The Rings of Power: Elven stars Benjamin Walker, Morfydd Clark and Charles Edwards on the Lord of the Rings series
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is Amazon Prime’s recently released 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.
At the press conference celebrating its eagerly awaited first episode, The Upcoming had the pleasure of speaking to Benjamin Walker (Gil-galad), Charles Edwards (Celebrimbor) and Morfydd Clark (Galadriel) about embodying Elven dignitaries, the making of the show and what led them to their roles.
What kind of training did you have to do? What did it take not only to get into character but to get into race?
Charles Edwards: Well, there was a boot camp of sorts in terms of movement, and which, essentially, was meant for me, because I’m quite erratic, and my character has got a very busy mind – which, when you’re acting in the role, can lead to perhaps too much busyness in the acting. So I was constantly being told just to calm down a little bit.
Benjamin Walker: On and off set. “Calm down!”
CE: Yes, calm down generally in life! So for me, it was a question of trying to keep a lid on that. But we did reach a compromise in that he has, as I’ve described, in a fantastically frenzied state of mind. And that can lead to movement that perhaps is not what one might expect of a Lord of Eregion.
Morfydd, you not only have to be an elegant elf, but you have to do it halfway up a cliff in the middle of the ocean, and halfway up a snow troll as well. How do you manage those two things together?
Morfydd Clark: Well, I did a lot of physical training, which involved swimming, climbing and stunts in terms of weapons, riding and generally trying to get as fit as I could. And I found that that was useful in trying to kind of become a creature that is more powerful than us mere mortals. But, yeah, the movement training was really useful. I remember once we did one where Lara [a movement coach] had hidden something in the room and we had to find it. So the elves walked around serenely trying to find it, and then apparently the hobbits were just scuttling around like raccoons!
BW: We had a universal vocabulary that united us as a species. And we have a lot of it because Tolkien basically wrote a language and then wrote some books around it. Language is so important – not only to us and our relationship with Tolkien but to the elves. It’s almost like a weapon that they use, this beacon of light that radiates how they communicate, that connects them with the Valar. So we did quite a bit of research and study with language and that research is ongoing.
Is it easy to get to a reality within that? How do you just tune out the real world and say “Middle-earth is where we are”?
CE: The truth of any story comes from when you’re in the scene with your scene partner, you’re just doing your job and just communicating your truth to each other and listening. That’s the reality of it. That’s what acting is, mainly: listening. So that never troubled me – you’re just who you are, and you’re presenting those characters to the best of your ability.
BW: I mean, it’s a bit of a misnomer – “real life” is weird too, you know? I mean, I’m wearing a king’s garb, but just get on the train and it puts everything into perspective. In some ways being at work is so much more normal than real life!
What is it like working with JA Bayona?
MC: Wonderful. And I had been a fan of JA for years, since The Orphanage, which I remember getting from Blockbuster, and taking the TV from the living room up to my bedroom to watch it with my friends. And it was meeting a hero that did not disappoint. His imagination is so wild and fantastic and so is his ambition, and yet he also can maintain a kind of silliness and lightness on-set, which is just lovely to work with.
BW: Yeah, he had these huge speakers and he blared mostly film scores in between takes, and at first I found it a bit off-putting, I was like “Don’t make me work in between work!”. But what was great about it was that, kind of subconsciously, you could understand the tone and his vision of what he was looking for. And not only us as actors, but the crew seemed unified in this singular vision. And he did it with grace and sophistication. I thought it was charming by the end.
What can you tell us about your auditions?
CE: Mine was very straightforward, I submitted a tape and that was it. That’s the story. It was quite a quick turnaround. I hear others were less quick, but in my case, that was it. I have no associated amusing story or insight into that brief tale.
MC: Quite the opposite, it was very long, and spanned three countries. It started in London, then went to LA and then finished off in Barcelona with JA and all his crew. And they were two scenes, one of which was kind of with Elrond, and one of which was with Halbrand. And the one with Elrond we didn’t shoot for a long time. There was such relief when that scene was finally shot – the audition was finally over.
BW: Yeah, I sent a tape. And then months went by, and I completely forgot about the job. And they called me up and they were like, “So we’re going another way with the other character. Do you want this one?” and I was like “Yeah!”. But also I was nervous about it. I always tell the story about JD [Payne, executive producer] calling me from the hospital. He was pitching the job and you know that this is going to be a huge time commitment – not only for you but for your family – and I was hesitant. And he called me and I could hear that he was some place loud, and I said, “I can’t hear you”. He said, “I’m in the hospital”; I said, “Are you okay?”; he said, “Yeah, no, I’m fine. My wife just had a baby. But the thing about Tolkien that I want to encapsulate –“. He was so focused and so dedicated that it completely pacified any of my nerves.
There was a lot of weight and expectation to go with the role of Galadriel, especially after Peter Jackson’s beloved now 20-year-old trilogy. But the younger Galadriel is different from earlier adaptations. Did you take inspiration from Cate Blanchett’s work, or did you draw directly from JRR Tolkien’s novels?
