LOTR - Meet Me in Middle Earth


Last Update: 31 August 2000


26 August 2000

Source: The Queensland Courier-Mail


Meet Me In Middle Earth

by Garth Pearce

Sean Bean has always been a risk-taker. He’s been in a Bond film and a Harrison Ford hit but he’s allowed himself to be anchored by television and small-budget movies so he can remain living in Britain.

It’s a constant tightrope walk, from which he’s toppled more than once as the years have taken him from 20-something sex symbol to a thrice-married 41-year-old father of three daughters.

But nothing sums up his bumpy career path more than his latest role as Boromir in the $300 million epic film trilogy based on The Lord of the Rings.

From being out of work for more than a year, Bean is now locked into filming the three installments concurrently in New Zealand.

Shooting started last October and will span 18 non-stop months. The opening film is not released until Christmas next year. It’s the biggest, longest, most expensive piece of Hollywood risk-taking, and one kept highly secret by its backers, New Line.

It has also sent fans, and the rumour mill, into overdrive. The whispers have portrayed the film as a Titanic in the making, full of tensions on the set.

Like James Cameron, the director Peter Jackson is a perfectionist who has been consumed by the project for the past 10 years.

Having launched Kate Winslet’s film career in Heavenly Creatures, he co-wrote the Lord of the Rings screenplay and has stubbornly hung on as a succession of film companies took an interest and them became unnerved by the scale of the enterprise.

"It is," says Bean, "totally unbelievable. I am dipping from one script to another, all printed in different colours, because all the films are being done at the same time. The whole thing was cast very late, and I think it was touch and go right up to starting. It is a bigger investment than Titanic and a lot of careers are sitting on this right to the end. "

This includes Bean’s.

He admits he never got around to reading The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, the former Oxford University
professor who delivered the bestseller in the mid-1950s.

The novels are set in the Third Age of Middle-Earth, an invented prehistoric era populated with hobbits, elves, trolls, orcs and humans.

"To me, it is a grown-up fairytale that is dark and sinister" says Bean. "But it is an incredible fantasy that is quite wonderful and leaves you full of hope."

His 39-year-old director will be sharing that hope. At a point a few years ago when it looked as if the trilogy would finally be made with European film-fund cash, Sean Connery was penciled in as wise wizard Gandalf; Nicol Williamson as Saruman, chief of all wizards; Isabelle Adjani as Arwen, the young elf warrior, and Greta Scacchi as the elf Galadriel, wise and visionary queen of Lorien.

The new line-up features Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Liv Tyler (Arwen) and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel). Elijah Wood plays the young hobbit Frodo, who inherits a seemingly innocent ring from an elderly cousin, Bilbo, played by Ian Holm.

Viggo Mortensen comes in as Aragorn, a human raised by elves and the rightful king of Gondor. Mortensen was a replacement for the Irish-born actor Stuart Townsend, whose departure sparked rumours of uneasy working relationships on-set. The actor, whose credits now make no mention of The Lord of the Rings, said
through his agent that he would rather not comment.

There is no doubt Jackson is demanding much from his cast, who are working at an exacting pace in far-flung
locations in the South Island’s snow-capped Southern Alps and the North Island’s volcanic plateaus.

Toes have been trodden on, egos hurt. But Bean, who worked for months in fairly basic conditions in the Crimea while making five series of Sharpe for TV, is dismissive.

"Peter Jackson has been waiting to go on this for years, so what do you expect?" he asks.

"He is demanding and incredibly talented. He has had the models, the graphics, the costumes in his head for years and can finally see the reality of it. He is creating something that has never been seen before.

"I put work in a compartment of life and just get on with it," he says. "Whenever I feel like complaining, I think of how hard some of my mates work, and the days when I was a welder. If they could see the ancient forests and old ivy twisting around trees on the locations for this, a lot of people would pay to have a chance of doing it."

Before The Lord of the Rings and the film he’s just competed, Essex Boys, Bean says the stuff he was offered was "not good, and I suddenly realized I had to be careful".

It will be another 18 months before Bean finds out, along with everyone involved, whether the biggest gamble in film history has paid dividends. In the meantime, he insists: "It’s definitely worth the risk."

But when The Lord of the Rings is finally wrapped up, don’t expect to see Sean Bean in the limelight.

"I do not go to too many functions or premieres. It seems such a palaver. I could be doing other things. I went to the premiere for Ronin at the Venice Film Festival. It was an extraordinary experience, but when it’s back to the hotel room you think ‘What was all that about?’"

Nevertheless, Bean is proud of what he is: a one-time welder who, at 20, made it to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, and progressed, through theatre - he played Romeo for Michael Bogdanov at the RSC - to being a big-earning, well-known actor.

"It has been a volatile life, some good times and bad times, " he shrugs. "My 20s were full of excitement, my 30s were all about consolidating, and now I have to look at things in a new light."


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