“It’s ultimately about what it is to be human”: Addai-Robinson, Owen, Horvath, Wadham, Gravelle and Baldry on the Rings of Power series
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 Cynthia Addai-Robinson (who plays Míriel, the queen regent of Númenor), Trystan Gravelle (who plays Míriel’s advisor, Pharazôn), Leon Wadham (who plays Pharazôn’s son, Kemen), Lloyd Owen (who plays the sailor, Elendil), Maxim Baldry (who plays Isildur, son of Elendil and future warrior king) and Ema Horvath (who plays Eärien, Isildur’s sister). The cast members told us about creating the world, how they came to Tolkien and learning about the super-fans.
What kind of Tolkien research did you have to do to get into your characters?
Cynthia Addai-Robinson: It was a mix for me because I’m one of the characters that exist in the lore. But I think what’s been a real opportunity; and JD [Payne] and Patrick [McKay], our showrunners, and the producers, and everybody involved in this collaboration – it’s really about trying to fill in some of the gaps, because sometimes you’re working off a little bit of a description, depending on the character. Some characters are quite filled-out in the lore, others, such as myself – I’m working off of what I have. But, to me, it was really about emotional research, or just that sense of what would a person in this scenario do? What have leaders throughout history faced in terms of navigating a society through change?
Trystan, did you delve deep into Tolkien’s lore? Or was it too forbidding?
Trystan Gravelle: I did my fair share of reading in Tolkien’s lore, but what’s interesting about a character like Pharazôn – and what appealed to me – is the geopolitics and reading about how people get affected by their environment, and by the geography around them. You get to learn empathy as to why people do what they do. And I think with somebody like Pharazôn and the Númenorians, just like everybody on Earth, we’re all for globalisation, but we want it on our terms. And that’s what appealed to me, and that’s what was very interesting. An author that stuck out to me was Tim Marshall, with Worth Dying For and Prisoners of Geography, and it does teach you that all history is a matter of perspective.
Maxim, your character is of great importance in the history of The Lord of the Rings. Were you a fan of Tolkien’s novels before you got the role?
Maxim Baldry: I wasn’t, actually – I hadn’t read the books until I got the job. That’s how my introduction was to the books. And I started reading The Silmarillion, where a lot of our characters are mentioned, and then it led me down the path to delve deeper into the text, and the whole fabric and tapestry of the world were so rich and amazing that that helped me bring my character alive.
How helpful was it to work in real locations in New Zealand? How was New Zealand for you?
Ema Horvath: It was stunning. Maxim and I, our first day was on this private beach up in the Coromandel. And I remember Maxim’s hair and makeup took like five seconds, then he was out of the trailer and had a little chair and watched the sunrise on that day.
And the city we built was incredible – Númenor – they built several blocks of it. And that was amazing, because this city is supposed to be so incredible and we didn’t have to imagine much of it. We’ve talked about it ad nauseam but there was algae in the canals and bird poop and graffiti –
MB: The bird poop guy was amazing. You just saw him standing there, just painting the top of the buildings!
EH: But also the crew, that was the most special thing about shooting down there. I miss several members of that crew!
Lloyd Owen: For Cynthia and my first day they got special permission from the Department of Conservation in New Zealand to use some of the mountain ranges. Usually a four-day hike is the only way you can get in, and we helicoptered up there on our first day. So that was very special, an incredibly beautiful spot. Wait until episode seven to see that one.
Leon Wadham: I’m a New Zealander, so I think, on occasion, I’ve taken my country for granted. I forget how special, how beautiful the places are, but also how special the people are. And it was heartening for me to just hear, over and over again, doing this job with these people who’d come from all over the world, that I should be cherishing my home. And I think it’s reflected in the show when I’ve seen it. I’m so proud of everyone’s contribution. I’m excited for the rest of the world to be reminded of what we’ve got.
We meet Elendil at the Battle of Mordor – what are we going to learn about this character that’s different? We’ve seen him at the end of things. What are we going to learn about the beginning?
LO: It is a great privilege and excitement, as well as a responsibility, to play this role. As Cynthia was saying earlier, there are signposts along the way through the Legendarium of events that happen to these characters, but what we don’t know is how they get there, the fully rounded human being that is Elendil. And, look, my eternal question – and I tease Maxim about this – is, “Isildur at the end does not throw the ring into the fire. If Elendil had the ring, would he throw it into the fire?”. And I think that’s what Tolkien would have opened up more and more: the fully rounded human being; what it is about each individual that either would make them make that decision or not. And you can apply that to every character – which one of them would or wouldn’t want to take possession of that ring or let it go? Working out who Elendil is through this whole series is what I’m excited to play as well. It’s costing me a fortune in bribes to JD and Patrick as to how they write him but I’m willing to make the investment!
Ema, how does it feel to be part of a legacy that already has a cult-like fan base?
EH: You say “yes” to a project and you celebrate, and then the seriousness of the fan base sets in very quickly. I’ve mentioned this in a couple of interviews – I spent a lot of time on the Reddit threads; I thought that was the quickest way into the fan base, and that’s been very eye-opening. But I’ve also found quite a few acquaintances and friends that way. I don’t think the fan base is as stereotypically closed-minded or precious or whatever. I haven’t found that to be the case overall. My journey was diving into the abyss, despite people telling me not to, and having a wonderful experience.
Fans have read about Númenor and heard of it – what excites you most about them finally getting to see the Kingdom Island?
LO: When we went to Comic-Con, one of the members of our security team was walking us back from it and she said, “I’m not allowed to talk to you; I’ve been told not to talk to the actors because I mustn’t geek out too much. I’m a massive fan.” I said, “Come on, come on, let’s have a geek out!” And her parents were Lord of the Rings fans, she’d read the books herself, they’d even read The Silmarillion, they went to see the movies when she was old enough to take it and she’d seen up to episode three, when Númenor was introduced. So she knew all about Númenor from what she read. And she said, “The first time I saw it, she says I just burst into tears.”. And I was delighted and relieved. Because we all have the strength of our imagination when we read something – I know I did when I read The Hobbit as a kid – but it’s often hard to beat that, and the idea that she lived with Númenor in her head. And that when she finally saw, it it made her cry, was a positive sign. Hopefully, that will be replicated for many people. It’s stunning, the work that our production designer, and as well as all of the people that work in CGI did, just filling out what we built. I think it’s an absolute visual feast, that city.
CA: There’s the score as well. When you are first introduced to Newman, or there’s this swell of music from Bear McCreary who’s done our score, there’s sort of different instrumentation for the different worlds. There’s something about the music for Númenor – it just really takes your breath away. We didn’t have the music with us when we were doing it, but when you layer that on as well, it just takes it to another level.
Did any of your previous roles help prepare you for this, or was it totally unlike anything you’ve done before?
MB: I don’t think you can compare this show to any other show that I’ve personally been on. It’s expansive. And I think this is one of those moments in time – like a time capsule for me, a dream come true. My inner child was just dreaming of this moment. I don’t think it could compare to anything that I’ve personally done.
EH: The one through-line I realised, for me, is that I have a tendency to play people with very few friends. It’s the same in this. Yeah, I just noticed that the other day!
LO: The themes are universal; Tolkien’s mythological themes are universal. It’s ultimately about what it is to be human, the struggle and the difficulties of living, and I think, as an actor, you’re going to come across that all the time. So there’s plenty that’s similar, and, as Cynthia was saying earlier, the emotional story is what you need to find – and that, ultimately, is to replicate what it is to be alive, breathing in and out and being human. So if there’s any consistent theme around it, I think it would be that.
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: