Between on-set injuries, extensive script changes, and one whopper of a casting process, at various points in the life of The Lord of the Rings trilogy it seemed as if director Peter Jackson might have bitten off more than he could chew. The trilogy that changed the face of fantasy films tackled a number of challenges along the way, but it all worked out in the end.
IT WENT THROUGH A TON OF SCRIPT REVISIONS
When The Lord of the Rings started out, it was originally going to be two movies. Later, concerned about the ballooning budget, executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein tried to persuade Jackson to condense the movie into a single film. At various points in the scripting process, Arwen, not Éowyn, was the one to dress up as a man, ride into the Battle of Pelennor Fields, and kill the Witch-king; and Rohan and Gondor were combined into one kingdom. Miramax also suggested that the one-movie version be presented as a flashback, with an older Frodo “covering [the entire Mines of Moria sequence in Fellowship] by saying something like, ‘So then we went on a dangerous journey through the Mines of Moria and lost Gandalf!,’” recalled Jackson.
RUSSELL CROWE WAS A POTENTIAL BACKUP FOR ARAGORN
Had Mortensen turned down the role of Aragorn, there were two other actors Jackson had in mind as replacements: Jason Patric and Russell Crowe. “We sent [Crowe] a script and he did read it and was fascinated,” said Jackson. “I remember getting the phone call from his agent and being told that he had just finished another film which involved him having to have a sword and armor—Gladiator! Russell was flattered by the approach, but he had other films he was committed to and it obviously wasn’t going to work out.”
JAKE GYLLENHAAL AUDITIONED TO PLAY FRODO.
Jake Gyllenhaal had a less-than-successful audition for the role of Frodo. “I remember auditioning for The Lord of the Rings and going in and not being told that I needed a British accent. I really do remember Peter Jackson saying to me, ‘You know that you have to do this in a British accent?’” Gyllenhaal later recalled. “We heard back it was literally one of the worst auditions.”
VIN DIESEL, LIAM NEESON, AND UMA THURMAN WERE UP FOR ROLES.
Among other could-have-beens in the casting department: Vin Diesel auditioned for Aragorn; Jackson called his performance “very compelling” but said that it didn’t “feel like Aragorn.” Jackson approached Richard O’Brien, best known as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (which he also wrote), for the role of Gríma Wormtongue, but his agents turned it down, believing the films would be unsuccessful. Liam Neeson passed on the role of Boromir.
There were also “discussions,” recalls Jackson, about then-married couple Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman playing Faramir and Éowyn; “Ethan was a huge fan of the books and was very keen to be involved. Uma was less sure and rightly so, because we were revising how we saw Éowyn’s character literally as we went. In the end, Ethan let it go—with some reluctance.”
AN ENTIRE ACTION SCENE WAS DESTROYED BY A FLOOD.
The end of The Fellowship of the Ring originally featured a scene where the heroes are ambushed by a band of Orcs as they row through rapids on the Anduin river. “We had all kinds of action planned with boats flipping over … and Legolas’ boat afloat as it bucks and tosses, while the Elf—standing with a foot on each of the gunwales—would be firing arrows at the attackers,” Jackson shared. But Mother Nature had other ideas, and a massive flood—in addition to causing a state of emergency in Queenstown, New Zealand—washed the entire ambush set down the river.
BILL THE PONY WAS TWO PEOPLE IN A HORSE COSTUME.
Sam’s pony Bill was, in Fellowship’s Midgewater Marshes scene, actually a “panto pony,” due to the difficulty of working with a live animal in a swamp. Not sure what a “panto pony” is? Well, that’s a fancy way of saying Bill was a pony suit with one person in the front half and one person in the back. It wasn’t exactly easy to work with, either. “We had a terrible struggle to get the pony to walk through the marshes because the performers were completely blind, buried in this costume and up to their waists in a real swamp,” shared Jackson. “Bill would try to walk and then would start to wobble and everyone would have to rush in and catch him before he fell over! There was one hilarious moment where the front legs moved without the back legs and Bill got stretched into a sort of long sausage dog!”
SEAN BEAN WAS READING HIS SCRIPT DURING THE COUNCIL OF ELROND SCENE.
Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens were constantly in the process of revising the script, even during production; the actors would frequently get new dialogue to memorize the night before a particular scene was scheduled to shoot. That was the case with Boromir’s famous speech in The Fellowship of the Ring’s Council of Elrond scene. Look closely and you’ll see the actor occasionally lowering his eyes to look at the new script page, which was taped to his knee.
WOMEN IN BEARDS WERE USED AS EXTRAS
A good chunk of the Riders of Rohan in The Two Towers and The Return of the King were actually women outfitted with fake beards. “There are some very good women riders in New Zealand, and it’d be silly not to take advantage of them,” recalled Viggo Mortensen in The Two Towers Extended Edition extras.
FRODO ORIGINALLY “STRAIGHT-OUT” MURDERED GOLLUM
The final confrontation between Frodo and Gollum in The Return of the King was originally going to end with Frodo pushing Gollum off the ledge into Mount Doom; “straight-out murder,” Jackson admitted, “but at the time we were OK with it because we felt everyone wanted Frodo to kill Gollum. But, of course, it was very un-Tolkien, because it flew in the face of everything that he wanted his heroes to be.” Years later, the scene was re-shot as it ended up in the film.
A SCENE WHERE ARAGORN FIGHTS SAURON IS IN THE RETURN OF THE KING… SORT OF.
Jackson filmed a scene for the end of The Return of the King where Aragorn goes toe-to-toe with the physical version of Sauron, in a sort of updated version of the Sauron-Isildur battle from the prologue of The Fellowship of the Ring. “By the time we had got to post-production,” Jackson remembers, the scene “no longer felt right,” so they cut it. But they did still use the footage: In the final battle, Aragorn can be seen battling a giant cave troll that was digitally superimposed over what was originally meant to be Sauron.