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Very Old Friends

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Peter (cont.): [Gandalf knocks on Bag End door] This shot here of Ian banging on the door was Ian’s very first shot in the film – this is his… this is Day One! He’d just come of X-Men, flown to New Zealand, January 2000, and this was the very first scene that we shot. He really hadn’t quite figured out Gandalf, but he was doing a pretty good job for his first day. The Ian Holm shots were actually done inside a studio; from the location of Matamata, that’s Ian McKellen, and when you cut to Ian Holm, we’re inside a studio. Andrew Lesnie, our cinematographer, did a brilliant job of matching the indoors and the outdoors. (beat) [Bilbo and Gandalf walk into Bag End] Now, some of the scale tricks in the film were done with very complicated methods, and I wanted to really spend a lot of time on the shot here where Ian McKellen and Ian Holm are together in the hallway, and we shot them separately: Ian McKellen was against blue-screen, and the hat-handover with the stick was the most tricky part of the shot, which was basically involving different sized hats, different sized sticks and blending the two together with a computer. It was just in a situation where if we did a few of these complicated shots – these time consuming, difficult shots – I thought it would sell the concept of scale for the rest of the film. (beat) Now, when Gandalf bangs his head here, that was actually a mistake: Ian didn’t intend to do that – it wasn’t in our script, and it was something that he did accidentally, and we decided to keep it in the film. Fortunately, he kept acting – he didn’t stop – he sold it really well.

Philippa: He never stops! [laughs] He always keeps going! [Gandalf picks up map] And here, of course, is Thorin Oakenshield’s map from ‘The Hobbit’ – the map used by Bilbo and the company of Dwarves and Gandalf to find the secret door into the Lonely Mountain. There was a little bit of confusion as to what happened to Thorin’s map: we had it written in there, and we had a note to check, factually, what happened to Thorin’s map, and the person we set onto that was Henry Mortensen, Viggo Mortensen’s son, was our researcher on that, and he went in there and double-checked what happened to Thorin’s map, and said, “Yes: no, it survived”.

Peter: Thank heavens for Henry!

Philippa: [laughing] Thank heavens for Henry! (beat) One of the things I remember was – before this project even got green-lit – you had a wish-list, and your wish-list for Bilbo Baggins was Sir Ian Holm [Peter agrees] and I don’t think we ever saw anybody else as Bilbo, so it was just a dream come true watching him bring Bilbo to life.

Peter: [Bilbo pours tea for Gandalf] This shot is actually not a computer shot: it looks like one, because you’ve got the two actors in the same shot, but it’s done with forced perspective. Now, the table that Ian Holm is pouring on is a different sized table to what Ian McKellen’s sitting on, and there’s actually five or six feet… This table’s split in half, chopped down in the middle; the join is hidden by all of the different objects that are on the table, but there’s actually a five or six foot gap between the two halves of the table in that wide shot, and the two actors are in the same room together, but they’re a lot more separated by distance than what appears on film; and what you actually see is the appearance that one character is very small and that one’s very big, and that’s simply because the small person’s further away: it’s called forced perspective.

Philippa: I think I’m right in saying: this was the first time Ian Holm and Ian McKellen have acted together in a film.

Peter: Yeah, they’d never worked together – they knew each other slightly, but they’d never been in anything together, and I think they had a lot of fun.

Philippa: They did.

Peter: They were great days, these days, because they were both… In a way, they were both, you know, really determined to make their scenes as special as they possibly could. They only had two or three scenes together, and they wanted to make the most of them.

Philippa: I think one of the… If I remember rightly, Ian Holm did make the enquiry – I don’t think Gandalf had been cast when we approached him – and he did ask… One of his first questions was, “Who’s playing Gandalf?”

Peter: The smoking scene is one that I thought I would have to fight for: I was sure at some stage, because it’s Hollywood, somebody would come to me and say, “You can’t show smoking in a film, it’s not politically correct,” and yet it’s my favourite scene, this smoke-ship. [Philippa laughs] I always wanted to have the smoke-ship, and I was really gearing myself up for a hell of a fight when the day came that I was told to get rid of the smoking scene, but it never did.

Philippa: No.

Peter: Nobody ever breathed a word about it.

Philippa: In earlier drafts, we actually had a running gag that Gandalf had given-up smoking.

A Long-Expected Party >>

The Lord of the Rings and its content does not belong to me, it is property of the Tolkien Estate;  the commentaries transcribed here, as well as the images used, are the property of New Line Cinema.