“It was wonderful, I loved every minute of it”: Zwangobani, Smith, Weyman, Cruz Cordova, Boniadi and Muhafidin at the press conference for The Rings of Power
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a television series based on JRR Tolkien’s fantasy novels, set in the Second Age of Middle-earth thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
We heard from Sara Zwangobani and Dylan Smith (who play the Harfoot Marigold Brandyfoot and her husband, Largo), Nazanin Boniadi and Tyro Muhafidin (who play human healer Bronwyn and her son, Theo), Ismael Cruz Cordova (who plays Silvan elf Arondir) and Daniel Weyman (who plays a mysterious stranger) about the audition process, characters’ family dynamics and and challenges on-set.
What were your experiences with auditioning and learning what your roles might be?
Sara Zwangobani: I did one self-tape for the role, many months before I found out that I had the role. So I went about my life, and then I got a phone call on a Thursday asking if I could be in New Zealand on Sunday to start the job. So I was like, “Oh, okay!”. And so then I flew to New Zealand and I had two weeks before being on-set to kind of learn all about the world. So I knew very little and I didn’t even realise when I got the scripts that I was in them. I got the first two episodes and couldn’t see the name of the character I’d auditioned for. So I went, “Oh, I’m not in the show yet”, and then someone said, “No, no, this is your character”. So I discovered very much on-the-fly, but it was great because it was very exciting then, and far less stressful for me than some of my other castmates.
Nazanin Boniadi: Mine was months-long – I think my first one was in April 2019 – and that spanned four auditions. Three of them were taped because I was travelling the world for various other things, and then one of them was in-person when I was in London. And then months later, something like October, I got a Zoom call with the showrunners. And then a month after that, I found out that I have to move to New Zealand three weeks later, and we all had pseudonyms at the time, so when we auditioned we didn’t have our character names. I was very, very excited, but it was daunting. I had to move very quickly, and relocate to New Zealand.
Tyroe Muhafidin: It was long. And funnily enough, my older brother, Tobias, got the audition for the role before I did. A week beforehand they’d sent the audition like, “Yeah, we want to look at Tobias for this role,” and he put down a self-tape and then they came back a week later like, “Actually, let’s try Tyroe because he’s younger”. And then I put down a tape, didn’t hear anything for a while and then all of a sudden found out I was shortlisted. That was exciting in itself. And then it all moved fast after moving so slow, and I found myself in New Zealand doing a screen test. A week later, I was moving to New Zealand with my mum. That was crazy.
Dylan Smith: I went from being a new dad to getting cast as a dad. I just did one audition and then, two-and-a-half months later, I got the call that I’d gotten the part and then I moved with my entire family to New Zealand and we’re still down in that hemisphere because of the experience of Lord of the Rings. I didn’t know whom I was playing but suspected it was it was a dad – normally I either get cast as the homeless or demonic villain. So I was very excited just to play a loving dad.
Ismael Cruz Cordova: I’m sorry, I got caught in a mixture of pride and resentment. People like, “Oh, it was just one audition” – good for you! I’m proud of you. Good for you.
My audition process was as long as Nazanin’s – about six or seven months. I started auditioning in New York, and I realised that most people did not know it was Lord of the Rings because it was “the untitled Amazon project”. But I think there was a typo in the first email that I got, and then in the second one they corrected it from “untitled Amazon project, Lord of the Rings”. So I auditioned in New York, and then I was in LA for a job, and I auditioned there twice as well. And I got shipped off to South Africa to do a movie – like in the desert – and by the time I was there, I had gotten my first rejection for the role. And I was very ferocious about it. I said, “Nope, I’m gonna keep fighting for this thing.” And, somehow, Theo Park, the casting director, my agents and all, were able to find me back in the process. And then, while I was in the desert in South Africa, I put on a tape in my tent and shipped it off to the next town, where there was Wi-Fi, and uploaded it, and then I got a response saying, “Nope” again! By that point, I was like, “No, let’s fight for it! I’m gonna show up at JA Bayona’s house and convince him”, and my agents were like, “We would like for you not to be in jail”. The showrunners knew that I was fighting for it, and they sent this lovely email being like, “Listen, you’re wonderful, but it’s not going your direction”, and then, by that point, I let it go. I found myself in New York, and they came back and said, “Actually, we’re gonna screen test five guys and we’ll give you a chance”. And I went to New Zealand pretending I didn’t care. But I cared a lot. And then I went and did the final screen test and got the role.
