Possibly the most iconic film franchise of this generation, The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) went above and beyond the standard in cinematic production. Director Peter Jackson succeeded in shaping the course of film history with his three-part film adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work of fiction.
We’re giving you a glimpse into the rarely seen moments of shooting the fantasy epic. Take a Look at the reality of what it’s like to work on the set. These moments of the actors goofing around on set, hanging out with fellow cast members or preparing for their next scene shines a whole new light on this monumental film franchise.
The Gollum You Weren’t Supposed to See
Actor Andy Serkis wasn’t just the voice of Gollum in the franchise; his face and body also provided a base for the troubled character. As pictured below, Andy wore a bright blue morph suit when he acted the part, intended to help the special effects team remove his body from the frame.
The dots on the bodysuit mark his joints so that Andy’s movements and affectations could be kept in, with Gollum body digitally “drawn over” in post-production. You’ll see that Andy’s face was marked with a higher concentration of dots, to better capture the nuances in his facial expressions.
He Could Have Cast Himself
In this image, Director Peter Jackson stands with actor Elijah Wood in a hobbit house. Interestingly, he doesn’t look too out of place… in fact, we’d hardly double-take if we weren’t told this was behind the scenes. His buttoned-down shirt and scraggly appearance mirror that of Elijah, when he’s in full character.
They are standing on the set of Bilbo Baggin’s hobbit home or “hobbit-hole,” presumably discussing the scene they’re filming that day. While the hobbits are supposed to be small – J. R R Tolkien wrote that they stand between 0.60–1.20 meters tall – Peter appears to have just the same dimensions.
This rare snapshot shows the actor Viggo Mortensen, who played Aragorn, peering over the shoulder of producer Barrie Osborne. They’re watching back footage from the day on a portable screen device, presumably to analyze his technique and make adjustments on the spot.
Viggo was likely just happy to be working outdoors. He is noted as having often hiked for more than a day in full costume, to explore the natural habitat and add some authenticity to his character. He also performed all of his stunts and according to Bob Anderson, the sword instructor, was the best swordsman in the film. He was certainly dedicated to his role!
Katy Perry Keeps BF Orlando Bloom in Check
Orlando Bloom had quite a laugh on-set as the elf Legolas. He posted this throwback from his personal collection on Instagram in 2016. It was the 15th anniversary of the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, and he is backstage for the prosthetic and makeup transformation.
Back in the early stages of his relationship with pop star Katy Perry, she had some comments about this particular throwback photo. Orlando captioned the image with a charming, “15 years ago today, #TheLordOfTheRings: The Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters. and the rest, as you know, is history,” to which Katy humbled him by remarking, “You look like Jen Aniston.”
Peter Jackson’s Personal Body Journey
Peter Jackson underwent a dramatic weight loss transformation after Lord of the Rings. Pictured laughing on set with actor Sean Bean, he is stood by the franchise cinematographer Andrew Lesnie sporting a particularly large midriff. But he was well aware of his unhealthy lifestyle habits and poor diet.
When The Hobbit came about, Peter was visibly thinner and fitter than his LOTR days. “I just got tired of being overweight and unfit, so I changed my diet from hamburgers to yogurt and muesli and it seems to work,” he revealed. He managed to achieve such a weight loss without exercising and solely focusing on eating better. Quite a feat!
A Film Series of Epic Proportions
This crazy shot of The Citadel of Gondor, the fortress that sat on top of the seventh and highest level of Minas Tirith, shows logistically just how big of a project The Lord of the Rings was to create. In the background, we can glimpse one of the on-site cranes that were needed to piece this set together.
The LOTR production was even responsible for a new cinema term: bigature. Coined by special effects company Weta Workshop, it was used to describe a very large-scale model such as this one pictured. It’s is a blend of the words “big” and “miniature.”
Why Should They Have All the Fun?
The New Zealand film director Peter Jackson goofs around on-set with Orlando Bloom and Viggo Mortensen, grabbing a spear and joining in a fight against the Riders of Rohan. This was the scene in which Legolas and Aragorn are cornered by the riders in the second film installment,
The Two Towers.
Despite the huge pressure on Peter’s shoulders, he didn’t let go of his playful spirit. After all, it was an integral part of his role as director of the films. And truth be told, you could be forgiven for mistaking him as a darker-haired and near-sighted Gimli, son of Glóin.
If You Want Something Done Right, Do It Yourself
Ever the perfectionist, Peter Jackson gets stuck in on the set and arranges how he wants the props to be placed. Pictured alongside Sir Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving, he is in the middle of filming for a scene set in Rivendell, the elaborate Elven town and house to Lord Elrond.
