The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Press conference at the Hotel Okura, Tokyo, December 1, 2012

Peter Jackson: Hi everybody. Thank you very much for coming and I am really glad you just had a chance to see the movie trailer. I think you saw it at 48 frames a second, the high frame rate, too, which is a great way to see it. And thank you for the fantastic welcome here in Japan. Thank you. We’re really happy to answer any questions you have.

Martin Freeman: Yes, it’s lovely to be here. I love Tokyo. I love Japan generally. And we hope you like it. We hope you liked the trailer earlier. And we are looking forward to sharing with the Japanese public this film that we have worked on with so much love, care and attention. And finally being able to see it tonight should be very exciting.

Andy Serkis: Ohayo Gozaimasu (“good morning” in Japanese). Or as Gollum would say, o-ha-yoo go-zai-masuu. We are really happy to be back in Japan. We have had great time here with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong. And it is just fantastic to come back and finally share The Hobbit with you.

Richard Armitage: Konichiwa. I was here in Tokyo back in 2000, and I am so proud to come back in 2012 with these amazing people, and with this film, which I think will really appeal to a Japanese audience. It has so many big themes like honor and loyalty. It is just something huge for me. But I think it will be very well received here. And I am very proud to bring it to you.

Elijah Wood: Yes, we have had some pretty incredible experiences bringing the Lord of the Rings films here. It was always extremely special to come to Japan. I love Tokyo. I love Japan. And we are happy to bring this earlier part of the journey to you. We really want to thank you for having us.

Question: In the Lord of the Rings trilogy, there is a lot of violence, battles and fighting. This one seems to be more about life, pity and mercy. Could you comment on that?

Peter Jackson: It is interesting talking about pity and mercy, because there is a sequence in The Hobbit. It is actually a sequence—because The Hobbit takes place 60 years before the Lord of the Rings—it is a sequence which we have already seen the result of what happens in the Lord of the Rings films. In The Hobbit, Bilbo has an opportunity. He has Gollum in front of him. It is invisible. He has a sword. And he could at that stage decide to kill this creature who has tried to kill him. And he doesn’t. There is a sense of decency inside that character that prevents him from doing that. And that ultimately pays off inside the volcano, in the Lord of the Rings. The fact that Gollum was saved and didn’t die, that enables the ring to be destroyed. And so I thought that would be interesting after 12 years, after we originally shot the first film, to show the reason why that was possible.

Martin Freeman: Yes, the sort of pivotal scene I think you are alluding to, between Bilbo and Gollum, when Bilbo chooses not to take Gollum’s life, and in Bilbo’s ears are ringing Gandalf’s words “true courage is knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare it.” I think that says something about Tolkien’s humanity. I think it is true. I hope it is true, just as a general adage. And also when you are hearing Ian McKellen saying it to you, that kind of helps. I think it helps and audience, but it also helped me carry that through. I think it is a lovely moment. It tells you a lot about Bilbo, that this responsibility does not sit lightly with him. He takes it very seriously. He is not a person who is quick to anger, or violence, or aggression. It wouldn’t suit him to kill a defenseless being anyway. Even in fear, even if it is a life and death situation for him. It wouldn’t sit well with him. So I think it is a good indication of Bilbo’s view of life.

Question: I would like to ask Peter Jackson what he was most aiming for with this film. And I would like to ask the others what it was like to join this big project after 8 years.

Peter Jackson: The aim of making the movies really for me, with any movie I make, is escapism. I love the mystery and romance of going to the cinema. I always have since I was a child. And there are many different types of films to suit different people. The type of film I like to watch and therefore the type of film I like to make, are ones in which you are transported into an adventure. There are characters with emotional depth, but beyond all of that, it is an escapist experience, which is why I love fantasy films. And Tolkien’s books really are the ultimate fantasy. They are stories that transport you into a world that is familiar. It has characters that are familiar. It seems familiar. And yet, it has the exotic, fantastical elements with the creatures and the Gollum and trolls and things. For me it is an extension of a fairy tale. That is what I love about films. They are fairy tales for everybody, really.

Andy Serkis: It has been an incredible experience coming back to New Zealand and shooting The Hobbit. And a wonderful time to get together with very old friends, and meet crew that were on those films. I come back and everyone is slightly older and have more children. Then, of course, welcoming the new cast, who were phenomenally dedicated, really hard-working, great fun to be around. For me, I had a wonderful time because not only was I reprising the role of Gollum, but Peter asked me to direct the second unit. And I had the opportunity to experience the great work that all these actors did, and to learn a lot from Peter as well. He was incredibly generous with enabling me to move into an area I am interested in. For a year and a half, we became a brand new family and went on a brand new adventure. It was brilliant and immensely challenging. Logistically, mentally and physically challenging. But when you got great people around you, and amazingly talented team, who are all working 150%, it is a joy.

