. Unfortunately for Townsend, Peter Jackson realized quickly that the actor was too young to play Aragorn. At the time, this sent out all kinds of speculation about the state of the production with many people saying this was a sign of things to come.
Jackson and his crew worked quickly, however. They were already negotiating with Viggo Mortensen when Townsend was let go. Mortensen was brought into the production very quickly and shooting was only mildly interrupted.
4 The Fellowship Actors got matching tattoos
After getting banged up on set together, most of the fellowship members wanted something to remember the journey.
“We all got the same one - the word ‘nine’ in Elvish - because that's what we are, nine,” Viggo Mortensen told the LOTR Fan Club Official Movie Magazine in 2002. “I visited the tattooist a couple times, showed him the drawing and stuff. I didn't say anything about Ian McKellen or whoever may be coming in. He just did it. We did all meet one morning and it was an interesting event, and I enjoyed it. Half a day. Actually, everyone showed up. It goes along with all the other scars we got!”
One actor, John Rhys-Davies, decided not to get the tattoo. "The elvish tattoo was designed but, as I am a professional actor, whenever there’s anything dangerous or that involves blood, I sent my stunt double to do it,” Davies said.
3 Animal Issues
Actors and stuntmen weren’t the only ones to get beat up while shooting The Lord of the Rings. The intense shoot took a toll on the animal talent as well. Overall, 27 animals passed away over the course of production. No animals were harmed while filming, but horses, goats, chickens, and one sheep perished at the farm where about 150 animals were temporarily housed.
Wrangler Chris Langridge was hired as a horse wrangler by the production and was responsible for around 50 horses. In an interview with USA Today Langridge described the facility as a “death trap” filled with sinkholes, bluffs, and jagged fencing. The first horse to pass was a miniature pony named Rainbow.
"When I arrived at work in the morning, the pony was still alive but his back was broken. He'd come off a bank at speed and crash-landed," Langridge said. "He was in a bad state."
2 Viggo Mortensen headbutted people on set
There was a lot of comradery among the cast and crew of The Lord of The Rings. Various rituals and inside jokes formed over time and the cast became very close. One ritual, started by Viggo Mortensen, may seem a little bizarre.
“He doesn’t do the pain thing. He doesn’t recognize it.” Billy Boyd said about Viggo Mortensen in the DVD extras. “He does things like, he head-butts you when he meets you.”
“Every time we would see him we would shake hands and then give a little head-butt,” said Sala Baker, a stuntman in the movies.
“It does seem silly now, in retrospect,” Mortensen added. “A bunch of grown men going around head-butting each other anywhere they encountered each other in New Zealand. At the premiere when I saw Sala, bam, immediately.”
1 Peter Jackson asked Tolkien Illustrators to help design the movie
The Lord of the Rings was a meticulously designed movie. Every part of the trilogy was planned and choreographed before filming even began. When building his vision for Middle-Earth, Peter Jackson thought it was important to remember the people who had worked so hard in the past.
“You basically start thinking about what the places and characters look like and you realize that there are 40 years of artwork that people have done,” Jackson said. “Out of all the artwork, the work of Alan Lee and John Howe impressed us the most. I thought it would be wonderful if we actually had these involved as conceptual artists.”
Jackson went through quite a bit of effort to not only track down John Howe and Alan Lee (who is a very reclusive person) but to also fly them to New Zealand to work on set.
Which of these surprised you most? Let us know in the comments!