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EE Commentary Transcripts
The King of the Golden Hall

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Peter: [The Three Hunters and Gandalf arrive at Edoras] Edoras was built in a location in the South Island of New Zealand, and we built the buildings at the very top of the hill – the rest of the village is just CG buildings, but the mountain is real: the rock that you’re seeing standing up out of the countryside is absolutely the way it really is, and the buildings on top are completely authentic. It was a very difficult built, because the winds in that valley are so high that they can blast building materials off the top of the hill. It’s actually quite dangerous. We had to anchor the buildings down deep into concrete: drill into the rock and put huge, big concrete piles into the rock to even just build the set there.

Philippa: Didn’t they paint it, and then you came back and all the paint had been stripped because of the wind?

Peter: Yeah, well [Philippa laughs] I was shooting Edoras one day – I mean, what happened to me one day is: very high winds, and I was walking along to where the crew were, and my glasses got blown off my face, and I turned and I just saw them sailing – tumbling – over the cliff in the wind. [Philippa laughs] And I had to spend the rest of the day, kind of, with blurry vision. It was weird! It was quite a very vicious kind of climate.

Philippa: [Éowyn mourns beside Théodred] The audition piece for Éowyn was about four pages of almost undiluted text from the book, and it was a very, very difficult read – a lot of people were struggling with it – and we hadn’t found Éowyn, had we? She was a big search; but I remember, Fran, very early on, had been tracking Miranda and keeping her in mind, and had asked her to come in and read. Miranda was the only person who actually rang and wanted to talk about this character and what this scene actually meant. She then went in and did it, and I think – I remember, we were in Queenstown, Mark Ordesky, Fran, Peter and myself – and we saw her tape, and we knew we’d found her. We’d finally found Éowyn. (beat) One of the things… When Brad came down and we were working through the journey that Wormtongue goes on, Fran had a strong instinct that rather than just be this ‘out and out’ villain that there is a very genuine need and desire for Éowyn, and that he actually, in his own way, does love her; and that is brought out in this incredible moment at the end of this scene, when they look at each other and you can actually see that – that’s just one of the great strengths of Brad as an actor – and why we gave him this piece of text, which Tolkien fans will know is actually lines of Gandalf’s that come towards the end of the third book – certainly towards the end of her story – the reason he’s saying them here is because one of the other things we wanted to do in this scene is show that he actually has an understanding of her, that he does understand a part of her. And in this moment where she looks at him, there is for one split second a chance where she may actually go there and seek solace; and this is part of his power. And the other thing in this scene – the final words, for those who know the book – “Your words are poison” is, of course, a play on the fact that she’s a little bit more accurate than even she knows.

Peter: [Éowyn looks out towards the Three Hunters and Gandalf] This was one of the billowy, windy days up there. There’s no visual effects in this shot – it’s exactly what you see from the top of the hill: everything that you’re seeing here is what we built, including the Golden Hall. You know, normally we would have had to have done a computer effects shot for when this flag rips away and blows in the wind – we would have had a little CG flag; we just had this incredible luck, and the flag ripped off – we made it rip off but then the flag blowing in the wind and going over the rooftops is done for real. It just happened! And it was so windy that it did a perfect flight path for what we wanted for the shot. (beat) [helicopter shot of Edoras, [screen cap] We had a helicopter rig to shoot from… up at Edoras, but it was so windy when we were there filming that we didn’t get many good shots, and the one that you’re looking at here was actually shot while we were building the set, because we had a helicopter with a camera flying nearby, and I said to them, “Why don’t you just roll a bit of film to show me how the set’s coming along” and it was a lovely, smooth, beautiful shot; but the set was unfinished, and so we had to do a lot of CG-enhancement to take away construction cranes, safety fences, and to actually complete the set. So it was ironic that we built the set, but the CG shot had to [Philippa laughs] actually fill in the holes because it was only half finished when we happened to shoot the aerials!

Philippa: I didn’t know that.

Peter: Yeah. (beat) It’s always hard to do peasants in films, isn’t it? You always think of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ [Philippa laughs]: “Bring out your dead! [Fran: Mmm.] Bring out your dead!” [laughing] It’s one of those dodgy things that sort of… Monty Python, kind of, has been a real difficulty with us making this film, because you realise just how close the line is between ‘The Holy Grail’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ really, in terms of what we’re trying to…

Philippa: Mmm.

Peter: … do and show on screen. (beat) [Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf disarm] This is a frivolous scene; and we did actually talk about cutting this scene out at one stage. You don’t need it – it’s a bit of business that, sort of, is not important, but it’s quite memorable from the book. I like the idea that Aragorn keeps finding weapons everywhere.

Philippa: [laughing] Yeah!

Peter: One of the problems that we had with visualising this is that Gandalf asks to keep his staff still, but we didn’t want him to walk into the Hall with the staff, sort of, fully obvious, because why didn’t Wormtongue see it kind of right at the beginning? And so if you look here, Ian very carefully, kind of, carries his staff in a way that doesn’t draw attention to itself, because otherwise why doesn’t Wormtongue jump up now and say, “The wizard’s staff.” See the continuity problem? The staff’s upright in the back shots and it’s down in the front shots.

Fran: I never noticed that!

Peter: No, I didn’t notice it before now, too. [Fran: Oh, [?].]Oh God, it’s live on DVD! [Philippa and Fran laugh] A problem has been spotted!

Philippa: How long did that make up take?

Peter: That took quite a long time. It was, like, half a day in the make up chair. It’s not prosthetics – rubber prosthetics – it’s actually done an old-fashioned way, which is called stipple make up: of basically applying, like, tissue paper to your face and putting grease paint over it. (beat) This whole aspect of the politics in the Golden Hall I’ve always found quite difficult, because what’s the attitude of the people of Rohan to Wormtongue, to their sick King? Why don’t the loyal lieutenants of Théoden actually boot Wormtongue out if he’s clearly that poisonous a character? So we created these thuggish characters – like these henchmen – that you had to somehow believe Wormtongue plus the henchmen were enough of a force to suppress the Rohan civilians. Obviously not quite enough of a force to suppress our heroes.

Fran: [Gandalf: “Théoden, son of Thengel…”] Remember, we had the problem with Gandalf the White not appearing as Gandalf the White [Peter: Yeah, yeah.] until this moment when he…

Peter: That’s right.

Fran: … he takes his cloak off.

Peter: Yeah.

Fran: And then we figured: well what’s he wearing, then? Is he back into Gandalf the Grey here?

Philippa: Yes, that’s right.

Peter: It was all a bit difficult, this stuff to…

Philippa: It was.

Fran: It was really quite difficult.

Peter: … to pull off.

Philippa: It drove us mad.

Peter: One of the things that’s great about ‘Lord of the Rings’ is that Gandalf doesn’t get to be a wizard very much, which I actually appreciate, because wizards are not that, kind of, easy; but this is in a way just about the most ‘wizardy’ bit of the whole movie [Philippa agrees] and maybe of the whole trilogy. You know, like this is straight out of a fairy tale, really: the good wizard fighting the bad spell. The book has, you know, a rather vague description of exactly what’s happening to Théoden: he is some way being heavily influenced by Wormtongue – he’s somehow been under some sort of spell, because Gandalf does come in and kind of free him from the spell – but showing it in the movie without being hokey was kind of tough; and we haven’t really explained it that much, other than that connection, so that when Théoden gets, sort of, blasted by Gandalf’s staff, it’s Saruman that we see being rocketed across the floor in Orthanc, so that connection that, somehow, Saruman was puppeteering Théoden… And the use of the voice that we hear: actually Christopher Lee did some ADR – some dialogue recording – so we hear Christopher’s voice coming out of Bernard’s mouth at one point; and that was the way that we, kind of, tried to address this situation of a spell – an enchantment – because those things are difficult to show visually. (beat) Sound design is very important here, because all that Bernard’s doing is, obviously, just throwing himself back in his chair, and Ian’s just pushing his staff forward – there’s no contact between the two of them – but the sound design really gives a feeling of power coming out of the staff. (beat) This shot here was done as a very simple morphing: needed Bernard to go through three different make ups, each of which took half a day, so we basically shot him over the course of two days, as the old make up, the intermediate and then the young. He was sort of sitting being in either the make up chair or in front of the camera, literally for two days just to do that seven or eight seconds’ worth of film that we were able to morph with that de-ageing. (beat) Bernard Hill’s an actor that made a huge impression on me when I was a lot younger in a British TV series called ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’; since then, he’s obviously the captain of the Titanic, so you wouldn’t want to put him in charge of a sailing vessel [Philippa laughs], but for the King of Rohan, I thought he’d be great. He has that wonderful nobility, and he’s also the type of actor who can take the rôle of a king and play him without the usual clichés as well. He’s a very clever actor, and you need somebody who’s going to actually give the character that integrity and not just do ‘a king’.

Fran: [Théoden rises from his throne] This is where the Rohan theme comes in again, isn’t it? With Howard’s – with the Norwegian fiddle and…

Peter: Yeah.

Fran: Very memorable.

Peter: Yes. (beat) What I like about Gandalf’s rôle in this scene is: he is a manipulator, and that is… one of the key character functions is that he manipulates people into doing what he wants them to do. The way that he says, “Well, you know, you may remember your strength better if you grasped your sword”; because he wants now to deal with Wormtongue: it’s like Gandalf has it in for Wormtongue, but he has to get Théoden there in a way that he suggests and hints, and Théoden finally gets the idea himself that holding the sword, thinking of why he was subjected to this spell – he goes there, but Gandalf is totally manipulating the situation from the beginning. And that is quite a fun aspect of Gandalf’s character.

Fran: The character of Wormtongue – our take on it – came from Théoden’s speech at the end of the book ‘Two Towers’ where he says: “You were a man once.” He was not born evil, and he is not wholly evil now: there is something in him that can be appealed to and possibly redeemed, and in that he rises above stereotype, and becomes a more complex and interesting character – someone who perhaps is allowed the more weaker and ignoble sides of his character to take free rein, but also someone who can have some hope of change. I certainly saw someone in Wormtongue’s character who is trapped within his own sense of, kind of, moral turpitude, but who wanted something else; and it wasn’t just a venal desire, it was something as, sort of, unattainable as Éowyn’s… He also wanted Théoden’s approval, and he wanted to – and needed to – be part of the court, and his expulsion from that compounded a bitter sense of rejection, which, in his own mind, justified further attacks on the people of Rohan and Helm’s Deep.

Peter: [Aragorn bows down to Théoden] When we originally shot this scene with Théoden, we didn’t have any connection with the death of his son – we did have a funeral scene, but there wasn’t any link, and so we had Bernard back out in New Zealand during post production and we shot this one insert shot [screen cap] of him turning round and saying, “Where is Théodred, where is my son?” which was a way of being able to then hint towards the funeral scene, which is coming up.

The Funeral of Théodred >>

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.