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‘Thought I Was Playing Young Gollum!’: Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Actors On Casting Secrecy

The cast talks about Googling who they were playing and not realising which episodes they were in because their characters had been given fake names
‘Thought I Was Playing Young Gollum!’: Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Actors On Casting Secrecy
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  • Gayle Sequeira

  • Film Companion

Last Updated: 04.07 AM, Sep 03, 2022

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The return to Middle Earth with Amazon Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power brings with it new stories culled from JRR Tolkien’s appendices, sprawling, fantastical new locations and a whole cast tasked with carrying on the franchise. Some are actors you’ve seen before as characters you’ve grown up with, like Game of Thrones’ Robert Aramayo taking on the role of young Elrond. Others are familiar faces playing characters who might seem unfamiliar to those who haven’t read the books. Take The Crown’s Charles Edwards, who appears as the elven blacksmith (and eventual Rings forger) Celebrimbor, Thugs of Hindostan’s Lloyd Owens, who stars as Númenórean sailor Elendil, or Mr Bean’s Holiday’s Maxim Baldry, who plays Elendil’s son, the Gondor King Isildur. 

Still more actors feature as completely invented characters who don’t appear in Tolkien’s works — you might recognise How I Met Your Mother’s Nazanin Boniadi as the healer Bronwyn. For some, like Tyroe Muhafidin, who plays Bonwyn’s son Theo and whose past work includes short films and a music video, the show is their first big break. Likewise for Ema Horvath, who plays Isildur’s sister Earien and whose filmography includes horror films Like.Share.Follow (2017) and What Lies Below (2020). Other new characters, such as the Harfoots, ancestors of the Hobbits, are played by actresses Megan Richards, Markella Kavenagh and Sara Zwangobani, all of whom have worked in television before. In Mumbai on a press tour, the cast spoke about the most daunting aspects of joining such a massive series and just how secretive the casting process was:

The scale of this show is massive, from the locations to the VFX to the fandom it has — what were the most daunting parts of this and as actors, what were some of the most liberating?

Charles Edwards: I think the answer to that is the same, actually. The daunting element is to feel that you’re building a character on very little that Tolkien has sketched. Celebrimbor, who I play, is sketched in the appendices in the Lord of the Rings and a little in The Silmarillion. So there’s no description of him particularly, he’s an open book. So that can be daunting, but ultimately liberating, because once you start working with the heads of department and the directors and the writers and the showrunners and start to create a character very firmly rooted in Tolkien, but then with a bit of extra room, then that’s very freeing.

You prep by reading everything that there is. And there’s quite a lot in there, especially if you’re concentrating. I had never paid attention to the appendices before, but once you know that that’s where you’re coming from, you really soak it up. But again, we have the freedom and the luxury to build a character, obviously based very firmly in Tolkien, but one that also brings in other things that are suggested or implied. That has been very satisfying.

Robert Aramayo: I was just blown away by the ability of the project to build an entire city with so much detail and one that is so rich in history. There’s a dock with boats floating in the water — seeing that for the first time was really mind-blowing. That’s the fun thing about working on the show — you’re in your little world, and you’re interacting with the set that you live in, but then every now and then, you can see somebody else’s world and that’s when it really blows you away because it’s so different from what you’ve been in.

The material is where all of the answers kind of lie. Even if not directly. It’s so rich and it’s so dense, it gives you the ability to really go hunting for stuff that could be useful, which is fun.

Megan Richards: There’s a scene in the show in which there’s a crater and it’s on fire. I remember being on that set and just taking a step and going, ‘Where am I? What am I doing? What am I wearing? What is going on? This is insane.’

Sara Zwangobani: I got cast late in the day so it was all a bit daunting to me. I only had three days to get to New Zealand and then two weeks before shooting started. I was really super excited on the first day, until we were sitting bang opposite each other, and then I just felt this jolt of terror. I was just like, ‘I gotta go home.’ Things become daunting when you get a script and you don’t know your way in. But there was so much support, there was always somebody to turn to, to help you with whatever it was that you were struggling with. 

