Middle-Earth Mash Up: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
By: Lynn Barker
There has been talk, both pro and con, about “Lost’s” Evangeline Lilly’s elf warrior character Tauriel in the new Hobbit film. We think it is cool to add a strong, female presence and so does Ms. Lilly who used to teach archery to kids at camp.
You might have been watching Brit hottie with the strange name Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan in the last Star Trek film or enjoyed his TV portrayal of Sherlock Holmes opposite, oddly enough, Hobbit’s Bilbo Martin Freeman. Ben tells us all about portraying huge dragon Smaug using just his voice and with motion capture (it involved dragging himself around on the floor, and watching a lot of lizards for research… and you thought making movies was glamorous).
Luke Evans, whom you might have seen in Immortals or The Three Musketeers, had a blast playing Bard the Bowman who has a lot to do with saving his village Laketown and Richard Armitage, as dwarf Thorin Oakenshield told us about being trapped in a barrel floating down both real and imaginary rivers. First, let’s check in with Evangeline.
Kidzworld: Evangeline, Tauriel is a warrior. Did you have to learn to shoot arrows and what did you think when you saw yourself on screen the first time with the fiery red hair a pointy ears?
- Evangeline: I went through five different types of training; weapons, stunts, movement, dialect and language training. There were two different weapons. I had double daggers and a bow and arrow. Believe it or not, I used to teach archery at a kids’ camp when I was a teenager but I’m not a good marksman. I think one of the great gifts of CGI and working in the imagination is that you can imagine that you are much more talented than you really are.
- Seeing myself on screen for the first time as an elf was a double-edged sword because I’m a real Tolkien geek and had dreamed of being an elf since I was a little girl so there was an incredible amount of satisfaction and dream realization. But, I’m also unfortunately an actor which means I’m very self-critical. It’s very hard for me to give anything I do the stamp of approval without (knowing) all the things I did wrong and what didn’t work. But, just the ears and wig, the actual visual was very, very exciting.
Kidzworld: Evangeline, we’ve heard that you were ready to retire from films. Can you talk about that?
- Evangeline: I think retiring at 30 is most people’s dream. I was so far off the grid that when Pete, Fran and Phil (director and producer/writers) were trying to find me, they couldn’t reach me. They finally did and because “The Hobbit” was my favorite book as a little girl and the Sylvan Elves were my favorite characters in the book and it would be a dream to play one, I jumped at the opportunity.
Kidzworld: What about the fact that Tauriel isn’t in the book?
- Evangeline: Peter said “Your character is not in the book” and I took great pause as a great fan of Tolkien. “What? Everyone’s gonna hate me”. It didn’t take long for them to convince me that it was the right thing to do and a good idea. Phillipa said there was a love story and that Aiden Turner (who plays dwarf Fili) was sooo handsome.
- I agreed to the job under the condition that there would be no love triangle because any of you that were fans of “Lost”, I’d had it up to here with love triangles and, sure enough, I come back for reshoots in 2012 and they said “We’ve made a few adjustments to the love story”. (Now Legolas seems to also have a yearning for Tauriel).
Kidzworld: Ultimately, as a fan of the book, were you happy that a strong female character was added?
- Evangeline: Tolkien was writing in 1937. The world is a different place and, in this day and age, to put nine hours of cinema entertainment in the theaters for young girls to go and watch and not have one female character is subliminally telling them, “You don’t count. You’re not important and not pivotal to the story”. I think (the filmmakers) were very brave and right in saying “We won’t do that to the young female audience that come and watch our film”. I think it’s time we stop making stories that are only about heroic men. I love that they made Tauriel a hero.
Kidzworld: Me too! Benedict, did you go to New Zealand and meet the rest of the cast or were you isolated?
- Benedict: Yes, I did go to New Zealand. It was hugely helpful. I started off with Peter, Fran and Phillipa which was a privilege seeing how large everything else is on this film so I had their full attention. We were on the Mo-Cap (motion capture) stage so it began as a physicalization with voice, face and bodywork so that’s how I kind of discovered him (the dragon Smaug). My dad read me the book when I was six or seven. It was a bedtime treat at home so that was my first bit of research. Then I went to the reptile house at London Zoo and had a look there.
- The book is so beautifully written and (Smaug) is so well illustrated in countless editions of the book then with Peter’s input and our rehearsals and just playing like a kid really in this incredible, freeing volume they call the Mo-Cap stage, meant that we could kind of go anywhere with it.