The pointy ears worn by Hugo Weaving was a makeup decision Peter took that differed from the book. Tolkien’s elves didn’t have such a feature, neither were the majority blonde-haired and blue-eyed, as they were depicted in the films. Fans of the books and movies have also noted that the elves onscreen are notably more serious than their literary counterparts, too.
They Need to Get Bone-Deep
In this scene Aragorn, Gimli, and the rest of the traveling party wade through skulls in front of a blue-screen backdrop. They are joined by the prop team, who has grabbed another bag of custom-made human skulls to scatter around! It’s truly a behind-the-scenes glimpse into what really goes on.
Peter Jackson and the production team had to create an avalanche of skulls for a scene in which Aragorn and his companions walk “the paths of the dead.” It was for the third installment of the film, Return of the King, in which they wanted us to see crypts of the dead and a chilling sea of skulls!
A Balancing Act
Seeing the main characters in character but out of the film’s context can be quite surprising. This photo shows lead actors Sir Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaver in the stark studio lighting before any post-production has happened. The pillars on the side tell us that they’re shooting a scene set in Rivendell.
While green screens were used for much of the film, the hair and makeup team were relied upon for the character transformations whenever possible. We can see Gandalf the Grey with a red nose, tiresome appearance, and dirty fingernails as he appears in the movies. Using a specialized makeup team for as much as possible on the characters cuts back costs significantly.
In the Makeup Chair for 16 Hours
Sean Bean is pictured being chummy with Berserker orcs in this funny snapshot that you would only ever find in behind-the-scenes material. The Beserkers were a tougher species of orcs that were bred in Isengard. Actors portraying these creatures had to endure a grueling makeup and prosthetic session to transform.
The process of becoming one of these specialized orcs could take 16 hours, Stuntman Greg Lane revealed. He detailed having to carry an extremely heavy torch that had a working live flair. He even claims to have accidentally burnt several extras that would walk past, as the hefty prop was quite a danger hazard.
The Fairest of Them All
It appears that actress Cate Blanchett is just as graceful and serene under the hot studio lights as she is on the big screen. She towers over Peter Jackson during this intimate moment, where the director provides instruction to her before the cameras start rolling.
We get a chance to see the wise elf and “Lady” of the woods of Lothlórien in the context of someone relatable. And it’s interesting to see just how much she looks the part in real life. Granted, she has been transformed by the hair, makeup, and wardrobe team, but the air of dignity and noble demeanor clearly comes from the actress herself.
Where There’s a Will There’s a Way
Despite overseeing the entire film franchise and instructing everyone what to do, Peter Jackson maintained close relationships with the cast members. This cute snap shows him affectionately resting his head on Cate Blanchett’s shoulder while they pose for a photo with Sir Ian McKellen.
And it’s clear Peter had a particular fondness for Cate, as he recast her in the role of Galadriel in The Hobbit. The elf queen did not make an appearance in Tolkien’s books, meaning that her addition to the film’s franchise was purely a fabrication on Peter’s part.
Just Another Nine-to-Five
Here’s another “backstage” image Orlando Bloom shared on the 15th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. It appears he is in high spirits on-set despite the cold weather conditions. Even though he’s on a boat in a river in New Zealand, he’s managed to stay dry for now!
It’s certainly not a typical day at work for most people. They were shooting the scene in which Gilmi the dwarf (played by actor John Rhys-Davie) capsizes their boat and the fellowship gets soaked. We’re sure that elven cloak came in handy to dry himself off afterward.
A Moment to Remember
This selfie of Sir Ian McKellen and Peter Jackson shows them pulling sorrowful expressions into the camera, and for good reason. It was not only Sir Ian’s last day shooting as Gandalf but also his last scene. Peter posted this photo on Facebook to let his followers know of the noteworthy occasion.
He wrote: “Seconds ago we finished our last shot with Gandalf. The end of an incredible adventure that began in 1999. I’m feeling very sad right now.” And clearly, his feelings were mirrored by Sir Ian as, after all, The Lord of the Rings movies became arguably the most significant work they had done.
No Expense Spared
Another photo from Orlando Bloom’s personal collection, here we see the Legolas actor sitting in a helicopter with other actors and stunt doubles. It looks as though they’ve been caught off guard a bit, but that only adds to us understanding the vibe of the crew. Clearly, the mood was positive.
