From the Set: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Part 2

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When shooting breaks for lunch, one of the challenges for the Dwarves is to eat without taking off their elaborate costumes and makeup that take two and half hours of preparation every morning. Even off-camera, many are still caught up in their roles.

“I’m playing Dori,” Mark Hadlow says as he eats in full costume.

“And I have the misfortune of playing his brother, Nori,” quips Jed Brophy.

“See!” shouts Hadlow in mock fury, “You said something negative already!”

“I’m just saying –” Brophy tries to answer back before getting interrupted.

“You didn’t even wait a second!” Hadlow continues. “It’s extraordinary. No wonder you’re the dumbest of the brothers!”

Peter Hambleton, who’s playing Gloin, joins the group with a special beard bib to keep food off his enormous, braided beard.

“I’m the messiest eater, obviously,” he laughs. “It just helps. But inevitably, with lunch, they feed us so well, there’s a lot of food action that gets down there. It’s always a challenge for the make-up women after lunch. I always try to get as much food down there as possible, to give them something to work with.”

Once the actors were selected to play the Dwarves, Jackson encouraged each member of the cast to develop whatever character traits they thought worked best so long as they made sense within the confines of the story.

“I’m very bossy of my two brothers,” Hadlow explains, “which my middle brother hates and, actually, my little brother [Ori] hates me mothering him.”

“My older brother Oin, who I respect and revere enormously, gets on my nerves quite a lot,” Hambleton says of John Callen’s character.

“There’s all sorts of different textures of loyalty, affection, family feuds, family versus family… There’s plenty of little friction-y things and individual idiosyncrasies, but we’re very united and rock-solid as a team.”

“We don’t mind Dwarf-on-Dwarf fighting,” says Brophy, “but if it’s someone else fighting us, we’re like, ‘Look out. We’ll bring it.’”

According to Tolkien’s writings, Gloin is actually the father of Gimli, played by John Rhys-Davies in “The Lord of the Rings.” Since they’re playing brothers, Callen and Hambleton decided to give both characters a backstory surrounding Gimli’s birth that, while it isn’t mentioned on-screen, helped build their characters’ relationship.

“Oin is meant to be something of an apothecary,” Callen explains. “…We decided that, probably, I was assisting at the birth of Gimli and he turned out the way he did because I dropped him on his head.”

Oin’s experience as an apothecary can be seen in the finished film, however. Part of his costume involves a satchel filled with potions and ointments to see to the injured as the group moves across Middle-earth. One of the most radical looks amongst the Dwarves, however, is William Kircher’s Bifur, who plays the part with an axe embedded in his head.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for an actor,” says Kircher. “When this came out, when I first saw it, in about a second I thought, ‘Well, that’s a bit strange.’ Then I thought, ‘No, that is fantastic!’ Bifur is slightly intellectually challenged, because this is an Orc axe. So his personal journey on it is that I’m looking for the guy that did this and I’m still hoping to find him.”

“It’s what you call typecasting,” Callen jokes of his friend.

“Bifur, at the start of the journey, is quite zoned out,” Kircher continues. “This has an effect on his brain and he has… sort of a version of foreign language syndrome coming from frontal lobe trauma, which is like having a stroke. He can only speak in Dwarvish, which is great.”

Not content with making Bifur a one-note gag, Kircher made sure the character was drawn out even further and part of the Dwarf’s contradictory nature is that he’s also a toy-maker.

“He’s actually quite a gentle character,” Kircher adds, “But he’s insanely violent as well… He’s a bit of a maniac in a fight and he can’t stop. He uses his fists a lot.”

Another pair of Dwarven brothers is Graham McTavish’s Dwalin and Ken Scott’s Balin. The former is recognizable for his bald head and the latter for his enormous white beard.

“Dwalin is the veteran warrior of the group,” McTavish says, “He’s the one, along with Balin and Thorin, that have seen what the dragon has done. They’ve experienced battle… and he’s here, I think, for a very specific purpose, which is to regain the honor of the Dwarvish race. It’s not so much for the gold or the money. It’s to get back our homeland.”

McTavish had the opportunity to play Dwalin both with and without Dwarven tattoos that cover his body for most of the film. In a flashback sequence, we see a younger version of the warrior before he ever received his ornate markings.

