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-- Article from 'Flare' magazine - January 2004 --

RINGLEADERS

At the press rounds for The Return of the King, Serena French finds it’s reigning men.

There’s something about actors who play heroes. They are kind of hard to resist, even if they don pointy ears or oversized feet for the role.The Return of the King, the climactic last chapter in the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings, is about heroes, a group of Everymen who are each up against the wall, but who step up to the mat for each other and for their world, in the final epic showdown against world-ending evil. It is about individual sacrifice, wisdom, compassion and hope.But on an early fall morning at The Regency in midtown Manhattan, the necessary evil that must be endured is the promotional press junket. So, when the heroes enter the conference suite set up for the occasion, although it feels a bit antithetical to the films, at least there is plenty to talk about. The three films were shot out of sequence but back to back over the course of a year and a half in New Zealand, starting in October 1999. Once the first instalment, The Fellowship of the Ring, broke, it raked in $313 million US, garnered an Oscar nomination for best picture and made cover boys out of Viggo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom and turned Elijah Wood into teen fodder and one of the most gifted actors of his generation. Last year’s The Two Towers continued to fuel the fever for all things Middle-earth. Even heroes have heroes and, for the stars of the films, it is New Zealand-native Peter Jackson, who produced, directed and adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1,000-page trilogy for the screen. The fellowship, that is, the cast, is fiercely devoted to Jackson, to the storytelling and the enduring themes at the heart of Tolkien’s stories, and to each other.

Elijah Wood bounds into the room, faux Mohawk standing at attention, like a coach coming into the locker room to rally the team. “How’s everyone this morning? Did you guys see the footage? What did you think?” Indeed, it was only 20 minutes of random scenes, but I still wept copiously. “It’s too much of a tease!” Wood exclaims. It was doubtless this enthusiasm that sustained little Frodo bearing the weight of his ring over 274 shooting days.Wood, at 23, is one of those precocious young artists bursting with charisma. His big doe-like eyes contrast with the New Wave/punk look he’s affecting - burgundy tie, olive shirt, distressed jeans and army boots.“I always knew that taking the responsibility and taking this journey would change me and everyone else involved,” says the Iowa native. “I was 18, the age you normally go off to college, and I was going to New Zealand and experiencing life in a very visceral way for the first time on my own. In a lot of ways, this experience has set me off on the rest of my life.” “One of the greatest gifts from the experience itself id the friends I have made,” says Wood. He and Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan, who play the best-friend hobbits, are thinking about buying a house in Wellington, New Zealand, where they bungee jumped, surfed, acted and spent what turned out to be four primitive years together. “As much as the journey is coming to an end in terms of the film, the fellowship will continue.” Wood describes himself as a romantic, and then has second thoughts about what that means. “I find waking up next to someone the most romantic and sexy thing ever. It’s as simple as that.” But he’s not seeing anyone at the moment. “I’ve just had my heart broken. Now I’m single again.” When asked how he has tried to heal his broken heart, Wood giggles maniacally. “Do you wanna know the first thing I did? I put on Black Sabbath, because rock heals all wounds,” he says. We laugh.Time’s up and Wood is off - “Have a wonderful day!”- but then agrees to have his picture taken with a journalist for a German magazine. Wood, whose energy will again fill the screen this spring opposite Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, prattles on, relentlessly engaged and affable - even about the guy’s camera. “Aren’t they the coolest? Canons…how many mega pixels?”

Orlando Bloom’s curly brown hair is tucked under a colour-block knit hat, which he wears with a chunky scarf, layered knits over black track pants with a natty white stripe down the leg and leather boots. When he stretches, a sun-like tattoo on his abdomen peeks over checked boxers. He clearly loves fashion in a metrosexual, David Beckham, can-pull-off-a-girly-hat, Notting Hill kind of way.Although the Brit has just completed Troy with Brad Pitt, The Lord of the Rings was Bloom’s first major feature after graduating from drama school in London, and he has since shot to stardom with roles in Black Hawk Down and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. In LOTR, Bloom plays the Elf Legolas and, frankly, who did not come away from the films saying to themselves ”The Elf rocks”?“Legolas is a pretty quiet kind of guy, isn’t he?” says Bloom. “Actions speak louder than words for him. Legolas is a great character to get under the skin of because he’s very Zen-like, very chilled, very focused,” he continues. “He’s on the ball, everything you wish you were. He’s conscientious, he’s thoughtful, he’s alert. He’s that invincible, immortal, untouchable king of dude.” Bloom says it was emotional “to don the blond wig and the pointy ears” for the last time, during the final reshoots. (He was also required to wear blue-tinted contact lenses to cover up his baby browns.)“I felt overwhelmed, actually. It really brought it home, what that whole experience meant to me and how much I’d learned from it. And, like everyone else, I strive for those moments of clarity where everything just makes sense, but I’m 26 and still figuring it out.”“Fundamentally,” Bloom continues, “I’m the same, but obviously I’ve grown. I’m informed by the work I’ve done and the traveling I’ve done. I learned a lot from working with Viggo - who’s been a huge influence - Johnny [Depp], Brad [Pitt] - all those people.”Post-Troy, Bloom is taking some time off. “I’m just gonna hang. Gonna furnish my house in London. Gonna see my friends. Gonna just chill.” He has just returned from Mexico, where he did “loads of surfing”, a sport he got into while in New Zealand. And that’s that, as it’s time for Bloom to go. His publicist turns down the German’s request for photo taking on his behalf. “But I’ll sign something,” Bloom offers brightly, as he exits the room.