 

Elijah Wood: As Andy just said, it was so extraordinary. The experience of making The Hobbit very much echoed the experience of making The Lord of the Rings. The incredible effort and passion amongst the actors and filmmakers and crew was beautiful to see. The scale of The Hobbit seemed much larger in a way. But the intimacy and connection among the people working was very much the same. It was an absolute gift to come back. I had certainly felt that that chapter of my life had been closed, but certainly not my connection to those people and to New Zealand. But to be asked to come back and briefly reprise the role of Frodo was a gift. Mainly to be able to go back to New Zealand and to see Ian McKellen as Gandalf again, and to work with Ian Holm again, and to see old family and friends. It was a joy for me to meet the new cast, who were deeply entrenched in a very similar journey as we had gone through. It was a joy to spend time with them, and sort of vicariously live through this new journey that they were on. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

Richard Armitage: Having been a big fan of the Lord of the Rings books, and absorbing myself in the film trilogy, one thing you realize is that Peter’s work is very, very unlikely ever to be remade in the future. So when you are given the responsibility to take on a role like Thorin, you understand that I will probably be the only person ever to play this. So to have that responsibility and come to New Zealand with all of those fears, will probably be the most memorable thing about this whole event. It was probably the best year of my life, and the best 18 months I ever spent working on any piece of work, regardless of the end product. The experience of sharing that with Peter and his team will be there in my heart forever.

Martin Freeman: It has all been said really by the others. I think it is no coincidence that all of our answers seem to be encompassing things about how it was to be part of the group, the word “family” keeps coming up as well. That is how the Lord of the Rings cast and crew spoke of their experience, and that is how we speak of ours. It is a relatively small country, a stone street to the studio. I keep saying this and it is not meant to be in anyway a backhanded compliment, but it seems like the biggest student film ever made. It is a cottage industry, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s the biggest film being made on the planet earth, but it still feels like we are making jam or something. It had an ad hoc feeling, it had an informal feeling, which definitely suits me. It makes us do good work, hopefully, because it is not scary, it is not frightening. You are encouraged to have a good time, which is the whole reason you get into acting in the first place, or anything to do with the arts or entertainment business. You are not doing it because you have to. You are doing it because, please God, it is going to be fun. And so 18 months of these films, I can honestly report were fun, almost regardless of how it is received. Of course we would rather that people like it. It was worthwhile for us, whether people do or do not like it. As Andy said, it is always hard work, but there was a goal in sight which made it worthwhile.

 

Question: I would like to ask Peter Jackson what made him decide to cast Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage, and also what made you think you made a good decision.

Peter Jackson: My feeling when we are casting films, I want in the film a sense of truth. I can say certainly with Martin and Richard, and with everyone else in the cast as well, there has to be an element of truth in what they are doing. It is not pretend or pretense. I think that is even more important in a fantastical film. Whether you are playing a hobbit or playing a dwarf, essentially there is a little bit of an alien creature there. They are similar to us, but they are not human beings. So I think that we have to empathize with them is absolutely critical to the film. And Martin is a fantastic dramatic actor, and at the same time it is important that in the character of Bilbo. There is a lot of heart and humor, which comes from the fact that he is essentially a very unlikely hero. He is someone experience danger who would rather not, being in the company of dwarves, he would rather not be in the company of. And there is a lot of social comedy, if you like, social humor, which comes from the situation that he is in. And not a lot of dramatic actors understand the way to play humor. It is a very, very rare skill. And Martin is superb at that. And another thing about Martin that, as a director, is a huge gift to me, is that we could shoot maybe 6 or 7 takes, and every take would be different. It would be fresh. Martin would be continuing to experiment with the scene, but every single take was great. I found myself in the cutting room with enormous choice, spoiled for choice. You see Martin exploring the scene, but there is a truth in every single take.

In many respects, I look at the characters of Bilbo and Thorin as the heart and soul of the story, really. If Bilbo is the heart, then Thorin is the soul. We auditioned the role with many, many actors, and Richard managed to capture for us the very important sense of nobility, because he is essentially playing a king. Also the question of whether he has the ability to lead these dwarves on a very difficult task, to reclaim their homeland. It is a very noble thing he is trying to do. But he doesn’t really have the resources, if you like, to do this. With the character, there is a sense of honor, which Richard carries, which I think is absolutely superb. As an actor, Richard is one of those very rare actors, he uses stillness to draw your attention, and draw your eye. A lot of things are happening on the screen, there are many characters on the screen, and yet Thorin in his stillness, draws your attention. It is a very rare skill. Your eyes go to him on screen as something you want to watch.