Daniel Weyman: My experience was similar to everybody else. The sides that I originally got were minimal; they’d written some stuff that was character-based – as in it had the essence of the character, but it might not have been the text that was ultimately going to appear on-screen, so I had to self-tape with that. I don’t know how everybody else feels about self-tapes, but I ended up spending days doing and redoing them. So I’ve done all this work, probably thought it was not going to go anywhere, and sent it off. And then several months went by and suddenly there was a call saying, “Can you come to meet the casting director and go again?”. And from then there was this drip of information where a little bit more info came through. The casting director was brilliant at working with me. Then I had a chat with the showrunners and began to think, “Well, they clearly liked what I’m doing.” They gave me more info and a couple of film references, I went back and did a different scene, and they wrote a new side. And then I began to feel that they were enjoying something that I was bringing and began to feel a bit more confident in how I’d understood the character, because it’s a slightly nebulous idea at the beginning. And then I waited and then I heard that they were running me past the Tolkien estate and all that stuff – because we all had to be vetted on multiple levels. And, at that point, two weeks I had to wait and then finally my agent rang and said, “So are you sitting down? You got it!”. And I was slightly numb by how crazy it seemed.
Nazanin and Tyroe, your characters are mother and son, so you must have a kind of bond on-set?
TM: A little bit!
NB: We spent a lot of time going on adventures. We went to Hobbiton with Rachel, his real mum, who I became very close to, and we went on a lot of trips, didn’t we?
TM: Yeah, lots of brunches as well. Impromptu ones!
NB: Yep! Cologne shopping – your first cologne. We went cologne shopping!
TM: I still wear it to this day!
NB: I’m proud to have bought him his first cologne – that makes me very happy. It was fun. We spent a lot of time bonding, and, hopefully, that translates to screen because I love this guy.
Ismael, you managed to do action scenes without ever breaking your poise. What was it like to have to do that, but stay in character?
ICC: Very quiet grunting.
It was wonderful, I loved every minute of it. Much like Dan’s character, there’s a lot of communication, it’s just the words are not there. But that’s not to be mistaken with how much we can say and do with our bodies and through our eyes. At first, I had very little information, like all of us, about what the role was; I didn’t know that he was a soldier. And I like to approach my characters physically as well. I think what we do impacts our psychology too, so I started training as a soldier. And, on top of that, putting the physicality of the Elves. The way that they emote is very differen; the way that they relate to life – as they’re eternal – is very different. So you don’t see them cry often – when they cry, it’s something quite deep. They don’t have the physicality of humans. So, I put that there, [moving] like a panther or crocodile. It was important for me that you could sense the prowess and how all his senses were working. And I think that’s what you see. I’ve made also a concerted effort to ensure that he does not look at the ground when he’s fighting. Rarely does he look at the ground in that way, which helped me reach the steeliness and resolve of the character.
Dylan, what did it feel like to put the feet and the wig on? Did that help get into character?
DS: Somebody was asking me, “Was their process tiresome?” and I was like, “No, it was sacred” because the transformation from urban civilian, where I’d been living in London for 12 years at that point, to a creature of the earth began in the makeup chair: from putting on a wig that’s made of goat hair and has a particular smell, to the ears, to then eventually putting on the feet and the costume, which had incredible weight to it because it was multi-layered because, within it, it had a practical purpose where we could cover ourselves up and disappear right in front of your eyes. And it practically worked that way. But it meant there was a lot of weight, so it dropped your centre of gravity. And then there’s something about the extension of the feet – they were very carefully designed. We wore slippers inside that had these magnets, and within the silicone feet, each toe had a magnet so you could wiggle each toe specifically if you wanted, which meant you could grip. So it just planted you, and we shot almost exclusively in the exterior and we shot through rain, mud, dusty afternoons and tall grass. And I think it was a real blessing to become a kind of creature of the forest. And all that stuff added to the characterisation for sure.
