Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.

3/09/2006

Top Ten Casting Choices For Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" (Part II)

In the last post, I listed the first half of the Top 10. I want to re-emphasize that these are not necessarily the Top 10 performances (though many are). I'm sure there's already plenty of disagreement on numbers 5 - 10. But again, this is all subjective. Don't cheat and scroll down to the end!

So here we go with 1 - 5...

#5...
Sean Bean

as Boromir

I have to be honest. Before the films, I never really liked Boromir as a character all that much. Notwithstanding his repentance for trying to take the Ring from Frodo, I found him untrustworthy and a little arrogant right from his introduction at the Council of Elrond. The character as written - to me - lacked depth. Sean Bean completely changed my perception of Boromir in "The Fellowship of the Ring". Bean made him more likeable and, while maintaining the character's proud nature, he allowed me to sympathize with him. While there is no doubt that Bean's Boromir was just as determined to persuade the other members of the Fellowship to ultimately go to Minas Tirith, he seemed reluctant to do so by force until Frodo rejected his counsel at Amon Hen when he finally snapped. Up until that point, I felt that Boromir was dedicated to Frodo's protection as much as any of the others. He even seemed to have a soft spot for Merry and Pippin. When Boromir died in the book, I felt no real sense of loss and was actually a little relieved to have the danger of his presence removed from the dynamic. But because Sean Bean allowed me to connect so strongly to his Boromir, I was deeply saddened by his death.

#4...

Viggo Mortensen

as Aragorn

Originally, Jackson had cast actor Stuart Townsend in this role. But at the last minute Jackson and Co. realized that they'd made an error. Townsend just didn't have the gravitas for the role. Not to mention the fact that, at the time, he was barely in his late twenties. Aragorn, son of Arathorn, is supposed to be 87 in Numenorean years. Luckily for Jackson, Mortensen accepted the role at the prodding of his son Henry who was a big fan of the books. Viggo had never read them, but he completely immersed himself in the role - even going so far as to carry around his sword everywhere he went. Mortensen is an accomplished actor who plays Aragorn as an "everyman", worn and world-weary. Some have complained about his portrayal, saying he seemed too wishy-washy and reluctant to assume his birthright. But the many years of carrying the burden of this responsibility (as well as his isolation from the one he loved), made him a troubled character. He had a lot of time to dwell on the fact that his actions would determine the fate of Middle-Earth. Fans already knew of Aragorn's remarkable lineage and the exceptional Numenorean blood that gave him his nobility. But Mortensen's performance revealed how the character's remarkable courage and true heroic nature came from his heart. And the man really knows how to wield a sword!

#3...

Miranda Otto

as Eowyn

The part of Eowyn was expanded in the film version of The Lord of the Rings and Peter Jackson needed someone who could not only be feisty, charming and vulnerable but also an actress that had the discipline to handle the physical demands of the role. In the books, Eowyn is mostly sad and sullen. She regrets her responsibility as "caretaker" of Edoras in Theoden's absence and longs to take up arms to defend her people. But Otto exudes an inner strength for Eowyn that was a bit lacking in the books. It's a tough job being one of only two major female characters in this story (and playing the more active one as well). But Miranda Otto's talents made Eowyn a vital part of every scene she was in. She was no wilting flower, that's for sure.

#2...

Sean Astin

as Samwise Gamgee

Like Boromir, the character of Sam was always hard for me to like all that much. Even though his instincts about Gollum were correct, his disposition through most of "The Two Towers" was kind of cranky and irritable. Astin did a great job of conveying Sam's inherent innocence and optimism, as well as his steadfast dedication to Frodo. Astin lobbied Jackson hard for the part, even going so far as to increase his girth to be more physically like what the director had in mind. I believe that Jackson's giving him the part was one of the most important casting decisions he made. When the time came for the Academy Award nominations of February 2004, the absence of Sean Astin's name among "Best Supporting Actor" was a glaring error. His performance was - in my opinion - one of the best in the entire saga. Go back and watch the scenes in Mordor, particularly at the Pass of Cirith Ungol and on the side of Mount Doom. You can't help but be moved.

and the #1 Top Casting Choice for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings is...

Sir Ian McKellan

as Gandalf

This really shouldn't come as much of a surprise as Gandalf is, of course, my favorite character. Frankly, if this performance couldn't win me over, I would have had a hard time with the rest of it. When I was a kid, my first exposure to Tolkien was the Rankin/Bass cartoon of "The Hobbit" and John Huston's voice became the template for Gandalf. When Jackson's film project was announced, I couldn't imagine who could possibly take on this role to my satisfaction. But McKellan is Gandalf, hands down. In my reading experiences, I always preferred the Grey Wizard to the White. The first Gandalf was more kindly and self-deprecating. After his transformation into the White Wizard, Gandalf became more stern and business-like. But then he had to be, considering the greater responsibility that had been placed on his shoulders. McKellen seemed to be able to retain some of the gentler elements of Gandalf the Grey while still projecting the authority and self-confidence of his new persona. I appreciated that. Sir Ian has so claimed this character that if they ever get around to filming "The Hobbit", his reprisal of this role is critical if it's going to succeed.

There you have it. I'm sure I'll get a full round of criticism for leave out this actor or that actor. I'd like to point out that Andy Serkis deserves honorable mention for his contribution to the Gollum/Smeagol character. I have my reasons for leaving him out that no doubt many of you will take exception to. The focus here was on the actors and actresses themselves. While Gollum could not have been properly brought to the screen without Andy Serkis, the fact is that there was so much more in addition to his performance that went into that character. Literally hundreds of the good folks at Weta Workshop played at least an equal part in bringing Gollum to life. It just seemed to me to be an apples and oranges comparison throwing him into the mix.