“The tattoos, I believe, are an illustrated history of our people,” he says, “with what happened to us at Moria and Erebor, etcetera. It’s a permanent reminder to me of what we need to do and what we’ve lost.”

Dwalin is also defined by his choice of weapons. On his back, he carries two axes that he considers characters in and of themselves.

“I remembered that Emily Bronte had two dogs, hounds, called Grasper and Keeper,” McTavish explains. “…I thought that they would be great names for Dwalin’s axes. That he grasps your soul with one axe and keeps it with the other. When I suggested it to Peter… he went, ‘Oh yeah! That would be great! We could get it in Elvish and the fans will love that!’ So, there they are. Literally, the next day they appeared.”

“I’m actually quite scared of Dwalin,” says Stephen Hunter, who plays the decidedly chubby Bombur, “Bombur’s different because, like Bofur, my brother, and Bifur, my cousin, we’re not from the line of Durin. We’re sort of simple folk… I’m pretty naïve in a way as to what to expect.”

One of the challenges for the entire band of Dwarves involved performing the song that can be heard in the first trailer.

“We’d done a lot of training,” Brophy recalls of the Bag End scene, “getting our voices to the right pitch to be in harmony with one another. On the day, we realized it was a fairly solemn occasion. These Dwarves don’t usually rip into the song without good reason. Peter explained the solemnity of the song and the reason why we do it is to try and get ourselves girded to go on this long journey, to remind ourselves of what we are as a people and what we’re going to do.”

Even with all the individual character aspects locked, all thirteen actors were required to undergo a broader Dwarf training course which included learning how to walk, run and fight as Tolkien’s warrior race.

“[M]y goodness,” McKellen says, “what they’ve had to put up with… You don’t have to learn and walk as a Dwarf, you’d just have to try and walk as a Dwarf. These guys have been doing it for, wow, fifteen months. I call them a grump of Dwarves, but they’re not grumpy at all. They’re so into it and high-spirited and funny.”

As with “The Lord of the Rings,” a large part of “The Hobbit” is about pushing the boundaries of cinematic technology and a big part of the process this time around involves a new technique to put actors playing characters of various sizes in the same scene. Unlike “The Lord of the Rings,” which relied heavily on trick photography, “The Hobbit” is making use of “slave-cam” technology. The Dwarves can all do a scene on a set build to the appropriate size while larger characters, like McKellen’s Gandalf, stand on a green screen set. The movement of the cameras between the two scenes are synced and adjusted to the size disparity, meaning that McKellen can act live while being digitally composited onto the appropriate scene.

Despite the advantages that the slave-cam technique brings to the final production, not everyone is a fan. McKellen himself voiced his early dissatisfaction with the process.

“The thirteen Dwarves are over there in their set,” he explains, “and I’m over in my set, which is a little green screen cutout to make me look tall. With nobody else because my camera is enslaved to the other one and there isn’t an operator. I can’t see the people I’m talking to, so they’re represented by pictures on top of poles which light up when they’re talking and I hear them through a sound piece in my ear. I didn’t feel like being back. I wanted to go away. I was very, very unhappy. Miserable.”

Fortunately, Jackson was quick to listen to McKellen’s thoughts on the process and things were handled a little bit differently as the production moved forward.

“Peter has managed to cut down the number of times we’ve done that since,” the actor continues. “…I think because my reaction was so strong to it. It was very difficult and bewildering.”

Slave-cam is far from the only technological advance that “The Hobbit” is embracing. The film is being shot in 3D and at 48 frames per second, double that of a traditional film. Although early response to the footage has been mixed, Jackson is confident that audiences just need time to adjust to the look of the footage and will hopefully do just that when the first film receives a limited 48fps release in December.

“I just think that we’re living in a world where the technology is advancing so rapidly,” Jackson explains, “You’re having cameras that are capable of more and more… It’s really a question of do you just say, ‘Okay, this what we’ve been used to for the last seventy-five or eighty years, and that’s what we’re going to stick with.’ Or do you explore ways to harness this technology to give people a better experience… I personally think 48 frames is great, but we’ll just wait till everyone can just see a whole full length movie, graded and timed.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will hit theaters on December 14 in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D and 48fps versions, while The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is scheduled to arrive on December 13, 2013 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again is targeted for July 18, 2014.

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