What were the most remarkable and most challenging moments for you on set?
SZ: The mud. That was the most challenging. The feet are amazing, but they also feel everything – you do feel like they are your own feet. And so, like anyone walking through mud, we sometimes had days where it was, like, slippery mud, and trying to manoeuvre and having people trying to help you get up to where you needed to be – I think that was very challenging. But the most rewarding aspects were working with my cast and that helped me overcome any challenges.
NB: My mind keeps going to this three-week stretch during which I, for some reason, decided to have an 80s-themed birthday party. I was slightly insane; I don’t know what I was thinking. But it was a week of night shoots, and then you lose the day on the weekend, because then you’re going to day shoots for the following week, and then you lose another night because you’re switching back to night shoots. It was three weeks of filming straight, which I only had two days off for, and I decided to have a birthday party on one of the two nights off! I think that going back and forth between day shoots and night shoots is daunting, especially when you have a lot of action sequences to do, which I did. All of that combined – training for action stuff and stunts and then having very little sleep, which [Ismael] will tell you a lot about because he did it all the time – I just happened to do that for that three-week stretch. But, yeah, I got a taste of what he went through throughout the two years. But it’s a lot to lose sleep. And, again, much as Sara said, I was very lucky that I was surrounded by the support of my castmates. When you feel tired on set, you’re lifted by the crew. We had an incredible New Zealand crew, and our cast who fully understood what it is to commit yourself to these roles and get to go through these schedules. So we constantly had help I remember the cast being like, “Do you need anything on-set?” – even people who weren’t working. There’s a constant source of support that was appreciated.
ICC: Well, in terms of the action, as I said before, I wanted to create something beautiful first and foremost. I do believe in the power of storytelling in terms of aesthetics, and I think can bring depth to it. And the role – the contrast of how gritty this character is, and in many ways conflicted. The Southlanders are poor, and in many ways dejected and cast aside; this Silvan elf is just working at the lower levels of the hierarchy of Elven life. So in that way, to have moments of beauty and progress, and juxtapose them with what you’re seeing, I think created a spiritual language that you can shine through. So that translated into endless hours of training in different skills like taekwondo, wushu, tai chi, capoeira, and kung fu. I did all my wire work as well because that is a skill that not a lot of actors get to do, but I was tested and trained and then signed off to be able to do that myself. So a lot of the work that you see there is 95% myself. One of the most difficult times is upcoming. It was all outdoors. It was –
NB: Episode three?
ICC: Maybe! Or four or five or six. And it was the height of summer in the New Zealand sun, and it was hours and hours of fighting in that sun, and I’m covered in mud and hanging wires. And there was a moment that I did feel like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna be able to finish this day,” I had that moment, I went to my trailer and I had tears. All of a sudden I hear a knock on my door, and I’m fully Elven, and there’s an orc who’s like, “Are you okay?”. It was a beautiful moment. I was like, “I can’t look at you!” and they were like, “It’s gonna be okay!”. I wish BTS was around to see this distraught elf and an orc like, “You’re gonna be fine”! But we had this tight community of our cast and crew – we all created our own city, in our own community, and New Zealand supported us as well. We were able to live something that, as actors, we don’t get to live, which is home life for a long time – somewhere where they know us. You go to your favourite place, people know your name, they know your coffee order. It was a very special time and a very special group, and circumstances that lifted us through this incredibly challenging show to make. But I think it’s all on-screen.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is released weekly on Amazon Prime Video from 2nd September 2022.
Watch the trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power here: