Middle-earth, if you weren’t aware, is a big place. The fantasy world created by J.R.R. Tolkien and brought to the screen numerous times, most famously in Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy The Lord of the Rings, encompasses many different races scattered across different lands, from sunny forests to bleak winter landscapes to mines buried deep within the Earth — settings which all come to life in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, the epic new fantasy series debuting this week on Prime Video.
During a recent press day for The Rings of Power, Consequence spoke with 12 members of the cast in groups of four, each group a mix of Elves, Dwarves, Harfoots, and Men. This meant that while everyone was friendly and familiar with each other, the separation between storylines meant that many hadn’t worked directly with those in their groups (at least in the episodes which were screened in advance).
Sophia Nomvete, who plays Dwarven princess Disa, says that for most of the cast, the shooting process led them to stay immersed in their worlds, “unless you made a decision, or if you had a bit of time, to go and visit. And it would really depend on what the other set was doing, whether it was like a good time for people to go visit.”
While separated, the cast was relatively conscious of the other shooting in progress elsewhere and, says Morfydd Clark (playing a younger version of Elven warrior Galadriel), “there was always one group that was having the toughest time. There were times when the Harfoots were in pools of mud, there were times where we were in blazing sun. So there was always a group that you were like, ‘So glad I’m not doing that.'”
This included one cast member (unspecified, for fear of spoilers) whose scenes involved a lot of time in a set described as a trench. “He seemed to be in that trench for years,” says Charlie Vickers, who plays a human ally of Galadriel.
Adds Clark, “We just didn’t see him for months. Because he was either in the trench or asleep.”
Playing Tourist in Middle-earth
Because of this separation, says Nomvete, “when we got to see the episodes, our minds were absolutely blown. Because we didn’t know what our friends were doing anywhere near the same way we knew what we were doing. It was a spectacular moment.”
Which lands or races do they wish they’d had a chance to visit, outside of their own? There were many answers. “I would just love to explore the mines of Moria, go down there and see it at the height of its sort of civilization. That’d be amazing,” Maxim Baldry (playing a young Númenórean named Isildur) says.
“I have to be different,” Vickers says. “I’m going to say Lindon. Cause I’m a Man of the Southlands and it’s a bit bleak, the Southlands, in comparison to the riches and the majesty of Lindon.”
Clark says that, “it’s the Harfoots for me,” noting that the Hobbit-esque nomadic race has “such a tight community and they have such a connection to their history… And they’re just so cute.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video)
Vickers was the only one to mention an Elf kingdom, a theme repeated elsewhere: Says Charles Edwards, the actor behind Elven smith Celebrimbor, with a bit of a mope, “No one wants to be with the Elves.”
“Because everybody loves the Elves. You don’t need any more praise,” Nazanin Boniadi, who plays the human Bronwyn, notes.
“Yeah. The Elves have all sorts of fans. There are endless fans for the elves,” agrees Lloyd Owen, whose character also hails from Númenór.
Meanwhile, Boniadi agrees with Clark about the Harfoots (much to the delight of her co-star Megan Richards, who plays a Harfoot named Poppy): “I love them so much. There’s so much heart.” But, Boniadi continues, “If I’m being honest, I look at every realm and I think that there’s something of each one that I want.”
“Mix them all together,” says Richards. (Do that, and you’ve got a show.)
As mentioned, during filming most of the actors kept to their individual locations, but Nomvete says she did take a few excursions to other shooting areas. “I visited the Harfoot world whilst they were doing the discovery of the Stranger, and that was immense,” she says. “And then on my very last day, on my wrap day, I went to Númenor, and that was incredible. The only biggie that I sadly missed was the Elvin kingdom.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Benjamin Walker (who plays the High King of the Elves) jokes to her. “We’ll be around. We’ll be around for a loooong time.”
For the cast, though, the most exciting land showcased by The Rings of Power isn’t even technically a part of Middle-earth. A good portion of the show takes place on Númenor, an island kingdom ruled over by Men. It has never been depicted on screen, and it came up a lot as one of the cast’s most beloved locations.
“The way everyone’s going on about Númenór…” Edwards says.