As much of their filming took place in remote places around New Zealand, it was necessary to fly crew members and actors to the hard-to-access locations. It’s part of what made LOTR so expensive to make, but also what made it so unique. They went all out to create the best possible adaptation of Tolkien’s work.
Actor Lee Pace, who plays the Elven Lord Thranduil, said: “There’s no finding yourself dressed as an elven king, looking across at battlefield at Ian McKellen dressed as a wizard, and not thinking, ‘I love my life!’,” and we can understand why. So how then would you feel if you saw this buggy whizzing around?
Ever the gentleman, Sir Ian takes actor Christopher Lee, who plays Saruman, for a courtesy spin. It’s certainly quite a sight to see two of the most powerful wizards in middle earth out of context. We’re not the only ones tickled by this as even a crew member can’t help but crack a smile.
Brushing up on His Lines
While Sir Ian McKellen brushes up on his lines, director Peter Jackson is close at hand to provide some instruction. Pictured at The Citadel of Gondor on top of Minas Tirith, Gandalf the Grey has already undergone the transition to Gandalf the White, which was revealed to us in the second installment of the series.
They are pictured at the filming location for the third film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, at the scene in which Gandalf speaks to Denethor (played by actor John Noble,) the man who had claimed the kingship of Gondor.
LOTR Was Almost an Even Bigger Blood Bath
Interestingly, its been revealed by author Ian Nathan in his book Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-earth, that Peter Jackson almost didn’t direct the film saga. According to him, Harvey Weinstein threatened to pull him out and replace him with Quentin Tarantino!
We can hardly imagine how different that would have gone. Ian alleges that Peter Jackson wasn’t happy to split LOTR into three films, preferring to tell the story in one movie. It is then that Harvey threatened to replace him with Quentin, who was ready and willing to take on the project.
We’re sure glad they stopped to capture this moment. Sir Ian McKellen poses alongside two of his doubles for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, where all three of them are fully clothed as the character Gandalf the White. We can see that the Gandalf on the right is especially tall, as the character is meant to tower over many others in the film.
Interestingly, the stunt double on the left isn’t considerably shorter than Sir Ian himself. He likely performed more of the stunts that were of a more dangerous nature and required a professional, with Gandalf on the right acting more as a scale double in relation to other people.
Giving Some Characters More Prominence
Liv Tyler’s role as Arwen the elf and daughter to Lord Elrond also held a special place in Peter Jackson’s heart. Similarly, with his recasting of Cate Blanchett for Galadriel in The Hobbit films, he gave Arwen a much bigger part than had originally been written for her by Tolkien.
Even in The Lord of the Rings, the films gave her a bigger role than she was meant to have. Obviously, there was something about her love story with Aragorn or the charm of the actress herself that told Peter Jackson she needed to be a bigger presence in the films.
This Job Takes Them to Some Weird Places
Take in the detailed paintwork that went on behind the scenes. Special effects artists Gino Acevedo and Jason Docherty from Weta Workshop were busy getting every nook and cranny of the Uruk-hai warriors. In this picture, they attend to Lurtz, the brutal leader of the Uruk-hai pack.
The character of Lurtz was actually created especially for the film series. Portrayed by New Zealand actor Lawrence Makoare, he becomes Saruman’s second in command and is trusted to lead his army. He is also one of the first to be “born” out of Isengard’s pits, where we see him taken from the soil and rebirthed.
Why Does He Continue to Do It?
All this work makes you wonder why he does it. Peter Jackson had this to say on what motivated him to direct The Hobbit afterward: “Films are stressful and they’re hard to make. But ultimately what makes them fun is the people that you work with and the fact that you know, we’re going to be working with a lot of the old gang, with a lot of friends.” Clearly, he had a close relationship with much of the cast and production team.
But it does come at a price. He explained that “exploring Tolkien’s Middle-earth goes way beyond a normal filmmaking experience. It’s an all-immersive journey into a very special place of imagination, beauty, and drama.” His fondness for the world of Tolkien that he brings to life is an essential element to what makes the franchise so extraordinary.
Peter Jackson has admitted that The Lord of the Rings actually gave him bad nightmares in his sleep. He explained: “The first day I start shooting I start having a recurring nightmare that every single night that I am lying in bed and there is a film crew surrounding the bed, waiting for me to tell them what to do and I don’t quite know what movie I am supposed to be making.”
He claimed that these dreams haunted him for two years. He continues: “There’s not even a script and they are all standing there needing to have information from me and I am tired and exhausted and can barely think straight. That nightmare starts on the first day of shooting and it’s every night until the last day of shooting and then it stops. I have all day on set, and then I go to sleep and I’m all bloody night on set as well.”
