Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth franchise has employed some of the best actors in the business, from classically trained, Shakespearian thespians to blockbuster superstars. We’d like to think all of them are absolute sweethearts, but this is show business, baby, and sometimes it lets you down.
Actors frequently draw on their real life personas as international superstars to build their characters, though this is a little harder to do when you’re working within a sprawling fantasy sandbox like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. It’s a little harder to find inspiration in real-life experiences when you’re portraying a hobbit, elf or wizard.
Thanks to their fantastical roles, as well as layers upon layers of insane makeup and intricate costuming, many of the actors in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are further from their true selves as they’ve ever been. That’s without even mentioning the likes of Andy Serkis and Benedict Cumberbatch, whose physical features are hidden just as much as their real personalities by revolutionary CGI and motion capture.
After Peter Jackson broke his promises and studio demands, it led to The Hobbit being stretched to three tiresomely long epics. There probably wasn’t a sweetheart left on set by the time The Battle of the Five Armies wrapped production. Thankfully, the overstayed franchise has wrapped for the time being, and the actors can breathe a big sigh of relief and go back to being sweethearts and heartthrobs. Or perhaps not.
Here are 12 Lord Of The Rings Actors Who Are Legitimate Sweethearts (And 9 Who Aren’t).
21 Sweetheart - Cate Blanchett
Since appearing in all three of The Lord of the Rings films as Galadriel, the Lady of Lórien, the fairest and greatest of all elven women, Cate Blanchett has retained her star status as one of the most radiant and charming actresses of our time.
Since her role as the royal elf, which catapulted Blanchett into the mainstream, she has since won two well-deserved Academy Awards. She has worked with every prestigious director on the planet and has featured in multiple franchises from Indiana Jones to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
She has most recently been in Thor: Ragnarok and is going to be in the hotly anticipated Ocean’s 8, as well as making the art world swoon during her appearances on the jury at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
20 Not - Sean Bean
If anyone on the Lord of the Rings cast list deserves to on this list, Sean Bean is definitely one of them. His short-lived role as Boromir came to an end in the Fellowship of the Ring, after his character heroically perished during battle, a staple of Bean’s career. Although, he does appear in some flashbacks in the later films. His career isn’t quite the same as it used to be, despite a brief stint in the biggest television show in the world, Game of Thrones (before his character lost his life, yet again).
One does not simply cast Sean Bean in roles where he will survive.
Perhaps being momentarily corrupted by the One Ring in Fellowship was an experience Bean hasn’t been able to recover from, as he’s often found self-reflecting with only a cold drink to keep him company.
19 Sweetheart - Andy Serkis
No one in Hollywood has been as integral to the pioneering of movie special effects as this man, Andy Serkis. Well, perhaps James Cameron is a close second. While the Avatar director revolutionized CGI models with T2 and The Abyss, and briefly made 3D a worldwide phenomenon in 2009, Serkis takes the crown. All thanks to his superb work in bringing the creature Gollum to life.
Thanks to his work with The Lord of the Rings, computer effects are now better than they’ve ever been. If Serkis wasn’t a self-described ‘workaholic’, blockbusters today wouldn’t be the same, but his work effort has ensured that characters like Caesar and Supreme Leader Snoke look just as real as the actors working alongside them.
18 Not - Christopher Lee
He would have you fooled with his role as the evil wizard Saruman, but the late, great Christopher Lee was a warm and kind gentleman of an actor. However, there’s no way we could call a man with such a cool and frightening past a sweetheart.
During World War II, he agreed to fight for Finnish forces in the Winter War of 1939, before moving around various positions in the Royal Air Force. He retired in 1946 as a flight lieutenant, before he found his calling in acting.
Throughout the Second World War, Lee evaded death numerous times and even scaled Mount Vesuvius just three days before it erupted! Peter Jackson can also attest that the man knows exactly what sound is made when someone is attacked with a knife, as he had to correct his direction on set.
17 Sweetheart - Lee Pace
Although the doe-eyed, silk-voiced Lee Pace holds his personal life close to his chest, he has been a proud member of the LGBTQ community since Ian McKellen’s well-intentioned, but accidental outing of his co-star during an interview for The Hobbit. Pace plays Thranduil, the enigmatic and flamboyant elven king of Mirkwood and father to Orlando Bloom’s Legolas.