- Sadly, I hardly met any of the cast. I crossed over with people when they were coming back to do their third stint. I didn’t spend any live time with Martin (Freeman who plays Bilbo) which was sad bit it was fine. We know each other quite well so we second-guessed our performances to some degree I guess. But I didn’t cross over with anyone. I’ve had scenes with people I haven’t even met yet so that was bizarre.
Kidzworld: Benedict, you and Martin have been Sherlock and Watson on TV. How weird was it to do your Smaug voice and he wasn’t even there?
- Benedict: There is all that chemistry and it was very peculiar acting by proxy with him. He’s a bit of an inspiration to be around (in their TV series) so that was the biggest con (of the role), hearing all these stories of live-action perils and all the work that these people put in. I did my job (voice and motion capture) in about eight days so I feel like I’m the cheat at this table really. Martin and I will probably have some kind of an outing in something else in future. Who knows?
- Martin is very smart, he’s really good company; one of the funniest men I’ve ever met and he’s a craftsman and works incredibly hard to create authentic characters and moments in drama. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about Martin.
Kidzworld: How do you do a motion capture performance for a dragon? At least Golum is a humanesque creature.
- Benedict: It’s more abstract, an impression of a serpentine reptile who can breathe fire and fly and I’m a limited, bi-ped mammal. Sorry about that but Peter knew that when I auditioned (laughter). I tried to crawl on the floor with my elbows and using my hands as claws and elongation my neck and shoulder to the delight of any physio who was unlucky enough to try and heal me afterwards. (I was) just throwing myself at it with a kidlike imagination and their expert guidance. It was a really fun way to work. No one has really tried a serpent before.
Kidzworld: Luke, you also spent time with a bow and arrows in this film. Have you taught archery to kids?
- Luke: Thankfully, no.
- Evangeline: But he’s much better than me.
- Luke: (To her) The longbow is taller than me so different than your bow. It was learning how to pull the arrow differently with such a big bow.
Kidzworld: Luke, playing Bard, you got to use your native Welsh accent. How else did you identify with Bard and what was the most fun for you playing the character?
- Luke: Having my own accent was very special. That was a lovely gift that Peter, Fran and Phil gave to me. For the first time ever I used my own accent in a movie and probably the last. That freed up who I am. My heritage and personality was very much part of Bard. My performance was different because I was speaking with my own accent. I was Welsh! Part of the other people in Laketown are Welsh as well. I fit in with them because we all have an ancestry. It paid off.
- It was fun to play but it’s difficult to talk about everything because we have another film coming out next year and we all play a big part in it and I can’t talk about it. But, I’m either being chased or chasing or someone is trying to lock me up. Bard knows Laketown like the back of his hand and I actually (did too). Pete used to get me running all over it on roofs or the streets on a daily basis. That was very fun and it was a fantastic set to work on. It was so expansive and real. You could keep turning corners and never come to the end of it. It was great.
Kidzworld: Evangeline, being a huge Tolkien fan, did his work inspire your own writing?
- Evangeline: I think Tolkien probably inspired me towards writing because a good story impacts your life. I think deep down inside, one of the great motivations to write is to have an impact and to say something. Recently I’ve been doing a lot more studying of writing. Much like acting, I’m not formally trained in writing. Writing is a little bit more of a structured, specific craft so I have been doing my homework, I’ve been studying.
- As I learn more about story structure and developing a story that will have an impact and will resonate with an audience, the more it starts to impact my choices as an actress. (Evangeline is in negotiations for her first children’s book, has her first script to producers and is working with a partner on a fantasy novel).
Kidzworld: Richard can you talk about the exciting barrel sequence when Thorin and the dwarves are floating down the river? Was there real danger there?
- Richard: I think the most dangerous part of filming the barrel sequence was when we were all in these little cut off Flintstone barrels powered by our feet. We were bumping into each other. It was on the Pelorus River (in New Zealand), an extremely fast flowing river with a current. It’s the end of the sequence and we were racing each other to get to the water. I ended up getting dragged under.. after I got out of the barrel.
- But we were on a sound stage too where Pete had built a kind of water course powered by two V-8 engines. We were there for about two weeks and it was like being at a theme park and they were dumping tons of water on us. I think Martin had the most difficult role in that because he wasn’t in a barrel and there was an underwater camera and he would swap out with a stunt guy. It got hair-raising but worth it.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is in theaters December 13th!