Owen interrupts him with a chant: “Númenór! Númenór!”
“You can’t stop them banging on about it,” Edwards continues with a laugh. “It’s getting really tiring.”
As The Rings of Power is the first Tolkien adaptation set during the Second Age of his Middle-earth chronicles, prior to its depiction in this show Númenór has been most infamous in Tolkien lore because of its eventual fall. Says Baldry, “It’s a big tragedy that is a shadow over Númenór. Because you see it at the peak of its existence and you know that something’s going to happen — it’s always bubbling away in the background.”
As Clark says, “some of the viewers won’t know that. Because we’ve been so obsessed, I forget that obviously not everybody spent so much time talking and reading and obsessing.”
Here’s What The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Can (and Can’t) Do With J.R.R. Tolkien’s Books
Here, though, the viewers see Númenór at its prime. “That’s the extraordinary joy and excitement and responsibility, because it’s Tolkien’s Atlantis.” says Owen. “And the way that the production design has built this set is an extraordinary mix. It’s ancient Rome, ancient Greece, Byzantium, Santorine, it’s quite extraordinarily built and vast, what they have made.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Prime Video)
Owen was well aware of the difficulty that comes with matching the expectations of the audience, “because I read The Hobbit when I was 11,” he says. “So it’s in my mind, it’s in my imagination. Many people have Númenór in their imagination. So that’s always going to be the challenge — can we match people’s imaginations?”
Owen continues to say that while “you can’t replicate everyone’s imagination,” he did meet one fan at Comic-Con this summer who had been able to see screeners for the show, and at the sight of Númenór, “she said she burst into tears. I was massively relieved as well as happy for her, that somehow whatever she’d imagined Númenór to be, it exceeded her expectations.”
“It Feels Real”
For Edwards, what he saw on screen “totally and utterly surpassed” his own expectations, after reading the scripts. “I mean, it wasn’t even anything close,” he says. “I think we all had similar experiences, when we first walked on set to our various locations, and the extraordinary work had gone into it. And what I was particularly struck by was the amazing detail. Those who are looking out for, they’re called Easter eggs, little things that are hidden [in the background] — those that are looking out will be richly rewarded.”
Richards, as one of the outdoor-dwelling Harfoots, says that “I was working mainly on location and one of our main locations was this forest where they created the Harfoot encampment. And it was only at the end of filming the whole thing that [I learned] that it was a clearing they’d put trees in, which I thought was incredible. I had absolutely no idea that I had been living in a set, not even knowing that it was a set. I thought it was just real landscape.”
Adds Owens, “There’s a little detail in Númenór where, down a particular alleyway, we saw a bit of Elvish carved into the wall — and the art department had put Númenórian graffiti over the top of the Elvish that they carved. There was no guarantee that we were going to have a shoot down this alleyway, but that was the attention to detail. You’re all in at that point, it’s easy. It’s much easier to act when you are wearing [costume designer] Kate Hawley’s costumes, you’re in [production designer] Ramsey Avery’s sets. It’s a real treat.”
“Such was the the craftsmanship of building these sets and these wonderful costumes, the hair, the makeup, everything about it,” says Leon Wadham (who plays another Númenórean, Kemen). “There was such a lot of expertise on hand that it was just like falling through a screen into a book.”
“Tolkien’s vision through the conduit of [showrunners J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay] was really manifested in every department,” adds Walker. “Everyone was board with making the best possible version of this, whether it was the person that fashioned your armor or the person that was running the fan. It really felt like a cohesive team.”
At one point during the press day, Consequence noted out loud how much we were all talking about Middle-earth as if it were a real place, with a real history. “But that’s what art is, isn’t it?” Edwards says in response. “I mean, we’re all in that business. If we get a role, we research it to within an inch of its life. We want to do it justice, as best we can. That’s what these teams have done.”
“And that’s what Tolkien’s done,” Owens agrees. “Tolkien’s written something that is fantastical, but it feels real.”
Edwards agrees: “That’s why it’s cast its spell.”
The first two episodes of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premiere Friday, September 2nd on Prime Video.