Question: For Peter Jackson, why did you decide to make The Hobbit after making the Lord of the Rings trilogy?

Peter Jackson: The answer to that really is that we didn’t want anybody else to do it. Having done the Lord of the Rings, we felt a pride of ownership, in the world Middle Earth, with New Zealand being part of that. We were proud of what we had achieved. We didn’t know whether The Hobbit get made for a long time, because the rights were split between two different studios. It wasn’t a certainty that it would happen. But we knew if it did happen, we wanted to be a part of it. It took a long time to get the film going, but it was a terrific experience. Probably the most fun that I have ever had shooting a film.

Question: My question is for Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage. What was it like for the two of you to work together?

Martin Freeman: It was very easy, actually, working with Richard. What Peter said about what he brings to Thorin, is partly what he is as a person. He respects himself and others. He respects other’s ways of thinking, but he also have this very strong core of himself. And he is the least arrogant person you could wish to meet. And he is always up for what you are going to bring to the scene. I went to the gym with him once. There were a few of us there. And we had to do these circuits around the gym with this insane psychopath of a gym trainer. And I was busy dying about halfway around. I was genuinely ready to pass out. And Richard had sort of quietly completed the entire circuit without breaking a sweat. He admitted it had found it hard. What I really admired about that was he wasn’t being macho, but he just kind of quietly got on with it. And that is how he treated the job, really. The trials and tribulations of making a film—it is tiring, you miss home, et cetera, he was very stoical about it, which is a good thing for Thorin. So there is a good marriage of Richard and Thorin there. What I think about Richard is he is essentially a decent person. And I can offer no higher praises. He is a good human being, and I like being around him.

Richard Armitage: I always felt guilty that I did not socialize enough when I was working on this film. Particulary with Martin, because he is really one of the most entertaining people I have ever worked with. The prosthetics are removed with alcohol, so if you consume too much alcohol the night before, the face falls off about half way through the day, and you feel really rubbish. But in terms of what I gained from Martin as an actor, but in one scene. It was my first day on the set, but Martin had been working with Andy for about two weeks on the Gollum scenes. And I watched Martin improvising in the way that a jazz musician would riff on a theme. It is actually quite a brave thing to do, because you expose your process to everyone as you do it. And I remember going away and thinking that he had set the benchmark for me, and the way I would like to work on the rest of the film. And that set everything in motion. I have so much admiration for what he did on this film. And I think that the character will let him get into people’s hearts.

Question: I’d like to ask Peter Jackson about the high frame rate.

Peter Jackson: In 1927, movies became sound films. In the silent movie days, cameras were cranked by hand, and the speed would vary depending on how the cameraman would crank it. But when they put a soundtrack on the film, it was very important that it moved at a constant speed. And yet, 35mm film stock was very expensive. And so they arrived at 24 frames a second as the cheapest speed that they could come up with that consumed the least amount of this expensive film stock, but was just fast enough for the fidelity of the soundtrack. And for 85 years, that has become the industry standard, and only because thousands and thousands of projectors were built, thousands of cameras were built. They were built and installed when that was what the industry used, and they have remained for decades. In recent times, a couple of things have happened which were influences on me. Obviously digital cinema has come in. There are now digital cameras and projectors, and the frame rate can be changed. Unlike the big old mechanical projectors that were installed in so many cinemas around the world, you now can increase the frame rate. For me, increasing the frame rate gives a greater illusion of reality, like cutting a hole in the back of the cinema and taking the screen out and you are looking into the real world. For a filmmaker loves taking audiences and immerse them in a story, the higher frame rate is very good for 3D. It makes the 3D smooth and very gentle on the eyes. The high frame rate combined with 3D is a wonderful combination of technologies. And the other thing that has happened is, there is a sense around the world that it takes more to get people to go to the cinema. There are so many choices. Home entertainment, iPads, iPhones. I don’t want kids to watch The Hobbit on an iPad. I like to give reasons to make a trip to the cinema, for the romance of the movies. I think for filmmakers, it is up to us to look at the technology and look for ways we can enhance the cinema going experience. Make it bigger, better in the cinema. For me, there is no better place to see a film, then to be strangers in the dark and being transported into another world.

 

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