MC: It was both. And I felt really lucky that I had those films, and Cate Blanchett playing a character that I somehow ended up playing, and I could see where my character was going. So I always had that in my mind – that I knew where she’d end up, but my character didn’t. You just have to shut out that noise and just completely commit to it. And then we all went back to the books, and I hadn’t read The Silmarillion before starting this job so I just dived into that. And there’s just so much, not just on Galadriel’s particular character, but on what Middle-earth was like to live in during the Second Age that we’re exploring. So that was just fascinating. And it became quite comforting – I’d pop on the audiobook every night and go into Middle-earth.
How would you say your Galadriel is different? She’s much livelier than Cate Blanchett was in the films.
MC: I think the wisdom and serenity of Galadriel in the Third Age are hard-earned and come from getting things wrong. And I was exploring a lot the idea of “I’m playing a younger Galadriel, but not a young Galadriel” and the idea of “what could naivety and youth look like on someone who’s already thousands of years old?”. And what I struck on was arrogance: she doesn’t know the limits of her knowledge.
Are there any memorable moments you experienced while filming? Can you tell us what they are?
CE: Many. Every single day. I mean, just off the top of my head, primarily seeing where my character spends most of his time, which is in his workshop. Seeing that set was extraordinary and exciting because when you’re building a character you rely on not just you, but every head of department, the directors, the writers, the showrunners – they all collaborate, you don’t know what you’re going to wear until you get to the wardrobe fitting. So that’s part of your character, that dictates a certain mindset. And then when you see where you work, where they’ve homed you, where they’ve housed you, and what’s in your drawers, it all feeds into what’s going on inside as you’re building this person. And so that moment – seeing where they placed me – really was a completion for me, and also just to see the scale and the love and passion that had gone into this extraordinary design.
MC: I like what we shot together, which was the first time they’ve been lots of supporting actors in the Elven world. That was beautiful.
BW: It was beautiful. Bless their hearts, they didn’t tell them anything. They’d all signed like 20 NDAs and they don’t know who they are. They have pointy ears, but they’re trying to piece it all together. So there was a moment we were like, “Okay guys, relax. Here’s what’s going on. We’re gonna have a lovely day together.” That was one of my first days.
What was being shot that day?
BW: The coronation. And I was gobsmacked by it. But I did feel like we were making this kind of independent film – like, the scale of it is huge, but then you kind of get there and you’re working with JA and it just feels like “Okay, how do we make this as magical as we want it to be?”. It felt like a true collaboration the whole time.
Would you say The Rings of Power follows a female narrative and differentiates itself from the original trilogy in that way?
MC: There are incredible female characters in the original trilogy. I always loved Galadriel, but also was obsessed with Eowyn, who kills the Witch King because she is a woman. But yeah, it’s cool there are more women in this. However, still, it’s over 50% men. So there’s a balance to it, it’s not going to any extremes either way, which I think is great. And, yeah, it’s really exciting. I feel really lucky that, for me, I’ve always felt very jealous of male actors – that they often get to learn to ride and learn to fight and do all that stuff. And this job has given me the opportunity to do that, and I do like thinking of girls seeing that.
How did you react when you discovered your elves’ look and make-up? Was it as good as you expected?
MC: I thought, “Thank god” – because it’s hard to imagine that you can do it without that. I don’t know if you guys find that as well.
BW: Yeah. I mean, Kate Hawley, our designer, did 90% of the job! Because, in essence, actors – we’re creative artists but what we do isn’t necessarily creative in the sense that we are interpretive artists. We’re instrumentalists, but we didn’t write the music. And we inject it (we hope) with something beautiful, but, as you said earlier, so much of it is turning up and finding the world that’s been created for you, and around you, and then filling that, so I never felt unsupported. If anything, it made me step up my game.
CE: Yeah, it does when you see what you’re surrounded with. It does make you step up your game.
MC: Coming from training all sweaty and then going into a rehearsal room that has carpeted walls and stuff and then talking about Sauron and the devilry of the Dark World is quite difficult. So when you’re in all that stuff – when you get the ears and you get the hair – you’re like, “Oh, now I can believe, my disbelief is suspended.”.
CE: Yeah, when you look in the mirror and your face has changed, you’re different. Your face has changed because the ears do something extraordinary to the head.
What was the first day you had the ears put on like?
CE: I couldn’t stop looking at them! It’s a profound moment.
BW: And you start scratching them as if they’re yours… Surreal!
MC: Mine was when we decided that we’d found the look of Galadriel from all the costume department, all the armoury department, all the makeup and hair departments. And there were lots of tears because this was months and months of work from their departments. And it felt just incredible to kind of be the vessel for that.
How was the Elven language training? What was it like to play in Elvish?