Viggo Mortensen Lifts the Lid on Massive Reshoots
Actor Viggo Mortensen, who plays Aragorn, has spoken publicly about the troubles that were encountered during the shooting of The Lord of the Rings. He admitted that even though all three films were shot together, “really the second and third ones were a mess. It was very sloppy – it just wasn’t done at all. It needed massive reshoots, which we did, year after year.”
Viggo continues, “But he [Peter Jackson] would have never been given the extra money to do those if the first one hadn’t been a huge success. The second and third ones would have been straight to video.” Luckily for everyone involved, it was more successful than anyone could have imagined.
It Took Almost Five Hours of Makeup to Look Like This
Actor Lawrence Makoare played one of the most notable Orcs in the trilogy, Lurtz, the Orc that kills Boromir. Makoare was a former roadbuilder in New Zealand before he tried his hand at acting. He has spoken about the difficulties of being head-to-toe in prothetic dressing during shooting days, having endured four and a half hours in the mornings to get into costume.
He jokes: “You know how it is if you’re running in a coat and you get hot? You can take the coat off. Not me. As soon as we were finished filming about four people would crowd around me sticking icepacks down my neck! They lasted for about two minutes.” Even at the end of the workday, he’d have to sit in the chair for another hour and a half as they took it all off!
Mentally and Physically Draining
Lawrence Makoare also spoke about the difficulties he encountered to play the part of such a unique character. He explained: “That was a hard thing about these characters, where do you look for inspiration, for a character you have never heard of, and have never seen before? I was given a synopsis of the character, but had to wait until I was actually in costume to bring the character out.”
Lawrence also understood that while he loved the character of Lurtz, it provided a lot of challenges for the actor. “Lurtz would be my favorite and the most difficult of them all. The physical training I had to do for the fight scene between Aragorn and Lurtz was quite draining both mentally and physically. It was harder being in costume and character than out of,” he admitted.
Pals on and off the Set
Australian actress Miranda Otto posted this cute behind the scenes snap of her in character as Eowyn, embracing her on-screen love interest, Faramir. This photo was taken while filming the coronation of Aragorn, in the third film installment. Although we wouldn’t blame you for thinking this is them on their wedding day!
She posted a funny caption along with this throwback, writing “Has anyone seen my husband? He disappeared after Aragorn’s coronation. Heard he may be in Wrexham, Wales. Have sword will travel.” Referencing a private joke between the two, clearly, they shared quite a bond on set.
Installing: Spells Against Sauron
No, Apple wasn’t sponsoring The Lord of the Rings – but we understand why you might think that looking at this photo. Here, Sir Ian McKellen takes a break from shooting as Gandalf the Grey to surf the web. You might have assumed he was rather old-fashioned, but this wizard knows his way around more than just magic.
Once this photo was discovered by the online LOTR fan community, it wasn’t long before people started photoshopping the image or using it as a meme. After all, it’s not every day that you get to see one of the most powerful people in Middle Earth signing in to his iCloud account!
Eowyn Was Star Struck at Meeting Arwen
Miranda Otto (who played Eowyn) recalled the first time she met actress Liv Tyler (Arwen) on set. She says: “When I first arrived on set I thought, ‘That’s Liv Tyler, she’s pretty famous.’ I’m the sort of person that doesn’t move forward to people and be like, ‘Hey, I’m your new best friend!’ I’m not like that, give them their space, they’re famous, they must be sick of people who want to get close to them all the time.”
But she remembers Liv was quite different than she had initially expected: “She came straight over to me, which is sort of un-actress type behavior and she gave me a huge hug and said, ‘I’m so glad you’re here! There’s another woman here now! It’s all been men! We can do things together! We can paint nails!'” Since both women played important characters in the films, it’s only natural they had a special bond.
Sean Bean’s Favorite Death Scene
Sean Bean seems like the go-to guy for dramatic roles, especially when the character in question needs to have an early death! However, he admits that Boromir in The Lord of the Rings was his favorite character to kill off. He explains that he “thought his death was very heroic and triumphant and poignant. It had pathos.”
He enjoyed filming this scene for other reasons: “The [frame rate] slowed down and it had great music playing really loud.” It allowed him to “try and fight back” which “went on forever,” but he really would have liked to have been alive in the films for longer. As he puts it, “I just start at the end!”