Lee Pace is aa self-proclaimed nature lover and conservationist.
Honestly, Pace probably has much more in common with his adorable role as Ned for Bryan Fuller’s prematurely cancelled Pushing Daisies. While his performance is one of the only convincing parts of that trilogy, the actor isn’t nearly as mean-tempered as either the elven ruler or his other biggest role as Ronan the Accuser, in Guardians Of The Galaxy.
16 Not - James Nesbitt
If you thought the Fellowship was a large ensemble cast to keep up with, The Hobbit confused everyone with a band of thirteen dwarves to accompany Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf in their quest to recover the Lonely Mountain, and its piles of treasure, from the nefarious red dragon, Smaug.
James Nesbitt plays Bofur (though you may as well call him Dwarf #11), who is characterized by his curly moustache, ridiculous hat and sarcastic sense of humor.
While Bofur is among the cheekier and better-natured dwarves accompanying Bilbo on his unexpected journey, Nesbitt is no sweetheart. He has admitted to having affairs and using illegal substances. He divorced his wife, Sonia Forbes-Adam, in 2016. Nesbitt is now working hard to get back in his fans’ good books.
15 Sweetheart - Richard Armitage
The party of thirteen dwarves was of course led by Thorin Oakenshield, the exiled King Under the Mountain, on a quest to reclaim his rightful treasure from the clutches of Smaug. A vengeful, brave and stubborn dwarf, Thorin is portrayed by actor Richard Armitage, who effectively conveys Thorin’s more intimidating attributes, as well as his descent into madness when he begins suffering from Dragon Sickness. Along with this role, Armitage also had a small role in Star Wars: Episode I and Captain America: The First Avenger.
In reality, Armitage is just a big softy, frequently squirming and giggling during uncomfortable press interviews, a dramatic departure from the man who has come to be known as one of the scariest voices in Hollywood. Like Lee Pace, his personal life is kept tightly under wraps, leading to a number of debunked (but still fun) rumors of a secret Hobbit coupling.
14 Not - John Rhys-Davies
Before Peter Jackson introduced us to a band of thirteen new dwarves to keep up with, The Lord of the Rings was known for just the one dwarf warrior, Gimli.
A fierce fighter and loyal, if not grumpy, companion, Gimli’s bickering and subsequent friendship with the elf Legolas provided much of the heart for the original trilogy. However, actor John Rhys-Davies seems to have embraced the persona of his short-statured counterpart at the start of the trilogy; surly, stubborn, and just a little bit racist.
The actor, previously known as the Egyptian excavator Sallah in the Indiana Jones films, expressed a number of particularly incendiary opinions regarding Islam and political correctness during an interview with Larry King, proving that sometimes actors would do well to keep to themselves.
13 Sweetheart - Luke Evans
Luke Evans is frequently referenced as one of the most masculine actors working in Hollywood today. Huge and shredded, his roles in the Fast and Furious franchise, as well as playing narcisstic chauvinist Gaston in Disney’s remake of Beauty and the Beast, have cemented his persona as the stereotypical man’s man.
Evans may be a buff looking guy, but he's actually a big teddy bear.
In the third installment of The Hobbit, The Battle of the Five Armies, Evans does perhaps the manliest thing possible in the role of Bard the Bowman. He shot down the dragon that was terrorizing his town with an arrow made of black metal. The truth is, Evans takes on this persona rather reluctantly. He has revealed himself as a softly-spoken and gentle actor, who just so happens to make an extremely convincing stereotype when he needs to.
12 Sweetheart - Hugo Weaving
Surely one of the most villainous actors in Hollywood, Hugo Weaving was recently seen as Andrew Garfield’s horrible father in Mel Gibson’s comeback, Hacksaw Ridge. He will take command of a gigantic, mobile city in the Peter Jackson produced Mortal Engines later this year. Besides this, Weaving is also known as Agent Smith, the Red Skull and the voice of Megatron, some of the most dastardly antagonists in science fiction history.
His more benevolent role as Elrond, the elven Lord of Rivendell, is an outlier for Weaving’s career. It is definitely closer to his real life persona than any of the villains he’s portrayed. Not only has he been with his wife since 1984, he is also one of Australia’s most prolific animal rights ambassadors.