Tyroe Muhafidin: The whole thing is daunting. It’s so huge, it’s so scary, but we’re all in this together. We’ve all been able to link arms and come together and fight this storm. It’s been a real pleasure.

Nazanin Boniadi: It’s a lot because it’s such a big show. But I tried to stay focused on doing the best I could because the rest is not in your hands.

Ema Horvath: I was daunted but I got so lucky that Lloyd, Maxim and I were playing a family, so we had sort of a built-in family madness.

Lloyd Owen: I parented Ema and Maxim throughout. Like there were dinner plans, I was cooking for them.

How secretive was the casting process? At what point did you know who you were playing?

Charles Edwards: I only knew who I was playing a couple of weeks after being cast. When I was told, I hadn’t heard the name ‘Celebrimbor’ before so I looked it up and I was very pleased once I realised what the role was.

Robert Aramayo: I found out that I was playing Elrond when JD Payne, the showrunner, told me on Skype. My heart started beating out of my chest. I did an audition and then got the Skype call. And then obviously I was on a flight to New Zealand in 30 seconds flat.

Megan Richards: When I auditioned, it was called Untitled Amazon Project. And I didn’t know who I was playing until I got to New Zealand. 

Sara Zwangobani: When I arrived in New Zealand, they gave me the first two episodes to read and I didn’t think I was in them because I didn’t spot the name of the person I auditioned for. I read the whole thing and thought, ‘This is brilliant, but I’m not in the first two episodes. Guess I’ll just relax, even though they’ve rushed me out here.’ Then thankfully, someone said, ‘Oh no, this is who you’re playing.’

Tyroe Muhafidin: I had an assignment to do for school. I had to do a presentation and I’d made an agreement with my teacher that I was going to do it on Wednesday. And then on Monday night I got a call that I have to fly to New Zealand on Wednesday, and so I didn’t go to school and do my presentation. And my teacher was like, ‘You have school!’ and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m in New Zealand.’ And she was like, ‘What for?’ and I was like, ‘Argh! I can’t say!’ So she was like, ‘You’re making up lies, you’re lying to me.’ I actually got in a lot of trouble, because I had to keep it secret. But it was quite fun.

Nazanin Boniadi: It was quite secretive in the sense that we didn’t really know our actual character name or what kind of race or species they belonged to, or where we fell into the whole canvas of the show until we got there for pre-production. It was shrouded in secrecy to protect the show for the fans, so that we could all discover it together. That was very important, and I’m glad we did it that way.

Lloyd Owen: My process took 18 months, from the first time I put something on tape. These days, you’re used to getting dummy sides because everyone’s trying to protect their IP. So as the actor, you tend to do detective work, and as you get further down the process, you get different sides. And then, in this case, I had an hour-and-a-half-long Zoom call with (showrunner) JD Payne halfway through the process, so I kept getting more and more information. And then by the time I got there, I had an idea of who I was playing, but I wasn’t sure. It wasn’t until I got to the quarantine hotel where an iPad with the script was delivered that I knew. In terms of costume fittings, I had about seven. There were not only costumes, but also various types of armor.

Maxim Baldry: When you’re shooting with armor on, and the helmet is the last thing you want to put on. I remember one time, in between shooting, Lloyd had his helmet on and he didn’t want to take it off, but he had his Ray-Ban glasses over the helmet. So there’s this beautiful combination of Lloyd the actor and Elendil the warrior.

I didn’t know who I was playing. I auditioned for a ‘young, mercurial guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders.’ I kept trying to guess who I was playing. I had some rogue choices. They told me that my character loves water and I was like, ‘Gollum! I’m playing young Gollum! Oh nooo!’ I’m glad I’m not.

Ema Horvath: My casting process was two tapes. I got lucky, it was shorter than most people’s. I was hoping that my character was a dwarf. I played a dwarf in my school musical when I was 10 years old. So I thought I’d get another go.

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