He Couldn’t Get Martin Freeman out of His Mind
When Peter Jackson received the go-ahead to start making the spin-off trilogy, The Hobbit, he knew who he was calling up to audition for the role of Bilbo Baggins. “Martin was the only person that we wanted for that role, and that was really before we met Martin,” Peter asserted. “We just felt he had qualities that would be perfect for Bilbo. The stuffy, repressed English quality. He’s a dramatic actor… but he has a talent for comedy.”
While Martin didn’t need much convincing to take the role, he had calendar clashes with Sherlock filming that almost didn’t work. Peter remembers: “We were in trouble. I was really panicking [and] having sleepless nights. We were probably six weeks away from the beginning of the shoot, and we hadn’t settled on anyone else, and I was torturing myself by watching Sherlock on an iPad at 4 o’clock in the morning.”
Some Much-Needed Eye Candy
In this image, Richard Armitage is suiting up for his character, Thorin. Judging from what Peter Jackson had to say, he partially chose him for the heroic role due to his good looks. He explains: “Thorin Oakenshield is a tough, heroic character, and he certainly should give Leggie and Aragorn a run for their money in the heartthrob stakes – despite being four feet tall.”
The film needed some eye candy and Thorin was the perfect character to use for this. Peter also clarified what Richard was meant to bring to the role: “We are doing much more with dwarves this time around than we did with Gimli in Lord of the Rings… Richard is a powerful actor with a wide range,” adding that he needed “Richard to give us his depth, range, and emotion as an actor – and we’ll make him look like a dwarf!”
Benedict Cumberbatch Wanted to Humanize Smaug
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch mess around on set on a filming day for The Hobbit. Benedict played Smaug, the dragon under the mountain who guarded his ill-gotten gains. It wasn’t just his voice that they used for the animal – they used motion-capture for him to act the part of Smaug, too.
And it was all his idea. He recalls his first conversation with Peter Jackson about the role, where the director told him, “You’d be great as the voice of Smaug,” to which he replied, “Well, can I do the movement?” He conceded that the CGI was responsible for most of what we see: “I know a lot of it will be computer effects, but can I use motion capture to ground the physical reality of it? To give them an idea of the drama, and how this mythical creature should be humanized.”
The Invisible Star of the Films
This fantastic photo gives us some real insight into what it was like on set. Elijah Wood is in the throes of a dramatic scene with Andy Serkis, in which their characters, Frodo and Gollum, resort to violence. We can see Andy Serkis looking a little different than what we see on-screen, in a grey motion-capture morph suit!
Andy has been called a new type of “invisible movie star,” as he has had central roles in big blockbuster films, all the while maintaining quite a low profile. As well as playing the role of Gollum, he has appeared in Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin (2011) and Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) – in similarly integral and central character roles.
The Actor That Played Two LOTR Character
Actor John Rhys-Davies plays the part of Gimli in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, where he puts on a thick, Scottish accent for the role. He is our introduction to the Dwarf race, who later become the focus in the subsequent Hobbit films.
But did you know he also voices the character of Treebeard in the franchise? Ironically, he plays one of the shortest characters as the Dwarf, and one of the tallest, too. He was invited to join the cast for The Hobbitbut declined: “I don’t think my face could take that punishment again,” he joked.
Gandalf Quenches His Thirst
This cute pic has Sir Ian Mckallen goofing around for the camera while a member of the costume department fastens his belt. As we can see from the makeup he is filming a fight scene, and it happens to be for the third film installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Even wizards need sugary refreshments! It’s bizarre to see Sir Ian in character as Gandalf the White, holding a drink brand’s plastic bottle in one hand and his sword in the other. It looks like after this, he’ll need to pop over to the hair department to comb out those long white locks. We’ve never seen him in a ponytail before!
Beyond Eleventy-One Years Old
Ian Holm plays the adorable Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings and briefly in The Hobbit. Here he is in the makeup chair, mid-way through his prosthetic transformation into an elderly version of the character. He is seen like this at the end of the third film, as Bilbo in his twilight years.
The WETA Workshop in New Zealand was responsible for creating most of the prosthetics, in a process that could take up to four hours to put on the actors. Considering how many actors were involved, it’s easy to see where the films’ considerable budgets were spent.
Not exactly a stunt double
Here, Elijah Wood stands beside his scale double Kiran Shah for the first film installment, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. A scale double stands in as one of the characters during certain scenes to better represent the relative height that is being created. In this case, Frodo Baggins was meant to be much smaller in stature to his costars.
Kiran himself is a Kenyan-Indian actor and stuntman of his own. However, for the LOTR franchise, his unique height came in especially handy. This image of the two actors next to each other in character costumes is definitely worthy of a double-take – Elijah looks like a giant in comparison!