11 Sweetheart - Sylvester McCoy
Some have called him The Hobbit’s answer to Jar Jar Binks. While we wouldn’t go that far, it’s easy to see why Radagast, with dried bird poop stuck to his hair and a sleigh powered by rabbits, has remained high on the list of disappointments for the prequel trilogy.
Radagast may be the answer to Jar Jar Binks... but he's still much cooler.
Radagast is the brown wizard of Middle Earth and Gandalf’s nature-obsessed companion. He is played by Sylvester McCoy in the films, a return to the mainstream for the actor after portraying the Doctor in some of the ropier later seasons of classic Doctor Who. Like fellow wizard and Shakespearian star of the stage, Ian McKellen, McCoy is a national treasure for Brits, as is just about anyone who’s played the Doctor. With his signature panama hats and umbrellas, he's undoubtedly an adorable sweetheart.
10 Not - Martin Freeman
When re-casting the integral role of Bilbo Baggins, previously held by Ian Holm, Peter Jackson made the wise decision that no other actor could refine Bilbo’s bumbling bravery than Martin Freeman. After perfecting his subtle, deadpan humor during his stint on the British Office, Freeman has also appeared in just about every British comedy made in the last ten years. He became the perfect choice for the trilogy’s comedic, yet tenacious halfling hero.
Now having been in the business since the early 2000s, Freeman has become like every Brit who’s developed a little gray in his hair. He became tired and grumpy. His most controversial interview moment came when he admitted hating his experience shooting the fourth season of the hit BBC show Sherlock, though probably not as much as fans hated the experience of watching it.
9 Sweetheart - Liv Tyler
There’s almost been a theme throughout this list, in that no actor who has ever played an elf in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings is anything other than a sweetheart. Lee Pace, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving have all proven absolute darlings, and in Liv Tyler we can add another to the list. Tyler’s performance as Arwen, an elf who assists Frodo in his journey and falls in love with the mortal man Aragorn, was so perfect that her role in the films were made much more integral to that in the books.
Tyler is shy and sweet, but a fierce and talented actress. Tyler was previously known for her marriage to Royston Langdon, but they split in 2008. She later said that she was “too sensitive” for casual dating, adding that she fell in love “once in a blue moon”. The words of a sweetheart.
8 Not - Benedict Cumberbatch
While the latest three episodes of Sherlock didn’t quite cut it, one person in particularly was rather unimpressed with Freeman’s comments. The next season of the reinvented sleuth’s adventures could be clouded with a good old fashioned actor’s feud, as Benedict Cumberbatch has criticized his comments as “pathetic”.
Fans were upset with outcome of the fourth season of Sherlock, but it still had some interesting moments.
There may be tenseionwhen the next season of Sherlock begins, that's if the fifth season of Sherlock ever gets off the ground. The waits keep getting longer, and the series’ writers and stars have admitted that there are no plans for the immediate future. Both actors being hoovered up by Marvel could have something to do with it. While Cumberbatch is usually the image of polite and respectable, like his Marvel co-star Tom Hiddleston, in this case he seemed to have channelled the wrath of Smaug to cry foul at Freeman’s complaints.
7 Sweetheart - Sean Astin
There’s no chance that the One Ring would have been destroyed were it not for the loyal company of Samwise Gamgee, the real hero of Middle Earth. Assisting Frodo as the corruption of the Ring drained his energy, Sam persuaded him away from temptation (which was a trying task) and one that required one of the most endearing actors in the business.
Everyone needs a Samwise in their life.
Sean Astin, having grown from a baby-faced teenager in The Goonies into a baby-faced man, and the most endearing actor alive, was chosen for the role, completing the home run of perfect casting for the series. As well as being a marathon enthusiast and political campaigner. Astin, thanks to a series of complicated scandals during his earlier life, essentially has four dads! His good-nature has ensured that he’s remained close with them his whole life.
6 Not - Dominic Monaghan
While Merry and Pippin frequently enjoyed the simple pleasures in life, taking any opportunity they could to have a pipe and carrots, lie back, and enjoy the view, they never seemed to take any interest in the women of Middle Earth (except perhaps Galadriel). It’s not a trait that’s shared by Dominic Monaghan, sadly, who seems to have been making up for his character’s lack of success in entirely the wrong way.
