“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (directed by Oscar winner Peter Jackson) follows title character Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage). Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever: Gollum (played by Andy Serkis).
Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” — a simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know. Freeman, Armitage, Ian McKellen (who plays Gandalf), Serkis and Elijah Wood (who plays Frodo Baggins) gathered for a New York press conference for the movie. Here is what they said.
What was the camaraderie like on “The Hobbit” set?
Armitage: We arrived together at the beginning of 2011. And we went into a training program — all the dwarves together. Martin [Freeman] joined as well, even though he wasn’t a dwarf. So it was a bonding experience that became extended because there was a delay in filming. So that process really formed our group. And the status and the hierarchies formed during that process.
But in terms of coming in to an existing franchise, we were always made to feel very welcome. We were coming into a family. And so many people returned that were working on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. It was just very easy.
McKellen: It’s not a franchise. They’re films! This isn’t “X-Men.”
Martin, as a fan of “The Lord of the Rings” movies, how surreal was it for you to be on “The Hobbit” set?
Freeman: It was fantastic. I didn’t grow up as a Tolkien head, really. I read Tolkien in the run-up to this. So my experience of Middle Earth was via the [“Lord of the Rings”] films, which I still think are great pieces of work. From my point of view, turning up and being involved with it, it was a pleasure to be with Pete [Jackson]. It was a pleasure to be with a crew that committed, to get to know actors who I knew a little bit from home, but not very well, who subsequently became friends. And I met other people whose work I liked. Yeah, it was great. It had a way of not being intimidating, which was lovely.
Richard and Martin, how was it to see yourselves on your first day of “The Hobbit” in your full makeup and costumes? How did the look of your character help you get into your roles?
Armitage: The first time I ever was created into a dwarf, it’s quite shocking. I remember they did a time lapse photography of the process. It took four-and-a-half hours. And I think I had my eyes closed for all of it, because I didn’t want to see how it worked. I just opened my eyes at the end. It’s very strange when you don’t recognize yourself. And actually, at that point, it was quite extreme. But it was also a process of sculpting many different kinds of faces.
And I had an amazing sculptor called Jamie Beswarick, who I used to visit at Weta, so he could kind of look at my face, and it would help him with his work. They eventually found something that was invisible, but it was still there; it was still “dwarf.” That’s how amazing Weta is.
And also, Tami Lane, who is an Oscar-winning prosthetics artist. Her work is completely invisible. But in terms of getting into character, it’s always brilliant when you look in the mirror, and you don’t really recognize yourself. I really enjoyed that side of the process.
Freeman: It was sort of gradual, because Bilbo went through a few phases. There were a couple of noses for Bilbo: the idea of him having a slightly more snub nose or a Cyrano de Bergerac-shaped nose. And then there was decided that my nose was weird enough. And the color changed. So it went from being a middle-aged rocker to being what Bilbo looks like now, which is middle-age rocker. So it was gradual. It wasn’t like one minute you’re you, and the next minute you look like your character. It’s an incremental process.
McKellen: It’s an interesting but useless piece of trivia, but every single character in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” wears a wig. And many of them wear a prosthetic: false ears, feet, hands. In my case, a nose.