Now if I were to do a Top Ten Performances list, Andy Serkis would definitely be among them.

But that's my list with all my reasons. Not to take away from the rest of the ensemble, but if I had to force-rank them, this is what you'd get.

12 Comments:

At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Bret said...

I don't mean to gush, but I'm surprised you were able to limit it to 10.

Now, let’s get down to it. Any plans for the WORST performances of LOTR? I thought John Noble's performance as Denethor suffered from him channeling Richard Nixon.

Also, the actor playing Grishnak lacked the necessary gravitas for the role. :)

 
At 7:41 PM, Blogger Lord Floppington said...

I can't help it. When I think of top tens, I think of them as the minuscule elites of some massive group. The top one percent of the top one percent or some such. In the case of this movie, it seems like the top ten is kinda, sorta, the top 45% or so. Not exactly elite. So I got a nice chuckle out of it. But perhaps in the case of these films, even the "worst" performance might be considered a good performance, and the top 45% really are elites.

Enjoyed it once again, and I especially agree about Sean Astin. He gave an amazing performance. You ought to see a picture of Sam when you look up dedication and loyalty in the dictionary.

 
At 12:03 AM, Blogger Julie said...

I agree pretty much with your choices but I do have a bit of a problem with Viggo as Aragorn - he's too short. Aragorn/Strider, "Longshanks", is a tall man. Viggo is not.

 
At 6:51 AM, Blogger Gary said...

Ah, point taken.

On the other hand, he only really looks short when standing next to either Boromir or Gandalf. ;-)

 
At 3:40 AM, Anonymous Inkling said...

I know I'm way late to this list but I couldn't help commenting.

Elijah Wood is conspicuous by his absence. I wonder why?

I vehemently disagree with Viggo as Aragorn. He possesses none of the gravitas necessary for such a role (Stuart Townsend doesn't either, for the record). You need someone like Russell Crowe. Aragorn needs to possess a charisma capable of leading an army of thousands. Viggo barely seems capable of leading a grunge band. I realize Crowe was probably out of their price range, so here is an interesting thought experiment: imagine switching Sean Bean and Viggo Mortensen. Think about it. Sean Bean is a much better actor and has greater presence. When he and Mortensen are in the same scene, Viggo practically vanishes into the background. On the other hand, Viggo could probably portray sulking just fine.

 
At 8:52 PM, Blogger Gary said...

Elijah Wood was excellent, but then so were so many of the actors that didn't make the list. There can only be ten in a "Top 10" list.

Your points are well taken on Viggo. My problem with someone like Russell Crowe is that he's too famous an actor. Mortensen was considerable less well known, whiched I think worked to his advantage.

I have a hard time picturing the Gladiator as Aragorn. Too much larger than life, perhaps?

Yes, Sean Bean's presence dominated their scenes but don't discount the idea that both Jackson and Mortensen allowed this to give Boromir his moments. Aragorn gets two more films in which to show his stuff.

 
At 6:03 PM, Anonymous Kzer-za said...

I don't think anyone besides Astin could have pulled off that speech at the end of The Two Towers. On paper, it reads incredibly cheesy and it SHOULD have been downright laughable. But somehow, Astin manages to pull it off. He's such a pure-hearted character that it comes across as genuine. The intercut footage and the music also help to make it a rather memorable scene that helps tie all three storylines together.

My favorite part with Eowyn is at Theodred's funeral in the EE. Some people said her singing sounded weird, but I loved it. It sounds like she's struggling to just get this song out without completely breaking down in teras.

 
At 11:43 AM, Blogger Gary said...

Otto's performance was both strong and feminine. I admit, I developed a crush on the film Eowyn.

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Anne Marie said...

No Elijah???!!! I will admit his perfect performance is only one of many many but he's a big part of why I am a "Tolkien geek" myself or well on my way to becoming more so all the time and I am very glad to have found your site but had to comment on this glaring ommission! Thank you though for placing Sam so high! Sean Astin was perfect. I am saving your site for reading later. I am actually writing a book on the spirituality contained in the Red Book. Please pray for it and me!

Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)

 
At 11:10 PM, Blogger Anne Marie said...

No Elijah???!!! I will admit his perfect performance is only one of many many but he's a big part of why I am a "Tolkien geek" myself or well on my way to becoming more so all the time and I am very glad to have found your site but had to comment on this glaring ommission! Thank you though for placing Sam so high! Sean Astin was perfect. I am saving your site for reading later. I am actually writing a book on the spirituality contained in the Red Book. Please pray for it and me!

Namarie, God bless, Anne Marie :)

 
At 3:40 PM, Anonymous Rattenhoofd said...

Respectable choices, though (and you will hate me for this) I would have given an eye to have Sean Connery play Gandalf. People say he wouldn't have done well, because he didn't connect to the script so well, but that's bullocks.

Ian Mckellen's Gandalf, though expertly performed, on occasion comes off as too rowdy, and, I have to admit, a little dumb to me sometimes (especially in his first big scene with Saruman).

 
At 6:18 AM, Blogger Amy-Lou said...

I would have a hard time limiting it to just ten - there are so many great actors in the trilogy! Love the post though and all the actors you mentioned deserve it.
About to do a Lord of the Rings blog challenge, so take a look if you have time :)

 

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