CE: I’ve yet to utter any Elvish – I’m sure there’s some lined up for me. But, similarly, with the movement, we did a lot of work on it. The thing about the elves… What I’ve realised is that their thoughts are incredibly lon, which kind of reminded me of Shakespeare: the culmination of the thought comes two lines later. So it’s a question of breathing and thinking ahead. I did a lot of Elvish writing, which I found very exciting because I’m into that kind of stuff. So I enjoyed all that training.
MC: Yeah, I enjoyed that aspect of it. And my mum was very quick to tell me when my dad started reading The Hobbit to me, that Elvish was based on Welsh. So I always felt quite proud of that. We’re unfortunately doing the Finnish version, much to my despair, because it’s a little harder for me. But, yeah, there were lots of conversations about what it means to be bilingual and what it means to be able to have thoughts on different planes, which is what I think you get from having multiple languages. And also discussions about where the emotion lies, which were quite fascinating.
What is the most surprising or interesting fact you’ve learned about Tolkien’s world?
CE: I think how exhaustive it is. I mean, I was a big fan when I was smaller, but the more reading I’ve done, the more endless his corridors are. And every half-open door, you just peek around and there’s a whole other world in there. It’s staggering to the imagination. I think that’s the main thing for me. He’s an extraordinary writer.
BW: I just reiterate that it’s seemingly Biblical in nature, in that every time you return to the text, you garner something new, something that not only enriches what we’re trying to do, but also enriches me as a person and as a fan, and the depths and the intricacies of it. What a mind! And for us to be able to share in that and also share in the sharing of it is one of the great pleasures of the job.
CE: The other thing is that he left many things implied, many things unconfirmed and many choices to be made. And I think that’s what we’ve all enjoyed about this particular project: it has given us the opportunity to examine some of those choices.
Gil-galad is a very important character in Tolkien’s mythology – one of the protagonists of the Second Age – but at the same time, he’s very unknown. How has he been interpreted in The Rings of Power and how would you define your character?
BW: He does a lot; you can learn a lot about him, but some [things] like his parentage are nebulous. There’s one scenario where Gil-galad and Galadriel are related, if you go down that path. But I take that as also a bit of information about him – that mysterious nature – that he is highly prescient and that he can sense the rise of evil. He’s the one sending letters to the Númenorians years before evil comes like, “You guys should start building some boats, I just got a feeling.” Tolkien, of course, worded it much better. “Yeah, hey, yo, build some boats!” I think that is also a little factoid or nugget that is usable. But, in terms of who he is, I think he’s just exactly that: he is one of the elves that has chosen to remain on Middle-earth. He could go be sipping Mai Tais on the Elvish Valhalla, but, instead, he’s chosen to stay on this dark disgusting rock where all these species just want to kill each other, and he’s decided that he’s going to help shepherd them to peace. And there’s something noble about it. I think he’s the kind of leader and politician that we wish we had, and that he is setting out to selflessly bring out the best in those around him. And if you want to see how that goes, watch the show.
How was it to film in New Zealand, almost 20 years after The Lord of the Rings and ten years after The Hobbit?
MC: Just wonderful. I worked with lots of stunt departments, and lots of them have been part of the films, so that was exciting. And Andy, in particular, was the Uruk-hai who gets the first arrow in him at Helm’s Deep, so, as a fan, that was very exciting. It was wonderful. I’m Welsh, and I’ve worked with quite a lot in Wales, and I think a wonderful thing about working in a small country like Wales or New Zealand is that you’re going into a machine that already works very well; everyone knows each other because it’s such a small place. And I think we were very, very lucky to be going into a system that already worked and had so much passion behind it, because what we were doing was big and mad, with loads of actors who suddenly found themselves halfway across the world. And the country puts you in a constant state of the sublime, it’s so beautiful.
BW: And the people were so kind and welcoming. So many of us were away from home and our comforts and our families, and they softened that blow for a lot of people with their generosity and their spirit and their respect for one another. I was at a fitting yesterday, and one of the stylists was Kiwi and he said, “I’ve been to New Zealand, it’s much cleaner than it is here.” It’s still a part of him, that respect for A – their land and B – each other. It permeated us as a cast. And you can certainly see it on the screen.
Did you have any chance to do the kind of extracurricular things – surfing, white-water rafting – everything the country offers?
MC: Yeah, it was amazing. And I had a chance to go around the South Island, which is so huge and beautiful. And I still can’t believe that I got the chance to tick off a bucket list thing – the place that you kind of always want to go, we got to go there.
The Rings of Power is premiering in multiple languages in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide. What is it about the series that gives it a global appeal?
CE: I think, again, it’s back to Tolkien. It’s his global appeal, as has been proved time and time again – his themes of love and the simple things. You’ve got, as we’ve discussed, the epic worlds that he creates, but, within that, there are these moments of [exploring] the conditions of existence, love, redemption, testing yourself – how far would you go to save the people that you love? All these things. And what’s wonderful about Tolkien is that, with this huge epic backdrop, there are these very small, almost domestic moments, particularly in our show as well, which are very, very moving and very touching because we all recognise those. And I think that’s what makes him a global language.
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: