Peter Jackson Interview For ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. 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 (Andy Serkis). Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities… A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.
From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is the first of three films based on ‘The Hobbit’ novel by J.R.R. Tolkien. The trilogy of ‘Hobbit’ films are set in Middle-earth 60 years before Jackson’s ’The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The release schedule for the three ‘Hobbit’ films are as follows: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is set for a December 13th release; ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ arrives in cinemas December 13th, 2013; and ’The Hobbit: There and Back Again’ concludes the trilogy on July 18th, 2014. My other interviews for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ can be found through the following links: Andy Serkis #1, Andy Serkis #2, Ian McKellen #1, Ian McKellen #2, Richard Armitage #1, Richard Armitage #2, Martin Freeman #1, Martin Freeman #2, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman and James Nesbitt, and Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving (more to come).
Speaking to Ian McKellen for ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,’ he was telling me that you were pretty adamant on the ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies that you wouldn’t be returning to Middle-earth?
Peter Jackson: That’s right (laughs). I thought with the ‘Lord of the Rings,’ those 3 movies back-to-back, I thought that was a once in a lifetime experience. But hey, I was wrong (laughs). It was great returning to Middle-earth though. I think, for me, the key to it was the fact that ‘The Hobbit’ was written for younger people. I mean, it was really written by Tolkien for his children back in 1937. So not having that darkness and apocalyptic end of the world feel that the ‘Lord of the Rings’ had, ‘The Hobbit’ has a freshness to it that I really enjoyed.
Working with a number of the same actors from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films, I can imagine that that might have been a comfort zone for you? And then to bring in the new actors like Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage… how did that work in terms of everybody getting along and delving into these characters and this world?
Peter Jackson: It was good. I like to work on a happy set, I don’t believe in having stress or tension on a film set. I don’t think it’s helpful or productive. The old gang that came back in, the likes of Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom and Andy Serkis, they’re friends; they’ve been friends ever since we done the ‘Lord of the Rings.’ There’s nothing more fun than working with friends, that’s really relaxing. And then the news guys, we shot these ‘The Hobbit’ movies over 18 months, so they have really become as close to us as the ‘Lord of the Rings’ cast did. They’re all nice people. I’ve got to say that when we’re casting movies, especially movies like this where we are shooting for a year and a half, 3 movies back-to-back, you want to cast actors that are great performers and that are right for the character, but you also want to cast nice people. I know that sounds really silly, but it’s too long a time to have anyone who’s difficult or a problem on a set. So we always meet with our actors first if we don’t know them, we talk to them and we get a feel for who they are. We ended up with the nicest cast in the world on ‘The Hobbit.’
Besides his work reprising the role of Gollum, how was it with Andy Serkis as Second Unit Director on ‘The Hobbit’?
Peter Jackson: Second Unit Directing is interesting because it’s usually doing the shots the director doesn’t have time to do, or the more time-consuming shots. And Second Unit Directors can also be quite conservative, they can be a bit overly worried in giving the director what they need. The thing with Andy is that he has a courage and an energy and he’s a risk taker, as you can see when he’s performing. His Second Unit Directing was exactly the same, he gave me a lot of fantastic choices. His spirit and his energy definitely translated into his directing.
I understand you were at first a bit weary of the 13 dwarves when adapting ‘The Hobbit’ for the big screen. In the books some of them aren’t mentioned much at all in great detail, but in the film it seems that you’ve tried to make them all distinctive?
Peter Jackson: Yeah. If you were writing ‘The Hobbit’ as an original script you’d probably limit your dwarves to 3 or 4. A bit of sensible dwarf-culling would go on (laughs). But we couldn’t do that because this book is so iconic, and those 13 dwarves are part of Tolkien’s mythology. That was a problem, I was worried about it because what do you do with all of these dwarves? There’s a bunch of them. But that in a way became a blessing, because giving them individual personalities and characters, and the fact that the comedy you get from Martin Freeman’s Bilbo finding himself in the middle of this group and having to manage and deal with the social interaction between them. With that there’s a lot of comedy to be had. With that we had to try to turn it into a plus.
To play the Hobbit at the center of the adventure, Bilbo Baggins, you had only one actor in mind: Martin Freeman?
Peter Jackson: Yeah. Out of the film’s colourful group of dwarves and wizards, elves and trolls, Bilbo is possibly the most relatable to audiences. Bilbo is like a regular person, and reacts the way any one of us likely would if we were in his situation. When Bilbo is faced with a Troll, he doesn’t necessarily grab his sword and start fighting – he panics (laughs). And that’s what’s so incredible about Martin. He doesn’t want to pretend any of it; he’s always real and authentic. I’ve always thought of Hobbits as being very English, with their little cups of tea and their feet up by the fire. Martin is probably one of the nearest people to a Hobbit that I’ve ever met (laughs).
From when you started with the ‘Lord of the Rings’ over a decade ago until now, the technology has changed and offered you so much more advantages when filming. What for you has been – aside from shooting in the higher frame rate, what was the biggest change that excited you?
Peter Jackson: There’s things that really do effect me, I mean, things like not having to make miniatures any more – which we used to do. All of the castles and fortresses and architectural places in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ were usually huge models. This time we can do it in the computer, which in of itself is neither here nor there, but the one thing with having a digital miniature as opposed to a physical one, I can put a camera anywhere that I want. I can fly through windows or doorways with a camera. Whereas with a miniature you are physically constrained by the size of the camera and getting into the spaces. Also, digital stunt people, we had digitals of all of our actors. You would be amazed in the movie where you think you’re looking at the real actors and there not, it’s actually digital doubles. Anything where there’s a sense of actual danger, we obviously still use a lot of stunt people, but if you want something really spectacular you can use digital stunt people now that look the same. That was pretty amazing.
Gollum has advanced a lot in the last 10 years. I wanted him to look the same on the outside, but underneath his skin, his muscles under his eyes and mouth are much more realistic and more complex, just like a human beings. So when Andy Serkis performs Gollum, every little nuance of his performance is now able to be captured accurately one to one with the digital puppet. You can almost say that Gollum has become a better actor in the last 10 years, certainly in being able to translate Andy even more accurately.
I can’t wait to see what you’re doing in 10 years from now….?
Peter Jackson: (Laughs) Hopefully I’ll be lying on a beach in Fiji somewhere with my feet up. Filmmaking is quite tiring, I have to say (laughs).
And the rise of IMAX, what are your thoughts on that?
Peter Jackson: Yeah. Well, I’m a huge fan of IMAX. I think anything that enhances the theatrical experience, anything that makes the movie something to see in a cinema as opposed to waiting for it to show up on your iPad, then that’s a good thing. And that’s what we’re facing now as an industry, we have to provide that incredible cinema experience. If I was seeing the movie in IMAX I would absolutely suggest seeing it in 48 FPS (frames per second), because it will give you an immersive sense of reality. It’s like taking the screen away and you’re looking into a window of the real world. 48 FPS and IMAX is probably the ultimate way to see this film.
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