Dominic has also appeared in Mute, a Netflix movie, with Paul Rudd and Alexander Skarsgård.
After splitting with his Lost co-star Evangeline Lilly (who has her own can of worms to open), he got in a spot of bother after sending lurid and unreciprocated advances via text to a woman he was interested in. Luckily there are no mobile phones in Middle Earth, so this sort of thing can be avoided.
5 Sweetheart - Billy Boyd
Sam and Frodo aren’t the only hobbits accompanying the Fellowship on their quest to destroy the One Ring. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took (known better as Merry and Pippin) may not have the same level of willpower as their Hobbiton friends, but they put up a fight when they need to.
An inseparable pair of troublemakers. Merry and Pippin are usually found causing trouble for the rest of the group, or otherwise engaged with drink, food and their pipes.
After starring in one of the most successful trilogies of all time, Billy Boyd (Pippin) has taken a leaf out of his Middle Earth counterpart’s book, frequently preferring to take long holidays in his home country of Scotland rather than getting back into the acting gig. He’s also remained firm friends with Dominic Monaghan, despite a number of controversies.
4 Not - Evangeline Lilly
We said we’d get to Evangeline Lilly’s difficult past, the ex-girlfriend of Meriadoc Took, Dominic Monaghan, and her time in the spotlight has sure been a doozy. Now playing the second incarnation of Wasp in Marvel sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, Lilly entered the Middle Earth franchise as Tauriel, an elf character not featured in the books.
She began dating Monaghan after meeting him on the set of Lost, but things ended in 2009 with a rocky finish. Later, Monaghan’s tweeting alleged that the Hollywood couple had broken things off because Lilly had an affair.
More recently, Lilly stirred controversy, in the midst of a modern wave of feminism, by bad-mouthing the movement. The actress claimed that rather than an effort to grant women basic rights, feminists are “women who want to be men.” Someone should have done the reading.
3 Sweetheart - Ian McKellen
One of the most iconic characters in modern fiction, only the best of the best would do for the Gray (and later White) Wizard, Gandalf. Warner Bros. opted for the top tier performer Ian McKellen, a British treasure and one of the finest actors alive.
On January 27th, McKellen celebrated the 30 year anniversay of the BBC radio interview when he came out.
McKellen had already starred as Magneto in Brian Singer’s introduction to 21st Century superheroes, X-Men, so he was no stranger to franchises. He became one of the best things about The Lord of the Rings and even managed to salvage a semblance of quality from The Hobbit prequels. A vocal gay rights activist since his early career, Ian McKellen’s talent, class and close friendship with Patrick Stewart have cemented him as an absolute gem of both theatre and cinema. There’s no possible way that Ian McKellen is nothing but the definition of a sweetheart.
2 Not - Viggo Mortensen
When such a prestige title as The Lord of the Rings is in the works, there’s no doubt that a name of its calibre is going to draw an international cast of equally quality actors. Before only known from more artistically inclined independent films, Viggo Mortensen’s casting as Aragorn was an ingenious call and a star-making role.
Since then, the Danish-American star has gone back to smaller work, featuring in films from David Cronenberg and John Hillcoat. He even earned an Oscar nomination for Captain Fantastic last year.
Now that he’s proved himself of an actor worth more than action roles in blockbusters, Mortensen has turned his nose up somewhat at his work in Peter Jackson’s films. He admits The Fellowship of the Rings was the better of the three, but overall considers the trilogy a “mess”.
1 Sweetheart - Elijah Wood
By all accounts, whether it’s in interviews or during his extensive visits to conventions, Elijah Wood is one of the loveliest actors in Hollywood. Although Frodo gets dark occasionally, the character remains one of the most of the most optimistic protagonists in recent film history, and it’s all thanks to Elijah Wood’s hopeful and bright-eyed performance.
How could you not think Elijah Wood's a sweetheart? Just look at him!
His sweetheart persona has been tainted somewhat, though not by his personal life but his post-Lord of the Rings roles. He has since played two prominent psychopaths, in Sin City and Maniac as well as some darker and more artistic roles, even lending his voice to Hayoa Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rise.
Nothing he can do off-screen can ever taint his generous and charitable life off-screen. A bona fide sweetheart.
Are there any Lord of the Rings actors that we missed? Tell us in the comments below!