Viggo Mortensen pads in wearing a navy sweatshirt, black jeans and…bare feet. He’s carrying some sort of cup with silver scrollwork that looks like a Moroccan chalice, and a lit cigarette in one hand. He’s clean shaven with straight dirty blond hair and is utterly disarming. His blue-eyed gaze is intense, unwavering.“Where are you guys from?” he asks as he helps himself to something to drink. Everyone introduces his or her country. I answer last with Canada. “Where?” he asks. I feel special all of a sudden. “Toronto. Have you spent any time there?” He says he went to high school in upstate New York so he spent time near Kingston Ont., mostly in Cananoque. Then, by way of explaining the appeal, he mutters something about fireworks, “and then later strong beer,” he says smiling. I repeat “strong beer” and giggle unnecessarily. Crap, he’ll never marry me now.Mortensen says his drink is from Finland and Sweden, like one of the journalists in the group. “It’s maté; it’s a tea,” he explains. The Scandinavian journalist says something in one of those languages, and Mortensen corrects her pronunciation. He laughs. We laugh. Citizen of the world.Mortensen, who was born in New York and lived a nomadic life with his parents - Argentina, Venezuela and Denmark were all home before his teen years - is in his mid-40’s. Before becoming a heartthrob, he was a poet (he’s working on his third book), a photographer and painter. He had shows in L.A., Athens and New York in 2002, where legions of women showed up. (His works were also exhibited at New Zealand’s Massey University to coincide with The Return of the King world première this past December 1st in Wellington.) He was known as No-ego Viggo on set for his extreme dedication to the role and for performing his own stunts, and for writing page-after-page of faxes to Jackson, suggesting passages from the book, while the director worked on the script during shooting.

Another journalist asks what part of the journey as the character of Aragorn he enjoyed the most. “I like that you talk about it as a journey, not ‘how did you like this movie more than others’, because I do look at it as one long story - and the only way to have approached it, the way Tolkien wrote it,” he says. He speaks very low, in long abstract paragraphs. We hang on every word. You could hear a pin drop.“I just liked the evolution in general, and the challenges that came with that. I was looking at snapshots I have of the crew, Peter, the cast, and obviously people change, but there was more. There’s something also in people’s eyes, even in Peter’s, who knew what he was getting into more than any of us. The way his eyes look, it’s the eyes of a person before a major test.”Mortensen visited Iceland twice in 2003 - where most of the LOTR story was written. He goes into a long explanation about the influence of medieval Icelandic poets on Tolkien, their impact on the novel form, and Jackson’s interpretations. “What I admire the most about him”, says Mortensen, “beyond his focus, his technical ability and his vision, is his decency - the way he treated the actors and the crew and the way he handled himself as a person.”Mortensen is passionate about the story’s relevance to today’s world. “There is a respect shown for the efforts made by people in the past, who honestly sought wisdom for it’s own sake and not to control people, who made a real effort to understand their fellow man and the environment. I think that’s why the book continues to be interesting and these movies help to make the book as relevant as it is.”Besides taking on The Lord of the Rings for the pure challenge of it, Mortensen sys the biggest thing that ever changed his life was having a son, now-teenaged Henry, with ex-wife L.A. punk singer Exene Cervenka. “That’s a change that lasts forever.”And that’s the extent of it. Mortensen, who’ll be seen this spring as a 19th-century dispatch rider for the U.S. cavalry in the big-budget Disney flick Hidalgo, who would rather talk about ideas than himself. While he waits for a one-on-one interview, Mortensen talks with a French journalist, asking whether or not he has ever heard of the Quebec accent, of which Mortensen is rather fond. Mortensen rhymes off lots of Quebecois swear words. Then he offers us pieces of gum, taking the pack out of his front pocket. It’s Trident bubble gum of all things. I take a piece.No, I didn’t keep the wrapper

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