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Maria's Auckland Airport Encounter [November 24]

I am a big fan of THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies, and they, in turn, made me a big Elijah fan. I have since seen all of his films and think that he is one the very best young actors working today. I had been planning a trip to NZ all year long with the Red Carpet Tour company, with their ROTK premiere tour. So I flew into L.A. and then boarded Air New Zealand flight #5 to Auckland, not at all suspecting that both Billy Boyd and Elijah Wood were on my very own plane, traveling in business class. (To think that I was actually disappointed that my plane was not the decorated Frodo plane. Frodo was on the inside of the plane, so it turned out that I didn't need a picture of him on the outside of the plane!)

Anyway, I had an uneventful 13 hour flight, but I still felt pretty tired when I grabbed my rolling carry-on backpack and trudged off the plane. I nearly had a heart attack when I stepped out of the hallway from the plane and immediately noticed Elijah and Billy standing with some other people in a little alcove just inside the airport lounge. I actually started to slow down my walk and (very rudely I am sure) stared at them. One of the other people, a woman, finally called out, "Okay, people, just keep moving please!" I am paraphrasing a little in this story, by the way. So I just kept on walking, not knowing what I should do, but I knew that I wanted to at least catch another glimpse of the hobbits if I could. I simply stopped dead in my tracks about 15 feet from the alcove where I had seen them. I had to catch my breath anyway.

After about two minutes, I noticed a family of four that I had spoken with on the plane. They were walking down the hall, and I called to them, "Hey, did you all just notice Elijah and Billy standing back there?" The mother and father got all excited and said, "Where? Come on boys. Let's go see." With that, they ran back down the hall we had all just walked. (They told me later that they got to meet Billy Boyd.) Just as the family rounded the corner out of sight, that is when Elijah came walking down the hall with only one other blonde woman with him, no other entourage. I instantly decided to start walking. That's right. I was suddenly walking side-by-side with Elijah, not more than three feet from his side.

Well, I was pretty nervous, which surprised me as I have met other celebrities before, but I guess that this was a much more exciting encounter. These movies are my favorite of all time, as witnessed by the fact that I spent a small fortune to tour New Zealand and go to the premiere parade. So I guess that explains why I tripped on my own rolling backpack and dropped my jacket and purse. Great, I thought, now I really look like a dork. Would you believe that Elijah actually stopped and turned as if to help me? I had this wonderful moment of connection with him when I was on my knees picking up my jacket and purse, and I looked up into his face. He didn't say a word to me, but you know how expressive his face is. I am here to tell you that his face is even more expressive in real life. He communicated to me with only his eyes and face and one outstretched hand as if to say, "Do you have it? Are you okay? Do you need a hand?" The thing I will never forget in that moment is how compassionate a person he seems. And yes, he is extraordinarily lovely in person. I haven't even gotten to the best part of my encounter yet.

I got up and started walking again, now slightly behind him. I think it might have been at this point that a little blonde girl ran up to him from behind me, by the way. He called her Ally and asked if she had had a good flight. (I figured out later that this was Sean Astin's daughter who is in the movie with him!) I found myself thinking furiously. What should I do? I really wanted an autograph. For some reason which I will never figure out, I never thought about getting a picture even though my camera was in my backpack. Well, I should mention that it was disassembled and in pieces, so I would have had trouble screwing the pieces together anyway. But I did remember that I had just bought a NEWSWEEK magazine with the LOTR-Aragorn cover on it. I also remembered that there was a decent full-page Frodo picture in the article. All of these thoughts ran through my head in just a split second. On the one hand, I didn't really want to bother him, but on the other hand, when would I ever have a one-on-one moment with him like this again?

We had reached the end of the hall and were about the turn another corner to go to customs and baggage claim, when I simply called out softly, "Elijah?" He turned and looked straight at me and said, "Yes?" I will never forget how surreal that felt to me, to have an almost iconic figure address me in this very personal way, as if we were almost acquaintances. I started rambling a bit, and now I wonder how I ever got up the courage to even speak, "I'm sorry to bother you, but I might never have a chance like this again. Could I have your autograph?"

Now there is no way to describe his tone of voice or the look on his face, but I will try. His voice went up just slightly as he said, "Oh suuuure." He had almost a sympathetic tone, as if trying to say, "I understand what it must have taken to get up the courage to ask." Now here is where I really started to ramble a bit and I don't remember the exact order of some things I said, but I remember his response to everything. He walked over to me as I dropped down to my knees to get out the magazine. I started mumbling stuff about how I was a mother running away from home on vacation, that my husband and daughter were allowing me to get away to NZ on my own. He replied, "You must have a wonderful husband and daughter." I told him that yes, I do. I then stood up to get out the black sharpie marker that I had put in my purse, destined for this very purpose. I stood up and went straight to the page in the magazine for him to sign. He then asked, "What's your name?" I told him and then he started writing. While he was writing I took a good look at him, standing in front of me and concentrating on the writing. I actually didn't notice the color of his eyes the way I always thought that I would. They are very blue, but not quite the unnatural blue that I thought they would be. Instead, I noticed that his eyes are really huge and very, very bright blue, and it is their size and expressiveness which make them unique. I think I have seen a handful of other people in my life time who have eyes that color, but I have never seen anyone with eyes so large and so bright. I also want to comment on his skin, which reminded me, seriously, of the marble which is used for fine sculpture. His complexion is very pale, fair, and luminescent. I usually see that type of skin on Irish, red-haired people, but with his dark hair and enormous eyes and that skin, he is so beautiful that I actually have to use the term "other-worldly." And I am sure that he was not even looking his best when I met him, having just come off of a 13-hour flight! On top of that, he exudes a warmth and kindness that are sort of rare in this world. I can't imagine any celebrity who is as famous as he is right now being more personable.

I made one funny comment while he was writing. He seemed taller than I expected in person. Honestly, I would have guessed him to be about 5' 7" tall, not 5'6" like some have said. I had to really look up at him, but I am only five feet and half an inch tall. So I looked up at him and said, "Well, it's official. The hobbits are taller than I am." He looked at me and nodded and said, "Yeah, well, you're not exactly...." He left the sentence unfinished. I think he had a very slight smile on his face. I also remember asking him about whether or not he was going to the TORN premiere party and he said, "I think so. That sounds familiar." (By the way, he was a no-show for that party. I was there myself and didn't see him.) I then shook his hand and thanked him, and I believe but don't remember for sure that he might have said you're welcome. I regret that I rambled on a bit more while I was putting the magazine and pen away--stuff about what a great actor he is and how I had been watching him since he was a child. Boring stuff that I am sure he has heard before. Then some other people came up just then and that was the sudden end of my encounter.

That's it, just about five minutes I think. But five minutes I will always remember fondly. I had a wonderful vacation in New Zealand overall, and I would definitely recommend the Red Carpet Tour company. Still, who knew that ten minutes after I landed in NZ that I would be meeting Elijah Wood? I still can't believe it, but I have the autograph to remind me. -Maria

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