Any J.R.R. Tolkien fan knows that sometimes, the biggest heroes come in very small packages — which is why many were particularly delighted (albeit a little surprised) to learn that everyone's favorite curly-haired halflings would play a key role in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Amazon Prime Video's long-awaited fantasy series (debuting Sept. 2) is set during the Second Age, thousands of years before hobbits like Bilbo or Frodo were even born. Markella Kavenagh and Megan Richards star as two curious halflings who get swept up in some of Middle-earth's wildest adventures, as halflings often do. Just don't call them hobbits: Elanor "Nori" Brandyfoot (Kavenagh) and Poppy Proudfellow (Richards) are harfoots, early predecessors to the Shire-dwellers we know and love.
Both girls auditioned for an "untitled" Amazon project, and it wasn't until they landed the roles and arrived in New Zealand that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay filled them in on their pint-sized characters. "I was just so excited to delve into this world that had imagination in extremes," Richards explains. "It still doesn't feel real."
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video Poppy (Megan Richards) and Nori (Markella Kavenagh) are two curious harfoots on 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power'
Like Frodo and Sam before (after?) them, Nori and Poppy are best friends, wandering through Middle-earth with their fellow nomadic harfoots. Nori is the more adventurous of the two, and although she's loyal to her family, Kavenagh says her character harbors an "innate longing for adventure." "Sometimes her risk-taking can put other people in danger," the Australian actress teases. "But, ultimately, she does it with the best of intentions."
Poppy is more cautious, but she also has a sarcastic wit. The British Richards adds that Poppy's loyalty to Nori means she often accompanies her on her escapades, not unlike a certain homebody gardener who winds up trekking to Mordor with Frodo. "She feels the best way to keep everyone safe — the community, herself, and Nori — is to be by Nori's side," Richards explains of Poppy. "That's the decision she makes, and adventure ensues."
Off screen, the two actresses struck up a quick friendship, exploring New Zealand and going on walks together. "We just slid right into it," Richards says. "It became the most natural thing in the world." Rehearsal also started early, with Kavenagh and Richards wearing prosthetic ears and perfecting the harfoots' South Irish-inspired accent. They also spent time wearing oversized slippers and working with movement coaches to figure out exactly how harfoots walk. (Richards compares it to how a 5-year-old stomps around.) "We literally walked around with these feet, rehearsing," Kavenagh says with a laugh. "You really had to sink into the ground and feel immersed and feel the character in your body."
Richards previously appeared on the BBC and Netflix miniseries Wanderlust, while Kavenagh had a role in the Australian Western film True History of the Kelly Gang. Both actresses admit they were surprised by how collaborative and open the Rings of Power set felt — how McKay and Payne encouraged each of them to share their ideas about Poppy and Nori. And although their characters may be new creations, Kavenagh and Richards hope audiences fall in love with them the same way they did.
"Yes, we have the prosthetics and the costumes and the locations," Kavenagh explains. "But I think it's those themes of love and friendships and unity in the face of adversity that are still relatable to our real life."
For more on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, listen to EW's new podcast All Rings Considered, featuring in-depth episode breakdowns and exclusive interviews.